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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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Lagavulin 8 Limited Edition

Lagavulin 8

Happy 200th Lagavulin! Though I’m a bit tardy. Of course you have to release something special, so Lagavulin has decided to go its beginnings. For you fans of peat smoke whisky, this is certainly what you have wanted and your longing for just something different to come to shelves in America. If you are curious if this should be the first scotch whisky you taste from Islay, be warned, this is not a tame spirit.

The hallmark of this brand is its intense smoke, so intense it is as if you are standing over the peat as it sets fire and infuses the barley. I love smelling this whisky as much as I like to taste it. The fact that it is a limited edition and eight years of aging has occurred before being arrested in glass is enough to make me pick it off the shelf and actually write a bit about it.

It’s a touch lighter than the typical Lagavulin 16 year that most are used to. But that is all. Its wonderful mouthfeel and richness of lemon and smoke are sublime. “Exceptionally fine” is what Alfred Barnard said in 1886, I do believe he would same the same today.

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Vacation Whisky – Oban Little Bay and Ardbeg Perpetuum

Little Bay
Oban Little Bay

While on vacation on North Carolina’s shore this  year, I decided to pick up a couple of whisky’s to enjoy. The great thing about leaving where you live is finding whisky offerings that aren’t in your home area. The ABC store I went to in NC had a surprising and wonderful collection, I settled on a Oban Little Bay offering. I’m not a huge Oban fan but it is quite popular. This is a small batch offering so it’s a bit higher on the scale as far as cost but not over $80 USD. It’s not what I’d call a remarkable or distinctive scotch whisky but a good one. In fact, this may be a perfect beach whisky. It’s light on the palate and smooth. It does not have a very strong profile to me at least. It’s a very good sipping whisky or you could even, dare I say, mix it? This would be a good whisky for people who “don’t like whisky” and would like to try something “good.”

Perpetuum
Ardbeg Perpetuum

Since I had to get back to work and leave the family behind, I purchased at home the new Ardbeg Perpetuum. This was the new whisky release on Ardbeg day that for the first time in memory, I missed. But this has shown up in good quantities on Virginia’s ABC. The marketing on the box talks about its unending taste profile, and hence its name. I first tasted it neat, no water, and soon realized why the termed it perpetuum. It does stick to the tongue and linger, at length. When you add water and have more than one offering this sensation did disappear though. I can’t say that I didn’t like this, as I enjoy any Ardbeg offering, but I cannot say that I’m blown away. The best/last Ardbeg I’ve had was the Ardbog offering. And to date, nothing beats the current offering Uigeadail. So Perpetuum is worth a purchase but temper your enthusiasm. It should cost you close to $99 USD.

Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof Scotch Whisky

20130610-201724.jpgSo recently on Islay I spent a few minutes in the Bowmore Gift Shop. What to buy? I can only fly back with so much whisky and I have the opportunity to go through “Duty Free!” You always wonder how much whisky can you get back into the States and since I was carrying precious whisky I didn’t want to push the limits. I ended up with this monster, Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof. Bowmore at 57.1% ABV is quite an experience.

The nosing of this product alone is a warning in itself. Though in the nose you can smell some amazing things if you linger long enough, you feel like you are about to experience a powerful and peated whisky. To me, this is a serious whisky. You don’t pick this up because you want a challenge, you pick this up because you appreciate what Bowmore does and you want to see what happens when you go full throttle on their product.

Well, it delivers! It delivers a sort of burnt sugar (that is still burning) as you drink it. It’s so hot that it flares up in your esophagus. Yes, I drank it neat. Then, I added water. Adding water to it brings out the peated barley quite forcibly. The water magically releases the malted and peated barley and just sets it free! You also get a nice rush of salty ocean air from Loch Indaal. The added water does not “water” down this whisky, it releases it. The taste is markedly different and really approaches what this spirit should taste like. Far be it from me to dissuade you to drink this at full strength, but, if you want the true spirit of Bowmore you will find it after adding some water. Oh, if you are wondering why the 100Proof moniker?! Well, that goes back to testing rum rations on ships, mixed with gun-powder. Yep, at full strength, this whisky tastes that powerful! It’s marketing….. so, if you are into Bowmore and want to see what a full cask strength taste is like, here you go!

The finish is warm, lingering, and full. If you are a Bowmore fan and love a full expression whisky, this is it. Bowmore’s notes are here.

Cheers!

Bowmore Distillery Tour and the No.1 Vault

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For me, visiting a distillery is like a child going to Disneyland, I just cannot wait to get there. At the end of my Ultimate Adventure courtesy of Bowmore, my colleague Lucas and I were treated to a grand tour led by none other than Eddie MacAffer, the Distillery (and legendary) manager. If you have done a distillery tour, or several, you know the progression, malted barley, drying floor, washbacks, and then stills. It’s a great lesson if you are passionate about whisky as I am. This tour was more like a back stage pass though. Not only did I turn the malt on the malting floor, I got to go into the fire pit underneath the drying floor, drink from the #2 Washback and then drink the new spirit from the whole process (if I didn’t know, I thought I’d been drinking a light gin). Eddie went through great pains at each station to explain the significance of each part of the process. He is a dear man and passionate about making his whisky and that is enough for me.

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So during the process I found that I’m not meant for the malting floor (too aggressive) but I did seem eager enough to prompt Eddie to let me drink from the #2 Washback. I have to say, one may be hesitant to drink something that doesn’t look all that attractive, but, when else would I be given the opportunity!? It wasn’t bad really, basically an unfinished beer but not something you’d want to taste all the time.

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The distillery itself is polished and clean, well-organized, and run by people who move with a purpose. I like that. I also like Eddie’s candor about the whole process. He doesn’t hide anything, doesn’t dodge any question, and wants to make sure you understand everything.

What came at the end of the manufacturing process really had me excited. We approached the famed No. 1 Vaults and all I could think is how long I have waited to see behind this door. The No.1 Vault is the oldest holding area for aging casks on Islay, and for that matter almost all of Scotland. There is a rich history in this vault, it was originally part of the distillery and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the details and history of the vault, I do apologize.

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Walking into this area is walking into the area where the most valuable and cherished whisky lies maturing. It is from this vault the most valuable and desired Bowmore products age. It is here where Eddie educated us on their operations, and then, he opened a cask. Not just any cask, but a 13 yr aged cask. It was a bourbon cask from America. I will keep some of the secrets to whence it came from in America. Eddie extracted the whisky and poured it into a tulip glass. We passed it around, nosed and drank. It was simply marvelous. But then it got better.

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Sitting next to the bourbon cask was a sherry butt that had been resting for 18 years. We drank, we swooned. Just a simply amazing product.

I wondered around the No.1 vault and marveled at the numerous resting casks that were producing some of the most desired whisky in the world. I secretly wondered, if I just hide, would they notice?

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So like most things in life, the tour had to come to an end. The experience was amazing though! I do hope to visit No.1 again, and maybe this time, I will hide.

Cheers!

The Balvenie Islay Cask Scotch Whisky

Islay Cask
Islay Cask

Heaven. End of review…… This is one of my all-time favorite Scotch whiskys. I had this a couple of years back, or so, at an event in Vegas. The Balvenie reps had rounded up all the 17 year releases and we did a tasting of them all. This was, and is, my favorite. I was fortunate enough to have a collector round this bottle up for me in an auction in the UK. Yes, I paid a few bucks for this one.

So I’ve been waiting for an occasion to open this and I finally thought, well, I’ve been to Islay so now I should open this. Basic reasoning really. So I did, and oh, it’s just as good as I remember it.

So if you are familiar with the 17 year aged line of Balvenie you may actually have never seen this one. You probably have seen the Peated Cask which replaced this original. This bottle inspired the peated cask but the peated cask is no Islay cask, no sir.

This lovely Balvenie classic spirit was finished up in a Laphroiag cask. Affectionately  known as “lafrog,” the very essence of Laphroiag is a strong punch of the sea and earth on your palate. What is great about the Balvenie honeyed spirit slipping into that barrel for a spin is the sweet peat finish takes on a gentlemanly charm and drops the t-shirt for the tails in this bottle.

I’d go on and on about how it tastes, but, chances are you have had this, have it but not have opened it, or will never have the opportunity. Pity.

Islay Mist Blended Scotch Whisky

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There is a saying, “Every now and then a blind squirrel finds a nut.” So I was a lucky squirrel the other day when I ran across this peculiar bottling of scotch whisky. I don’t recall ever seeing this and wouldn’t have if I did not stop over into the State of Maryland one day on a return from DC whisky shopping.

Islay whisky is iconic and most known these days for producing amazing single malts from Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin. Just to name a few which are my favorites. This Blended and affordable scotch whisky is marketed as a “blend of fine aged whiskies: the most distinctive of these being Laphroaig Single Islay Malt.” It is bottled by Macduff international.

Laphroaig is a favorite of mine and you can’t go too wrong starting with their spirit as the base. The marketing goes onto say it “appeals to contemporary tastes.” Nice way of saying this won’t knock your tastes buds off the way regular Laphroaig may.

It’s fairly light amber in color and gives off a very nice malt aroma with considerable depth. You do not notice the prevailing phenols that a quarter cask or ten-year Laphroaig may give you on the nose. At 40%ABV I choose to taste this neat, hold it on the tongue for a few seconds then let it go. It has a nice slightly warming presence with an excellent malt taste. It isn’t really rounded or complex and you can feel there is a predominate single malt playing nice with some other whiskies. Unfortunately, I still have a bit of a head cold so I can’t nail down everything I’m tasting but it is a decent dram. Not overly impressive but when you want some Islay malt and want something a bit different, or just cheaper this is a good route.

There is a nice oily quality and it does coat the mouth quite well. The finish is mostly clean but the oils do hang around. It’s an 8 year blended Islay that deserves a look. I’m glad I found it!

Cheers!

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC10 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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So another evening at Jack Rose Dining Saloon is like being a kid, just figuring out what to drink is an adventure. This particular night, Harvey Fry and I were chatting and he said the PC10 was in and was very good. I took his advice and ordered up some with my dinner. Harvey was keen on this one, which should have told me one thing, it’s bottled at the higher end of ABV%(59.8%).

There was indeed a very high kick from the alcohol on the nose! I was able to normalize though and the nose became very pleasant after adjusting to the alcohol. Tasting PC10 was a very hot experience, Peppermint, a flood of flavoring comes through on my palate, but not unbalanced or rude. This spirit is a ten-year product, the remarkable thing about tasting it is that it is rather complete. In other words, ten years is all you need for this product. Often I’ll taste something and I’d wish it would have additional time in the cask, but this one isn’t the case at all.

‘To say this whisky needs to age more is like saying Elizabeth Hurley should be prettier. It is perfect, and so is Liz.

I would drink this neat, the ABV% may spook you, but try it neat first. I think it is wonderfully done and it went great with scallops!

Cheers!

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Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Quarter Cask

Peat. Its a wonderful natural substance that grows in the soils of Scotland as well as many places around the world. When it isn’t enriching soil, it is making a serious influence on the Isle of Islay in Scotland by heaping itself onto the fires drying out the malted barley. If you are new to scotch, this is not my recommended “first drink.” Or third, fith, etc….

You see, Laphroaig is a special whisky. It has special properties, kind of like hell has a special temperature. Peat reins supreme in this Quarter Cask offering and at 48% ABV it has a delivery mechanism courtesy of alcohol that is akin to driving a Ferrari through a small parking lot with the throttle stuck.

Although when you first pour a dram of it, it looks quite tame and ordinary as colours often do in scotch. Yet you dont’ have to get your nose all the way into the glass to know that you have something quite special, and if of the faint of heart, risky in your hands.

The extreme kick of phenols of some Islay scotch’s like this one have caused some people to refer to the nosing of such a glass as being akin to iodine or some other medicinal substance. It does have medicinal properties! More on that later.

When you nose this glass the ethanol kicks you right in the nose and says get ready, here I come. The tasting is no different. There is no all promise and no delivery in this product. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Who would drink such a thing. Well, other than native Scots, I’d say there are many around the World who really enjoy this type of whisky. My first love of Scotch was a Bowmore product, also in the Islay family yet much more of a gentleman. This Quarter Cask is a great representation of what can be done with whisky and the elements that surround Scotland.

I would try to translate the taste to you but it would fall short. This is something you have to experience and then you will see there is nothing quite like it. I drank this neat, but since it is quite complex I would recommend some water. It is not chill-filtered so is not geared toward adding ice as it will cloud up.

As for the medicinal value, tonight I had quite a sour stomach due to the excellent pot roast I  made. My stomach didn’t quite agree with me though. I had a about an ounce or so of some of this whisky and within minutes, the sourness was gone.

Cheers!

Bowmore Gold 1964 Distillation Tasting

I was recently faced with a problem most whisky drinkers have not faced. Which one of these whisky’s do I take a free sample of. The list read like an All-Star team of spirits, most of them aged for two, three, or four decades in Scotland. The one I’d focused in on was the 1964 Bowmore because it was a brand that I really admire. I love peaty scotch, and the delicateness that a Bowmore produces in the Islay style is unique. I’m sure I’d been very happy with some of the others but fortunately I would get the opportunity from a few gracious individuals to try many others for just a smile and a show of true appreciation.

This tasting occurred at the Nth event in Las Vegas and I felt like I’d won the lottery at the opening of the event. Suddenly surrounded by scotch producers, some very familiar, some I’d never heard of, I set out in freshman like frenzy to try as many as I could. Set with some notecards, pen, and my DroidX I started taking notes, and, then after a few, alas, I’d forgotten to take notes. Blame it on the whisky? Well, at least I have my recording from the Bowmore Gold to remind me of that first kiss.

So the Gold is matured in bourbon and sherry casks. I think about 50% in Sherry and the casks, again I belive, were Heaven Hill casks. 701 bottles are being released.

The nose was very floral and fruity.

The taste, beautiful. Very complex, and well rounded. A very creamy vanilla highlighted on the palate and then the finish was the equivalent to the finest ending ever concieved on film. It wasn’t until a minute afterwards that the peat of Islay turned around and winked. Blown away I was, and very happy with my choice.

Is drinking a whisky aged 44 years living The Scotch Life, you bet!

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