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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Ledaig 10 year old

Ledaig 10 year old 01Distillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46.3%

Ledaig is produced by Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull. Tobermory distillery has had quite a turbulent past, and managed to survive despite multiple closures throughout the years. Since its latest reboot in 1993, the distillery has produced two styles of whisky: the fruity, unpeated Tobermory, and the smoky, maritime Ledaig. Ledaig means ‘safe haven’ in Gaelic, and indeed this peaceful bay is where Tobermory distillery is situated. It is somewhat ironic that the name Ledaig was given to the peated range, since these whiskies are anything but tranquil. Tobermory markets Ledaig with the tagline “wonderfully peated”, and this is no word of a lie. With its crisp smoke and medicinal character, Ledaig gives many Islay distilleries a run for their money. Despite this, Ledaig has received relatively little attention, and it seems that demand has remained relatively modest. Perhaps this is all for the best, since Ledaig sells at a very attractive price point. So at the risk of undermining what I just said, be sure to pick up a bottle when you have the chance, this whisky is well worth a try!

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Arran Madeira Cask Finish

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

Despite its young age, the Isle of Arran distillery uses very traditional production techniques. Even so, they have not shied away from experimenting with different types of casks. And this is all to the good: drams such as the Port Cask Finish and the Amarone Cask Finish are delightful whiskies, and the Madeira Cask Finish forms no exception. As the name indicates, this Arran has received an additional maturation in casks that previously held Madeira wine. And while this whisky bears the influences of not one, but two different islands, it ironically does not have an obvious Island character. Like most Arrans, the Madeira Cask is an unpeated, fresh and floral whisky, but now overlaid with extra fruity, nutty flavours from the Madeira cask. The result is a delicious dram, which thanks to its bottling strength of 50% does not lack for vigour.

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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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The Campbeltown Boom and Bust

If you’ve ever visited Dufftown in Speyside, chances are a local will have proudly told you that “Rome was built on seven hills, but Dufftown stands on seven stills”. And while a cluster of seven distilleries in a village of 1600 people is indeed impressive, there was once a time when Dufftown’s claim to be the whisky capital of the world would have been brushed aside without a second thought.

Nowadays, few whisky fans make the long drive down the Kintyre peninsula. In fact, many are even unaware that Campbeltown is a whisky region in its own right. And this is perhaps not surprising, given that there are now only three distilleries operational. How different this once was. In its heyday, Campbeltown was the undisputed Whisky Metropolis (to use Alfred Barnard’s words), boasting no less than 26 distilleries. Coming in by sea through the Campbeltown Loch, the sight of all those chimneys belching out smoke must have been quite something to behold. The town, never housing more than a few thousand inhabitants, was a bustle of whisky making activity, buildings blackened with soot and the smell of peat reek permeating everything. So successful were Campbeltown’s whisky barons in attracting the business of large Lowland blenders such as Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s, that by the 1890s, Campbeltown boasted the highest per capita income anywhere in Britain. And not only the local economy was thriving. Converted into today’s money, every inhabitant was contributing the equivalent of £30.000 a year to the Treasury in excise duty. Clearly, Campbeltown distillers were getting things very right. The sky was the limit and one could not imagine a Scotch whisky industry without Campbeltown at its forefront. But fast-forward 30 years and Campbeltown paints a much bleaker, more desolate picture, one of financial struggle, distillery closures and rampant unemployment. At its very lowest point, only Springbank distillery remained open, and even they ceased production for a few seasons. How did Campbeltown’s fortunes reverse so dramatically? What were the factors that brought down this mighty force in whisky making? And what might the future hold for this proud town that once lived and breathed whisky? This is a story of impossible highs, heart-wrenching lows and glimmers of hope on the horizon. This is the story of the Campbeltown boom and bust.

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A Visit to Eimverk Distillery

With its frosty temperatures and dark winter months, Iceland seems as good a place as any to pour yourself a warming dram of whisky. And while you’re at it, why not opt for a locally distilled whisky, as the perfect companion for exploring Iceland’s stunning natural beauty. Until recently this would not have been possible, but fortunately Eimverk distillery has since entered the scene.

Apparently in Icelandic, there is no word for ‘distillery’, so a bit of linguistic creativity was required.  Eim is short for distilling in Icelandic, while verk means ‘a job being done’, and this is exactly what this small distillery has enthusiastically kept busy with since 2009. The result is not only the Flóki whisky range, but also a selection of award winning gins and the traditional Icelandic spirit called Brennivín.

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Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Floki Young Malt 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 13-14 months
abv: 47%

When you think of Iceland, you may picture glaciers and waterfalls, or volcanoes that annoyingly bring whole continents to a standstill. Perhaps you may even think of Vikings, Björk or fermented shark meat. But rarely will you hear the words Iceland and whisky uttered in the same sentence. Not until recently at least, because now Eimverk distillery is producing Iceland’s very own malt whisky. True, it will not be ready until November 2017, but there’s already a taster available for those who cannot wait. Fittingly subtitled First Impression, Flóki Young Malt is exactly that: a first introduction to an Icelandic whisky that’s far from a final product.

Bottled after having been matured for just over a year, this Flóki may not even call itself whisky yet. Despite this, it’s a very captivating drink, thanks in large part to the unconventional way in which Flóki is produced. For more background on Eimverk and Flóki, you can read about my visit to the distillery here. What is good to mention though is that because of Iceland’s harsh climate, barley produced on the island is much less rich in sugar content. To make up for this, Eimverk uses up to 50% more barley in each batch, and this has a very positive impact on the flavour of the spirit. You can expect lots of sweet cereal and an almost oily spiciness in this Flóki.

It has been great to make acquaintance with this Icelandic experiment in whisky making, even just for a first impression. It’s left me eager for more, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see how the Flóki range develops in the future. For now though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Young Malt. Skál!

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Highland Park Dark Origins

Highland Park Dark OriginsDistillery: Highland Park
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.8%

Leaving the usual Viking theme aside for a moment, Dark Origins pays homage to Highland Park’s founder, Magnus Eunson. Magnus lived a bit of a double life, being a preacher during the day and a smuggler at night. He was rightly famed for his cunning, and there are many stories of him outwitting local excisemen, often in his guise as a servant of god. The Lord doesn’t seem to have minded very much, since fortune shone upon Magnus’s business, and Highland Park has become a very successful (legal) distillery indeed.

Dark Origins has been aged mostly in first-fill sherry casks, and these have not failed to leave their mark on this whisky. Dark Origins is much heavier on the sherry front than other Highland Park bottlings, with flavours of dried fruits and dark chocolate very prominent. As such, this dram has lost some of its maritime freshness, but instead displays a more sensuous complexity that fits the theme all the better. The same can be said of the packaging, which is stunning. The only drawback is that it keeps you guessing as to how much of that precious liquid is still in the bottle, but being enigmatic as he was, I’m sure Magnus Eunson would have agreed.

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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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Glen Scotia Victoriana

Glen Scotia Victoriana 01Distillery: Glen Scotia
Region: Campbeltown
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.5%

Although historically standing in the shadow of its more famous neighbour Springbank, Glen Scotia survived the carnage of the Campbeltown bust for a reason. The distillery produces a quality spirit, known for its fresh, salty, oily characteristics. Although traditionally softer than other Campbeltown whiskies (and therefore more attractive to blenders), Glen Scotia’s whisky is no less distinctive and has gathered a loyal following. Production was rather irregular until the distillery was bought by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014, who invested heavily in both hardware and marketing. The result was a new range of whiskies between 10 and 21 years old, instantly recognisable by the Highland cow on the front of the bottle. Since then, the range has changed yet again, with just three bottlings now making up the core range.

One of these is Glen Scotia Victoriana, meant to be a modern interpretation of what a classic Campbeltown malt from the Victorian era might have tasted like. To achieve this result, Victoriana has been aged in heavily charred oak and bottled at cask strength. The result is a deliciously rich whisky that packs quite some punch. Whether it’s is anything like the drams Glen Scotia used to make in years gone by is impossible to say, but if it were up to me, the distillery should continue producing whisky very much like Victoriana!

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