Legends of Whisky Tasting

Legends of Whisky

Time for a bit of a throwback. Obviously the COVID pandemic means we haven’t been able to enjoy any large scale whisky tastings or festivals. Maybe it’s because I miss these type of events, but I recently started thinking back to one very special tasting I attended in 2018, called the Legends of Whisky. And what an event it was! Featuring three absolute titans of the whisky world, it’s safe to say this was an incredibly unique occasion. Jim McEwan, David Stewart and Richard ‘The Nose’ Paterson had hosted an event together once before, but to have these three icons together in the same room was something very special. And it was so nearby! The venue in Leiden, Netherlands was just a short train ride away, so this opportunity was simply too good to pass up. Just after the event I had started writing about it, but somehow I never finished. Time to set the record straight.

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Hazelburn 13 year old Oloroso Cask

Hazelburn 13 Oloroso Sherry Review

Distillery: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: Distilled in 2003, bottled in 2017
abv: 47.1%

More than any other distillery, Springbank has contributed to the revival of Campbeltown whisky and its enduring status as a distinct whisky region. Not only did owners J&A Mitchell re-open Glengyle distillery, they also produce no fewer than three styles of single malt in their celebrated Springbank distillery. Of these, unpeated Hazelburn leans towards the lighter, more gentle end of the spectrum. Moreover, Hazelburn is triple distilled – quite rare for a Scotch – resulting in a purer, smoother drink. That’s not to say Hazelburn is tame, it still packs plenty of coastal punch. This particular release has been matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks. And it shows: not only does this whisky have a beautifully dark hue, but those 13 years in European oak have turned this Hazelburn into a true sherry bomb. This expression was distilled in 2003 and limited to 12.000 bottles. Other sherried versions soon followed (2004 and 2007), as well as a 14 year old from 2008. All this indicates that these Oloroso bottlings have been a success story and may be on their way to becoming a (semi-)regular feature in Hazelburn’s line-up. I certainly don’t mind, this has fast become one of my favourite Hazelburn expressions!

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Caol Ila 25 year old

Caol Ila 25 year old review

Distillery: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
Age: 25 years old
abv: 43%

Caol Ila 25 year old was introduced in 2010, after Diageo had piloted cask strength versions a few years earlier. Nowadays this Caol Ila is bottled at 43% abv. Although the better part of this whisky has spent a quarter century in bourbon barrels, there’s also a few ex-sherry casks thrown into the mix. As a member of Caol Ila’s core range, this 25 year old is now the oldest regular offering from this oft-overlooked Islay distillery.

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GlenAllachie 12 year old

Glenallachie 12 Review

Distillery: GlenAllachie
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years old
abv: 46%

Until recently, single malt GlenAllachie was a relatively rare sight. Although the distillery has been around since 1968, it was later acquired by Pernod Ricard, who used GlenAllachie as an ingredient for many of their blends. It’s easy to see why: GlenAllachie has plenty of body and flavour, but doesn’t overwhelm the senses, making it an ideal blending component. This left little room for single malt expressions to be bottled, but all of this changed when GlenAllachie was sold into private ownership in 2017. Since then, GlenAllachie has released an impressive range of age-statement whiskies, featuring old expressions using stock right from when the distillery reopened in 1989.

GlenAllachie 12 year old is a marriage of different cask profiles, including Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry, as well as virgin oak casks. The result is a bold, fruity dram that’s got quite a lot going on. Let’s explore!

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Ledaig Rioja Cask Finish

Ledaig Sinclair Series Rioja Cask Finish

Distillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.3%

On top of rebranding its core range, Isle of Mull based Tobermory distillery has recently launched its Sinclair Series. Named after founder John Sinclair, this range of limited edition whiskies gives the distillery opportunity to experiment with different cask types. The first expression was – as the name suggests – finished in European oak casks that previously held Rioja, a Spanish red wine. Supposedly inspired by a Spanish galleon that sank just off Tobermory centuries ago, this whisky is meant to be equally laden with treasure. And it sure looks dazzling. This whisky is all about colour, with the bottle referencing Tobermory’s colourful past and colourful spirit. I can’t say I’m a fan of the packaging, but this whisky’s reddish hue sure is a joy to behold (it’s all natural too). I’ve loved everything that came out of Tobermory distillery recently, so let’s see how the Rioja Cask compares to the excellent price-quality ratio of the Ledaig 10 or the sheer brilliance of the Ledaig 18.

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Glenfarclas 21 year old

Glenfarclas 21 year old 01

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Region: Speyside
Age: 21 years old
abv: 43%

Glenfarclas 21 year old could teach Roger Moore a thing or two about smoothness – Master of Malt

At a time when most new whisky releases don’t carry an age statement and whole ranges of aged expressions disappear altogether, Glenfarclas provides a notable exception. You won’t find Gaelic words or names of local landmarks on this Speyside distillery’s bottlings. Just plain 12, 15 and 18 year old. Somehow this resistance to the winds of change is strangely refreshing. What’s more, where prices for age statement whiskies have risen sharply over the past decade, Glenfarclas still provides tremendous value for money. This particular expression is one of the cheapest 21 year old whiskies you’ll find on the market. But even more than the cost, there’s one other thing that stands out at Glenfarclas: all of their bottlings are big, muscular whiskies that boast a heavily sherried character. The perfect after dinner dram!

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Wolfburn Northland

Wolfburn Northland Review

Distillery: Wolfburn
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Northland is the first ever bottling from Wolfburn distillery and celebrates the moment its spirit could proudly proclaim itself whisky at three years old. Established in 2013, Wolfburn is the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland. It’s located near Thurso (the gateway to Orkney) on the site of a former distillery of the same name. Although that distillery has long since disappeared, the burn that supplied the water is still there. The Wolf Burn now provides the input for an unusually long distillation. Wolfburn’s pot stills are on the small side, meaning the increased contact with the copper results in a very pure, smooth spirit. Northland was aged in quarter casks that previously held Islay whisky (my guess is Laphroaig?), so we’ll hopefully be able to detect some traces of smoke on this Wolfburn. The packaging feels quite premium and depicts a cool looking sea-wolf, a creature from Scots and Norse mythology. The sea-wolf roams both land and sea and brings good luck to all those fortunate enough to see it. I always count myself lucky to see a good bottle of whisky, so perhaps there’s something to it.

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Bunnahabhain Toiteach A Dhà

Bunnahabhain Toiteach A Dhà

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.3%

With a touch of smoke from our peated malted barley introduced during its creation and combined with a higher sherry influence, this special bottling offers the connoisseur an opportunity to try something truly unique and beguiling in nature.

This is how Bunnahabhain introduces Toiteach A Dhà on their website. It’s a nice piece of text, but I do think Bunna is selling their whisky short by only crediting it with a ‘touch of smoke’. The peaty influence on Toiteach A Dhà is unmistakable, especially when compared to Bunnahabhain’s regular unpeated expressions. And of course that’s the point of this bottling, for Toiteach means smoky in Gaelic. Heard that before? You’re very right, because A Dhà (‘two’ in Gaelic) is the successor to the Toiteach bottling originally launched in 2008. I’ll admit I was very unimpressed with the first Toiteach, so I went into this review with low expectations. But everyone loves a comeback kid, so I decided to try it anyway. As mentioned by Bunnahabhain, A Dhà has a higher sherry influence, and this has worked wonders to smooth out the rough edges present in the original Toiteach. I’m guessing a longer maturation may also have something to do with it, but for lack of an age statement I can’t be sure. I do want to mention the packaging on this Bunna, it’s so very classy! That swirl of smoke in combination with the black glass is giving Toiteach A Dhà a dark and mysterious look that fits the character of the whisky quite well. But let’s dive straight in, can Bunnahabhain Toiteach redeem itself?

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Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 year old

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Distillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: 5 years old
abv: 47.4%

For close to a decade now, Ardbeg has celebrated its annual Ardbeg Day with the release of a new limited edition. And while some of these whiskies have been nothing short of breathtaking (think Galileo or Dark Cove), it’s always a shame when you’ve emptied your bottle and a replacement is nowhere to be found. So those rare occasions where Ardbeg decides to shake up the core range are always a cause for celebration. Coming hot on the heels of An Oa and Traigh Ban is Ardbeg Wee Beastie, the youngest member of the family yet. And while the former whiskies showcase a more restrained version of Ardbeg, this Beastie is not meant to be tamed.

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Laphroaig Tasting 2.0

Lahproaig Tasting 01Ahh Laphroaig! Nothing like a kick of iodine to hit you in the face and make your eyes water. Laphroaig is the ultimate love it or hate it dram, so the mere fact I had this tasting will tell you which camp I’m in. While I was previously able to line up a nice selection of Laphroaigs, tonight’s tasting upped the ante with a few more premium bottlings. Over the past years, Laphroaig has released quite a lot of new expressions, all without an age statement. Another noticeable trend has been the use of quarter casks in almost all of their whisky. While this is a testament to the success of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, it’s also an indication that Laphroaig doesn’t shy away from speeding up the maturation process by using casks with a higher surface-to-liquid ratio. Lastly, Laphroaig seems to be marrying more and more different cask types together, culminating in the (rather disappointing) Four Oak. So… what are these recent Laphroaigs like, and how do they stack up against some of the old guns? Let’s find out: below is a short description of each of the whiskies, including a link to the full review.

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