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!

Continue reading

Lagavulin 16 year old

Lagavulin 16 year old reviewDistillery: Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Age: 16 years old
abv: 43%

Although founded legally in 1816, Lagavulin traces its roots back to a group of illicit distillers on Islay’s southern shores, far away from the grasp of nosy excisemen. After several decades of moonshining, these smugglers ultimately merged into what would become the licensed Lagavulin distillery. Lagavulin is distinctive for its low, pear-shaped stills and slow distillation process. This allows many of the rougher, more flavourful vapours to make the cut. Paired with the high levels of peat in its malt, this makes Lagavulin’s raw spirit one of the roughest, wildest liquids you can find. It should come as no surprise then that its core expression is aged for no less than 16 years. While this maturation takes some of the sharper edges off the spirit, Lagavulin remains a wonderfully characterful whisky, full of punch but with a dignified sophistication to match its ferocity. The result is an absolute masterpiece: my favourite Classic Malt and one of the jewels in Diageo’s whisky crown.

Continue reading

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014Distillery: Kilchoman
Region: Islay
Age: Vatting of 5 and 6 year old malt
abv: 46%

Opened in 2005, Kilchoman was the first distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years. Like so many whisky distilleries in the old days, Kilchoman is built on a farm that produces its own barley. While most distilleries have gone on to become large production sites, Kilchoman is as of yet very small, giving a unique insight into what a whisky distillery might have looked like two centuries ago. Indeed, all processes, from malting, distilling, maturing and bottling, currently take place on the farm, making Kilchoman unique on Islay. This means that the distillery is well worth a visit, and I can certainly recommend their tour!

From the very moment that its first spirit became whisky, Kilchoman has boasted a large fan base. This is impressive, given that many whiskies at 3 years old are quite undrinkable, let alone marketable. Yet Kilchoman’s raw spirit is of an exceptional quality, allowing for its whisky to be bottled at such a tender age. While I love the youthful, intrepid character of their whiskies, I can’t wait to taste what Kilchoman will be like after a few years’ extra maturation. For now all the signs indicate Kilchoman have a very bright future ahead of them!

Continue reading

Octomore 06.1 Scottish Barley

Octomore 6.1 Scottish BarleyDistillery: Bruichladdich
Region: Islay
Age: 5 years old
abv: 57%

Styling themselves as ‘progressive Hebridean distillers’, Bruichladdich has released its fair share of interesting whisky experiments over the years. While some of these are now found on the junkyard of bravely tried but failed ideas (such as Bruichladdich X4), the Octomore range sure has proved a big success. At 167 ppm, Octomore 06.1 was the peatiest whisky in the world when it was released, although it has since been superseded by newer Octomore expressions. In comparison, heavily peated whiskies like Laphroaig and Ardbeg are peated to ‘only’ about 40-55 ppm. Combine this with the fact that Octomore is bottled at 57% abv and this whisky sure knows how to pack a punch. The youthfulness of this whisky notwithstanding, I for one absolutely love this dram!

Continue reading

Laphroaig QA Cask

Laphroaig QA Cask 02Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Although offered as a travel retail exclusive, Laphroaig QA Cask is thankfully becoming more widely available. QA refers to Quercus Alba, the scientific name for American white oak. After an initial period of maturation in the customary ex-bourbon casks, this Laphroaig was transferred to new American oak casks. The result is a much softer, sweeter Laphroaig than usual, as the virgin oak smoothes out a lot of the rough, peaty character. To experiment with a tamed version of their whisky, Laphroaig therefore decided against lowering the peat level in their barley (as was the case for the ill-fated Ardbeg Blasda for example), and instead opted to let the wood do the work. This is a decision that has worked out wonderfully well and this Laphroaig is certainly worth a try!

Continue reading

Ardbeg 10 year old

Ardbeg 10 year old reviewDistillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46%

Ardbeg celebrated its 200th birthday in 2015, but it hasn’t always looked like the distillery would make it that far. Although Ardbeg produced 1 million litres of spirit as early as the 1880s, output dwindled to next to nothing a century later. A change in ownership was meant to turn Ardbeg’s fortunes around, but the distillery ended up closing its doors for a second time in 1991. It remained mothballed until as recently as 1997, when it was acquired by The Glenmorangie Company. Since then, Ardbeg has seen a true revival that has propelled it into its current standing as one of Islay’s favourite malts. Ardbeg enjoys a loyal fan base (not least through the Ardbeg Committee members), allowing it to experiment with limited editions, some of which have been excellent. Nevertheless, as one distillery employee told me: “Ardbeg 10 year old is so good that we will always struggle to make a better whisky than our standard expression”.

Peated to 54 ppm, Ardbeg offers the smokiest spirit on Islay (not taking into account exceptions such as Octomore). Despite this, its whisky is deliciously smooth. This is largely due to a copper purifier attached to the still, a rarity in whisky making. Without it, Ardbeg is said to be undrinkable; this is certainly not the case today. Enjoy this peatiest of Islay malts!

Continue reading