Laphroaig Select

Laphroaig Select 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

It’s no longer news that distilleries are replacing their aged standard expressions for no age statement bottlings. Talisker Skye and Bowmore Legend are just two examples. Laphroaig Select is another. Sure, the 10 year old is still around, but we should now view Select as the entry-level whisky for Laphroaig’s range. And as an entry-level, Select is meant to typify the distillery character and provide a teaser of what Laphroaig can do – at much cheaper production costs. But here’s the rub, many continue to view the 10 year old as the distillery’s standard bearer and reference point against which other Laphroaigs are judged. And truth is, that’s not a standard we can expect Laphroaig Select to live up to. To keep the price point attractive, Select consists of rather immature spirit, which was put through a wide variety of different casks. The result is a light, toned down version of Laphroaig. Given the love-it-or-hate-it character of Laphroaig, this does perhaps make for a better entry point, but not necessarily a better whisky.

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Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish

Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood FinishDistillery: Glenglassaugh
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Throughout its turbulent history, Glenglassaugh distillery has closed and re-opened more times than I care to mention here. Since its last reboot in 2008 though, the distillery has gone from strength to strength. Whereas in past decades Glenglassaugh’s whisky featured mostly in blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark, these days its proudly bottled as single malt. Initially this was done through a small core range, but in recent years the distillery has also experimented with limited expressions through their Wood Finishes Series. This particular bottling was not only finished in port pipes, but also made from the distillery’s peated malt – the very same that’s used for Glenglassaugh Torfa. The result is something quite special, a delicious concoction of Highland peat and sumptuous forest fruits.

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Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve

Ichiro's Wine Wood ReserveProducer: Ichiro’s Malt (Venture Whisky)
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 45%

When Akuto Ichiro set up Chichibu distillery in 2008, most people thought he was crazy. Japanese whisky sales were at their lowest level in decades, causing distillers such as Nikka and Suntory to cut production massively. In hindsight though, Ichiro’s timing could not have been better. Although few saw it coming, the popularity of Japanese whisky skyrocketed around half a decade later. While his competitors were struggling to meet demand, Ichiro’s warehouses were full – and he was ready to capitalise on this new whisky boom. What of course helped immensely was the quality of his product.

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Nikka Coffey Malt

Nikka Coffey MaltProducer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 45%

When Aeneas Coffey took his first steps in the distilling world as an exciseman in 1800, he could not have guessed that his name would one day be linked to a range of Japanese spirits. Yet such was the impact of Coffey’s inventions that he is now considered one of the most influential figures in whisky history. Traditionally, distilling took place in pot stills, which have to be cleaned out after each run. To increase efficiency, Coffey designed a column still, which could operate continuously. His patented Coffey still would go on to become the standard for distilling grain whisky, at a time when blending became increasingly popular. Although his patent has since expired, modern column stills are very similar to Coffey’s invention back then, and continue to be named Coffey stills.

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Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Glenfiddich Fire CaneDistillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Fire & Cane is the fourth instalment in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series. Uncharacteristically for Glenfiddich, this bottling features some peated spirit, married together with unpeated stocks from ex-bourbon barrels. To top it off, this whisky then spent three months in rum casks, sourced from a variety of Latin American countries. So the name is apt, but why is Fire & Cane experimental? After all, there’s plenty of rum finished whiskies, and there are peated whiskies beyond count. That’s true, but the combination of the two is quite unique (only Kura and the upcoming Ardbeg Drum that I can think of).

Glenfiddich does have a rum finished 21 year old, and has in the past dabbled with peat in its Caoran Reserve. But Fire & Cane is a different proposition altogether. For one, the distillery actually uses peated barley to achieve its smoky notes, rather than casks that previously held peated whisky. The result is a much sharper, spicier version of Glenfiddich, which then mingles with the toffee notes offered by the rum casks. I think Fire & Cane is best described as a dessert whisky, sweet and indulgent, perhaps even a bit too much so. It’s nice to pair this dram with dark chocolate, to allow the bitterness of the cocoa to balance out the sweetness of the whisky, but I can imagine other pairings could work equally well.

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Ledaig 18 year old

Ledaig 18 year old reviewDistillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 18 years old
abv: 46.3%

Describing a whole range of whiskies as wonderfully peated is sure to raise some expectations. Yet Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull told no word of a lie when they slapped this label on their range of Ledaigs. While the lively 10 year old is a great bargain, Ledaig has also released some excellent older bottlings lately. These include the sumptuous 19 year old Oloroso Cask and the alluring Dùsgadh. But today’s headline act is Ledaig 18 year old. Bottled at the customary 46.3% and matured in casks that previously held sherry, this Ledaig is produced in small batches. This particular batch is No. 02, but fortunately a new batch has been released since, pointing at Ledaig 18’s commercial success. This bottling comes in an elegantly designed wooden box, making it a great gift. Trust me though, give Ledaig 18 a taste and you’ll agree you’d rather not part with this whisky…

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Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment 01Distillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment was the first entry in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series, a range of whiskies that is breaking new ground and is rightfully generating some buzz. Glenfiddich describes these whiskies as Single Malts that Rewrite the Rulebook. Of course, Glenfiddich has a history of writing its own rules, being the first company to successfully market single malts. Now drams such as Winter Storm and Fire & Cane are among the more unusual bottlings on the market, a tasteful reminder that distilling whisky doesn’t always have to be all about tradition. And surely, no distiller had dared to mature whisky in an ex-IPA casks before either. The oak in question comes from the Speyside Craft Brewery, which uses ex-Glenfiddich casks to mature their IPA beer, before returning them to the distillery. It’s this symbiotic relationship that has allowed Glenfiddich to jump on the global popularity of IPA, extending those bitter, hoppy flavours to its normally fruity whisky. I’m a big fan of IPA beers, and when I first tried Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, I was so intrigued that I decided to create my very own Arran IPA Cask Finish. But I digress, let’s return to the matter at hand…

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Super Nikka – Rare Old

Super Nikka ReviewProducer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Super Nikka was launched as far back as 1962, during a decade of great optimism in the Japanese whisky industry. Nevertheless, these were sad times for Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru, whose Scottish wife Rita had passed away the previous year. As a way of dealing with his grief, he poured all his energy into creating a new blend, which he would title Super Nikka. To honour his late wife, he meant for it to be something special. Super Nikka was the company’s most expensive product to date, retailing at ¥3000 per bottle, at a time when a college graduate could expect to earn around ¥18000 a month. The glass bottles were hand blown, each fitted with a glass stopper to add an extra touch of class. The bottle alone reportedly cost ¥500 to make, an extravagance given that many whiskies were retailing for less. As mentioned though, this was a time when whisky was booming in Japan and consumers sure were interested. Around 1000 bottles of Super Nikka were produced each year. All of them sold.

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Arran Marsala Cask Finish

Arran Marsala Cask ReviewDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

While 2017 saw the introduction of the Arran Trebbiano Cask, in 2018 it was time for another Italian wine to take its place. After plenty of shuffling around, Arran seems to have now settled on the Port, Amarone and Sauternes Cask being a core part of their range, complemented by a different Limited Edition each year. That honour now falls to the Arran Marsala Cask Finish.

Marsala is a fortified wine produced on Sicily, and is essentially Italy’s take on port or sherry. While Marsala’s intense flavour means it’s often used for cooking, it can also be drunk on its own, particularly if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. Not surprisingly then, Arran Marsala Cask will come as a treat for those who like their whiskies sweet and sumptuous. Bottled at the usual 50% abv, this is another easy-drinking sip of whisky from Arran distillery.

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