Croftengea (Loch Lomond) 2008-2018, 9yo, 54.8% – OB for The Whisky Exchange

The Whisky Exchange have been bottling some nice stuff over the last couple of months. The most recent one, apart from this Croftengea, is an Old Pulteney from 2004, which I *just* realized I haven’t reviewed yet. Shame on me. Luckily they don’t need my post for selling it since it was sold out before I even got the sample. (I’ll review it soon, I promise)

Now, they’ve gone and bottled a Croftengea. Where is that, you ask? It’s one of the brands from Loch Lomond Distillery in Alexandria, just above Glasgow. This brand is their heavily peated one, where Inchmurrin and Loch Lomond are unpeated, and Inchmoan is lightly peated. If I am not mistaken, this is made the same way as Inchmurrin in regards to distillation process, but I’ll not bore you with that here.

So, a heavily peated single malt from a distillery that’s making waves by suddenly releasing a lot of much better whisky than they used to. Rather interesting, if you ask me. Just a shame the price of their bottles has caught up with the market too. Can’t blame them, but I prefer things cheaper, if possible…

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Sniff:
The ‘heavily peatedness’ of this whisky isn’t as heavy as I expected. There’s definitely some smoke there, but it’s not a punch to the jaw like some Ardbegs have. The peat is more of a highland style than it’s like Islay whiskies. There is a hint of salt, but apart from that it’s more a woody, plant like smoke instead of seaweed and moss. I get some thick and heavy pastry cream and milk. A tiny hint of some lemon zest too, with quite some oak.

Sip:
The palate is tingling with some chili pepper heat. Quite some oak again, with some wood smoke and charcoal. I get some malted barley and light citrus, some smoke and burned wood. Grass and straw, milk and vanilla. Slightly salty again. Maybe some cured ham too?

Swallow:
The finish is a bit warmer than the palate was, and a bit dryer too. The smoke is a bit more gentle, with less vanilla than before. There’s still oak, some lemon and milk.

It’s always interesting to see what a distillery claims to be heavily peated. In some cases it’s insanely peated (Bruichladdich), in other cases it’s slightly more peated than they normally do, and in others there’s a whiff of peat which is only heavily peated because all their other stuff is completely unpeated. In this case, I think it’s more or less in the middle. It’s not as heavy as some Islay whiskies, but it’s definitely more peated than the majority of the mainland whiskies, and Loch Lomond’s other products.

Anyway, the whisky itself is rather tasty. There’s quite some different flavors going on and even though I think it’s a rather light whisky, it does have that charcoal, thick peat smoke and cured meat thing going on.

I rather like it, especially for a whisky that’s only nine years old. I had expected there to be less wood influence and more spirit, but the balance between those two is rather well done. A good whisky, for a good price!

87/100

Croftengea (Loch Lomond) 2008-2018, 9yo, 54.8%, OB for The Whisky Exchange. Available from The Whisky Exchange for 80 euros/70 pounds.

Thanks to The Whisky Exchange for the sample!

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Longrow 2001-2016, 14yo, Fresh Sherry Butt, 53.2% – Springbank Society

It’s not very often that I go through my own bottles at a rapid pace. But somehow, with sherry casks from the Springbank Society that never seems to be a huge problem. In this case it only took a while because I had quite some bottles at a lower fill level sitting in front of it, both physically and in the drinking-queue.

I’ve been a member of the Springbank Society for, I think, about ten years now and almost all the bottles I’ve bought and tasted have been great. There is the odd one out, every now and then (cough – Longrow Chardonnay Cask – cough) that is just too weird and doesn’t work, but most of the time, it’s a blind buy and a happy one.

Also, Longrow and sherry casks. Can’t go wrong there, can we?

20180419_211753.jpgSniff:
Lots of oak on the nose, and lots of sherry too. Not timid at all! Quite some fruit with plums and dates leading the way. Some smoke, but less than expected. Ashy with a tiny hint of rubber and leather. Not unlike Allstars sneakers, somehow.

Sip:
The palate starts of a bit sharper than I would have thought at 53.2%. There’s wood and ash and charcoal at first, but soon the sherry comes shining through. Dry and fruity, with the brand’s typical salty basalt and grassiness.

Swallow:
The finish is dry and sweet, with plums and dates. Salty smoke with that hint of rubber and leather again. Sherry and oak too.

Honestly, if you’re looking for sherry and peat there are a few brands that spring to mind immediately. Port Charlotte and Bowmore are two of them. The third is Longrow. This one fits the bill perfectly and it’s a slightly dirty sherry and peat showcase. Everything I love about Longrow, in short.

Especially the varieties of oak, with the wood, the ash, smoke and charcoal coming through works very well with the dryness and fruit of the sherry. A great combination.

It might not be as complex as some others, but I can’t give it anything else than

90/100

Longrow 2001-2016, 14yo, Fresh Sherry Butt, 53.2%, Springbank Society. Currently available in Germany for 279 euros

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Glen Scotia, 2018

Around September last year I posted on Facebook, asking for tips for me and my friend FV to spend an afternoon and evening in Campbeltown. While I did get some way-too-obvious things, like Springbank and Cadenhead’s, I also got the tip to visit Glen Scotia.

Even better, Donald MacLellan, an International Sales Manager for the Loch Lomond Group of which Glen Scotia is a part, said we couldn’t not visit Glen Scotia. The ‘we don’t have time to do everything’ excuse didn’t fly. “You drive 500 miles to visit Campbeltown, you’re not telling me you don’t have time for the last 200 meters”.

Even better yet, he told me we could also visit outside of regular visiting hours, going as far as shouting 24/7 at some point. Easy for him to say, he wasn’t the guy welcoming us in his spare time!

After a while we had set up a date with Callum Fraser to visit the distillery at 8pm, so we could have dinner first and cool down a bit after the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting.

When I visited Campbeltown in 2010 Glen Scotia wasn’t a pretty sight. Walls and fences made sure you didn’t feel too welcome, and it also didn’t look like there was any love lost in keeping the place neat and tidy. A lot has changed since then.

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Now you see a mid-town distillery that’s nicely painted, on a tidy plot that’s nicely kept. Also, there’s a visitor center now at which Callum was waiting for us just when the sun was setting over Campbeltown.

We started with a tour, which skipped most of the regular numerical information and official script. We just walked around and Callum pointed out some things that were irregular or different from most distilleries. We had a nice chat with David, the mashman, about some distillery quirks, and we got to see all the technology for the grain stores. All the technology in this case is a binder with some scribbles in there to see which silo contains what, and which washback was filled when.

David turns out to a guy with a can-do-attitude, based on Callum’s stories. Apart from finding it rather ridiculous that there’s a bottling in his honor, he mashes, but also knows how to run the stills and do maintenance on most of the equipment in the distillery.

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20180412_201618In the stillroom we had the chance to talk to Sean, the stillman, for half an hour or so. The stills were coming on steam while we were there so there was a bit of a gap in his schedule to talk to us. It’s great to see a real craftsman at work with manual controls over the stills and someone who is so familiar with the equipment that most of what needs doing is triggered by sound and sight instead of all kinds of analog and digital equipment.

We unfortunately couldn’t do the warehouse tasting since the warehouse manager had already gone home and locked up after himself, as he should. Callum made up for this by pouring quite a few amazing drams in the tasting room, though.

We tried the Glen Scotia 18, the Mashman’s Reserve (2001), I believe there was a 16 year old bourbon cask there too. After the other 11 year old Single Cask (2005) we made a small sidestep to the official 27yo Littlemill. I didn’t see that one coming, but damn that’s good!

20180412_203637By this time it was already around 9.30pm and with a full day of driving from Campbeltown to Newcastle for the ferry, we decided to call it a day and do some last minute shopping for back home (Irn Bru, Gingernuts, a cake for the kids).

This tour, which was 100% off the beaten path for tours as I know them, was an absolute stunner. Talking to the people who make the stuff you like to drink, and getting to know some of the quirks of their craft and their distillery, with a host as awesome as Callum, this was an epic end to our Scotland trip!

Thanks a million to Donald, Callum, David and Sean for being great guys! Glen Scotia went up many notches in my book…

Of course, being the enthusiastic geek that I am, I forgot to take proper pictures, of the people and such. So just a few random shots of the distillery are all I have…

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Love and hate for Lagavulin

That’s some title, isn’t it? Hate is quite overstated, but I have to lure unsuspecting readers in some way, don’t I?

Anyway, the third and last distillery we toured while on Islay a few weeks ago was Lagavulin. I did the tour back in 2010 as well, on my first trip to Islay and Scotland. The tour was followed by the Warehouse Demonstration. Back then they only did this on Thursdays, while it’s been amped up to every weekday now.

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My love for Lagavulin started really early in my whisky drinking days when my father-in-law bought the regular 16 year old, based on Jim Murray’s 92 points for it. Ever since I have absolutely loved every expression I tasted, with an exception for the eight year old that’s been on the market for the last two years. Compared to their other expressions, that stuff is peated water to me. It lacks the depth and complexity that makes the whisky so great in other expressions.

However, that’s not what the charged title of this post gets it’s ‘hate’ from.

Back in 2010 I found the distillery tour at Lagavulin only so-so. I had done some tours by then (Glengoyne, Arran, Springbank, Bowmore, Ardbeg and, I think, Laphroaig). Then the distillery that has a huge name to live up to does such a pedestrian tour, it’s a disappointment. I remember it more as a ‘quick look’ tour in which things were tuned to explain whisky making to the absolute novice instead of going a little bit more in depth and getting to know the distillery better.

When we visited this year, I warned my friends for this. We really wanted to do the warehouse demonstration, though, so we booked the tour anyway. We shouldn’t have. Unless you’re very keen on ‘still spotting’, Lagavulin is not a distillery for a tour.

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Back then, we could walk around the premises a little bit for a picture and a ‘feel’ for the distillery. Even that has been taken down to ‘we’re walking to the warehouse wall with the letters on it and will be going back to the visitor center in five minutes’. A lot of numbers are thrown around in regard to washback sizes, mashtuns and their waters, still sizes, but I find myself very short on fucks to give about these exact numbers. I want stories, history, tales about quirks that make Lagavulin stand out from everything else.

There’s none of that to be found.

20180411_104516.jpgThen, after the tour, if you booked it right, you get to do the Warehouse Demonstration. Not sure why it’s not called a Warehouse Tasting, but that’s what it is. A tasting more often than not done my Iain McArthur. That wee man is an absolute legend!

After a couple of minutes with him in the warehouse, the whiskies don’t really matter anymore. He’s hugely entertaining and picks up the slack from the tour. There’s history about him, the island, Lagavulin and everything. He jokes around, makes fun of the participants and himself. And he also happens to pour some of the most amazing drams.

As with everything on our trip, I didn’t take notes, but I remember the 20 and 25 year old whiskies, both from sherry casks. The 20 was a bit more vibrant and upbeat where the 25 was already becoming an older gentleman. Timid, even. Then there was a cask sample from a 1982 cask. Back in the slender years when distilleries only operated a few days per week and lots of them were on the verge of closing. Now THAT is a 20180411_121112.jpgwhisky. The peat is toned down and the wood is turned up, but the complexity is vast and the ‘ancientness’ of it was more akin to whiskies from the sixties and seventies. Damn…

As you might expect, everything is forgiven after a tasting like that.

Just keep in mind that when touring Lagavulin, you’ll be getting the tourist tour. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a waste of time, but there’s other things to do on the island, like walking up to and climbing the remains of Dunyvaig Castle.

Now, where’s that bottle of amazing Distillery Only they had?

 

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Bunnahabhain, 2018

Exactly two weeks ago was the day we visited Bunnahabhain Distillery. I did visit it before in 2010, but I didn’t do a tour back then. There wasn’t enough time during our stay on Islay to also take in the east coast of this glorious island.

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One old beast in front of another

To change things up, we did go there this time. It’s the only Islay distillery I hadn’t visited that was on the plan for this year, but somehow I wasn’t expecting too much. After all, I know what the place looks like…

We had dinner at the Bowmore Hotel, and before we sat down we had a beer at the bar there. Some random guy started talking to us, mainly by shouting loudly that our choice of beer wasn’t to his preference: “IT’S PISH!”

After that we talked whisky, and his comment on Bunnahabhain, apart from it being his favorite distillery on the island was:

“You won’t take your Jewish granny to Bunnahabhain!”

Luckily, none of us had our Jewish granny with us that week, so we were good to go.

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We booked the Warehouse 9 Experience, since the main goal was to properly experience distilleries and do tastings of stuff we can’t get anywhere else. So, straight from the cask is as good as it’s going to get.

20180409_091124.jpgAfter we took a few pictures around the premises we walked into the badly signposted visitor center. There was one guy with us on the tour who didn’t say a word during the entire ordeal. He cycled to the distillery for it, and after the five pound tour he cycled away again. Let’s say he took a very different approach to experiencing Islay than we did.

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The tour of the distillery was great. Sarah Ferguson toured us around the premises, with information, stories and a joke every now and then. To say the distillery looks very different to the well polished rooms at other places is an understatement. However, that does make this feel like a slightly more genuine experience. You really are walking through a production facility. Because of this I’m not entirely sure about the major investments Distel (the parent company) is going to make to improve the visitor facilities in the coming years. A new visitor center might help, but ‘luxury cottages’ and ‘mobile beach huts’ doesn’t really sit well with me.

It was good to see, though, that the distillery still runs on people. All the electronic equipment is just measuring things and not automating production. People produce the whisky, with a lot of tools that have been there for decades, if not longer.

And, I have to say this, even though the place looks a bit rough around the edges (and the center), it’s still quite gorgeous to see. It has it’s own charm, with all the different styles of buildings, the rather impractical layout of the place and the casks just lying around near the entrance to the site.

The tasting we had afterwards was… How to say this… Intense. Sarah guided us through a lot of different whiskies very professionally, even though there was just us and she didn’t have to stay in line.

“I often use the F-word like a comma.”

We could relate and we had an epic time on a Monday morning. Let’s say it took the chill from our bones. Luckily our Designated Survivor took sample bottles, because none of us was fit to drive after, let alone allowed to.

20180409_103248.jpgThe tasting consisted of five sizeable drams of various cask strength samples. There were bourbon casks, peated whiskies, a Marsala cask, a wine cask and two Manzanilla casks. At least the wine cask, Marsala cask and Manzanilla casks were available as 20cl in most cases and 70cl for the Marsala one.

As with all the tastings, I didn’t take any notes, but let’s say that all whiskies were at least very good. I’m generally not a huge fan of peated Bunnahabhain, but with the Marsala cask it worked very well. The wine cask was good for a wine cask, but the ones that stole the show for me were the Manzanilla ones. Those were BIG whiskies. I bought 20cl of each of them, and I am very much looking forward to getting to know these whiskies a lot better.

All in all, I have to say I had an ace experience that morning. Only to be nicely topped off by a great burger in Port Askaig, and a nice walk through some peat bogs on Jura. Who needs walking paths, anyway?

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The Jura bit was highlighted by:

  • “Sure, the ordnance map says there’s no trail, but I bet there is”
  • “See that fence, there must be a proper way of getting over that”
  • My pants tearing (because of said fence crossing)
  • FV sinking knee deep in peat (literally)
  • Walking by Jura without the slightest inclination to go in
  • Being very surprised how many cars fit on that tiny ferry
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Caroni 20yo, 1998-2018, 64.6% – The Duchess

The guys at The Duchess seem to be on the rum train! I talked to Nils about this and he told this was mostly due to availability. The whisky market is booming and therefore caskes are scarce. With rum this is starting to happen but nowhere near the same level of franticness yet. So, like last time, rum it is!

Caroni is always a name that triggers people since it is a closed distillery that finally shut its doors in 2002, after the Trinidad government sold a huge chunk of shares (49%) to Rum Distillers Limited in 2001. Apparently they wanted to get the distillery out of the way.

What I know of Caroni rums, based on the few I’ve tried over the years is that they produce a very heavy and strong spirit that, after long maturation like this one (and the one I tried at Cadenhead’s last week) are very appealing to whisky drinkers. Deep, layered flavors with a lot of oak influence. Sounds good right?

30742192_1069475999878738_1427633763252174848_nSniff:
It’s a true and rather sweet rum with a lot of oak. Very dry (maybe the insanely high ABV?) with hints of dried tobacco leaves. Deep flavors of waxed oak, some spices and crusty dark bread. Somehow, even a bit of whipped cream.

Sip:
The palate is sharp and dry, but even though this is over 64%, it doesn’t taste THAT sharp. There still is a lot of alcohol of course, but that heat is offset by oak, sweet molasses and slightly bitter tobacco leaves. Very autumnal with old oak, furniture wax. That creaminess from the nose is present here too.

Swallow:
On the finish, the spiciness is getting a bit more in the spotlight, with pink peppercorns and wood flavors, some chili pepper, but a lot more gentle than before.

Honestly, without trying too hard, I figured I should be drinking this on a hot day, on a porch in a rocking chair. Something I normally associate with bourbon.

The sweetness with the wood spices is very reminiscent of America’s national spirit, although it is of a lighter profile than some of those heavy hitting bourbons (like Knob Creek, for example).

All in all this is one of the best rums I’ve ever had, although it’s hard to compare to some. For example, Diageo’s Zacapa is a tremendous rum too, it’s such a different beast that focuses more on smoothness and sweetness than on oak and depth, like this one does.

In hindsight it might have been wrong to close the Caroni distillery. Much like Brora, for example.

91/100

Caroni 20yo, 1998-2018, 64.6%, The Duchess ‘The Trinidad’. Available from Best of Whiskies for € 195

Thanks again, Nils, for the awesome sample!

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Clynelish 10yo, 2003-2014, 60.5% – SMWS (26.98, Lively as an Electric Acrobat)

I have absolutely no idea what they mean with a name like “Lively as an Electric Acrobat” or how the SMWS thinks that works for marketing purposes. Then again, they are a members-only club which means they don’t have to market their individual whiskies as much, I guess.

When I bought this, I forgot about it when it was with a friend in the UK. Then I ran out of money and he took it off my hands. Then, a year or two later I re-bought it from him. Weird things.

Anyway, I love Clynelish, I doubt that’s a secret. I don’t generally mind when they’re young, but it generally gets better with age. With 1996 and 1997 being great years for the distillery, I wondered how a younger one would turn out, since I don’t try those as often.

Now I know.

smws_genericSniff:
An active bourbon cask, if you ask me. Coconut and sweet citrus. The typical Clynelish waxiness is there, but I doubt you’d find it if you weren’t looking. It’s insanely sharp and very numbing. Later I get crisp vanilla and rosemary custard.

Sip:
SHARP. It’s like drinking razors. It’s sweet because of the alcohol and there’s certainly some oak influence. It’s idiotically sharp, sharper than many a dram at higher ABV I had. My tongue is in shock and it takes a while before I can actually taste anything again. After a while I get some fatty, waxy notes with vanilla and it does get a little bit easier.

Swallow:
The finish mellows quickly, thank God. The vanilla and slightly fatty texture lingers. The rosemary custard I found on the nose returns.

Well. This is a tough one. Both to drink and to rate. I think it’s way too sharp, and that’s not just the ABV. I think the cask imparted some flavors onto the spirit, but I doubt it did much to mellow it. This whisky tastes way sharper than a 60.5% whisky should.

Apart from that, there’s some nice flavors, but it’s not deep and a tad generic. Luckily there’s a bit of a waxy note happening as a redeeming factor. All in all, I’m not a fan.

Quite funny, since Gal is.

80/100

Clynelish 10yo, 2003-2014, 1st Fill Bourbon cask, 60.5%, SMWS, 26.98, Lively as an Electric Acrobat

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