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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Lagavulin Distillers Edition

Lagavulin Distillers Edition 01Distillery: Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Age: 16 years old
abv: 43%

Lagavulin is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts range. This of course means that its standard expression is treated to a finish in something sweet and juicy, and bottled as a Distillers Edition. For other Diageo stalwarts such as Oban (Montilla Fino) and Cragganmore (Port), these periods of extra maturation have been hugely successful. To me Lagavulin is undeniably the best whisky in the Classic Malts series, and the Distillers Edition does not disappoint. Finished in casks that previously held Pedro Ximénez sherry, this Lagavulin is both mellower and richer than its 16 year old sibling, which already provides a complexity rarely seen in other Islay distilleries.

This particular release was distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016, the year in which Lagavulin celebrated its 200th anniversary. The Distillers Edition was not the official anniversary bottling though, with that honour being shared by Lagavulin’s 8 and 25 year old limited editions. Even so, this year’s Distillers Edition is as good as any the distillery has produced, so be sure to give it a try.

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Arran Tasting

Isle of Arran Whisky Tasting

Last year saw me exploring quite a number of different whiskies from the Isle of Arran distillery. While a taste of Arran whisky – along with the island’s stunning scenery – nudged me towards visiting the distillery, this trip in turn made me enthusiastic about trying more of Arran’s excellent whisky. Although the distillery’s Tutored Tasting offered a huge variety of different Arran whiskies, I felt I wanted to explore the Arran range in a bit more quantity and with some extra time on my hands. So I lined up a collection of Arran whiskies, invited some friends over, and enjoyed a very delicious tasting. Below is a short description of each of the whiskies, including a link to the full review.

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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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Wild Camping on Jura

Whisky Walks: Just Me on Jura

On a previous trip to Islay, I explored practically all corners of the island. And while the scenery is beautiful enough, when you’re on the west coast, you can’t help but shift your gaze across the Sound of Islay, where the Paps of Jura beckon on the horizon, tantalisingly close. But here’s the rub: while Islay boasts as many as eight distilleries, the Isle of Jura has just the one. So inevitably, most visitors are drawn towards Jura’s more famous neighbour for finding out how the Water of Life is made. While this might make sense from a whisky perspective, there are plenty of reasons to give Jura a visit, particularly if you love the great outdoors. Although Jura is the 5th largest island in the Hebrides, it has a population of only 200 people. Bleak, bare and boggy, Jura is the perfect wilderness, a truly remote piece of Scotland located just 10 miles from the mainland. Not that Jura is lifeless; quite the contrary. At any time you may expect to bump into one of the island’s 5000 deer or see a golden eagle soaring overhead. Suffice it to say, I liked Jura’s whiskies, and decided it was time I explored the island on which they are made. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I undertook this trip as much as three years ago, before I started this blog. But it’s nice to reminisce over a whisky, so I poured myself a dram of Jura Turas-Mara and started writing.

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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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Nikka From the Barrel

Nikka From the Barrel 01Producer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.4%

Launched as far back as 1985, Nikka From the Barrel was quite a novel concept at the time. In those days, Japanese whisky consumption was in steep decline and people were more concerned with price rather than quality. Most spirit being sold contained less than 25% actual whisky, with the rest of the mix being made up of blending alcohol. In this sense, From the Barrel was a strange fish in the pond, a whisky full of  flavour at a time when Japanese consumers preferred their whisky light and smooth. The bottling strength of 51.4% was almost unheard of in those days.

Nikka founder’s son Takeshi Taketsuru’s vision was to give the consumer a taste of how a master blender might experience a whisky in the lab. This perhaps explains the unconventional way of blending, and the somewhat confusing name of this whisky. Because Nikka From the Barrel is not in fact a single cask expression, but a blend of which grain spirit from Miyagikyo and malt from Yoichi distillery are the main components. Rather than blending the liquid in a large stainless steel vatting tank, Nikka From the Barrel is placed in… you guessed it: barrels. These previously used casks help to marry the spirit for about 3 to 6 months, after which it is bottled straight from the barrel.

The result is a rich and flavourful expression at a blistering alcohol percentage. Nikka From the Barrel has withstood the test of time, and remains an immensely popular bottling. The packaging is extremely classy, and I love how understated this Nikka looks. The chaps at Master of Malt have referred to Nikka From the Barrel as one of the best value for money whiskies in the world. Given the general price level of Japanese whiskies these days, that’s quite a statement. Is their claim justified? Let’s find out!

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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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Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold

Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold 01Distillery: Dalwhinnie
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Someone once told me that if you need to freeze a drink before you consume it, it’s probably not very good. Yet here we have Dalwhinnie telling us that we should drink their precious spirit straight from the freezer. Being Scotland’s highest and coldest distillery, you may expect the folks at Dalwhinnie to know a little something about subzero temperatures. Indeed, the spirit for Winter’s Gold is distilled exclusively during the winter months, when the cold temperature of the water and the stills results in an extra smooth drop of whisky. Although I doubt whether the impact on the flavour really is noticeable, there’s no denying that Winter’s Gold is beautifully marketed by Diageo.

The idea of serving a dram chilled and having it slowly warm up as you’re drinking it is quite enticing. Adding warmth is like adding water, it changes the flavour of the whisky. I’m eager to try this dram, yet somewhat daunted by having to review a whisky that’s constantly changing. I drank Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold straight from the freezer, with an extra dram at room temperature for comparison.

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Mackmyra Vinterrök

Mackmyra Vinterrök Review 01Distillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

Of all the intriguing whiskies in Mackmyra’s Seasons range, Vinterrök is one that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Sure, other smoky Mackmyras do exist, but a finish in strong ale casks makes Vinterrök sound like a particularly sumptuous affair. Mackmyra ages its spirit in Swedish oak, producing a rougher, more robust flavour palette that in my opinion lends itself quite well to a smoky whisky.

Last year I tried Vinterrök’s seasonal sibling Vinterdröm, which is a good whisky that nonetheless falls short of excellence. Vinterrök is another matter. Sweet without being fruity, this dram is a bold, flavourful expression that satisfies the senses yet leaves you wanting more. In Mackmyra’s usual classy packaging, Vinterrök would make a nice gift too. Or you can be sensible and decide to keep it all for yourself, this is tasty stuff!

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