Age Your Own Whisky – Alligator Char

Having matured port, beer, jenever and three different whiskies in my cask, I started noticing that I didn’t get as much flavour from the oak as I used to. This is common in the whisky industry too, where casks have a limited lifetime. Distillers will typically use first fill or refill bourbon barrels, with first fill having held only bourbon before, and refill both bourbon and one batch of whisky. After this, the casks become less active: the oak has fewer flavour compounds left to pass onto the whisky. Distillers of course don’t discard cask that easily and have found ways to reuse them. One common approach to reactivating the oak is to toast or char the inside of the barrel. This opens up new surface area for the spirit to interact with, thereby replenishing those lovely oaky flavours that are needed for a maturing a good whisky.

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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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Flóki Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve

Flóki Sheep Dung Smoked Review 01

Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 3 years old
abv: 47%

Gordon Ramsey recently caused a bit of a stir shovelling sheep shit on an episode of his show Uncharted. Sure enough, a celebrity chef and excrement are an unusual combination, unless we count the stuff coming out of Gordon’s mouth. The particular poop being shovelled was meant for production of Wholly Shit whisky, distilled in Tasmania. And while the use of sheep dung is sure to grab attention, it’s not necessarily a gimmick. Icelandic distillers Eimverk have been using sheep dung for years now, and to them it’s second nature. Although peat is traditionally the fuel of choice for drying barley, peat simply doesn’t form in Iceland’s austere landscape. In looking for an alternative, Eimverk needed to look no further than their local cuisine, where it’s very normal to smoke foods using sheep dung. I’ve tried Arctic char and lamb smoked this way, and although distinctive, it was an excellent meal. That’s not to say I will be collecting faeces for my next smoking session on the grill, but I am happy that Eimverk decided not to import peat from Scotland. It’s the sustainable choice too: while peat bogs can take centuries to regrow, sheep produce dung on a daily basis. How’s that for a renewable resource!

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Flóki Sherry Cask Finish

Flóki Sherry Cask Finish Review

Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 3 years old
abv: 47%

When Eimverk introduced Iceland’s first ever single malt in 2017, it was a young, intrepid dram full of bourbon-like flavours. Although I enjoyed it, I immediately wondered how Flóki would fare with some time spent in European oak. Well, the wait is over, because Eimverk has since released a whole new range of whiskies. And what interesting expressions they are! There’s the next iteration of Flóki’s Sheep Dung Smoked whisky, a Beer Cask Finish, and even a whisky that matured in birch wood. Of these new bottlings, this Sherry Cask Finish is perhaps the most traditional. While the other expressions add an extra Icelandic dimension to an already uniquely local product, a finish in sherry casks is a more conventional next step for most distillers. This cask type tends to help in showcasing a gentler, sweeter side of a whisky, complementing the distillery character with fruity, nutty flavours. But not only the whisky is different, the packaging also received an overhaul. Gone are the shiny Viking inspired patterns, now replaced by beautiful earthy colours. As always, the bottles are numbered and signed by hand, a nice personal touch.

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Flóki Icelandic Birch Finish

Flóki Birch Finish Review 01

Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 3 years old
abv: 47%

Whisky is matured in oak. That’s a given. Oak is easy to shape, not prone to cracking and abundantly available. Moreover, it’s got the right level of porosity, allowing the cask contents to evaporate and oxygenate, but not at rates that cause spoilage. Different types of oak can imbue a spirit with different flavour types, whether it’s European oak, American oak, or even Mizunara. The previous contents of the cask also significantly impact a whisky’s flavour, meaning there is an extremely wide array of flavours that distillers can work with. And yet… what if you were to use a wood other than oak? For the reasons mentioned above, it can be challenging to use other wood types, but whisky makers have started experimenting. Japan-based Kamiki offers a cedar wood and cherry wood finished whisky, while Irish distillers Method & Madness produce a chestnut matured expression. I’ve only tried the Kamiki Cedar Wood, but the results are astounding. Even a short finish in a different wood type offers up a wealth of new flavours to explore.

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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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Nikka All Malt

Nikka All Malt Review

Producer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Nikka All Malt was released in 1990 and was a completely novel concept at the time. The spirit is indeed made using only malted barley, but some of it was put through a column still (also known as a Coffey still). The reason this had never been tried before is that in Scotland, anything distilled in a Coffey still would automatically be classified as a grain whisky. So why waste precious barley on a liquid that you couldn’t call malt anyway? Japan of course isn’t bound by Scottish rules, so Nikka decided to give it a try. All Malt was an instant hit in the home market and the fact it’s still available is a testament to its enduring popularity (and affordability). It’s safe to say All Malt has successfully pushed the envelope, even influencing subsequent Nikka bottlings. 25 years later, Nikka Coffey Malt has become popular the word over, using only malt distilled in a column still.

But back to All Malt. Of all the excellent whiskies in Nikka’s range, this is one of the most accessible – both in terms of taste and price. It’s unlikely to blow your mind (try Nikka from the Barrel for that), but All Malt is a nice teaser of what Nikka has to offer.

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Paul John Bold

Paul John BoldReview

Distillery: John Distilleries
Country: India
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Most Scotch drinkers probably wouldn’t know it, but India-based John Distilleries produces one of the world’s best selling whiskies. Established in 1996 by Paul P. John, the company is home to Original Choice whisky, which still accounts for around 90% of its sales. The good news is that this commercial success allowed John to enter the premium end of the market with the launch of Paul John malt whisky in 2008. And they didn’t take half measures. Using traditional production methods and installing a pair of copper pot stills, the distillery quickly earned international acclaim. Whereas most Indian distillers import their raw materials, Paul John has chosen to use locally grown 6-row barley. Although yields are lower, the higher fibre content results in an oilier wash and a more robust whisky. For Paul John Bold, peat was imported from Islay and used to smoke the barley to a level of 25 ppm (similar to a Talisker). Owing to the hotter climate in Goa, the maturation comes with an angel’s share of around 8-10%. The upside is that the spirit matures more quickly, imparting a vibrant array of flavours on a whisky that retains its youthful temperament. Sounds perfect for an expression that carries the moniker Bold.

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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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