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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Laphroaig Select

Laphroaig Select 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

It’s no longer news that distilleries are replacing their aged standard expressions for no age statement bottlings. Talisker Skye and Bowmore Legend are just two examples. Laphroaig Select is another. Sure, the 10 year old is still around, but we should now view Select as the entry-level whisky for Laphroaig’s range. And as an entry-level, Select is meant to typify the distillery character and provide a teaser of what Laphroaig can do – at much cheaper production costs. But here’s the rub, many continue to view the 10 year old as the distillery’s standard bearer and reference point against which other Laphroaigs are judged. And truth is, that’s not a standard we can expect Laphroaig Select to live up to. To keep the price point attractive, Select consists of rather immature spirit, which was put through a wide variety of different casks. The result is a light, toned down version of Laphroaig. Given the love-it-or-hate-it character of Laphroaig, this does perhaps make for a better entry point, but not necessarily a better whisky.

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Ledaig 18 year old

Ledaig 18 year old reviewDistillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 18 years old
abv: 46.3%

Describing a whole range of whiskies as wonderfully peated is sure to raise some expectations. Yet Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull told no word of a lie when they slapped this label on their range of Ledaigs. While the lively 10 year old is a great bargain, Ledaig has also released some excellent older bottlings lately. These include the sumptuous 19 year old Oloroso Cask and the alluring Dùsgadh. But today’s headline act is Ledaig 18 year old. Bottled at the customary 46.3% and matured in casks that previously held sherry, this Ledaig is produced in small batches. This particular batch is No. 02, but fortunately a new batch has been released since, pointing at Ledaig 18’s commercial success. This bottling comes in an elegantly designed wooden box, making it a great gift. Trust me though, give Ledaig 18 a taste and you’ll agree you’d rather not part with this whisky…

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Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment 01Distillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment was the first entry in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series, a range of whiskies that is breaking new ground and is rightfully generating some buzz. Glenfiddich describes these whiskies as Single Malts that Rewrite the Rulebook. Of course, Glenfiddich has a history of writing its own rules, being the first company to successfully market single malts. Now drams such as Winter Storm and Fire & Cane are among the more unusual bottlings on the market, a tasteful reminder that distilling whisky doesn’t always have to be all about tradition. And surely, no distiller had dared to mature whisky in an ex-IPA casks before either. The oak in question comes from the Speyside Craft Brewery, which uses ex-Glenfiddich casks to mature their IPA beer, before returning them to the distillery. It’s this symbiotic relationship that has allowed Glenfiddich to jump on the global popularity of IPA, extending those bitter, hoppy flavours to its normally fruity whisky. I’m a big fan of IPA beers, and when I first tried Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, I was so intrigued that I decided to create my very own Arran IPA Cask Finish. But I digress, let’s return to the matter at hand…

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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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