Kilchoman Tasting

Core range and the newly bottled Australian Cask Exclusive. The ‘barley to bottle’ ethos works a treat!

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Kilchoman is the youngest distillery on Islay. Established in 2005, it was the first new distillery to be built on Islay for 125 years. Kilchoman is a family-run affair and relies on a strong ‘barley to bottle’ ethos. It is one of a very small number of Scottish distilleries to grow the majority of their own barley, run their own floor maltings (a production step now largely outsourced) and even bottle on-site. To say they are passionate about their whisky is an understatement.

Earlier this year a Kilchoman representative travelled from Islay to Australia to host a series of whisky tastings from coast to coast. In true small business style, this representative was the founder’s son, Peter Wills. When I attended one of these tastings it was quite special to hear Peter’s fascinating (and often hilarious) stories about the early and very hands-on days starting up the distillery. He recounted the fun of filling 7000 bottles using a teapot from their onsite café in the early days. Following the whirlwind Australian tour, Peter and his brother were planning to hit up the west coast of the US of A, in order to bring Kilchoman to even more lucky whisky lovers.

The Australian tasting that I attended brought back memories of the time I visited Kilchoman in 2015. I had previously tried some of their core range (and I also have a Sauternes Cask Matured 2016 hidden away for a rainy day) but I was not familiar with the distillery’s more recent releases and so the tasting was a good opportunity so see where Kilchoman is at now and where they are going in the future. Whenever you get the chance to try multiple expressions from one distillery in a single sitting – do it. It gives you a much greater appreciation of the distillery’s style and character.

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Below I have written down my impressions of the whiskies at the tasting. As it was a tasting my notes were a bit briefer than normal and based on just the one dram of each (I do find that I warm to certain whiskies when revisiting them a second or third time.)

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100% Islay 7th edition

Matured in bourbon barrels, mainly first-fill ex-Buffalo Trace. This particular edition is 7 years old and bottled at 50% ABV. There are only 12,000 bottles available a year worldwide.

Nose: barley, newmake, a little peat, lemon and strawberry.

Palate: vanilla, butterscotch, milk arrowroot biscuit.

Finish: sweet but not overpowering, very long.

Machir Bay

A mix of maturation in 90% bourbon barrels and 10% Oloroso sherry casks. Does not have an age statement but apparently is about 5 years old on average. Bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Lemon, citrus, pear, a little hint of sweetness and then the sherry.

Palate: Smoke, peat and fruit in perfect thirds.  Takes about five minutes to open up and when it does the peat and smoke really come to the fore.

Finish: More peatiness that overpowers anything else.

Sanaig

Made in the same way as the Machir Bay but goes into different casks, namely 70% Oloroso sherry hogsheads. Bottled at 46%.

Nose: sherry sweetness, a little citrus and some light smoke.

Palate: peppery, peat then a lighter lemon curd and toffee note comes through – definitely much richer and heavier than the Machir Bay.

Loch Gorm 2017

Their sherry cask, limited edition annual release. This is the sixth version and is a 7 year old whisky matured in sherry butts, mostly first fill. It is a yearly release, with 13,500 bottles released this year.

Nose: raisins, dark chocolate jaffa and slight smoke.

Palate: peat, dark chocolate, BBQ smoke, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Australian Exclusive Single Casks 691/11

This exclusive bottling was distilled on 11 November 2011 and bottled on 25 May 2017. It was initially matured in an ex-bourbon cask before being finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry cask. The cask yielded 261 bottles and it is bottled at 57.5%.

Nose: buttery, cinnamon, stewed fruits and a little citrus.

Palate: raisins, dark treacle, scones with jam and cream.

So, did I have a favourite? The Loch Gorm 2017 was a standout from the core range. The dark chocolate orange on the nose and smokiness on the palate really rubs my tastebuds the right way. I was not a big fan of the Sanaig. I usually enjoy whiskies matured in Oloroso casks but the Sanaig was, to me, a little thin and one-dimensional. Perhaps it needed maturing for a bit more time? The Machir Bay and 100% Islay are both solid drams with a complex palate and a long finish.

And the Australian Exclusive Single Cask? It was a very different experience to the others. The delightful Pedro Ximenez came through strongly on the nose and heavily influenced the palate. I snapped up a bottle and I’ll happily keep sampling this one, enjoying it that little bit more for knowing what I do now about its provenance, about the people that made it and the passion they have for whisky.

Laphroaig PX Cask Triple Matured

PSA: drink more sherry!

Laphroaig PX Cask Triple Matured is an absolute joy. It was matured first in ex-bourbon hogsheads, like the Laphroaig 10 Year Old, before undergoing a second maturation in quarter casks and then a final maturation in European Oak casks that originally held Pedro Ximenez (PX). Pedro Ximenez is a naturally sweet dessert wine made from grapes with a high concentration of sugars, as a result of either being picked when they are very ripe or being dried in the sun after picking. PSA: every whisky fan should drink more sherry in order to ensure that sherry casks are available for these kinds of delicious maturations! The PX Cask is bottled at 48% ABV, does not carry an age statement and is available as a travel retail exclusive in a hefty 1 litre bottle.

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Nose: as always with Laphroaig the tang of peat is the first thing you notice, followed by a hint of raisins and the nutty almond flavours from the sherry

Palate: the peat and oak are undeniably forward but then rich, sultry flavours of port wine, dried figs, rich dark berry jam, a slightly sweet liquorice come through. The mouthfeel is oily and rich.

Finish: dry like a Spanish sherry, peat and oak linger. It is very mellow and very easy to down a dram.

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This is a truly excellent dram. The combination of peat smoke and rich sherry is in perfect balance. The typical Laphroaig characteristics shine through but are mellowed somewhat by the beautiful mouthfeel and sweetness of raisins and sultanas. If you are lucky enough to see a bottle on your travels then snap it up. I think fans of Laphroaig will appreciate it and those who are not as familiar with Laphroaig or Islay whiskies may find this to be a gentle, sweet introduction.

PX cask

18/20

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Have a look at my review of the 25 Year Old here

Edradour Chardonnay Cask Matured Aged 13 Years

A full chardonnay cask maturation is interesting to say the least!

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“Hmm, no, don’t try that one, try this other one”. When I insisted he relented with some reluctance: “It’s really not … umm, well, it’s not to my taste”. In this way the gentleman pouring sample drams at the Edradour distillery made it pretty clear that he was not a big fan of the whisky I am about to review, even though he worked at the place that made it. Jim Murray has also condemned a similarly-matured expression from Edradour (though a bit younger and bottled at only 46% ABV) as being ‘grim’. Read on to find out if it’s as bad as these two choice comments suggest!

Edradour is a picturesque little distillery in the town of Pitlochry, Perthshire, which is situated within the Southern Highlands. Edradour previously billed itself as the smallest working distillery in Scotland— the ‘farmhouse distillery’— but the recent upsurge of micro distilleries has since usurped any such claim. Another reason to abandon this description is their plans for expansion. When I visited earlier this year construction work was happening on the second still house and set of warehouses being built onsite. Last year Edradour produced 130,000 litres and apparently hope to increase their capacity to 400,000 litres when this extension opens.

Despite no longer being quite so small, Edradour still has an old-fashioned and quaint feel to it, with the entire production process currently being managed by only three stillmen. Its white buildings with red trim, narrow bubbling stream and flower gardens full of daffodils all combine to make this a beautiful place to visit. When you factor in the extensive (and very reasonably-priced) range of Edradour expressions available for tasting then a trip there is certainly worthwhile.

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The quaint tasting room at Edradour, lots of expressions on offer for a very wee price!

The particular expression I am reviewing here is a distillery exclusive, the Edradour Single Cask Bottling Chardonnay Cask Matured. I should make it very clear this is not a whisky that has simply been finished in a chardonnay cask, rather it is a whisky that has been matured for its entire 13 years in a chardonnay cask. It is quite rare to see a whisky fully matured in a white wine cask like this. This particular bottle was distilled 23 June 2003 and bottled 10 August 2016 from an out-turn of just 288 bottles. It is bottled at its natural cask strength, which is a rather hefty 53.4% ABV. The colour is a rich, deep copper and is entirely natural, taking its beautiful hue only from the contribution of the chardonnay hogshead.

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Nose: Tight and restrained, I’m not getting an awful lot from it at first. It opens up after a few minutes with oak and honeysuckle at the fore followed by some sweeter aromas; jaffa and sweetshop licorice (not aniseed, something a little less intense). A drop of water reveals peach and green apple.

Palate: The presence of a lot of woody oak almost goes without saying (given the chardonnay cask maturation). Apple pie made with tart, green apples. Softening into flavours of honeyed, orange syrup.

Finish: The high alcohol gives this a bit of a rough finish, it burns a little, the mouthfeel and lasting impression is almost reminiscent of a liquor like Cointreau.

This is an interesting experiment by Edradour. It is well worth a try, though I don’t think we’re going to be seeing wine cask maturations like this taking the industry by storm anytime soon! The oakiness masks the more subtle flavours a bit but it is something different for those who like something unusual.

14/20

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Mortlach Single Cask Release 1998 (Wemyss Malts)

Ginger Glazed Gammon!

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Sadly, as close as we could get to Mortlach without scaling the fence!

The region of Speyside is the heart of whisky production in Scotland and nestled within Speyside is the small but picturesque location of Dufftown. Dufftown boasts not one but seven distilleries, and both The Balvenie and Glenfiddich can be found there. However, the first distillery founded in Dufftown way back in 1823 was Mortlach. Mortlach is not a whisky you usually see at your local bottle store as the vast majority of its prodigious output goes into blends and accordingly it doesn’t often end up as a single malt. Indeed, the distillery itself keeps a low-profile being closed to the public and unavailable to tour even if you make it all the way to Dufftown. This is all quite a shame really, as Mortlach’s single malt is quite distinctive and fascinating to drink: possessing a heady mix of savoury, meaty and (when sherry-influenced) fruitcake characteristics.

There are six washbacks and six spirit stills at Mortlach. These are not, however, paired off in the usual way and Mortlach’s idiosyncratic distillation process follows a labyrinthine course that cannot easily be summarised (even with a flowchart). Without getting too technical, at Mortlach one pair of stills acts as a double distillation. The low wines are redirected and in one of the spirit stills, redistilled twice. The upshot of all this is that the final spirit at Mortlach is, according to the distillery, distilled ~2.81 times. This is quite unusual for scotch as most distilleries generally just distil their spirit twice. Ordinarily, the more you distil the spirit the lighter the final product, as heavier components like oils are left behind. Think, for example, of the very clean spirit at triple-distilled Auchentoshan. However, Mortlach’s whisky is certainly not light. Instead, the multiple distillations result in a spirit that has had a lot of contact with the copper of the still but that hasn’t been stripped of heavy components, resulting in characteristics such as barbequed meat notes. If you are interested in this process, can I recommend having a look at the following explanations, which are far clearer than mine!

This is a good explanation from the folks over at Scotch Whisky and here is the even more detailed version at Whisky Science for those who understand and appreciate the chemistry of distillation.

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Balvenie Castle in Dufftown, originally known as Mortlach

The Mortlach whisky that I am lucky enough to be reviewing here is an independent bottling by Wemyss Malts. I bought this bottle at The Whisky Shop in Dufftown, just a few hundred metres down the road from Mortlach itself. It is a single cask release that was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2016, making it 18 years old. There were only 306 bottles produced at a respectable 46% abv. Wemyss has not provided any information about what the whisky was matured in but if I were to hazard a guess from the flavor profile I would take a punt on it being a refill sherry cask. ‘Ginger Glazed Gammon’ is emblazoned across the label which, if nothing else, made me laugh. I don’t think many people would be enticed by a drink being described that way! It is a pretty accurate description though!

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A lovely golden colour. Aussie wildflower in the background; I really am blogging from Perth, Australia, not Perth, Scotland!

 

 

Nose: Stewed pears moves towards apricot, then into savoury notes as the mouth-watering honey ham gains traction, a hint of sulphur, sherry (plump raisins) and woody/barky spices (cinnamon stick, ginger) round it out.

Palate: Salty green olives then spiced barbequed slow-cooked meats take their place, mellowing into beef stock, with a final foray into dark chocolate and sage.

Finish: A light metallic taste that (thankfully) fades into a more tannic, herbaceous finish with a honey sweetness.

This whisky really grew on me. I didn’t really like my first couple of drams, but I did find it intriguing and kept finding myself wanting to try it again. I am glad that I persevered as this whisky was rewarding when I finally got my head around the strange flavour profile. The meaty characteristics are certainly like nothing else. Overall, a complex, multi-layered and an interesting foray into a distillery with an idiosyncratic process. Despite the higher-profile company it keeps in Dufftown, Mortlach is not a distillery that should be overlooked.

16/20

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Laphroaig 25 Year Old

A quarter century certainly softens the dram

I’ll state my bias loud and clear: Laphroaig is my favourite distillery. They were my first foray into serious whisky-drinker’s whisky and what piqued my interest in Islay. I’ll admit that when I first started drinking whisky I did get a bit of a self-satisfied pleasure from liking Laphroaig as they consistently produce some of the most challenging drams: typically characterised by full-blown peat smoke, a salty savouriness and strange, medicinal notes. As a lady, the fact that I was ordering a neat whisky has sometimes been enough to raise an eyebrow in a bar, and I have found that the effect has been even more noticeable when it was a supposedly ‘manly’ dram like Laphroaig— something that will certainly put hairs on your chest.

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Another sunny Scottish day

Laphroaig plays on this distinctive character with their ‘Opinions Welcome’ project. This project encourages drinkers to let the distiller know exactly what they think about their whiskies and the most creative entries often make Laphroaig sound distinctly unappetizing. Descriptions such as: ‘like being slapped with a mermaid’s tail’, ‘like licking a fireplace’, and ‘like barbeque after a dentist visit’, might not sound appealing to everyone but they certainly are accurate! The old adage ‘love it or hate it’ definitely applies to Laphroaig, and I am firmly in the ‘love it’ camp.

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I am certainly not alone in my high estimation of Laphroaig. They are the best-selling Islay whisky, and their three wash stills and four spirit stills produce around 3.3 million litres a year. 70% of this output goes into their single malt and the rest into various blends. They have a big range of core expressions: the 10yo, Select, Quarter Cask, Triple Wood and (as of 2016) Lore are all available, with the Quarter Cask a definite highlight.

This review will be of the Laphroaig 25yo, which is a much older addition to their core range. The version I tried was bottled at 45.1% (there is another version out of there at 40%) and was made up of a mix of whisky matured in Oloroso sherry casks and American ex-bourbon barrels.

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Thanks to the awesome guys at Mane Liquor for doing bottle splits!

Whilst I may have talked up the challenging nature of Laphroaig whisky above, the effect of the lengthy ageing process has been to temper Laphroaig’s typically strong peat, iodine and seawater notes and to allow the sweeter characteristics of the sherry influence to come through a lot more. This is a very approachable and nuanced dram, and the proof is just about perfect— giving enough body and bite to the whisky without being overpowering.

Nose: Restrained, taking some time to open up with a hint of sherry sweetness.

Palate: A surprisingly strong burst of peat given the age (a quarter of a century!) but which quickly softens nicely into apricot, sultana, followed by spiced apple (nutmeg and anise) drizzled in treacle.

Finish: Light and a little bit oily, with lingering peat smoke and (finally) the signature maritime notes of Laphroaig at the end.

17/20

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Highland Park Ice & Fire Editions

ASOIAF: A Sip of Ice and Fire

I couldn’t resist reviewing two very special drams to celebrate today’s premiere of the 7th season of Game of Thrones. Ever since reading the first book, I’ve been firmly in the camp of the Stark family and have been enchanted by the entire world of the North of Westeros: the ever-changing ‘King in the North’, the weird wildlings, the giants and other beasties who live Beyond the Wall, and the Greyjoys who plunder up and down the coast. So, naturally, my thoughts turn to the distillery that best captures and reflects this northern and wild spirit … Highland Park.

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Highland Park has recently rebranded itself as the ‘Orkney single malt with Viking soul’. Their new tagline is:

“Our whisky, like our island home, is shaped by a wild climate and stormy seas, and by the Vikings who settled here over 1,000 years ago, leaving their mark on our people and our culture.”

This is far from a cynical marketing ploy and truly reflects the unique history and character of the Orkney islands, which are located some 16 kilometres (but an entire world away) from the north coast of the Scottish mainland. Orkney has been inhabited for some 8500 years, first by Neolithic tribes whose houses, standing stones and burial cairns remain on the island to this day, and then by the Picts who brought their own traditions and culture. In 875AD the islands were annexed by Norway and settled by the Norse. Even though the Scottish Parliament annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, Orkney still retains many Norse/Viking traditions to this day and they say that one third of Orcadians have Viking DNA.

Highland Park distillery itself is located in the Orcadian town of Kirkwall and was founded in 1798. It still fundamentally operates today in much the same way it always has: the distillery maintains a traditional floor maltings where the barley is turned by hand, the peat is still cut from nearby Hobbister moor, and maturation still occurs in warehouses on Orkney.

Given the history of Orkney and the proud traditions of Highland Park, it is only natural for the distillery to integrate the local Viking history into their branding. I fondly recall the Valhalla Collection, which was a series of four limited-edition annual releases named after the Norse gods Thor, Loki, Freya and Odin. Following on from the Valhalla Collection, Fire and Ice were released in 2016 and were the next two Nordic-themed bottlings, inspired by the great sagas of the Viking age recorded in the oldest Norse poems, the Poetic Edda.

 Highland Park Ice Edition 17 Year Old

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This release was inspired by Niflheim, the Norse realm of fog, frost and darkness and home to the ice giants. It was matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a respectable 53.9% ABV.

Nose: A fascinating and complex mixture of tropical fruits, milk chocolate, and milky arrowroot biscuits.

Palate: Phwoar! A cacophony of flavours vying for attention –  distinctive and fresh notes of pineapple and mango, mellowing into coconut, a hint of cherry cola, sherbet, and at the end definitely some maritime influences, a little peat, lingering smoke and baked apple.

Finish: Rich and viscous, lingering spices, dry woodiness.

Highland Park Fire Edition 15 Year Old

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This release was inspired by Muspelheim, the Norse realm of fire, the crucible of the suns and stars, and home to the fire giants. It was matured exclusively in refill port-seasoned casks and bottled at 45.2% ABV.

Nose: Comforting aromas of warm spices, coffee, mixed peel, smoke.

Palate: Opens with dark chocolate and lightly roasted coffee (absolutely no bitterness), then come the red fruits (sweetened cranberry, plum), a hint of vanilla pods, and maple roasted pecans.

Finish: Spicy and smoky.

Both releases are imposingly (and somewhat ostentatiously) packaged in their own wooden case, which is reminiscent of a jagged mountain (for the Ice Edition) and volcano (for the Fire Edition). There are also beautifully illustrated mini-books of Nordic tales included alongside the whisky.

If you can manage it, it is fascinating to trying these whiskies side-by-side because of their many contrasts. On my initial tasting I preferred the Fire Edition because of its big, rich flavours of chocolate and red fruit— something I expect and love from a port-influenced dram. However, on subsequent tastings I preferred the Ice Edition because of its incredible complexity. Coquettishly, the Ice Edition refused to give up all its secrets at once, and every time I went back to it I changed my tasting notes as I discovered that something else was coming to the fore. However, I can finally and definitively say that, for me, the lingering notes of pineapple and coconut on the palate of the Ice Edition make it the ultimate winner in this battle of ice and fire.

Ice: 17.5/20

Fire: 16.5/20

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Brainstorming Boilermakers

Welcome to the weekend!

I have only recently come to love boilermakers, which is surprising given my longstanding love of both good beer and good whisky. Over the last six months or so I have had some excellent boilermaker experiences. Firstly, I visited a bar called Boilermaker House in Melbourne which lives up to its moniker by having an entire section of their menu devoted to boilermakers. Secondly, my husband’s brother gifted him a selection of boilermakers for his birthday: three miniatures of scotch and three bottles of beer, all carefully paired. Finally, when I visited Orkney the distillery manager at Highland Park let us in on her favourite boilermaker pairing involving their whisky. I tried it that same night, and it was VERY good. I’ve included it below.

So what is a “boilermaker”? When referring to drinks and not people-who-make-boilers, the term boilermaker can mean a variety of different things and so a little explanation is in order. In parts of the UK a boilermaker means a mixture of half a pint of draught and half a pint of brown ale. By contrast, a traditional American boilermaker involves shotting a dram of whisky in a single gulp and then drinking a beer. An alternative boilermaker approach is to drop a dram of whisky (with or without shot glass) into a beer, and then drinking them both together.

Now I am a big proponent of each to their own when it comes to drinks. You want to add ice to your whisky? Go right ahead. A splash of coke? Not my style, but sure. Dropping your whisky into your beer? No worries. Life is simply too short to have others dictate to you how to enjoy your drink. That said, my own favourite way to enjoy a boilermaker is to drink a dram of whisky and a glass of beer side-by-side: no shotting or mixing, just alternating between sipping the two as and when I feel like it. This seems to be the current style of boilermaker in Australia at least.

The crucial part of putting together a good boilermaker in this style is the pairing of whisky and beer. To me, a perfect pairing involves;

  • A beer and a whisky you are happy to drink by themselves
  • Complementary flavor profiles, like a smoky dark beer and a smoky peated whisky. For example, you wouldn’t pair a stout and a light, floral whisky.
  • Trying to pair standout flavours. Spiced bacon notes in a bourbon are likely to match really well with similar notes in a dark craft beer, fruity notes in a Lowlands whisky are likely to match well with a light ale or a saison and so on.

Based on these criteria, and my own personal experience, here are a few favourites:

oogy and feral

Ardbeg Uigeadail + Feral Smoked Porter

The smoky porter with dark chocolate notes matches well with the peat in the whisky. Both have flavours of smoked bacon.

kaiju and caribbean cask

The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask + Kaiju Crush! Tropical Pale

The pale has a bit of hoppy bitterness but mellows out with summery pineapple flavours. Their shared tropical fruit characteristics take you to an island paradise.

 

Highland Park 12 Year Old + Swanney Brewery Scapa Special

Light, easy to knock back, both have a lovely balanced sweetness with citrus notes.

Feel free to leave your suggested boilermaker pairings in the comments section. Happy drinking!