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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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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Arran Amarone Cask Finish

Arran Amarone CaskDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really enjoy Arran’s Cask Finishes range. There’s something about Arran’s fresh, fruity profile that just lends itself very well to an additional few months in ex-wine or port casks. For this bottling, Arran used oak that previously held Amarone, a rich Italian red wine. And oh my, has it left its mark on this whisky. Dark of colour with sweet, nutty flavours, a silky mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish, Arran Amarone Cask is a dram to savour. For the past few years this bottling has been in a bit of a limbo, being discontinued and reintroduced several times over. Let’s see if the Amarone Cask sticks around, but surely a dram this good has earned its place in Arran’s core range..?

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Talisker Distillers Edition

Talisker Distillers Edition ReviewDistillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: Distilled in 2001, bottled in 2012
abv: 45.8%

There have been quite a few changes to Talisker’s range over the past years, but its status as a Classic Malt means that Talisker Distillers Edition is here to stay. Similar to other Distillers Editions in the range, Talisker has taken its standard expression and treated it to an additional maturation in casks that previously held Amaroso sherry. This extra finish has tempered the traditional Talisker character somewhat, but also imbued the whisky with sweet, nutty flavours, resulting in a Talisker with a twist. The packaging is different too, with the usual transparent bottle replaced by brown glass, giving Talisker Distillers Edition a dark, classy look. And given that dark and classy is precisely how you would best describe this whisky, it’s about as much introduction as this Talisker needs.

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Arran The Bothy Quarter Cask

Arran The Bothy Quarter CaskDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 55.2%

The Isle of Arran distillery has been hugely successful in finishing their whiskies in a wide variety of casks, but sometimes there’s just no need to look beyond the flavours that American oak can provide. So rather than transferring your whisky from ex-bourbon casks into something sweet and sumptuous, why not finish it in… more bourbon casks? This is essentially what’s happened to Arran The Bothy, which – as its subtitle indicates – received an extra maturation in quarter casks. The use of quarter casks has regained popularity in recent years, with Laphroaig seeming particularly fond of the tactic. Historically, quarter casks were widely used, practical as they were due to their small size (also handy if you’re a smuggler). At a quarter the size of a normal hogshead barrel, quarter casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, allowing the spirit to soak up that oaky goodness much more quickly. Add to this the fact that The Bothy is bottled at cask strength, and you’ve got a bold, flavourful whisky, packed with vanilla and caramel flavours. The Bothy shows a different side of Arran, but one no less enjoyable. 

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Isle of Jura Prophecy

Jura ProphecyDistillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Most whisky makers produce either only peated, or non-peated spirit, but the Isle of Jura distillery has chosen to cover the entire spectrum. As you can see on their tasting wheel, expressions such as Origin and Diurachs’ Own stretch Jura’s range from light and delicate to rich and full-bodied. At the smokiest end of the spectrum we find Jura Prophecy, the island distillery’s rendition of a peat monster. But Prophecy is more than just that; despite its relative youth, it displays layer upon layer of rich flavours. Jura is a bit secretive about the casks that Prophecy has matured in, saying only that Prophecy is crafted from a selection of the finest and rarest aged Jura single malt whiskies. Clearly though, there’s more than just bourbon barrels involved in Prophecy’s making. The result is a captivating whisky, a good example that Jura gets their NAS bottlings very right. The only shame is the heavy caramel colouring that’s needlessly been added to give Prophecy a more attractive look.

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Highland Park 12 year old – Viking Honour

Highland Park 12 year old - Viking HonourDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

With names such as Einar, Svein and Drakkar, the Viking theme has always been strong with Highland Park. Indeed, Orkney was a Viking outpost for over 600 years, and their influence is found all over Orcadian folklore. Apparently it makes for good marketing too; recently Highland Park’s core range was given a makeover, with each expression gaining a new Viking-related subtitle and an elaborately carved bottle. I actually preferred the simplicity of the previous packaging, as the new look and feel is a bit over the top.

Packaging aside though, the whisky remains very much the same. And that’s a good thing: where many distilleries have mainly focused on NAS bottlings, Highland Park’s aged range is still going strong. The 12 year old is a classic, epitomising the honey sweet, smoky spirit that the distillery is known for. Highland Park is often referred to as everyone’s friend, and you’ll be hard put to find someone who severely dislikes the distillery’s drams. That doesn’t automatically make this a great whisky though, so let’s see what Highland Park Viking Honour is actually like.

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Scapa Skiren

Scapa Skiren ReviewDistillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Mention Orkney, and to many whisky drinkers Highland Park will come to mind. But that’s doing a disservice to Highland Park’s southern neighbour Scapa. Because the lack of attention for Scapa has nothing to do with the quality of their whiskies, it’s a matter of availability more than anything. With an annual capacity of just 1 million litres and the distillery having been mothballed until as recently as 2005, Scapa will need some time to replenish its stocks. The fact that all of Scapa’s spirit is now bottled as malt whisky will help, but even so, the shift to NAS whiskies has been inescapable. In 2015, Skiren was the first entry to Scapa’s brand new range, followed quickly by Scapa Glansa. Old Norse for glittering, bright skies, Skiren is unpeated and matured exclusively in first fill American oak casks. The result is a soft Island whisky that gives many Speyside distilleries a run for their money. Gorgeously packaged, Scapa Skiren is as good a gift as it is a temptation to keep it all to yourself. Time to enjoy this oft-overlooked Orcadian!

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Arran Machrie Moor (Batch 6)

Arran Machrie MoorDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

I’ve previously described Arran’s drams as Island whiskies without an obvious Island character. Indeed, Arran distillery is known for its fruity, unpeated whiskies, but with one notable exception. I’m referring of course to Arran Machrie Moor, named after the mysterious stone circles found on the island. Peated to 20 ppm, we can expect a similar level of smoke from Machrie Moor as for other Island distilleries such as Talisker or Highland Park. Billed as a limited edition, so far a new batch of Machrie Moor has been released each year, and fortunately it’s not hard to get a hold of a bottle.

When trying Machrie Moor for the first time, I was curious to see how Arran lends itself to peaty flavours, given that its whisky usually has such a friendly character. Although I like it when distilleries come up with a peated version of their spirit, I have to say it’s not always positive news. In this case though, Arran has come up with a winner. I’d even argue the distillery should spend less time on all sorts of crazy cask finishes and focus more on peated spirit instead. Either way, Machrie Moor is a welcome addition to the range, and I hope many more batches are in the making.

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Isle of Jura Elixir 12 year old

Jura 12 Elixir Review 01Distillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 46%

Evocatively named Elixir, Isle of Jura’s 12 year old expression sounds as beguiling as Water of Life itself. In this, Elixir fits right in with other Jura bottlings such as Prophecy and Superstition. Mystical marketing notwithstanding, Elixir’s only magical property is that it never fails to put a satisfied grin on the face of anyone who drinks it. Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and Amaroso sherry casks, this Jura has been bottled at the sensible strength of 46%.

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