Laphroaig Lore

Laphroaig Lore Review 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

Lore
Noun. a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth.

Laphroaig is no stranger to a bit of Gaelic here and there, but today’s bottling is in plain good old English. Which means it’s possible to look up a definition, and as always the folks at Oxford Dictionary were happy to oblige. So if you consider that the particular group are distillers, blenders and craftsmen, and that the subject is distilling Laphroaig, then the name Lore is really quite fitting. For indeed this bottling is meant as a celebration of the knowledge passed on through the ages, all the way from 1815 until the present day. Somewhere along the line someone must’ve passed some knowledge on the virtues of NAS whiskies, because Laphroaig has very much followed this trend. But enough has been said about this, for it’s quality that counts, not age statements. And on this front Laphroaig Lore is certainly not holding back. Current distillery manager John Campbell claims that Lore is the richest Laphroaig ever made, and given that it’s composed of 7 to 21 year old whisky, including some aged in sherry butts and quarter casks, there may be some truth to this statement. Certainly Lore has picked up plenty of awards, and was named as best NAS Scotch in Jim Murray’s 2019 Whisky Bible. While I far from always agree with Jim Murray, I certainly did enjoy this luxuriously spicy Laphroaig!

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Oban Distillers Edition

Oban Distillers Edition ReviewDistillery: Oban
Region: Highland
Age: Distilled in 1997, bottled in 2012
abv: 43%

When legendary whisky writer Alfred Barnard visited Oban in 1887, he described the distillery as “a quaint old-fashioned work”. On the face of it, not much has changed, with Oban distillery employing the same traditional production methods. In the meanwhile though, owners Diageo have invested significantly in both hardware and marketing, and Oban has become one of their flagship Classic Malts.

As a town, Oban is known as the Gateway to the Isles, and indeed many a ferry departs from here to the Hebrides. Perhaps it’s unsurprising therefore that Oban’s distillery character holds the middle between a Highland and an Island whisky. Fresh and fruity but with plenty of briny notes and a whiff of smoke, Oban is the quintessential coastal malt. I count Oban amongst my favourite distilleries, but somehow never end up drinking much of their whisky. Perhaps it’s the fact that there aren’t many expressions on offer. Or perhaps it’s the fact that Oban is never truly outstanding, but never lets you down either, like that dependable old friend you really ought to pay a visit more often. This particular expression has received a second maturation in Montilla Fino sherry casks, providing a nutty richness on top of Oban’s sweet, coastal profile.

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Arran The Bothy Quarter Cask

Arran The Bothy Quarter CaskDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 55.2%

The Isle of Arran distillery has been hugely successful in finishing their whiskies in a wide variety of casks, but sometimes there’s just no need to look beyond the flavours that American oak can provide. So rather than transferring your whisky from ex-bourbon casks into something sweet and sumptuous, why not finish it in… more bourbon casks? This is essentially what’s happened to Arran The Bothy, which – as its subtitle indicates – received an extra maturation in quarter casks. The use of quarter casks has regained popularity in recent years, with Laphroaig seeming particularly fond of the tactic. Historically, quarter casks were widely used, practical as they were due to their small size (also handy if you’re a smuggler). At a quarter the size of a normal hogshead barrel, quarter casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, allowing the spirit to soak up that oaky goodness much more quickly. Add to this the fact that The Bothy is bottled at cask strength, and you’ve got a bold, flavourful whisky, packed with vanilla and caramel flavours. The Bothy shows a different side of Arran, but one no less enjoyable. 

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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: Distilled in 2000, bottled in 2016
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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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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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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