Scarabus- It is freekin’ rare for me to find an Islay whisky that is new. I relentlessly seek them out and talk to the trade peeps whenever possible. Well, look what the proverbial cat, ( or in my case the dog), dragged in….The nose is properly peated and sweet as a peach pie. The flavors are a salty mixture of honey and vanilla with a wee dash of iodine. The elaborate label design may cause temporary blindness so I suggest that while tasting, you wear your best shades. In addition, try to avoid using this graphic as a neck tattoo, it’s kinda busy , I speak from first hand experience……There are some mystery fruit notes in the middle and at the finish, any ideas? Speaking of the finish, it’s very delightfully long. So the distillers say, “ only those who seek will find”, a cliche for sure, but take their advice and cough up the dough! It may be your best purchase this year, rated a fancy 8, yummy be sure, but not quite great!
Port Askaig 110 Proof
Port Askaig 110 Proof- God knows we all need a diversion and I have a solution. Here’s a new experience you can enjoy without a mask or the dreaded smell of Purell. Acquire a stash of this Islay powerhouse and prepare for a flavor bomb of the highest order. Special thanks go out to the P.I.C. Larry , ( Provisioner In Chief) for his efforts on our behalf…..This moody bad boy comes to us from an un-named distiller on the Island but my research points to Caol Ila. With no age statement, it’s a guess on my part but 8 years seems about right, still edgy but very flavorful and malty. The deep amber color suits my mood perfectly and the nose meets us at the corner of Smoky and Grain. The robust taste has some faint vanilla and fruit and a large whack of alcohol, and at 55% that is expected. The aging is all in ex- bourbon barrels and those have imparted a delicate sweetness with a moderately long finish. I tried a glass with a few drops of water but the effect was just less character, leave it as bottled. So get to work on this 7.5 rated newcomer post haste. Now go wash your hands.
Kilchoman Machir Bay
Kilchoman Machir Bay- Are you looking for a value whiskey? Me neither, so let’s have a look at this one in the cool bottle. Our malt is an Islay which brings to mind certain characteristics and the taste confirms our suspicions. The nose is sweet with floral and citrus notes and a fair dose of smoke. I found massive honey and butterscotch in the palate which I attribute to the sherry barrel component. It is a punchy malt boasting 92 proof and long legs indeed. I wish the distillers had added in an age statement as we all like to know what we’re buying. The finish is a glorius combo of salty and smoky , right up my alley…….Machir Bay is a beautiful beach and that might be the best place to enjoy a glass if you have the time. Now back to the value aspect, this boy is an overachiever, especially since it rates a solid 7.5…….and it’s a looker.
Ardbeg Perpetuum- Welcome to the party ! This lusty dram is the celebration of 2 centuries of distilling excellence and know how. The folks at the helm of this Islay ship have launched a malt with all the subtlety of a live hand grenade. The vintage gold color and smoky nose let us know that no one has strayed far from the usual profile, thankfully. There is a briny sweetness and edgy vanilla which is driven home by the lofty 47.4 proof . This stuff packs a punch rivaling Mike Tyson. With Ardbeg , we are truly able to taste the grain , the peat , and the terroir of the the region and that makes it one of my favorite single malts . I really enjoyed the full bodied mouthfeel and the sultry nose , but was disappointed by the lack of an age statement. It is a young and spunky whisky that if over enjoyed, might make you think getting a neck tattoo is a valid idea. Not their best effort , but still and enjoyable 7.5 on the snob scale.
Gordon & Mcphail’s Bunnahabhain 8
The Gordon & Macphail’s Bunnahabhain 8- Not even Einstein got is right every time, but he kept on working. The good folks at G&M have a groovy business model that also relied on experiments and they focus exclusively on the wood…..get your mind out of the gutter junior. I refer of course to the casks that age our favorite spirit. They contract to buy ” new make” whisky and supply the barrel that will compliment the liquid gold using some science and maybe a bit of voodoo. The methodology and experimentation rivals Einstein and while the results are not quite as spectacular, they are still special. The amber glow of this Islay announces the mellow caramel and vanilla notes with a hint of smoke. The mouth feel is super full and round with a lingering finish, rather elegant for young malt. Your famous uncle Albert would agree with the philosophy used by these people, “The Wood makes the Whisky”. Snobbishly rated an oaky 8.
Let’s be brutally candid, most malt whisky is very drinkable. We’re looking for the subtle nuance, hence the snobbery. What we have here is a slight perversion of the brand that I normally love, and the reason, IMHO, is to get younger whisky to market. The nose has a welcome telltale peatyness and packs a punch. The dominant flavors are a woody caramel with a citrus kick, no doubt from the American Oak barrels, which were used in a mash up with some sherry casks. The ultra light color is all natural but a bit deceiving as this is not a light scotch at all. The mouth feel is a tad thin but the finish is surprisingly lengthy and predictably edgy, probably due to its fairly young age. My guess is that the conversation at the distillery went something like this, “ so how can get this product to market without waiting 10 or more years?” . The answer is a gonzo barrel dance with some hocus pocus thrown in for good measure. For me this seems like a disappointing money grab from our normally stellar Islay friends and that makes for a weak rating of 7 on the snob scale, still drinkable, just not remarkable.
Bruichladdich Private Cask
Bruichladdich Private Cask- If you have the patience and the coin, this is your new best friend. Imagine owning a few cases of bespoke whisky that would impress even a jaded connoisseur. After your purchase of the barrel, you patiently wait years until the head distiller deems your whisky ready to enjoy. This Islay powerhouse is crafted from 100% Scottish barley and is sherry cask matured which imparts a lemony sweetness with a strong spicy finish. The rich amber color and toasty vanilla notes are joined with a seaside twist, wonderful indeed. Many of Bruichladdich whiskies are unpeated, but this bad boy has a tasty whiff that came from a primordial bog, complex and very welcome. As for strength, bottled at 57%, this is weapons grade. I suggest a few drops of water to knock down the alcohol a bit. You may never get that private Gulfstream that the 1% all seem to covet, but damn few lucky folks have a cellar that holds a truly singular malt with your name on the label. Oh, and the price…. as the saying goes, “ if you have to ask …” Uniquely rated a rarefied 9 on the snob scale.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Laphroaig Quarter Cask- Way back before Elon Musk mesmerized the world with all things scientific, Mr. Wizard ruled via the television. So how would Mr. Wizard explain how this Islay wonder pours golden caramel with this wonderfully peaty nose? Given that the distillery lives on what is basically a rock outcropping, trees don’t exist and Mr. Wizard would concur that burning peat chunks is a logical solution for roasting the grain. Due to the centuries old floor malting methods, the smoke infuses the barley in a subtle and delicious way. I found the malt to be thick and briny and better balanced than a Wallenda. This is one bottle that you either love it or hate, middle ground does not exist. Some of the unique flavors are the result of the namesake smaller casks which bring in oaky nuances rather quickly. The finish is longer than a ballerina’s legs, and almost as interesting. Embrace the intensity and you’ll enjoy the warming and lingering flavor of this excellent dram. Not even Mr. Wizard’s Science can explain the art of Scottish distilling and hopefully Elon leaves the single malt world alone. Mr. Wizard and I rate this a smoldering 8 on the snob slide rule.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan- Islay single malts are a nettlesome topic. Many of my subjects ( Highlands
for instance ) are easy on the palate and nose and can be enjoyed by basically anyone not repulsed
by whisky. Not so of this class of heavy hitters, in fact, I cannot think of a more polarizing spirit.
I have heard a few wags describe the ultra peaty whiskies as the marriage of campfire ashes and
good spirits bottled by a pyromaniac, a slight overstatement. If you want to forever avoid a
snoozefest in your glass, embrace the smoke and power. This is a heavy dram which completely fills
your senses, the nose is intense and lingering, and the taste includes some peppered fruit with
organic overtones. There is a creamy character that magically appears on the second taste and the
key is to swirl it in your mouth for much longer than a conventional scotch . There is no age
statement to help us prepare our taste buds and the golden color is deceivingly pale, no visual
clues to go by at all for this cask strength beast. If you give it some time, you’ll find deep
layers of flavor and a finish longer than War and Peace. It is high time to ditch the predictable
and embrace the bold, rated a smoldering 8 on the smoky snob scale.
Bruichladdich Scottish Barley
Bruichladdich Scottish Barley- As you and your crew enter the new and hip local gastropub, your first order of business is to select and order a great drink. The whole ” farm to table” trend is good for foodies and our subject malt fits in like the final puzzle piece. The distillers celebrate their locally grown barley and terroir in this golden dram and the floral notes and honey are delightful as you swirl your glass. You will be surprised to discover that this Islay is unpeated and has a full and round mouthfeel. The sea and oak barrels have worked their magic on the Laddie with some brine and layers of texture to enhance the experience. Choose this dram and you might even gain a new measure of cool at the bar, snobbishly rated a solid 8. Slainte…. and the happiest of New Years to you .
Bowmore 12- As we enter into the cooler fall months it makes perfect sense to add a bit of warmth to our lives. I suggest a glass of this slightly magical amber malt might be the perfect solution. This Islay distillery uses a unique peating process which is manifested in the wonderful smoky nose as you swirl the whisky . Make sure that you taste this with the appropriate glass to help focus the aroma as your enjoy the citrus and honey flavors. I found some saltiness in the front and a lingering finish that is well worth sharing with your best friends……For an Islay Scotch , this one is only moderately peated and in our tasting group it disappeared faster than Houdini. I rate this smoldering beauty a rock solid 8 on the Snob Scale.
Bruichladdich Rocks- These people break all the rules and somehow the result is just grand. An un-peated Islay malt is unheard of and it’s the water that filters through the rocks that makes the magic happen according to head distiller Jim McEwan, and I surmise that he know’s a wee bit about this issue. This non-smoky single malt is a feisty dude with a boat load of character. Islay is home to several of my favorite single malts and this newbie just made the list even longer. Rocks indeed…..the name is a misnomer if ever there was one because this is a smooth drink dripping with character, nothing crude here. The liquid is a beautiful amber color and the nose is rich and slightly sweet with a good dose of alcohol initially. The usual caramel flavors give way to some interesting heather or floral notes and the finish is lingering. Keep the ice away from this one even in the summer sun, it demands to be enjoyed neat ….. Oh, and that crazy color on the label? My pal Nicole swears that the ocean at the Bruichladdich distillery really looks like that, maybe we need a field trip to verify . I rate this crazy rebel a solid 8.
Caol Ila 12
Caol Ila 12- This Olympic caliber single malt harkens from Islay on the Scottish west coast and has a classic peaty character. The nose is crisp and smoky with a bit of organic grassyness in the mix. Swirl this in you mouth for a good long time and more complexity will present itself. I suspect that fans of NHL defensemen will appreciate this Scotch as opposed to those who wear yoga pants on a regular basis as it sports powerful flavors. I highly recommend this refined tough guy for the fan of outsized flavor , it’s a bit like a slapshot to your taste buds, in the best possible way. Get your bottle in house right away in case you end up in the penalty box. Its rated as highly as a hat trick….. just hold the ice. Final score is a winning 8.5.
Lagavulin 16… “great balls of fire” said Jerry Lee Lewis, well here is the embodiment of that classic rock tune in a bottle. A generous dose of peat and serious smoky flavors will reward those who enjoy it neat. This whisky is intense and complex with a lingering finish , I found a sea side saltiness underneath the smoke and fire. The folks on Islay take their time nurturing this prize…. it matures and grows stronger for 16 years in oak prior to landing in your bottle. this 86 proof is much smoother than you might expect but is definitely not a beginners malt, my guess is that the Killer himself would be a fan of this power house Scotch, I rate it a smoldering 8.5..Slainte!