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.

laph
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.

laph opinions

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.

laph mane
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.

hp

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

ice

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

fire

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!

 

Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

glenlivet

The Glenlivet distillery is situated in the eponymous Glen of Livet, Ballindalloch, Speyside. As you drive through the rolling hills and picturesque valleys of this part of the world it is easy to imagine the frustration experienced by the excise men as, in days gone by, they scoured the hidden pockets of the countryside. They knew that illicit distilleries were operating in the area but in order to tax them they first had to find them, and that was a tricky matter indeed. The Glenlivet, however, has long operated on the right side of the law. George Smith founded the Glenlivet distillery at Upper Drumin in 1824 and was the first licensed distiller in the local area (a fact that made him quite unpopular with his unlicensed neighbours). Later he purchased a farm at nearby Minmore and built a second, grander distillery that opened in 1859. The Glenlivet passed through various generations of family until 1921 and since 2001 it been owned by Chivas Brothers, which is part of Pernot Ricard. The Glenlivet is currently the second bestselling single malt worldwide. The distillery is equipped with seven pairs of stills and produces around 11 million litres annually. Three pairs of stills are located in a huge stillroom, whose floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the beautiful glen.

The whisky I am reviewing today is The Glenlivet’s entry level expression, the Founder’s Reserve. It was released in 2015 and whilst it is not apparently intended as a replacement for the 12 year old— which is being slowly discontinued in the UK market— it seems like this is the new go-to Glenlivet and the expression most commonly available at your local bar and bottle shop. It has no age statement, is bottled at 40% ABV and has been matured in a combination of aged oak casks and American first-fill oak casks.

The Founder’s Reserve is a delicate, light, smooth and creamy dram. It is easy to drink, inoffensive and has an appropriate price point (in Australia I have regularly seen it for just over $50). However, it is quite a simple whisky and I found it difficult to discern much on the palate.

founders

Nose: Floral, delicate fruits like pears and green apples, honey and a little bit of vanilla from the American oak.

Palate: Light and sweet. A little watery at first but it opens up into fresh just ripe pear, vanilla and ginger. Finishes with an increasing dry woodiness.

Finish: Medium length but a rather one-dimensional vanilla note.

The Founder’s Reserve is a pleasant enough dram. It will not blow your socks off but it has a time and place. Perhaps best used for mixing in cocktails, introducing someone to whisky who hasn’t drunk much before or sharing with friends as something easy-to-drink whilst playing board games.

I should note that I am far more excited by other Glenlivet expressions. For example, the Nadurra range is consistently good, the Cipher is both complex  and fun (it was released in an entirely blacked-out bottle with no information but the legally-mandated ABV: a real mystery!), and all of the single-cask expressions that I have tried have been excellent. The conclusion that I draw from the above is that, for me, The Glenlivet shines when it bottles at a slightly higher ABV (say, 46% and above). However, I appreciate the fact that the Founder’s Reserve is approachable and widely obtainable, and if it broadens the appeal of whisky to more drinkers then that can only be a good thing for whisky generally.

12/20

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