Saturday, 24 September 2011

Islay Peat-Off Part 4: Caol Ila 12 Year vs Caol Ila 1997 Distillers Edition Review

In part four of the peat-off I'll be comparing the standard Caol Ila 12 year and the 1997 Distillers Edition voted best single malt Scotch in the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Unfortunately they both have added artificial colour but not too much in this instance.

First to the standard Caol Ila 12 year expression bottled at 43%. The nose is more subtle than other Islays I've reviewed giving light peaty smoke with hints of wood and light bitter spices. The body arrives nice and spicy developing medium pepper, peatiness and some salt. The long finish comes in with another blast of peat smoke and lots of spicy notes. There is a slightly oily bitter edge to the aftertaste - almost sulphur like - which lets this down just a little. This edge is much more evident if this whisky is not left to open up for 5-10 minutes.

Score 87/100

Now to the Caol Ila Distillers 1997 Edition again bottled at 43%. This has a similar subtle nose to the standard 12 but the sherry finish makes it a touch sweeter. The body gives milder spices and develops lighter pepper with the extra sweetness cancelling out the salty notes of the standard 12. The peat and smoke in the finish are also damped down with the spicy notes being sidelined by the additional sweetness. Finally, as with the standard 12, a lasting oily bitterness is quite evident in the finish especially when tasted soon after pouring.

On balance I actually prefer the body and finish of the standard 12 to this; it's just more distinctive. This Distillers edition isn't anywhere near as spectacular as you would think given it's performance in San Francisco. I suspect they must have been given an extra special cask to try, not the stuff we mere mortals can get hold of.

Score: 85/100

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Islay Peat-Off Part 3: Lagavulin 16 Year vs Lagavulin 1994 Distillers Edition Review

In part three of the Islay Peat-Off I'll be reviewing two of the super stars of Islay; the Lagavulin 16 year and the 1994 (or 1991 if you can find it) Distillers Edition - both are bottled at 43%. Annoyingly the owners Diageo insist on the distillers adding artificial colour to these excellent whiskies.. shame on them!!

So first to the standard Lagavulin 16; the nose gives woody smoke and spices. This is echoed in the body which arrives spicy with a rich woody mouth feel developing medium pepper, woodsmoke and giving a nice dry finish. The finish has a slight sour edge but this fades fast leaving a pleasant aftertaste. Ironically, if this is left to open up before tasting, the sour edge does not fade and marrs the aftertaste. The sherry maturation added to the distillers edition removes this sourness completely. Irrespective this is a good whisky and recommended if you're not into sherry finishes and don't mind the added colour. If you want something sweeter, peatier and half the price go for the Laphroaig 10.

Score: 88/100

Now to the Lagavulin 1994 Distillers Edition. My first comment is that this whisky is over priced so keep a look out for specials. Also it does vary in quality from release to release so if you find a year you like at a good price, buy two!

The nose of this whisky is exceptional giving sweet woodsmoke, spices and hints of fruit. The flavor is rounded and balanced arriving sweet with a rich mouth feel and developing spices and a perfect amount of chilli pepper - just lovely. The finish is long, dry, smoky and distinctive giving balanced spices and fruit with no bitter or sour edges. You are finally left with a very mellow aftertaste and a hint of sweetness. This is a tour de force of balanced Islay flavours and frankly only let down by the addition of artificial colour to this whisky.

I've personally tried the 1991, 1993 and 1994 editions, the 91 and 94 are excellent!

Score: 90/100

Monday, 19 September 2011

Islay Peat-Off Part 2: Laphroaig 10 Year vs Quarter Cask vs 10 Year Cask Strength Review

For the second Islay Peat-Off I'll be concentrating on three Laphroaigs. Before continuing it should be noted that all three contain caramel colouring which is a pity.

Laphroiag 10 (40%). The nose gives a light sweetness but is dominated by a massive peaty charcoal smoke. Some will like it as I do, some won't finding that rather than smoke they smell strong TCP. The body arrives very smoky and develops spiciness with medium chilli pepper. Despite this the mouth feel is very thin giving more water than spirit. It ends with a medium length finish that is light, bittersweet, smoky and balanced. Aftertaste is quite moreish with the peaty charcoal really hanging in there. If this Laphroiag didn't contain E150, was bottled at say 46% and consequentially wasn't chill filtered it would be the best peated whisky out there up to twice its price. As it is it's still a good buy and is very drinkable!

Score: 87/100

Now let's move on to the Laphroaig Quarter Cask which many rave about. It's bottled at 46%, isn't chill filtered and is matured in quarter size casks. This is supposed to speed up the maturation process so much that an 8 year (as this is) tastes more like a 12. Well let's see.

The nose is sweet with lighter smoke than the 10 and a touch more woody. The body arrives sweet with peaty smoke then rapidly develops pepper and woodiness that was detected on the nose. However it then becomes instantly bitter and retains a sourness into the relative short finish that is quite unpleasant (though not as bad as the Ardbeg 10's). This was quite a shock so I decided to leave it sitting in the glass for way longer than usual before tasting again. This did damp things down a little especially in the finish which became tannic rather than sour and revealed the dryness of the whisky. But seriously, if it's not left to open up for at least fifteen minutes the main taste is very bitter and unpleasant.

This is not an improvement at all on the cheaper 10 year which although thinner is way more drinkable. The Quarter cask is frankly dog rough taste wise unless you have lots of time to kill.

Score: 80/100

Now finally we move on to the Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength currently bottled at 55.3% and again non chill filtered.

Tasted neat, nose is sweet, complex and smoky though not the peat blast you get from the standard 10. Body arrives rich, creamy and sweet with some woodsmoke then develops strong spicy pepper and citrus. The finish is long with some lighter pepper coming through and ending with a short burst of rich charcoal smoke. This is certainly not thin like the standard 10 but to me is way too strong to be drunk at this strength, even though the flavours are well balanced. Adding 25% water makes this whisky divine. It opens up really well and reveals a lot of the qualities of the standard 10 but without feeling too thin on the palate. The water damps down the sweetness and the pepper but lifts the peaty smoke giving a wonderfully balanced finish and aftertaste.

The Cask is definitely superior to the Quarter Cask and but is it really that much better than the standard 10? Hmmm, it all depends on whether you like to add water to your whisky or not. If not then spend the extra cash and skip the standard 10. If you do then this is just not worth the extra cash as the standard 10 has the water already added.

Score: 88/100

Monday, 12 September 2011

Islay Peat-Off Part 1: Ardbeg 10 Year vs Ardbeg Uigeadail Review

Ardbeg to their credit do not chill filter or add any caramel colouring to their whiskies. They are also very collectable but do they really taste that good? Lets see:

Ardbeg 10 (46%). The nose is spicy and smoky. The body arrives with a rich creamy blast of peaty smoke. It then develops a very peppery and bitter flavour which frankly is not pleasant. The finish is admittedly long but is again dominated by that bitter peppery taste. Seriously, this is so bitter that any other flavours are lost and that's after leaving it to open up for a good 15 minutes! The aftertaste is not exactly what you'd call moreish as a consequence. This is as rough at best in my opinion!

Score: 75/100

The Ardbeg Uigeadail is bottled at 54.2% and again unchillfiltered. As it's so strong it seems obvious to try it both with and without water. It should also be pointed out that the Uigeadail is in reality an Ardbeg 10 that has been finished in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength.

Tasted neat; the nose gives a honey sweetness and warm smoke. Body arrives bittersweet with a rich creamy mouth feel and a smoke hit. It then develops intense but short lived heat, bitterness and pepper like the Ardbeg 10. The finish is long but marred by a quite distinct sour edge to the aftertaste. Once this eventually fades you are left with pleasant smoke. I don't think this is drinkable neat, it's just too strong and bitter even with the sweetness introduced by the sherry finishing. Adding 25% water gives a light, sweet, campfire smoky nose. The body arrives sweeter developing lighter pepper and smoke but the bitterness is more evident and again similar to that of the 10. The finish is again long but the aftertaste is greatly improved as the sourness fades to the background. So adding water makes this Ardbeg drinkable but not much more than that. The Uigeadail is well overrated and well overpriced as it's only a marginal improvement on the Ardbeg 10.

Score: 83/100

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Kentucky Bourbon Blowout

Finally finished my tastings today and I've decided to present this as three pairs of head to head reviews, you'll see why as you read them...

First up Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon vs Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel

The Rebel Yell starts off quite promising with a lovely nose of open spicy vanilla, citrus and a hint of toffee. The body arrives with a caramel sweetness and instant spices but then becomes very bitter with a sour edge and lots of pepper. It's a Bourbon bruiser! The pepper fades but the bitterness and sourness hang in with a long finish. No surprise, aftertaste is bittersweet as your mouth recovers. This bad boy lives up to its name and has amazingly strong (though bitter) flavours for a 40%. I don't smoke but this one must be blinding with a Cuban! One final thought; this was a awarded a double gold in San Fransico this year - they're having a laugh!!

Score: 80/100

Now to the Elmer T. Lee (45%) which after my initial try I tasted against the Rebel Yell as they have a lot of common flavour traits. The nose is open & spicy but not as good as the Rebel's for me. The body arrives mildly sweet then develops spices with a tannic (acidic) edge and light pepper. You then get a mild bitterness through to the finish with the aftertaste giving a little sweetness with a sour edge in the background. I didn't find this Bourbon particularly exciting or enjoyable but its flavours were balanced and not as extreme as the Rebel Yell's.

Score: 82/100

Now I'll compare Maker's Mark and Buffalo Trace

Both proofed at 45%, are very well priced and again share some flavour traits. I would strongly recommend you try both before deciding which to buy.

The Maker's Mark has an excellent nose dominated by rich fruity raisins and sweet sherry. The body arrives sweet and develops spices and a balanced amount of pepper - very nice. The finish is long and bittersweet towards the end leaving you with a good medium sweet aftertaste. This is a bargain at its price point!

Score: 87/100

The Buffalo Trace is equally good. The nose is fruity, sweet and spicy with rum notes. The body arrives very sweet, noticeably sweeter than the Maker's, then becomes spicy with light pepper in the background. The creamy sweetness carries through with a short but intense bitter edge in finish. The finish is quite short compared to the Maker's. Aftertaste is bittersweet and mellow. Again very good value. I think I slightly favoured the Maker’s but only slightly.

Score: 87/100

Lastly Noah's Mill 15 Year Small Batch vs the Old Fitzgerald 12 Year.

These are both a bit more expensive so let's see if they're worth the extra cash.

First the Noah's Mill. As this is bottled at cask strength (57.15%) I decided to first add water to rate it down to about 46%. Having done so the nose is spicy, citrus with a lovely vanilla hint. The body arrives spicy & sweet with mild pepper and is well balanced. The finish though very long was a disappointment turning slightly bitter and leaving a distinctly bitter aftertaste. Hmm... Ok now without water. The nose was quite similar though not as open even after being left for a good fifteen minutes. The body was a real surprise. It now gave a very rich mouth feel, rich caramel sweetness, intense peppery heat and some citrus. The finish was vastly improved giving very little bitterness compared to when the water was added and leaving a pleasant aftertaste. I concluded that adding water to this Bourbon was a bad idea and that it tastes much better straight out of the cask. The only problem is that it's far too strong to drink more than a small measure at this strength. It knocks your mouth out! Still it's a very good Bourbon.

Score: 88/100

Finally to the Old Fitzgerald 12 Year (45%).

I'm going to keep this short because you don't need to say much about this beauty. It smells heavenly giving warm vanilla and sweet cake. The body arrives sweet then develops a spicy rich mouth with intense pepper and bitter orange. It has a lovely long bittersweet finish marred only by a short lived tannic edge. The aftertaste is moreish and sweet. This has very balanced flavours and is almost like a Bourbon Highland Park. If you find a bottle grab it!

Score: 89/100

In conclusion, if you like your Bourbon rough and tough try the Rebel Yell else avoid like lightning in an open field! Value for money has to go to the Maker's closely followed by the Buffalo Trace. For something that little bit special well, the Noah's Mill and the Old Fitzgerald are the ones to keep hidden from guests.

One final note, none of these Bourbons have any added caramel colouring.

Now what should I pour myself...