Age: No age statement
On top of rebranding its core range, Isle of Mull based Tobermory distillery has recently launched its Sinclair Series. Named after founder John Sinclair, this range of limited edition whiskies gives the distillery opportunity to experiment with different cask types. The first expression was – as the name suggests – finished in European oak casks that previously held Rioja, a Spanish red wine. Supposedly inspired by a Spanish galleon that sank just off Tobermory centuries ago, this whisky is meant to be equally laden with treasure. And it sure looks dazzling. This whisky is all about colour, with the bottle referencing Tobermory’s colourful past and colourful spirit. I can’t say I’m a fan of the packaging, but this whisky’s reddish hue sure is a joy to behold (it’s all natural too). I’ve loved everything that came out of Tobermory distillery recently, so let’s see how the Rioja Cask compares to the excellent price-quality ratio of the Ledaig 10 or the sheer brilliance of the Ledaig 18.
Colour: Rose gold
Nose: Smoky and saline, but with a noticeably raw edge to it. Through the obvious layers of peat and forest fruit a rather chemical quality shines through, a bit like glue or turpentine. The scent of steamed mussels and cloying incense gives way to a mixture of treacle and tar. Through it all a raging bonfire, spiced with cork and cloves.
Palate: Underneath the prickly onslaught of peat there’s an undeniable fruitiness. Sweet and tart flavours intertwine to produce a dram with a rather odd mouthfeel. Nothing smooth about this one, but there’s a nice kick of peppercorn at the end.
Finish: Of decent length, but not offering much beyond another rush of youthful peat and salt spray.
Verdict: Colourful this whisky may be, but unfortunately that’s the most impressive thing about it. There’s no denying that Ledaig Rioja Cask is a crowd pleaser, but one that puts in the bare minimum performance before heading home early. This Ledaig is a fairly unsophisticated act, cloaked in a cape of Iberian refinement that does little to camouflage that this is a very young whisky. It’s much less suave than even Ledaig 10 year old – which is itself a pretty feisty dram. And as I mentioned in my review of Laphroaig Four Oak, I usually love a young, smoky whisky. But it should be a bold, daring drink, rather than something raw with a thin veneer of sophistication. It’s a shame. Ledaig is one of my favourite distilleries (and will remain so), but to me the Rioja Cask has missed the mark. Let’s hope the other bottlings in the Sinclair Series will step it up a notch.
Value for money: 🤩🤩🤩