Wednesday, 15 February 2017




After slogging away writing about Scotch Whisky for the last six months, I thought I'd pen some thoughts on whisky tasting.

Northern Highlands whiskies are full, cereal sweet and rich. Bouquets are big, sweet and malty; The nose of a 'Northern Highlander will tell you about fragrance with complexity. Perhaps a shade dry, often with a long finish; There's lots of variety among Northern Highlanders. Clynelish 1998/2012 had a nose that was surprisingly sweet, like a commercial dark chocolate. Clynelish 1972/2005 nose is mild and somewhat grainy with a background hint of fruits.   

Southern Highlands whiskies are a mite lighter with dryness and fruit, grows on you with time; a little water releases its sweetness with fruitier notes. It gradually moves in a more flowery & aromatic direction, at times just off the beaten path, enticing you along.

Eastern Highland whiskies are full, dry and very fruity.
They tend to be sharp and sweetish, accompanied by exotic spices.

The Western Highland whiskies are full and pungent and not devoid of peat and smoke.

Let's first look at Ledaig, a peated Scotch from the island of Mull, but grouped with the Highlanders:

Ledaig, 1990 Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice.

Tobermory distillery on the island of Mull, set up in 1823, suffered sporadic closure during its history, its most recent reopening being in 1989. The Ledaig name is used for peated expressions of Tobermory; the peating level has risen progressively, currently standing at around 35ppm. This 1990 independent expression has been matured in refill Sherry casks. Quite floral and fragrant on the nose, especially with the addition of water, with a hint of olive oil and brine. Light-bodied and medium-dry on the palate, with salt, cereal and spices, roasted nuts, a suggestion of liquorice and a delicate tang of peat. The finish is medium in length, dry and peppery, with mild oak. Compared with the current bargain basement house bottling of relatively young Ledaig, this 15 YO has far less overt peatiness in its character, confirming the increased levels of peating in more recent distillations. Proof that if Ledaig is allowed to mature for a reasonable length of time, the result is a very good island whisky. 43.0% ABV, 70cl. 

Ledaig, 10-year-old
Ledaig is peated to between 50 and 55 ppm and now accounts for around half of Tobermory distillery's annual output. The nose is profoundly peaty, sweet and full, with notes of butter and smoked fish. Medicinal enough to suggest an Islay. Bold, yet sweet on the rounded palate, with iodine, soft peat and heather. Developing spices. The finish is medium to long, with pepper, ginger, liquorice and peat. 46.3% ABV, 70cl.

Ledaig 7yo 'Peated' 
(43%, OB, short clear bottle, Bottled +/- 2002, Imported by Auxil, France)
Nose: Soft and a little oily. Not very expressive. Wait - some peat (not much). Herbal. Chloride. Spirity. The peat drifted away to the background and didn't return.
Needs a while. Then things developed into a fruitier direction with tangerines.
Orange skins? Hints of menthol sweets. Something creamy. Intriguing.
Taste: Quite a bite, followed by a salty, peaty burn. Sulphur? Some organics. Very dry, although it grows fruitier and sourish over time. Bitter burn in the finish. An 'Islay Light' and decent value to boot. 


I postponed sampling to the most appropriate location: an Airbus 340 Club Class.

Nose: Light fruits, of course. I get grape flesh and fresh almond slivers, at first. Accenting this freshness is something plant-like/leafy or even "piney", like dried pineapple. There's also an impression of yellow apple and butter. (Lesser influences of vanilla, butterscotch, toasted coconut, and rose.)

Palate: A butter-smooth entrance welcomes... but quickly transforms to sour white peach, rather gingery. Then to tannic, purple grape skins and something menthol-y, like pine.

Finish: Butter and yellow apples emerge, rescuing the prickly palate. But the youth can't hide, and the finish closes with pine and powdered ginger. Vanilla/underripe peach lightly occupy the background.

The Glenlivet 12 is light and nondescript. It is not objectionable, and just served a good purpose: improving my flight by giving me something interesting to focus on for a short while. There is quite an atmosphere to overcome, and it does so suitably. I am therefore grateful for its availability. Nevertheless, I would probably add a case to my lower-altitude cabinet; Yes, the Glenlivet 18yo is a richer and more rewarding version. But the Glenlivet 12yo below duty-free rates in India? A case is the minimum.

The closest similar malt that I could recall is the Auchentoshan Classic, particularly in the palate. The Glenlivet 12 is better, however, with less drying sour white peach. For other similar budget light malts that you might even prefer, look to the Macallan Gold, Auchentoshan Select or Arran Original.

Bowmore 12 YO malt is, for many, the youngest acceptable Bowmore. The younger Bowmores show for many too much roughness in general and a leather note for which many do not care
Nose: medium slightly sweet peat, a hint of rosewater, a little brine, and a hint of smoke, against a background of barley-malt. Pleasant, and more mellow than is the nose of either Bowmore Legend 8 YO or McClelland's Islay 5 YO Bowmore malt
Taste: strong sweet peat flavours in the mouth, stronger than the peat flavours in the nose; otherwise, the nose translates well to the mouth
Finish: the strong sweetness and the malt flavours last a medium length; the ending is on bitter
Balance: Bowmore 12 YO Distillery bottling exemplifies the medium-peat Islay malt style. Personally I prefer whiskies to be more heavily peated and more medicinal/briney than Bowmore 12, but I consider Bowmore 12 to be a drinkable malt whisky. Those who like other Islay medium peated whiskies, such as most of the products from the Caol Ila distillery, should likely also like Bowmore 12 YO.

Cardhu is the luxury single malt whisky from Speyside, presented in an elegant decanter. Nose: Good body, decent sweetness, richness. Streaks of smoke, apple peels, bruised pears. Palate: Smooth, rounded, gentle sweetness, soft peat. A little smoke whispers sweet nothings.         Finish: Long, dry smoke, malty touch of peat.

A great 17 year old blend from Ballantines. This was Jim Murray's Scotch Blend of the Year for 2010! Really biscuity and thick. Nose: Feinty. Smoke and a touch of mochaccino. There are some notes of leather and Madeira with a little chocolate. Palate: Balanced. There are notes of cut herbs and a defined vegetal character. Fresh citrus and fudge. Touch of peat smoke. Finish: Fruit, becomes dry.  

A really great, easy drinking whiskey. Grain heavy blend with corn notes and an oak influence. Soon, floral and fruity notes. Very smooth on the pallet without any heavy/harsh after taste. The apple notes appear after about five  minutes. A teaspoon of water opens it up. Now a great "all night" easy drinker. Speyside malts start to appear and the taste is both pleasantly fruity and well matured. Mild peat probably from Caol Ila. Finish: Oaky. Longish. Overall a good starting whisky and fantastic for both the experienced and non-experienced drinker. An absolute stumper. 

"Gold Label 18". This is a fabulous blended whisky based on malt from the Clynelish distillery. Nose: Rich and honeyed with crème caramel and winter spices. Quite floral too. Palate: Mature honey and malt. Cardhu provides smooth malt and oak flavors. Just a hint of smoke, with fresh flowers and custard. Finish: Long finish with Scotch tablet and spice. Overall: A very good blend with an interesting floral character. 
Don't confuse it with the NAS Gold Label Reserve, shown below. This is a 15-YO at best and vastly different from the Gold Label 18 YO.

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