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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Bowmore Black Rock

Bowmore Black Rock ReviewDistillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Named after the fairly obscure ‘Black Rock of Islay’, this whisky forms part of Bowmore’s coastal themed Travel Exclusive range (the other two expressions being Gold Reef and White Sands). Medium peated and finished in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, this whisky strikes a balance between gentle smoke and a subtle sweetness.

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Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine

bunnahabhain-eirigh-na-greine-01Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.3%

Bunnahabhain distillery is a bit of a rarity on Islay, given that most of its whiskies are unpeated. This fact does not make it the ugly duckling of the island however, as Bunnahabhain produces some very enjoyable whiskies, with the 12 and 18 year olds being a particular delight. Over past years, the distillery has been adding limited editions to their core range, with Gaelic names such as Darach Ùr, Ceòbanach, Toiteach and Cruach Mhona. This particular release has been finished in casks that previously held red wine, giving the whisky an extra layer of fruity, spicy influences. Eirigh Na Greine is Gaelic for ‘Morning Sky’, which is reflected in the stunning red packaging of this expression. For a distillery that’s located on Islay’s eastern shores and faces the sunrise every day, this is of course more than appropriate. This is my first tasting of this whisky, so let’s hope the Eirigh Na Greine does not prove to be a false dawn!

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Laphroaig Brodir

laphroaig-brodir-01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

You don’t need to be a linguist to guess the meaning of Laphroaig’s latest expression. Brodir means Brother in Norse, a nod to the close historical connections between Islay and the Vikings that once roamed the island. Keeping in line with the latest Laphroaig expressions, Brodir was initially meant as a travel retail exclusive, but can now be bought pretty much anywhere. After an initial maturation in ex-bourbon barrels, this whisky was transferred to European oak casks that previously held ruby port. This finish has provided an extra layer of sweetness and sophistication, resulting in a softer Laphroaig than we are used to. In this sense, Brodir is very much in tune with its siblings, Laphroaig QA Cask and PX Cask. Brodir does come with quite a hefty price tag, which may raise some eyebrows for what is another NAS bottling. However, a lack of age statement certainly does not translate into a lack of flavour, as Brodir brims with depth, complexity and elegance. And of course, as may be expected from a Laphroaig, a healthy measure of peat smoke. Very tasty stuff!

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Laphroaig 10 year old

Laphroaig 10 year oldDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: 10 year old
abv: 40%

As Laphroaig’s core expression, the 10 year old embodies the distillery character in its purest form, unburdened by the process of extensive maturation or additional finishes. While many whisky makers boast of their maritime influences, no other whisky reflects this in the final product more than Laphroaig. Pungent, peaty and powerful, in many ways it is the quintessential Islay malt. As such Laphroaig is the ultimate ‘love it or hate it’ dram, a term the distillery itself once used as an advertising slogan. In fact, Laphroaig is so medicinal in flavour and aroma that it could legally be sold as a medical spirit during Prohibition in the Unites States.

I distinctly remember disliking that big rush of iodine the first time I tried Laphroaig 10 year old. Like olives, beer, or indeed whisky itself, Laphroaig is an acquired taste that I’ve come to love over the years. To quote another bit of Laphroaig marketing: “Laphroaig may seem a little aloof at first, but make the effort, broach acquaintance and we can guarantee you’ll have a warm and genuine friend for life.” If whisky bottles can indeed be counted as friends, you could certainly do worse than having Laphroaig 10 year old for a companion.

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Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Laphroaig Quarter Cask ReviewDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

Another No Age Statement from Laphroaig, the Quarter Cask takes its name from a second maturation it has received in much smaller American oak casks. At about a quarter the size of a normal ex-bourbon barrel, the ratio of wood surface to liquid is much higher in a quarter cask. This increased contact allows the whisky to soak up flavour from the oak at a much faster rate. And indeed, this is noticeable in the end result: while the feisty Laphroaig character is most definitely still present, there is also an extra layer of oaky, vanilla creaminess.

Laphroaig claims the use of quarter casks is a long-lost tradition that is just now being revived. If that’s the case, this tradition seems here to stay, as the Quarter Cask now forms the basis for various other Laphroaig expressions. And who can blame them, as the Quarter Cask is a mighty fine dram in its own right.

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Laphroaig PX Cask

Laphroaig PX Cask ReviewDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

The latest member to join Laphroaig’s travel retail exclusive family, PX Cask has received a triple maturation. After an initial ageing period in American ex-bourbon barrels, this whisky was then transferred to much smaller quarter casks. Because of their high surface to liquid ratio, these small barrels manage to impart a lot of oaky vanilla flavours  in a relatively short time. To top it off, this Laphroaig was then transferred to European oak that previously held  Pedro Ximénez sherry, from which the PX Cask gets its name. As such, it is essentially a sherry-finished version of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, also bottled at 48%. Yet the difference between the two is striking, with the PX finish adding an additional layer of richness and complexity to an already distinctive whisky. The result is a great dram, a peat monster with something extra. Although Laphroaig PX cask is now available in most online shops, there is one great advantage to its travel retail status: the bottle is a full litre. You’re going to need it, this whisky is very drinkable!

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