Ardbeg Uigeadail

Ardbeg Uigeadail ReviewDistillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 54.2%

Named after the loch that forms the distillery’s water source, Ardbeg Uigeadail is a vatting that marries younger, traditional Ardbeg spirit with older whiskies from casks that previously held sherry. Launched in 2003 at a time when no age statement bottlings were still a relative rarity, Uigeadail has certainly set a shining example for all NAS whiskies that have followed since. Although so far nothing comes close to the otherworldly Ardbeg Galileo, Uigeadail is definitely my favourite of the core range. And the 120.000+ members of the Ardbeg Committee agree: they have chosen Uigeadail as their most beloved Ardbeg. For me, Uigeadail has long been the go-to dram for finishing off a flight of smoky whiskies (be they Ardbegs or not). Having said that, it’s of course also great on its own, and I consider it to be the ultimate nightcap. However you drink it, Ardbeg Uigeadail is a phenomenal whisky and it’s well worth keeping a bottle in your collection.

Colour: Sparkly copper

Nose: Sweet and smoky, like grilled pork glazed with honey. Complex, aromatic and brimming with energy, there are the usual briny seaweed notes, as if a salty sea breeze were blowing over an Islay peat bog. The aroma of dark fruits mixes with Lapsang souchong and freshly ground coffee. Through it all wafts a fairly subdued smoke, like a peat fire that’s long since died down. There’s a lot going on and this promises to be an intricate yet fiery dram.

Palate: Oily and incredibly rich, with a luscious sweetness throughout. Ardbeg’s maritime character mingles with more sophisticated notes of sherry infused oak and floral cigar smoke. The balance is exquisite, like a fruit basket sprinkled with peat and honey. Then an earthier profile takes over with notes of heather and peat bogs, with just a hint of smoked fish towards the end.

Finish: Long and intense, with pure, clean peat smoke cascading over rocks of dark chocolate. There is a pleasantly salty, peaty aftertaste that lingers on for what seems like eons. Breathtaking stuff!

Verdict: Uigeadail offers a less medicinal, sweeter version of Ardbeg. Bottled at cask strength, Uigeadail still manages to deliver a mighty punch, but combines this with delicious complexity. The combination between Ardbeg and sherry is a sumptuous one, with the peaty Islay flavours being perfectly complimented by the European oak, all the while being impeccably balanced. I’ve long had an internal debate (with many a glass poured) over whether Corryvreckan or Uigeadail is the better dram, but I think Uigeadail may just edge it. It’s an incredibly rewarding whisky that can be counted among the true Islay greats!

Ardbeg Uigeadail Review

Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Floki Young Malt 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 13-14 months
abv: 47%

When you think of Iceland, you may picture glaciers and waterfalls, or volcanoes that annoyingly bring whole continents to a standstill. Perhaps you may even think of Vikings, Björk or fermented shark meat. But rarely will you hear the words Iceland and whisky uttered in the same sentence. Not until recently at least, because now Eimverk distillery is producing Iceland’s very own malt whisky. True, it will not be ready until November 2017, but there’s already a taster available for those who cannot wait. Fittingly subtitled First Impression, Flóki Young Malt is exactly that: a first introduction to an Icelandic whisky that’s far from a final product.

Bottled after having been matured for just over a year, this Flóki may not even call itself whisky yet. Despite this, it’s a very captivating drink, thanks in large part to the unconventional way in which Flóki is produced. For more background on Eimverk and Flóki, you can read about my visit to the distillery here. What is good to mention though is that because of Iceland’s harsh climate, barley produced on the island is much less rich in sugar content. To make up for this, Eimverk uses up to 50% more barley in each batch, and this has a very positive impact on the flavour of the spirit. You can expect lots of sweet cereal and an almost oily spiciness in this Flóki.

It has been great to make acquaintance with this Icelandic experiment in whisky making, even just for a first impression. It’s left me eager for more, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see how the Flóki range develops in the future. For now though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Young Malt. Skál!

Colour: Sparkling gold. Despite the young age, no artificial colouring was used, meaning that the deep shade of gold is solely from the virgin oak. This in itself is an indication of how quickly the spirit has matured.

Nose: Aromas of hay and fresh wood shavings spout from the glass like a geyser, carrying zesty notes of orange peel and bubblegum in their wake. The nose is like heather growing on a volcanic slope: darkly brooding but floral. There are clear scents of toasted vanilla, betraying the influence of the virgin oak. This Flóki does display a degree of sharpness, but none of the pungency you’d expect from such immature spirit. On the whole, very clean and quite promising.

Palate: Light-bodied, with a very distinctive malt profile, quite unlike any whisky I’ve ever tasted before. The extra barley is working wonders here, complementing the raw spirit and fresh oak flavours beautifully. Belatedly, a spicy character opens up, with notes of ginger and aniseed slowly giving way to fruitier flavours of raisins and dried figs.

Finish: Not quite a volcanic eruption, but rather a soothing, warming plunge in a geothermal pool. The oaky vanilla notes dissipate into a dry but pleasant aftertaste of fragrant barley. The finish is exceptionally smooth, you would never guess that this Flóki isn’t yet old enough to be called whisky.

Verdict: The distillers at Eimverk said they did not want to simply recreate a Scottish whisky in Iceland, and indeed they have not. Flóki is whisky done the Icelandic way, and I must applaud Eimverk for their pioneering boldness. In staying true to local inputs and making the best of the unconventional equipment available at the distillery, Eimverk have created something quite special. Of course Flóki Young Malt isn’t a refined product, heck it’s not even whisky yet. But at just one year old, the spirit is enormously promising. Many whiskies-in-the-making at this age would be quite undrinkable – I’ve tried some spirit you really wouldn’t drink for the fun of it. Taking this into account, Flóki Young Malt is a phenomenal drink and I simply cannot wait to see what it will taste like at 3 or even 12 years old. I expect big things from this small Icelandic distillery.

Eimverk Distillery Logo

The Eimverk logo displays the Vegvísir runic compass, as well as the three ravens used by Hrafna-Flóki, the first person to deliberately navigate to Iceland. The runes around the compass read ‘the way from home is the way to home’. Not only is this an excellent adage for exploring and settling on new shores, it is also useful advice for drunkenly making your way back home after a few too many whiskies!

Highland Park Dark Origins

Highland Park Dark OriginsDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.8%

Leaving the usual Viking theme aside for a moment, Dark Origins pays homage to Highland Park’s founder, Magnus Eunson. Magnus lived a bit of a double life, being a preacher during the day and a smuggler at night. He was rightly famed for his cunning, and there are many stories of him outwitting local excisemen, often in his guise as a servant of god. The Lord doesn’t seem to have minded very much, since fortune shone upon Magnus’s business, and Highland Park has become a very successful (legal) distillery indeed.

Dark Origins has been aged mostly in first-fill sherry casks, and these have not failed to leave their mark on this whisky. Dark Origins is much heavier on the sherry front than other Highland Park bottlings, with flavours of dried fruits and dark chocolate very prominent. As such, this dram has lost some of its maritime freshness, but instead displays a more sensuous complexity that fits the theme all the better. The same can be said of the packaging, which is stunning. The only drawback is that it keeps you guessing as to how much of that precious liquid is still in the bottle, but being enigmatic as he was, I’m sure Magnus Eunson would have agreed.

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Deep, sweet and musty, much like an underground wine cellar. The sherry profile is positively bursting from the glass, exuding aromas of raisins and Christmas cake. The nose reminds me of Aberlour A’bunadh in that it’s a true sherry bomb. Fruity intertwines with nutty, as scents of blackberries and walnut tingle the senses. The maritime distillery character has been very much forced into the background by the influence of the cask, meaning this whisky is not instantly recognisable as a Highland Park. But I’m not complaining, this is compelling stuff!

Palate: Full-bodied, with an oily lushness to it. Dried fruit and nuts are in bountiful supply, eventually giving way to notes of allspice and cracked black pepper. Then dark chocolate and butterscotch take over, guiding this whisky towards the finish.

Finish: Pleasantly warming, with a lingering nutty aftertaste. Finally cracks appear in the facade of sherry sweetness, as Highland Park’s salty, smoky character breaks through and Dark Origins at last reveals its Island pedigree.

Verdict: This dram is right up my alley, as I am a fan of both sherry bombs and peated whisky. Highland Park Dark Origins provides a delicious mixture of these two styles. Admittedly the sherry cask has drowned out the peat character somewhat, but towards the finish the balance is restored. On top of this, the sherry flavours are so tasty that any lack of balance is easily forgotten. As much as I love this whisky, I’ve also seen some negative reviews. My advice is simple: if you like sherry finishes, this is an excellent dram. If you don’t, well, then better stay away. Dark Origins doesn’t come particularly cheap, but in my opinion it comfortably beats many other bottlings in this price range. It’s a truly terrific whisky that never fails to put a smile on my face 🙂

Highland Park Dark Origins

 

Bunnahabhain Toiteach

Bunnahabhain Toiteach 01Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Toiteach is Gaelic for “smoky”, and that’s really about as much introduction as this whisky needs. Bunnahabhain normally produces whisky that’s barely peated at all (around 2 ppm), but they’ve decided to create something different with Toiteach. Very different. Because Toiteach is smoky. Very smoky. Let’s see how it compares to some of Bunnahabhain’s Islay neighbours, as well as Toiteach’s less peated siblings.

Colour: Honey

Nose: Immensely peaty and rather acrid. Medicinal aromas of iodine and fresh seaweed blend effortlessly with huge quantities of smoke and brine. Underneath this thick, somewhat obtrusive layer of peat it’s hard to discover much else, but with a bit of imagination you can find orchard fruits, bog myrtle and a whiff of heather. The nose also faintly reminds me of a Pritt Stick, with some unpleasant glue-like qualities to it. Completely different to a normal Bunna, but then again that’s exactly the point of this whisky.

Palate: Not surprisingly, very peaty, but more pleasant than the nose would suggest. It’s like peat smoke wafting over an Islay bog, with smoky and earthy notes taking centre stage. There’s not much else going on though, as this whisky is quite one-dimensional. Notes of caramel and black pepper do make an appearance, but the smoky character dominates.

Finish: Medium long and slightly underwhelming. Again there’s plenty of peat smoke, but the aftertaste is ashy, dry and a rather bitter.

Verdict: It’s always exciting when distilleries experiment, as it can lead to some unexpectedly delicious results. The likes of Octomore, Mackmyra and Glenfiddich IPA come to mind. However, for each success story there are inevitably some less palatable experiments, and for me Toiteach unfortunately falls into the latter category. Although it’s interesting to try a peated Bunnahabhain, I feel that in the case of Toiteach the peat is a bit overdone, leaving little room for other flavours to develop. While I would have loved to experience the interaction of the peat smoke with Bunnahabhain’s fresh, fruity character, that’s simply not happening here. So although I’m an avid peathead, I am not convinced by Toiteach, and would much rather buy the excellent Bunnahabhain 12 year old.

Bunnahabhain Toiteach 02

Glen Scotia Victoriana

Glen Scotia Victoriana 01Distillery: Glen Scotia
Region: Campbeltown
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.5%

Although historically standing in the shadow of its more famous neighbour Springbank, Glen Scotia survived the carnage of the Campbeltown bust for a reason. The distillery produces a quality spirit, known for its fresh, salty, oily characteristics. Although traditionally softer than other Campbeltown whiskies (and therefore more attractive to blenders), Glen Scotia’s whisky is no less distinctive and has gathered a loyal following. Production was rather irregular until the distillery was bought by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014, who invested heavily in both hardware and marketing. The result was a new range of whiskies between 10 and 21 years old, instantly recognisable by the Highland cow on the front of the bottle. Since then, the range has changed yet again, with just three bottlings now making up the core range.

One of these is Glen Scotia Victoriana, meant to be a modern interpretation of what a classic Campbeltown malt from the Victorian era might have tasted like. To achieve this result, Victoriana has been aged in heavily charred oak and bottled at cask strength. The result is a deliciously rich whisky that packs quite some punch. Whether it’s is anything like the drams Glen Scotia used to make in years gone by is impossible to say, but if it were up to me, the distillery should continue producing whisky very much like Victoriana!

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Extremely oaky, with lots of toasted vanilla. Aromas of caramel and praline give way to dark forest fruits, before being replaced by coffee grounds and cooking pears. There’s plenty of tannins too, with scents of resin and aniseed battling for prominence. Neither wins out to the aroma of charred American oak though, which is apparent throughout. On the whole, the nose is extremely rich and leaves few secrets about what’s coming next.

Palate: Heavy and oily, with some pungency due to the high alcohol content. Notes of chocolate and crème brûlée mingle with a toasted smokiness to produce a dram of dark, deep complexity. What follows is an explosion of spices, with pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon coming to the fore. Through it all, the woody undertones remain distinctly noticeable, as they balance perfectly with the other flavours on offer.

Finish: Long, slow, delicious; like drinking smouldering oak. A heap of brown sugar slowly caramelises into an aftertaste of liquorice and the lingering remnants of a wood fire. A really rewarding dram!

Verdict: Glen Scotia Victoriana produces flavour so thick you can almost chew it at times. Yet for all its intensity, this dram is not one-dimensional, and that’s quite an achievement. The heavily charred oak gives off strong flavours of vanilla and toasted wood, but these do not drown out the distinctive Glen Scotia distillery character. Quite the contrary, the two styles complement each other to produce a fine dram. There are some slight smoky notes to be found, but it’s definitely wood smoke, not at all similar to the peaty whiskies found just a short boat ride away from Campbeltown. Glen Scotia Victoriana provides a great sensory experience and is a hugely enjoyable dram that’s well worth a try.

Glen Scotia Victoriana 02

Bowmore 12 year old Enigma

Bowmore 12 year old Enigma 01Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Although Bowmore Enigma has been discontinued (and replaced by the likes of Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands), it can still be found in some specialty stores. Once a proud member of the Travel Exclusive range, Bowmore Enigma comes in a 1 litre bottle, and boasts a higher percentage of whisky that’s been aged in European oak compared to the regular 12 year old. These ex-sherry casks give this whisky a sweet, almost juicy character.

I have to admit that I’m still searching for a Bowmore expression that’s really satisfying. Maybe it’s simply not my style, but I find many of their whiskies to be a bit too shy. In fact, you don’t often hear someone proclaim that Bowmore is their favourite distillery. Peatheads will tend to go for something else, whereas in my view Bowmore simply does not compare favourably with other medium peated whiskies such as Talisker or Highland Park. But perhaps Enigma will stand out, so back to the matter at hand.

This particular Bowmore isn’t actually all that enigmatic, especially compared to many of the NAS bottlings that are currently on the market. We actually know Enigma’s age, as well as the casks it’s been matured in, which is more than can be said of  Bowmore’s current Travel Exclusive range. Then again, Enigma sure does have a mysterious ring to it, so let’s try to decipher what this whisky is all about.

Colour: Tawny

Nose: Salty and quite medicinal. Aromas of polished wood and crushed almonds give way to milk chocolate. There is an unmistakable sweet sherry dimension, but it’s fairly subdued. The nose is rather friendly, with fruity notes of orange peel and lavender.

Palate: Light bodied, with a clear coastal influence. Brine and subtle seaweed open up to an oaky character, with notes of fresh wood shavings and vanilla.  There’s a faint hint of some spices too, but they’re very much on the background.

Finish: Disappointing. The finish is simply too flat and too soft. The aftertaste is ashy with some peat smoke, but does not leave a warming sensation.

Verdict: This whisky is so sweet and soft that it feels like you’re sipping lemonade. The only problem is that I don’t want to be sipping lemonade, I want to drink whisky. Bowmore Enigma is by no means a bad dram, but it’s just not very engaging. Although there are some classic coastal, smoky notes to this whisky, they are a bit drowned out by the sweetness from the sherry cask. In many cases an additional cask finish can provide a whisky with an extra dimension, but here it only seems to distract from the positive aspects of Bowmore’s distillery character. Sad to say, the result is another underwhelming Bowmore expression. Fortunately I bought this whisky at a steep discount, but at full price I would think twice before buying Bowmore Enigma again.

Bowmore 12 year old Enigma 02

Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean

Douglas Laing Epicurean 01Distillery: Blend
Region: Lowland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.2%

In 2009, Douglas Laing (an independent bottler from Glasgow) launched the Remarkable Regional Malts range, with the first release of the Big Peat. The concept is to take malt whisky from several distilleries and fuse these into a blended malt that is typical of a certain whisky producing region. Examples include Scallywag for Speyside and Timorous Beastie for the Highlands, but perhaps the best known example is the Big Peat from Islay. The Epicurean is the latest addition to the range, representing the Lowlands, and was launched in 2016.

The Remarkable Regional Malts are not blends in the traditional sense, as no grain whisky is used in their production. Instead, they are what would have previously been called a vatted malt, until the Scotch Whisky Association changed the rules in 2011. Although the Lowlands produce more whisky than any other region in Scotland, only a handful of malt distilleries remain. The vast majority of output comes from large, industrial grain distilleries, which form the heart of the blending industry that’s based in the Lowlands. Perhaps then it is only fitting to try to capture the true spirit of the Lowlands in a blend. Many of Douglas Laing’s whiskies have been nothing short of exceptional, so I’m very curious to see what The Epicurean has in store.

Colour: Extremely pale, like a Sauvignon blanc.

Nose: Light and grassy, as you’d expect from a Lowland whisky. Reminiscent of a freshly mowed lawn strewn with autumn leaves. Scents of butter and cream cheese give way to a pungent citric character. There is also a rather alcoholic quality to the nose, which does not integrate well with the delicate character of the other aromas.

Palate: Sweet and prickly, with notes of crushed almond and confectioners’ sugar. These are replaced by drier impressions of hay, herbs and breakfast cereal. Towards the finish, honeyed barley suffuses with new make spirit to create some rough edges. The silky smoothness so typical of Lowland whiskies is missing somewhat, and I question the wisdom of bottling The Epicurean at a higher alcohol percentage.

Finish: What this finish delivers in length and warmth, it lacks in flavour. The grassy profile returns, this time with a splash of lemon, but a rich bouquet of varied tastes never opens up.

Verdict: I really like the concept of the Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts range, and I have nothing particularly against blends. Unfortunately, much like the Big Peat, The Epicurean is simply not greater than the sum of its parts. For my money, I’d rather buy any of the Lowland single malts, which provide more character and more finesse than The Epicurean. A delicate whisky does not need to be dull, but here unfortunately it is. A bit of a misfire from Douglas Laing, but this won’t stop me from trying their other whiskies in the future.

Douglas Laing Epicurean 02

Scapa Glansa

Scapa Glansa Review 01Distillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Things have been pretty quiet around Orkney’s lesser known distillery for the past decade. Scapa’s 12 year old standard expression was changed to a 14 year old version (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base) and more recently upgraded to a 16 year old bottling (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base), but not much else was happening on the marketing front. Until recently, when owner Pernod Ricard decided to shake things up by introducing a new range. The 16 year old was discontinued (presumably to the dismay of Scapa’s remaining fans?), to be replaced by Scapa Skiren, a smooth, honeyed dram aged in first-fill bourbon casks. But Skiren now has some company, with the launch of its peaty brother, Scapa Glansa. While the barley used for Glansa’s spirit remains unpeated, it has been finisheded in casks that used to hold peaty whisky, giving Glansa a subtle smokiness.

While some people really dislike the notion of “second hand peat”, I have no particular beef with it. These days whiskies are aged in all sorts of different casks, from the weird to the wonderful. If distillers get to use casks that previously held rum, Sauternes or cloudberry wine, why not one that previously held whisky? In fact, this is common practise, as refill barrels are used everywhere, only this one just happens to have held peaty whisky before. It’s transparent, and the consumer knows what to expect. If you’d rather drink a properly peaty whisky, there are enough great Islay drams on offer 🙂

As an added bonus, Scapa Glansa comes in some very stylish packaging, making it a nice gift for friends or family. It’s certainly an interesting offering from a distillery that’s traditionally been a bit cautious, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there will be any additions to the core range in the near future.

Colour: Auburn

Nose: Exceptionally fruity, like an orchard in full bloom. Lush aromas of ripe apples and peach suffuse into scents of barley, much like a fruity muesli bar. Underneath lurks a layer of oaky complexity, as well as a tinge of salt. This gives way to vanilla custard and a sort of floral cigar smoke. The nose is friendly but not flat, displaying quite some character and enticing you to take a first sip.

Palate: Medium bodied, with a sweetness that carries over from the nose. The flavour of breakfast cereal recedes into honey glazed ham, with a small kick of peat at the back of the palate. After notes of steamed mackerel, a spicier character unfolds, with black pepper and cloves coming to the fore. Then the fruity notes return, reminding me of the gummy bears I used to eat as a child.

Finish: Medium in length. The peat is given more room to develop, but never truly breaks through. The typical Scapa sweetness reaches a crescendo, before a burst of spices comes rushing in. The aftertaste is rather flavourful, and is somehow best described as charred fruit…

Verdict: The more I drink this whisky, the more enjoyable it becomes. And what’s not to like? In many ways, Glansa is a typical Scapa offering: fresh and fruity, with plenty of complexity and more than a hint of the sea. But for a whisky that’s usually unpeated, the extra finish in peated casks is an interesting touch. Don’t expect Islay levels of peat here, that’s simply not the point of this dram. Instead, the subtle smoke complements the Scapa distillery character wonderfully well, enriching the whisky without ever overpowering it. Scapa Glansa is a remarkably pleasant dram that’s dangerously easy to drink. The only thing holding this whisky back is the fairly hefty price tag, but if you have the chance, I do recommend you give this dram a try.

Scapa Glansa Review 02

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley

Port Charlotte Scottish BarleyDistillery: Bruichladdich
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

It’s been some years now since Bruichladdich distillery decided to split its range: Bruichladdich for its unpeated whiskies, and Port Charlotte for its peated expressions (plus Octomore for the ultra peaty stuff). This means that at least you know what you’ll be getting with a Port Charlotte: smoke!

Port Charlotte is named after the village close to Bruichladdich distillery, which is where much of its whisky spends time maturing in the warehouses. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is peated to a level of 40 ppm, placing it in between Lagavulin and Ardbeg in terms of smokiness. The stills used at Bruichladdich use a process known as trickle distillation. Combined with the unusually tall shape of the stills, this creates a clean, floral spirit, so clearly on display in drams such as the Classic Laddie.

The fact this Port Charlotte is made with Scottish barley isn’t really anything special, as most Scotch whiskies are. If you are partial to this kind of sentiment, I suggest you try the Islay barley instead, which is in fact locally grown. Bruichladdich rightfully style themselves as progressive Hebridean distillers, and they really have pushed the envelope with projects such as Octomore (hugely successful) and X4 (a flop), as well as several unconventional cask finishes. There’s not much progressive about the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley though, as this whisky was aged in traditional bourbon barrels – no matter how hand-picked they may be. Instead, the Scottish Barley is a solid Islay dram that’s bound to please.

Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Wonderfully clean and crisp, like a salty sea breeze on a clear Islay day. Aromas of grilled prawns and smoked salmon intertwine with the floral profile of heather in full bloom. There’s a sweet smokiness to this whisky, kind of like a beehive on fire. You can also spot a whiff of seaweed, but this dram is nowhere near as medicinal as a Laphroaig or a Lagavulin. Since there is no interference from any sherry maturation, this Port Charlotte smells like a typical Islay dram. Quite promising!

Palate: Medium bodied and rather alcoholic. Although this whisky has not received an additional finish, it certainly does not lack for complexity. Port Charlotte’s sweet, floral character is on display again, perfectly balanced with the peaty, salty notes that we’ve come to expect from the Islay heavy hitters. Notes of toasted vanilla and shortbread give way to flavours of liquorice and caramel, but the taste is less exuberant than the nose would suggest.

Finish: Ufff, intense! The finish takes a while to unfold, but when it does the warming explosion is long and ferocious. The bottling strength of 50% is really working wonders here. A pleasant sensation of wood smoke and barley takes this whisky towards its climax. Only on the aftertaste does the peat truly develop, lingering on for quite some time.

Verdict: Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is quite an interesting dram. It manages to display all the typical fiery characteristics of an Islay whisky, while somehow being quite light and friendly. Although peated to 40 ppm, this dram doesn’t feel all that smoky, which is in large part due to the trickle distillation and Bruichladdich’s high necked stills. In some ways, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley is not dissimilar to Ardbeg 10 year old (which uses a purifier on the still), although much less earthy and smoky. What Bruichladdich have created with the Scottish Barley is a dram that’s ideal for those who are new to heavily peated whiskies. I distinctly remember disliking my first ever Laphroaig, and I can’t help but wonder if things had been different if I’d had this Port Charlotte first. Well worth a try!

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley

Laphroaig Four Oak

Laphroaig Four OakDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Over the past years, Laphroaig has been happily experimenting with different types of maturation. Quarter casks, bourbon barrels, sherry casks and virgin oak are just some of the casks used in Laphroaig’s recent NAS expressions. But why choose when you can actually use all of them? This is exactly what Laphroaig has done for their new expression, aptly called Four Oak. Given this name, it may not come as a surprise that the Four Oak one-ups the Triple Wood by adding an extra layer of maturation. While the Triple Wood is essentially a sherry finished version of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Four Oak adds the virgin oak character that’s also found in Laphroaig QA Cask, meaning it really has a wealth of influences to draw upon. The QA Cask and Triple wood are both excellent Laphroaig expressions, albeit quite different in terms of character. Do the two styles mix? Let’s find out!

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Somewhat sour and not altogether pleasant. The instantly recognisable Laphroaig seaweed and iodine make an appearance, but in rather subdued form. There’s a floral, winey character to this whisky, with scents of raisins and vanilla. These give way to toffee, cork and hemp rope, along with shortbread and roasted almonds. However, the effect is more than a little bit spoiled by a distinct aroma of raw spirit, faintly reminiscent of meat that’s not been cured correctly. Although there is quite a lot happening on the nose, it’s not all good news, and I really hope this whisky may yet surprise.

Palate: The same winey, mellow character returns, fused with notes of toasted oak and smoky cereal. The vanilla from the nose increases in intensity, as the influence from the virgin oak cask unfolds. There’s quite an explicit barley flavour, intertwined with notes of salty  liquorice. On the whole, this is a fairly fresh version of Laphroaig. I could never call a Laphroaig soft, but the Four Oak is much less feisty than the 10 year old or the Quarter Cask. Despite this, the relative youth of this whisky is apparent throughout. There is quite a lot of complexity, but little sophistication and more than a little lack of balance.

Finish: Not overly long, and missing that typical warming boost that announces this is a Laphroaig. The finish is accompanied by a relatively soft smokiness, having left most of the medicinal character behind. Eventually the smoke evaporates into an aftertaste of charred oak and dried fruit.

Verdict: Let’s cut right to the chase, Four Oak is not Laphroaig’s best offering. No amount of additional cask finishes can hide the fact that this is a very young whisky. And just to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with young Islay whiskies, in fact I happen to like them a lot. But if you’re going to bottle a dram like that, you should come out and make a bold statement, and not disguise it as something sophisticated. Similarly, I have no particular beef with NAS whiskies, as they are a simple necessity in a market where demand exceeds supply. What I’m not OK with however, is taking a very young whisky, giving it a few cask finishes and making a quick buck off a successful marketing campaign. What Laphroaig have produced with the Four Oak is a dram that’s no match for the 10 year old or the Quarter Cask in ferocity and liveliness, and can nowhere near rival the Triple Wood or PX Cask in terms of sophistication. For less money than the Four Oak, I would happily buy any of those whiskies instead, so it’s safe to say I will not be returning to the Four Oak anytime soon.

Laphroaig Four Oak