Islay

Ardbeg add An Oa to the Family

Posted by: Nick

Ardbeg An Oa Whisky Waffle

We’re big Ardbeg fans here at Whisky Waffle so you can image the look on our excited little faces upon hearing the announcement that our equal favourite Ileach distillery is adding a brand spanking new release to its core range. Joining the ever reliable 10 Year Old, the bonfire-in-your-mouth Corryvreckan and the serious contender for world’s best dram Uigeadail will be the An Oa.

Similarly to the other two impossible to spell bottlings, the An Oa is named after a local landmark, in this case the Mull of Oa, a peninsula in the island’s south famous for the iconic (and possibly a little bit phallic) American Monument. The biggest mystery, apart from the pronunciation, is what will this new release taste like?

Early indications suggest it may be lighter on the peat that other Ardbeg bottlings. The distillery describes it as being “singularly rounded whose smoky intensity is softened by a delectable smooth sweetness”. Rounded is probably a good call when you consider the An Oa is a vatting of a vast array of barrel and char types (basically whatever Dr Bill Lumsden has floating around in his back room) married together in Ardbeg’s intriguing sounding Gathering Room.

The other mystery, of course, is why? Ardbeg are famous for putting out more bottlings than any blogger can keep up with while remaining relatively sober. And yet here comes another one. We can only hope that it doesn’t spell the end of the Corry or the Oogie or push their price to unobtainable extremes. Although perhaps these fears are unfounded and the An Oa will prove to be a worthy addition to the range. After all, we can never have too much Ardbeg, can we?*

Find out more about the An Oa at the Ardbeg website.

*This question is rhetorical. Of course we can’t.

 

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Lagavulin: 200 years of peated perfection

Posted by: Ted

lagavulin

Here at Whisky Waffle we understand the gravitas of celebrating a bicentennial birthday. When we sprang into existence in 1988, we arrived just in time to witness Australia’s 200th year as a nation (although one of us saw a few months more of it than the other). Now we are all grown up and are excited to be able to witness another bicentennial milestone, the anniversary of a distillery that is rather close to our hearts:

Happy 200th Birthday Lagavulin!

Founded in 1816 by John Jonston and Archibald Campbell, Lagavulin has now entered the prestigious Islay old-boys club, joining the company of fellow veterans Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig.

lagavulin-ted

Nestled on the shoreline just a couple of miles East of Port Ellen, the Diageo-owned distillery is classic Islay, with whitewashed walls bearing the name of the distillery in giant black letters on the seaward side and elegant pagodas peeking above the roof line. Inside, guests are greeted by age polished timber and leather chairs, painting a romantic view of yesteryear. Not forgetting of course the glossy copper stills and the ever-present scent of peat and spirit rising to meet the angels…

lagavulin-chairs
To celebrate the big milestone Lagavulin has released a special edition 8 year old bottling, which aims to recreate a bottling sampled by historical Waffler Alfred Barnard in 1886. Now, bear in mind an 8 year old whisky was considered nigh-on ancient back in the day and Barnard described that one as as “exceptionally fine”.

With such high praise from the 19th century, Nick immediately decided to add it to his collection. However, seeing that 2016 marked a 200 year celebration he thought ‘why stop there’ and promptly bought the 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength. When Ted added his Whisky Waffle favourite the 16 Year Old into the mix, we had quite the ingredients for a special Lagavulin birthday bash! Or as we didn’t refer to it at the time but should have: a peat party!

lagavulin-all

On the nose the 16yo was straight up coastal, with a salty, iodiny, seaweedy hit. But then we found… bananas? Perhaps banana chips, as well as dry-aged meat, terracotta, copper and crushed grass. The flavour was all about the tangy peat, but there were earthy notes such as mossy paving stones and singed oak branches.

After the subtle, balanced nature of the 16yo, the 8yo stopped us dead in our tracks and then made us jump up and down with excitement. The colour for one thing was crazy, like the palest white wine, certainly no Diageo caramel in sight there. The nose was decidedly new-makey. Raw. Ashy. A good deep breath delivered a big hit of green fruit. The flavour was fresh, crisp and bright, with the fire still burning across the palate. Summer peat. The finish was rather excellent, being sharp like a tailored charcoal suit. Everything about the 8yo served to highlight the smoothness of the 16yo.

Finally it was the turn of the cask strength 12yo, probably the dark horse of the bunch. Phwoar, what a whisky. It was young, exciting and complex, like a teenage poet. It was Bond, Die Hard and Crank… on Speed. The finish provided a peaty punch that really scratched that itch. There’s something about young peated whisky that just works.

lagavulin-nick
We’ve always had a connection with Lagavulin, even before we started the whole Whisky Waffle malarkey. To be fair, the 16yo was the first whisky that ever blew our minds and made us think that whisky was something more than an additive to Coke. Hopefully this gem of Islay continues another 200 years and beyond, but who knows what the future may bring. Maybe one day in the far flung future a descendant of Howard Carter will be leading an expedition to explore the ruins on a lonely island off the old Scottish coast. Perhaps they will discover a door sealed with a dusty cartouche bearing the legend ‘Lagavulin Distillery Est. 1816 Isla’ and upon gaining entry to the chamber within, will stumble across a hoard of barrels containing the fabled peated gold of Islay…

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

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Kilchoman Machir Bay

Reviewed by: Nick

kilchoman-machir-bay

2012 edition

Kilchoman is (was?) the first new distillery built on Islay in 120 years. The drawback of this is that it comes without centuries of tradition. But the positive – it comes without centuries of tradition! Meaning it can do whatever the hell it likes! This perspective can’t help but bring to mind a few producers closer to home which claim to be slices of Scotland in Tasmania. Well, I’m going to make a big call: Kilchoman Distillery is a slice of Tasmania – in Scotland!

Like Tasmanian distilleries such as Redlands, it attempts to keep the entire whisky making process on the one site, paddock-to-bottle style. While this is hard to achieve across their whole range, their lightly peated ‘100% Islay’ expression is created exactly as it sounds: entirely on Rockside Farm, home of Kilchoman.

Also like Tassie, Kilchoman can’t be bothered waiting for 12 years to release their product, so bottles its range under titles of various landmarks: heavily sherried Sanaig, entirely sherried Loch Gorm and the subject of today’s review, the Machir Bay, which is a marriage of some oloroso matured whisky with a greater amount of ex-bourbon whisky.

Often drinking younger whisky from Scotland can be likened to snuggling with a Pitt Bull, but for peated whisky it just seems to work. The smoke tames the beast and compliments its occasional snarling. The Machir Bay is no exception.

The smoke is clearly apparent on the nose, however there are also sweeter creamier notes of hazelnut and coffee. On the palate the Machir Bay takes a while to get going – initially gentle before building into a fiery roar, a clear sign of its young age. Flavours of vanilla and green grapes can be found, shrouded in huge gusts of smoke.

While this is a tremendously exciting dram, I get the impression that it’s still a work in progress and that when I check back on a later release in a few years time that it will have come on in leaps and bounds. However, just like Tasmanian whisky, it is one step on a journey – and one I’m very happy to have checked out.

★★★

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Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

bowmore-darkest-15

This is the whisky that restored my faith in Bowmore.

I always used to regard Bowmore as the poor cousin of Islay. Sure, they have the history and the location… but there was never any point buying a bottle of the 12 Year Old when you considered what was available down the road in Port Ellen.

However, it was a taste of the Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old (offered to me at Auchentoshan Distillery of all places!) that turned my head. It took me one sip to realise that this dram took elements of the peat monsters and sherry bombs I loved so much and combined them into one satisfying package. It has after all spent 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into first fill ex-oloroso casks for a further three. All of which was spent on Islay, soaking up that iconic sea breeze. This is a process which could have gone horribly wrong – too much in either direction could have ruined the whisky. But you know what? They absolutely nailed it.

On the nose the peat hits you immediately, though it’s not as in-your-face as other Islay drops. This would potentially displease me if it were not for the joyous abundance candied fruitcake aromas that follow it! It is certainly a nose that begs you to take a sip. When you do, you discover a rich chocolately palate with elements of raisins and caramel. It all combines to form the impression of the chewy toffee-like remnants left at the bottom of a tin of freshly baked sticky date pudding. The finish is where most of the smoke can be found. There is plenty of it, although not enough to mask the sweeter Christmas pudding flavours of the palate. All up it is, at least in my opinion, a perfectly balanced drop.

This whisky is a good demonstration of the dangers of forming an opinion about a distillery without sampling a range of their products. I could have easily passed this one up without trying it, writing it off as another underwhelming Bowmore. But if I had I would be missing out on one of the most perfectly balanced whiskies Scotland has to offer.

★★★★

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Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

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Ardbeg 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

ardbeg-10

There are certain whiskies that a blog should have in its pages and until now we have been found wanting for this particular dram. Its label rather audaciously claims that not only is it the best whisky on Islay, but is in fact among the best in the world. The funny thing is, we’re actually hard pressed to disagree with it.

The Ardbeg 10 Year Old makes an excellent case for the younger whisky. Generally we equate greater age with greater excellence, but this dram proves that this is not always the case. There is something about the raw, youthful energy in the 10 Year Old that allows the peat monster to really roar and we can’t help but feel that if it was left in the barrel for a few years longer then some of the magic would be lost.

We took it upon ourselves to sample the Ardbeg 10 quite extensively (read quite extensively) and came up with a comprehensive set of tasting notes. We didn’t quite comprehend how wonderful these notes were until we read them back the next day. Normally we don’t present tasting notes in isolation, but these are too good to intersperse with waffle.

Nose: South-east Asian mystery meat, peanuts, satay, bitumen road surface, earthy ashes, digging up a hangi, nashi pear, fizzy apple, melon, honeydew, honey and heavily perfumed plant.

Palate: Smoke (go figure), BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, “there’s a pear in there”, oregano, home-made potato chips, cardamom, cloves and nutella fudge.

Finish: Fiery, spicy, hot, warm and lingering.

Subsequent tastings have not yet turned out quite as many creative thoughts about the 10 Year Old; however we unashamedly stand by what we said in the heat of the moment (mostly).

We have mentioned that the Ardbeg 10 Year Old compares impressively with much older drams, but what if the field was narrowed to only it’s 10 year old contemporaries. For us, the only possible contenders are cross-town rivals Laphroaig and fellow peat-pal Talisker. But if we’re honest, Ardbeg leaves them both in the shade: we truly believe you won’t find a better 10 Year Old whisky on the planet.

★★★★

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Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Bunna 12

The world of whisky is a lexicological minefield, populated by distilleries and bottlings with all manner of weird and wonderful names. The birthplace of whisky in particular likes to play mind games with the innocent, wide-eyed bystander, the Scottish tongue bending words in ways you just wouldn’t expect.

A true prince of the pack is a distillery from Islay with a name that causes the unprepared mind to melt at the sight of it. Gather your wits dear reader and say hello to Bunnahabhain (phew!). Right, so just to be clear, that’s BOO-na-HAVen (but to really get it, here’s a helping hand from Brian Cox).

The Bunna, as it is more colloquially known, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay, producing drams since 1881 in the village of the same name. Naturally, being from Islay means that Bunna drams are peated. Unlike other distilleries on the island, however, they aim for a far more subtle maritime nature, with the Bunna motto being ‘the gentle taste of Islay’.

Encased within a heavy black glass bottle emblazoned with the sailor logo and the Roman numerals XII (a numbering system used for their aged releases), the Bunnahabhain 12yo is the core release of the distillery. Made with water from the Margadale spring and bottled at that sweet spot of 46.3%, the 12yo brings forth a rich golden hue.

On the nose the 12yo is light, smooth, sweet and fruity, with ripe autumn apples, dates, plum jam, red grapes and raisins from the ex-sherry casking. Mixed in with the fruits are chestnuts, cashews, pistachios, dark chocolate, brine and rich oak. A veritable cornucopia indeed.

On the palate the liquid hits sharp, salty and dry, like taking a mouthful of seawater on a summertime dip. Underneath sits salted caramel, ginger, mixed peel, seaweed and a faint hint of driftwood smoke. The finish is again salty, and lingers on the tongue like the end of a day at the seaside, a mixture of brine, sweat and sunscreen.

Bunnahabhain is certainly not one of the Ileach peat monsters, choosing to keep that beast well chained in its cave. Instead it manages to sing an incredible song of its maritime environment, perfectly capturing the salt laden winds that blow in from the stormy Scottish coastal waters. The Bunnahabhain is indeed a whisky that is as complex in its nature as it is in its name.

★★★

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Reviewed by: Ted

Ardbeg Perpetuum

200 years might not be infinity, but it’s certainly a long time to be producing whisky. Ardbeg distillery, nestled on the coast of Islay, is to be heartily congratulated for reaching such a momentous milestone.

The distillers at Ardbeg love a good special edition release, and in celebration of their big birthday they have brought forth the Perpetuum. The whisky celebrates the love, dedication and skill of its creators, acknowledging that while times and technology change, no machine will ever be able to recreate the spark of the human touch.

It’s certainly a beautiful object to gaze upon, with shiny silver labels, a Celtic braid infinity symbol and PERPETUUM surrounding the box in monolithic black letters. Oh my goodness the 47.4% spirit inside is a worthy representative of Ardbeg’s art. Just to look at it’s a gorgeous pale, silky gold with a subtle peach tinge.

The nose is delicate and creamy, and has delicious buttery shortbread infused with a hint of sea salt. Twining through is a touch of fine smoked meats, smouldering driftwood and hot malt. The first sip delivers rich, woody smoke to float over the tongue. Underneath sits a pool of salty mineral-rich water with the occasional mandarine bobbing around in it, counterpointed by a sharp bittersweet herbal finish that lingers on. As the bottle says, it almost seems to be never ending.

The Perpetuum is a snapshot of the last 200 years of whisky making at Ardbeg, and hints at the way forward into the next 200 years. Like the infinity symbol the represents it, hopefully we will be coming back to the Perpetuum, and indeed all Ardbegs, again and again for many years to come.

★★★

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Caol Ila

Caol Ila is a deceptive drop, both in pronunciation and in presentation. The Scots will tell you, aggressively, that there is one way to pronounce Caol Ila and that is “Cull Eel-a” blurred into one word. You’ll be lucky if spellcheck doesn’t turn it into Coal Ikea, but stay well away from that and do not be fooled by your non-Gaelic upbringing.

It is also deceptive on appearance. The box is black, but in particular the bottle is darkened grey glass, as if the Islay smoke itself was swirling inside staining the bottle like the wind lashes coastal cliffs. But once the dram is poured, the liquid is pale as if pulled straight from a virgin oak barrel.

Caol Ila means Sound of Islay but is not one of the best well known of the Islay malts and, despite being the largest Islay distillery, it is not in the Islay triumvirate. I am leaving Bowmore out of the triumvirate if anyone is struggling to narrow it down to the big three.

On the nose, there is the smoky peat smell that makes it quintessentially Islay. There are hints of peppermint and the fresh fruit leaf smell coming through but most surprising is how the brine – more subtle than many an island whisky – adds an intensity without being overpowering.

This translates onto the palate where, combined with a caramelised sugar sweetness, the peak hit comes back for a second round. Despite the colour and viscosity on appearance, Caol Ila is quite an oily whisky and arrives like a malt older than its twelve years but without the punch of those elders. It is disappointingly only bottled at 43%.

The finish is long and the oily quality stays in the mouth for round three of peat hit. But don’t get me wrong, this in not the kind of peat that will clear a room from smell alone. Unlike the infamous (and exceptional) Octomore, you don’t wake up the morning after trying to remember when you smoked a cigar the night before. But it has just enough to be an excellent easy-drinking Islay malt.

Perhaps the most endearing element of the Caol Ila 12 is what, I suspect, it contributed to the now deceased blended malt Johnnie Walker Green Label, but that is a story for a future musing.

★★★