Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Douglas of Drumlanrig Craigellachie 12

This was a Douglas Laing bottling from December 2011. You don't see a lot of single malt from Craigellachie, it being one of Bacardi's malt sources for the Dewar's blends, and while to date (under the current owners as opposed to Diageo before them) there has only been one official release, it's one that seems rightly popular with independent bottlers.

The first Craigellachie I tried was one form Hunter Laing (the 'new' company formed after Douglas Laing split last year) at eighteen years old. In the flight of six I tried that evening, it was vying with a Dailuaine 21 for top spot for me; edging out such big names as Highland Park and Laphroaig at a similar price. This one came with a rather more affordable price tag and so I snapped it up at the time.

On the nose it reminded me of mince pies at Christmas, made with rich brandy-soaked mincemeat. The spice continues on the palate, it really sets the tongue and mouth tingling. Almond and hazelnut are balanced out with lively blood orange and brown sugar. On the finish the sherry takes over and the sweetness moves into a more tannic dryness.

All in all a great whisky that reinforces how well Craigellachie can take to sherry casks, still showing its own character despite the big cask influence. I shall look forward to more in the future!


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Bowmore 'Laimrig' 15

Bowmore is a distillery that I was quite late in getting to like. I find it interesting how tastes can change; when I first started drinking malt whisky back in pub-running days Talisker was the peaty dram I tended to go for and I wasn't too enthused by Bowmore. A couple of years back I tried Bowmore 12 for the first time in a while and was more impressed than I had been with Talisker of late. Then I had the chance to try the 15 year old 'Darkest' and Bowmore well and truly won me over. This is the 2014 release of a full-on cask-strength version of a whisky that is one of my favourites, and I think it's fair to say, especially after missing out on last year's Devil's Cask offering, that I was quite excited about getting my tastebuds round this one.

On the nose there are seaweed and salty bonfire notes squaring up to the rich red fruit and chocolate from the sherry cask. On the palate the sherry seems to have won out, there's lots of dried fruit; rum-soaked raisins, cocoa and nuts, it's not until the finish that the woody smoky flavours come back with a pepper-laced vengeance. This is a superb whisky, an unashamedly big bruiser, and even at 54.4% I didn't feel like it needed calming down with water. I did cut it a little just to see how it was, and while the flavours were perhaps a little easier to pinpoint I thought it worked better without the façade of subtlety. It's gone up to eleven.

Will I miss out on this year's Devil's Cask? I suppose it's got a lot to live up to having tried this, but I've started taking the necessary precautions: I've painted pentagrams on the walls and I've put the like of this on heavy rotation*. If I miss out again I think I'll break out the final invocation... \m/

To be resumed around October.

* To be fair it has been for over a quarter of a century! RIP Jeff.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bruichladdich 'Black Art' 1990

In the last decade or so (on and off) I've been selling whisky, Bruichladdich have been probably the most frustrating distillery, with new editions seeming to arrive on shelves almost every time I've taken a couple of days off. However, from a whisky lover's perspective I think what they do is great, if perhaps a little difficult to keep track of. That's not to say I've always got on with their whiskies, I haven't, but some whiskies seem to be more of a product of a marketing department than a distillery and I think that Bruichladdich offer more than that; a human side that for me is an essential part of a great drink, be it whisky, beer, wine or whatever you choose to while away your evenings.

Much as I'd like to say that it is, this fourth edition of the Black Art is not the sort of whisky I get to try every day. The other week I was fortunate to be at a tasting hosted by Joanne Brown, the Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich. She was on her way to the Midlands Whisky Festival but kindly popped to Nottingham on the way to show off the core Bruichladdich range to a group of whisky fans. It's a pretty special whisky, constructed from stock that's at least 23 years old, from way back when Whyte & Mackay were the owners of the distillery. The whiskies were selected, moved into different casks, and blended by Jim McEwan, using a mix of the myriad of different oak types that Bruichalddich have experimented with over the years to a formula that only he knows. All very well and good of course, but how does it all come out as a finished article?

When I first tried it I was nosing this for a long time, I just loved the rich berry fruit (mainly strawberry, but some sweet grape) that came off it, suggesting a red wine (maybe port) cask was in its make-up at some point. Once past that initial berry hit it became a bit more like its stablemates, with the honey and vanilla notes I pick up from the Classic 'Scottish Barley' edition I'd tasted earlier coming through. As you hold it in your mouth I got notes I associate with sherry casks; dried fruit and nuts, then leading on to an oaky finish.

Its bottling at a cask strength of 49.2% means you can play around adding a little water, which I didn't think was necessarily needed (it's that mellow at 23 years) but nevertheless brought out more of the sweeter elements; the berry fruit and the marzipan. Overall for me it's a stunning whisky. I know that experimentation with various casks gets maligned at times but for me when it's done properly it can add layer after layer of complexity - and in this case it does. I certainly don't feel my meagre tasting notes do it justice, but then words are rarely a substitute for drinking the best around!

Just as a post-script, I didn't ask what the text on the box meant. I'm guessing it's Latin and it seems to translate as 'Not to deceive, nor himself be deceived.' Or words to that effect. If you've got a better idea feel free to let me know!