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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Talisker 57° North

Talisker 57 North Review 01Distillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 57%

Having launched in 2008, Talisker 57° North is the longest serving member of the many NAS bottlings that now make up Talisker’s range. Of course this says something about the popularity of the 57° North, since unsuccessful whiskies don’t get to stick around for long. This expression is named for the geographical coordinates of the Talisker distillery, which finds itself at a latitude of 57 degrees North. To stay true to the theme, 57° North has been bottled at a strength of… you’ve guessed it: 57% abv. This marks a departure from the standard Talisker bottling strength of 45.8%, providing the 57° North with plenty of oomph on top of an already feisty distillery profile. This one’s going to be fun!

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Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

Arran Sauternes Cask 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

Arran distillery seems to be on a quest to finish their whisky in every cask type imaginable, and have produced some quality drams along the way. There’s something about Arran whisky that makes it suit cask finishes particularly well, which is why I’m excited to try the Arran Sauternes Cask. As the name implies, this dram has received an additional maturation in oak that previously held Sauternes, a sweet, white dessert wine from the Bordeaux region. While I’ve not been overly impressed with the likes of Tullibardine 225 or Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, I have a feeling that a Sauternes finish may complement Arran’s fresh, fruity character rather well. Let’s find out!

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Arran Port Cask Finish

Arran Port Cask Finish 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

It seems natural to compare the Arran Port Cask with the Madeira Cask, given the similarities between these two types of fortified wine. I tend to contrast it with the different effects that an Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez sherry finish can have on a whisky, but since I’m by no means a wine expert, I will quickly move to safer (whisky) ground. Because despite their similar maturation, it’s striking how different the Arran Port Cask and Madeira Cask actually are. Sure, they share the same Arran characteristics, but underneath this there’s a completely distinct flavour profile for each.

The Arran Port Cask was aged in American oak for about 8 years, before being transferred to ex-port casks. This extra maturation has enhanced Arran’s fruity flavours even further, but has also mellowed some of the freshness usually found in Arran whiskies, substituting it for an enigmatic finesse.  Many other cask finishes have come and gone from Arran’s core range, but the Port Cask remains. While this may have something to do with the availability of casks, it’s certainly also an indication that Arran Port Cask has been a big hit. I for one am thankful that this whisky is still on the shelves, as it’s a dram I love to come back to!

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