Sweet

Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

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Glen Moray Port Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray Port Cask

As an out and proud fan of Glen Moray distillery and a waffler known to be partial to a little port matured whisky, the Glen Moray Port Cask Finish sounded like the perfect dram for me. Combining the sweet elegant Speyside flavour with a rich wine-infused layer – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out: quite a lot.

Upon its arrival at my door, I eagerly whipped the bottle out of its box and was greeted with the most peculiarly coloured whisky I had ever seen. I’ve observed variations of the (hilariously unintentionally poetic) “burnt crimson” theme before, but this whisky was – and there’s no more accurate description – orange. It was the kind of radioactive-peach hue normally reserved for fake tan. Alarm bells were ringing – but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of judging a book by its colour. There was only one thing to it – I had to try some.

After the first sniff it was clear that I was not trying a regular Speysider here. There was a lot of fruit – by which I mean a veritable orchard’s worth – and it was overripe, perhaps on the turn and ready for the compost heap. There were some bitter dark chocolate notes as well as equally bitter notes of wet grass. All in all, it was… shall we say memorable.

Surely the palate would be an improvement. And it was, albeit slightly. It was sweet and sticky with strong winey notes combining to form something reminiscent of strawberry jam. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some strawberry jam. Just this particular fruit spread was more Woolworths brand rather than homemade by my Grandma. The sweetness was more of a sugar syrup than a caramel and the vanilla more essence than extract. The finish started strongly with some nice blackberry flavours but descended into a rough spicy alcohol burn, surely a product of its youthful non-age statement nature.

Wow.

I did not love this whisky nearly as much as I expected. All things considered it was more than a little, well, rubbish. However, I can’t say I’m unhappy that I bought it. Scotland is hugely diverse in its drams and this is as far removed from an elegant Speyside drop as an Islay peat monster. Unfortunately in this case – the differences are not for the better.

Longrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Longrow Cab Sav

As the abundance of sherry barrels diminishes, whisky makers are forced to look elsewhere for maturation options. The obvious solution, of course, is using the barrels of another grape flavoured product – no, not hubba bubba bubblegum – wine. Wine cask maturation is being used by distillers worldwide: some as a novelty but others as a serious addition to their main range.

The wonderful whisky makers of Longrow are no strangers to experimentation. One of their more intriguing bottles is the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask – aged for seven years in refill bourbon hogs heads and a further four years in Cab Sav barrels sourced from my very favourite wine region: South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Warning: this is not a beginners whisky. Nor is it an easy drinking whisky. Nor, I believe, could I describe it as a ‘nice’ whisky. But it sure is a fascinating one. On the nose I detected, well, heaps. Initially a gentle smoke, reminding you that yes, Longrow do peat their barley. Once the smoke clears notes of grapes, banana and burnt orange rind flow through. Over all, it is complex and delicious.

The palate is a bit of a shock. Initially it is sweet with fizzy sherbet complimenting the peat. The red grapes make a return, along with other fruit such as melons and apricots. And then the spirit transforms. The finish is long, though not necessarily because of the slightly higher percentage of alcohol. It’s a little… soapy? This is a tasting note I (and seemingly I alone) seem to find in many wine-matured whiskies. There are other, nicer elements: smoked ham, salt, fish, bonfire ash, general seaside senses. This whisky is from Campbelltown, after all!

In no way do I regret buying this whisky. There’s a lot to like and a lot to discuss. But I didn’t love it. And that’s ok.

★★

Talisker 57˚ North

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 57 degrees north whisky waffle

Whenever I pour one of my non-whisky drinking friends a wee dram (watching in amusement as they splutter noticeably and their face flushes a conspicuous shade of red) I tell them to picture themselves in a small rugged hut on the west coast of Scotland as a fierce Atlantic storm batters the walls and ceiling. That, I proclaim, is the ideal location to enjoy whisky. While a fireplace may sufficiently heat your extremities, a dram of whisky will warm you from the inside out. And if I were huddled in this rugged hut on such a night, the drop I would turn to first is the Talisker 57˚ North.

This whisky, made on the Isle of Skye’s sole distillery, is named for two reasons: firstly (and I may be biased, but I would claim foremostly) because the spirit is bottled at a practical 57%. Secondly (and perhaps more poetically) because the town of Carbost, home to Talisker, is found at 57˚ North of the equator. In this part of the world, your insides are quite often in dire need of warming.

To put it into perspective, Canada’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games host, Vancouver, is situated at a mere 47˚North while my often freezing home state of Tasmania is at just 42˚South. Talisker Distillery is only two degrees further south than notoriously icy Scandinavian capitals Stockholm and Oslo. So it stands to reason that a warming dram or two is created there.

On the nose, there’s no doubting this is an Island whisky. Smoke wafts liberally out of the glass, although possibly more subtly than some Talisker expressions. Other elements are noticeable too: pepper, chorizo, and cured meats. It is like inhaling deeply at a gourmet barbecue.

There is certainly a woodiness about this whisky on the palate – although not reminiscent of your standard oak notes. Instead the flavours are dustier, earthier, more akin to a tree’s bark than the wood underneath. Elements of honey and marmalade hint at typical Talisker sweetness, though it is more toned down than the 10 Year Old. Instead, wonderful new flavours are present such as bacon and buttery toast, as well as some less pleasant bitter sappy elements which give the impression of burning wood that is slightly too green.

The good news is, this whisky leaves the best until last: the finish is undoubtedly the highlight of the dram. It is long – so very long – and hot and lively. After the spiciness fades, the smoke returns gently, bringing your tasting full circle.

Drinking this whisky, I find that I take my own advice. I close my eyes and picture the howling gale, the bucketing rain and the crashing thunder. Scotland is no stranger to wild weather. And in the eye of the storm, the Talisker 57˚ North is the dram you need.

★★★★

Yamazaki 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Yamazaki 12 whisky waffle

If you stood at the top of Ben Nevis in the highlands of Scotland and turned your eyes eastwards, then you would probably just see quite a lot of Scotland to be honest. However, if you had truly exceptional eyesight, even better than the elf eyes of Legolas, then in the far East you may be able to see a mighty chain of islands under the rising sun (this is of course assuming that your amazing eyes can penetrate Scottish rain!).

The islands of course form the ancient nation of Japan, a place of legends and gods, samurais and ninjas, geisha girls, and very strict tea parties. A curious thing you may not have expected to find in Japan is a fully fledged whisky industry… and yet Japan is the third largest producer of the amber drop behind Scotland and America, and is home to some of the greatest whiskies in the world.

As a country, Japan has only a relatively short history of making whisky, and like Australia the modern scene has its origins in a conscious decision to start an industry. After the introduction of Scotch whisky to Japan in the late 1800’s, a primordial ooze of distillers formed, but it wasn’t until 1923 that the first serious attempt emerged with the founding of Yamazaki distillery by Shinjirro Torii.

Apparently the initial releases were not favourable and so Torii hired a fellow countryman by the name of Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru had studied in Scotland in the early 1910’s, and after marrying Kirkintilloch girl Jessie ‘Rita’ Cowan, worked at Hazelburn distillery for several years before returning to Japan. The in-depth knowledge of whisky making Taketsuru gained in Scotland provided the crucial spark that Torii needed to make a worthy dram.

Thanks to the work of Torii and Taketsuru, modern Japanese whisky shares much in common with Scotch whisky, helped by the fact that Japan has a similar climate and terrain to Scotland. Yamazaki distillery (owned by Suntory, one of the two major players in the Japanese whisky industry) is located in the outskirts of Kyoto on Japan’s main island of Honshu.

The Yamazaki 12yr old was the first Japanese whisky I ever tried, and it piqued my interest in the malts of those eastern isles. The colour is a burnished gold that would be at home in a Japanese shrine. The nose is sweet and intensely fruit driven, with a strong scent of red pears backed with a light hint of mandarins.

The flavour is bright, and bursts in a wave across the tongue and roof of the mouth. After an initial sweet hit, sharp tangy citrus flavours dominate the tastebuds and charge up to the back of the nose. The finish is lightly dry with a slight bittersweetness, and brings to mind the feeling left after eating a green chewy lolly.

Although the bright, sharp flavours may not be to everyone’s tastes, the Yamazaki 12 is a great starting point for anyone wanting to try Japanese whisky, and not only because it comes from the oldest commercial distillery in Japan. The Yamazaki 12 provides a glimpse into the mind of a new whisky culture, one forged out of the soul of an ancient civilisation. Kampai!

★★★

Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 12 whisky waffle

Some whiskies have absolutely blown me away when I’ve first tried them. Often, the most exciting drams I have ever tried I’ve been unsure if I liked when they first passed my lips. Some whiskies are challenging and different and interesting. But not all of them.

I begin this review as if a whisky that were to lack one or all of these qualities is in some way an inferior drink. However, when the Glenlivet 12 Year Old is concerned, this is just not the case.

Rarely have I found a distillery as reliable as Glenlivet. Nor, where its signature expression is concerned, one as good value. But the 12 Year Old is as dependable a dram as you will find in Scotland. It is the perfect just-got-home-from-work whisky.

It offers sweet oak notes on the nose, leaving you in no doubt you have a malt from Speyside. On the palate it provides an initial hit of honey and some heather before developing into glorious burnt caramel, brown sugar and just a hint of smoke. This makes way for a long vanilla-centric finish that leans towards creaming soda. It all adds up to create a distinctive and memorable, if not perfectly balanced, flavour.

Glenlivet have not produced a world changing whisky here. But that was not what they set out to do. In their 12 Year Old, they have created a dependable whisky, one that you can turn to time and time again without fear of emptying the bottle. Because if it were to run out you would, without hesitation, nip to the bottle shop for a replacement.

★★★

Post script:

Since writing this review the whisky landscape has changed and sadly not for the better. My review’s final claim that when my bottle runs dry I can simply nip to my local store for another no longer rings true. Tonight I downed the last of my trusty Glenlivet 12. It’s been a fun journey, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. Glenlivet 12 – it has been a pleasure having you as my go-to. You will not be forgotten.