Ardbeg An Oa

Ardbeg An Oa whisky review 01

Distillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.6%

With LVMH’s PR machine grinding at full gear, much has already been written about Ardbeg An Oa since its unveiling in August 2017. This new whisky is named after the Mull of Oa, a rocky peninsula in the southwest of Islay that shelters Ardbeg distillery from the Atlantic Ocean’s often stormy conditions. An Oa is meant to reflect these calmer waters by offering a mellower version of Ardbeg, in what amounts to a nice bit of meteorological marketing. The whisky comes in some stylish packaging, and is a vatting of several different casks, including new charred oak, PX sherry casks and first-fill bourbon barrels. I have been eagerly awaiting this release, but have also taken care to manage my expectations. The other members of the Ultimate Range are an extremely hard act to follow, so let’s hope Ardbeg An Oa doesn’t disappoint.

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Caol Ila Moch

Caol Ila Moch 01Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Gaelic for ‘dawn’, Moch is supposedly Caol Ila’s first ever whisky selected purely on the basis of taste, rather than age, bottling strength or cask type. Arguably this is just marketing fluff, since Caol Ila’s master distiller will have evaluated the taste of each of the distillery’s whiskies prior to bottling. Even so, there’s no denying that Caol Ila Moch is a very tasty dram. It provides a bit of a lighter version of Caol Ila, without compromising on flavour and complexity. The result is a dram that juggles a softer side with the bold profile we’ve come to expect from Caol Ila. Enjoy the balance of this elegant Islay whisky!

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Laphroaig Triple Wood

Laphroaig Triple Wood 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

Laphroaig Triple Wood’s name is a bit of a giveaway. As you might expect, this whisky has aged in three different types of cask, making it essentially an Oloroso sherry finished Quarter Cask. What the name does not tell you though, is that this is a fantastic drop of whisky, a Laphroaig with a twist. Compared to some of the distillery’s more youthful offerings, Triple Wood is a mellower, more sophisticated dram. The nose is expressive, the body velvety and rich, while the finish still provides plenty of peat smoke.

Although Triple Wood was formerly a travel retail exclusive, its popularity has earned it a place among Laphroaig’s core range. It is a distinction well earned, as this is one of the distillery’s very finest whiskies.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Kilchoman Sanaig

Kilchoman SanaigDistillery: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Kilchoman has been hugely successful in gaining an early fan base (myself included), who eagerly lap up all the limited editions that the distillery releases. Since Kilchoman’s whisky is so very drinkable from a young age, there have been several cask finishes to generate income while the rest of the distillery’s stock matures. While some of these releases have been excellent (the Port Cask was particularly brilliant), it is always a little bit sad when you finish your bottle and there is no way to get another. Luckily, Kilchoman Sanaig is now here to stay, forming Kilchoman’s core range together with Machir Bay.

Like Loch Gorm, Sanaig is named after a geographical feature close to the distillery. As whisky makers continue to release new bottlings, I have to say the topographical references become more and more obscure (Bowmore Black Rock or Old Pulteney’s Lighthouse Series are good examples), but hey, every whisky needs a name… More importantly, Kilchoman Sanaig has received an additional maturation in Oloroso sherry casks, imbuing the whisky with sweet, fruity notes, as well as a bit of extra character. While this dram retains plenty of punch and smoke, Sanaig is much more graceful and complex when compared to the peaty onslaught of Machir Bay. I think the sherry finish complements the distillery character rather well, and this a very well-balanced and enjoyable dram!

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Lagavulin 8 year old

Lagavulin 8 year old reviewDistillery: Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Age: 8 years old
abv: 48%

Released to celebrate the distillery’s 200th anniversary, Lagavulin 8 year old is a nod to the great whisky writer Alfred Barnard, who visited the distillery in 1886. While doing so, he made mention of an 8 year old Lagavulin he tasted, which he described as “exceptionally fine”. Reflecting on their proud heritage, Lagavulin has decided to recreate this 8 year old malt to mark their bicentenary. Lagavulin has a very limited range and does not usually release limited editions, so this one really is something special. It is available for one year only, and although more expensive than its older brother, the 8 year old is still quite affordable. In this sense, Lagavulin has certainly one-upped Ardbeg and Laphroaig, which chose to release exclusive, expensive bottlings to mark their respective 200th birthdays in 2015. Even the packaging is a clear departure from Lagavulin’s usual darker shades, hinting that this whisky really is something quite different from the core range. With a maturation of just 8 years, this bottling is an exuberant, smoky and utterly breathtaking celebration of one of my favourite distilleries. Many happy returns, Lagavulin!

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