Tag Archives: islay

Chieftan’s Choice Single Malt Reviews

There comes a time in every whisky-lover’s education when independent bottlers are key. Maybe you’ve exhausted a favorite distillery’s official bottlings and want to dig in further. Maybe you want to see how different a given distillery’s spirit can be when it’s in someone else’s hands (and barrels). Maybe you just love the oddballs.

Independent bottlers take a range of approaches. Some buy odd barrels of mature whiskies that happen to be up for grabs, bottle them, market them, and that’s that. Some add their own finishes. Gordon & MacPhail, of which I’m quite fond, acquires new-make spirit, then matures and finishes in their own barrels, allowing a broader look at what a distillery can do than a brand’s own bottlings can. Some add a teaspoon of cask debris to each bottle for extra authenticity–looking at you, Blackadder.

The Chieftan’s Choice line from Ian MacCleod (owner of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many blended whisky brands) focuses on rarities, including little-known or closed distilleries. They’ve been showing up more and more in my neck of the woods these days, and I’m happy to share a look at some recent releases, because I’ve been more than happy to try them.

Chieftan’s Bowmore 2002. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. Age: 13 years.

Bowmore’s official distillery bottlings have been devilishly inconsistent in recent years–which makes it particularly enjoyable to see the Islay brand in fine form here.

Nose of lime taffy. Toasty pie crust. Watermelon. Just a hint of brine. The watermelon shades into cantaloupe on the palate. The peat is sooty, but with some hickory savor. It intensifies on the finish–long and salty. A squeeze of fresh lemon over hot coals at the end.

Chieftan’s Linkwood 1991. Region: Speyside. ABV: 46%. Age: 24 years.

Diageo pours much of Linkwood’s output into the Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends, so with the exception of an occasional official bottling, Linkwood is most often seen in independent bottlings like these.

Brilliant nose on this one. Bright raspberry. Honey. Cotton candy. Baked pear in Chardonnay. Orange sherbet. Fragrant oak. Lots going on. The palate is rich and lively, with the same constant evolution: fresh nuances of fruit and spice around a core of berry compote and bitter orange. Just enough tannic backbone. The tannins are stronger leading into the finish. It’s earthy and spicy, but with a final touch of sweetness: stewed strawberries on a buttery baguette. Lovely.

Chieftan’s Glenturret 1990. Region: Highlands. ABV: 49.7%. Age: 25 years.

Here come the big guns. The highest-proof of the bunch, and packing a big PX punch. If you haven’t had Edrington-owned Glenturret as a single malt, you may have had it in the Famous Grouse blend. On its own, at the ripe old age of 25, and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, it’s quite a different animal.

Explosive butter bomb of a nose from the PX. Wow. Dense and intense. Bundt cake with blackberries. Cinnamon bark. Sea salt. French toast drizzled with blackberry brandy. Old parchment. Palate is no less intense. Musty blackberries with the vine and the leaves thrown in for good measure. Fresh sweet tobacco soaked in cognac. After all this, the finish is surprisingly elegant, like the end of a cocktail with Dolin rouge and singed orange rind.

Excellent stuff from Chieftan’s. Their other current releases include a 19-year-old Glen Grant PX Finish, a 19-year-old Glenrothes PX Finish, and a 23-year-old Glen Keith. I can’t speak for those three, but this trio was a delight.

A Chieftan’s representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 57.1%. No age statement. Price: $75-80.

There have been plenty of reasons to complain about the no-age-statement trend in Scotch whisky (and all whisk(e)y) in recent years. But there are undisputed NAS gems out there. Ardbeg, ever the overachiever, has two of them.

The first is the Uigeadail, about which more here. The other is the Corryvreckan (so named for a certain Scottish whirlpool).

I’ll admit it: I’m so partial to the Uigeadail that I’d underestimated the Corryvreckan for some time. But making my way through a Christmas bottle over the last few months has changed my mind for good.

What sets the Corry apart for me is the pronounced but wonderfully integrated wine cask influence–the original 2009 release, at least, was matured partially in Burgundy casks. (I’ve been particularly attuned to this because of the variety of excellent wine-cask-finished single malts I’ve been sampling recently, from Springbank, Bruichladdich, and others.)

The wine cask is there on the nose as a sort of fermented currant note–dark, dense, winey fruit. Sweet and savory notes mingle: buttered popcorn, candied lemon, plenty of nuances in between.

The palate has sweet barbecued pork. Smoked bacon. Strong peat but not brash or challenging–more restrained and mature than the Ardbeg 10 in that regard.

The finish has key lime pie with a buttery, toasty graham cracker crust. In short, the dram start to finish has the range, variety, and dramatic arc of a great meal.

It’s interesting how Ardbeg has actually put itself in a bit of a bind with the quality of the Corry and the Oogie. Their annual limited releases are often excellent–this year’s Kelpie, last year’s Dark Cove, and the 2009 and 2010 Supernova are great examples–but they’re also NASes, and always pricier than the Oogie and Corry, while not always being clearly better.

Luxury problems, as they say. I’m happy with a glass of any of them.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Ardbeg whisky online at Mash + Grape

Laddie 10 Second Edition Review

Distiller: Bruichladdich. Region: Islay. ABV: 50%. Age: 10 years. Price: $60.

The First Edition of the Laddie 10 was the kind of never-fail daily dram I wish I’d bought a bunker-full of. Alas, it’s long gone…and the no-age-statement replacement, the Classic Laddie, has only been, for my money, a partial substitute.

But with the arrival of Bruichladdich’s new head distiller, Adam Hannett, we have the very welcome arrival of the Laddie 10 Second Edition. It flew off the shelves at K&L Hollywood, but I was lucky enough to snag a bottle first.

The proper way to taste this unpeated Islay would be side-by-side with the First Edition, but having long since finished that, I tasted it alongside the NAS Classic Laddie.

Age-stated whiskies and their NAS replacement are always fun comparisons. (See our side-by-side of the Hibiki 12 and the NAS NAS Hibiki Harmony, for one example.)

So how do these stack up? Let’s start with the new Laddie 10. In short, it’s as good as I remember the last one–if not a touch better. Toasty nose, with roasted almonds, marzipan, a seesaw between milk and white chocolate, and sweet oak. Some rich Syrah cask influence (20% of the malt is finished in Syrah casks, I believe), and (call me crazy) a slight whiff of jicama.

The palate is potent, concentrated, dense. Raspberry jam. Brown butter. Nice tannic backbone of barrel char. Longish finish, on the dry side, with charred marshmallows. Immediately I was wishing I’d picked up two of these. A tough act for any NAS to follow.

The Classic Laddie has an immediate family resemblance, but seems the less mature of the two. It’s a touch lighter in the glass–pure gold, without the 10’s orangey tint. Perhaps that tint is the Syrah in the 10, as there’s less of that on the nose with the Classic. Similar toasty marzipan on the palate, but a bit grainier, with a touch of raw oak that’s not in the 10.

There’s that raspberry jam on the palate. Some butteriness here too, but less depth, less integration than the 10. Ground ginger and lemon pith on the finish, with a touch more sourness than I’d prefer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Classic shows up just fine on its own, but suffers a bit by comparison with the 10–which I consider an unalloyed success. Now I’ve got to do a side-by-side w that long lost First Edition!

Slàinte, friends! – BO

Buy Bruichladdich Whisky online at Mash + Grape

Ardbeg Kelpie Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 51.7%. No age statement. Price: $125-160.

I have a true weakness for very few things. The filmography of Gerard Butler is one. And while I’ll sing the praises of London Has Fallen every day, my Butler love pales in comparison to my feelings for Ardbeg.

Unlike Mr. Butler, Ardbeg has yet to disappoint me. I adored last year’s Dark Cove Committee release, but I think this year’s might be even better. Named after the fabled Scottish water spirit, the Ardbeg Kelpie is a wholly different experience than any I’ve had with the Islay distillery before, possibly due to the use of Russian virgin oak (from the republic of Adygea) in the maturation process–along with Ardbeg’s usual ex-bourbon barrels.

Take the nose, to start. It’s got a hint of a slowly burning Cuban cigar. Muted espresso tones, faint brine, and a whisper of citrus. The palate has a base of slow drip coffee, but atop it roasted lemons, dark chocolate, and an oily BBQ residue dance along the tongue. It’s an ambitious combination of elements and while any one would be too much, the interplay here is utterly exquisite.

And my whisky gods, the finish. It’s gentle and undulating and the citrus starts it off, but the familiar Ardbeg peat fire takes over and guides you home.

Friends, this one is a masterpiece and I’m damn glad to have tried it. Watch this space for an interview with distillery manager, Mickey Heads, coming soon. In the meantime, if you have an Ardbeg Kelpie review of your own to share, please do.

Here’s to art, real art, in our whisky. Cheers! – TM

Buy Ardbeg Kelpie online at Mash + Grape

Ardbeg graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Lost Spirits Abomination and Navy Style Rum Review

Producer: Lost Spirits. ABV: 54% (Abomination), 61% (Navy Style Rum). No age statement. Price: $50.

I’ve used the cliche “these guys don’t mess around” about some of the better microdistillers. The thing about Lost Spirits is, they do mess around, constantly–and better than just about anybody.

Lost Spirits founder Bryan Davis is a born iconoclast, a guy who literally vibrates with energy when he presents his experiments. The biggest of those has been the Thea One “flash-aging reactor”–see our feature on it for details.

We at the Axis haven’t been afraid to call BS when we see it, including in the “accelerated maturation” world. But if you’ll pardon the paradox, Bryan’s search for shortcuts takes no shortcuts. And his results put most other “accelerated maturation” efforts to shame.

Which brings us to their latest releases: two Abomination Peated Malts and a new Navy Style Rum.

The Abominations put young, heavily peated malt whisky sourced from Islay through the flash-aging process, together with Riesling-seasoned oak staves. The red-label uses toasted staves, the black-label uses charred.

Both are a big step forward for Lost Spirits malts–and the bar was already high. The nose is bold on both, with a core of BBQ-ey oak notes familiar from virgin oak-matured scotch. Then coconut, lemongrass, and ripe banana. The peat’s strong and brash on the palate, with smoked banana, clove, cooked sugar. At 54% ABV, there’s plenty of room to dial the intensity down if you’d like. I found the complexity grew as I did. The finish is on the sweeter side, with burnt zucchini bread, birch beer, and mesquite briquettes. The red-label gives a more of a toasted-baked-goods cast to this overall profile, while the black-label has stronger vanilla from the heavier char. Both are must-trys for peat lovers.

The rum is my favorite from Lost Spirits so far. Bottled at a huge 61% ABV, it’s sublimely rich and buttery. Both brighter and softer than earlier Lost Spirits Navy Rums. A masterpiece.

All three show Lost Spirits at its best, and are excellent deals at around $50. Keep the experiments coming! Cheers, friends! – BO

Lost Spirits graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Caol Ila 18 Review

Distiller: Caol Ila. Region: Islay. ABV: 43%. Age: 18 years. Price: $85-95.

Caol Ila is a connoisseur’s favorite, justly dubbed Islay’s “Mr. Consistent” by Whisky Advocate Magazine. We should be happy then that it still shows up all over: there are many excellent independent bottlings, it’s frequently a component in Compass Box’s brilliant blends, and it provides much of the peat in Johnnie Walker.

The flagship 12-year-old bottling has long been a staple for me, but the 18 doesn’t make it to the States, so I jumped at the opportunity to grab a bottle during a recent trip to Paris. Boy, am I glad I did.

The nose is an amazing balance of freshness and softness. Lime, grapefruit, vanilla custard. Saltwater taffy. Orange creamsicle. The sweetest, mildest peat smoke, and a distant hint of sea breeze.

Candied orange on the palate, then that orange creamsicle again. Later on, white chocolate with flecks of candied ginger. That same softness from the nose throughout.

The finish brings allspice and clove, Belgian waffle drizzled in orange syrup, and a fuzzy peaty warmth.

With the current Brexit pricing (as of February 2017), this and many other UK/EU-only releases are more accessible than ever at places like Master of Malt. I’ll be tempted to grab another when this one’s gone.

Slàinte, friends! – BO