The Caol Ila Project Part 2

caol_ila_whisky_distilleryLast night we had a strong showing for Part 2 of our Caol Ila Project. For those of you who left early, you unfortunately missed an un-heated discussion on the three dimensionality of a good malt. This discussion, which was an outgrowth of an earlier comment that A3 exhibited a “constant coefficient of flavor” went off from there into a serious discussion of the flavor profile of C3 and C4 in the context of non-euclidean geometry. Or at least that’s how it sounded after about 11 or 12 drinks.
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An Evening With Ardmore

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Our small table Ardmore tasting the other week proved to be chock full of surprises. When I first called this event, since there aren’t that many expressions of Ardmore readily available, I estimated that we’d probably taste 5 or 6 expressions in line with what we had at last year’s Glen Ord tasting. When all was said and done, we hit a solid dozen. And the last surprise was the variety of expressions of Ardmore — despite the fact that not a single expression was “finished.” While the distillery appears to either not appreciate the quality of its own whisky or perhaps it’s just completely incompetent in selecting barrels for aging — the indies appear more than willing to grab as much Ardmore they can get their hands on and then age the malt in their own barrels to create some wonderful results.

Of particular note were the Chieftain’s 18 (2b), the G&M “Cask” Series (4a, 4b), the G&M/D&M (4c), the SMWS (5b) and the Scott’s (5c). The Chieftain’s was wonderfully balanced malt that exhibited nice long term bourbon barrel woodiness, with sweet notes of vanilla. The G&M Cask bottlings hit one of my soft spots by exhibiting “farmy” or “gamey” notes along side of some burnt sugar. The D&M bottling was a crazy fruit bomb, the SMWS was like a tart, slightly sherried lollipop and the Scott’s was like a beautiful old Ferrari from the 60s — understated, elegant, yet when put into gear, completely able rip up a race course. An interesting facet about the Scott’s was how it developed over time. As a test I poured a glass at the beginning of the evening and then let it sit for a couple of hours. A couple of us tasted that aired out pour against a fresh pour; it was really as if you were tasting two related, yet different bottlings. The peaty notes were much more pronounced on the pour that had time to air-out.This experiment goes to the point that it’s best not to rush a tasting and that sometimes the pauses in our evenings are intentional.

The Split Personality of Tobermory and Ledaig

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Of the 16 bottles that were poured on 1/31, a few really stood out. They were the Montgomerie Tobermory 15, the Official Bottling (“OB”) Tobermory 15, the SMWS Tobermory 7 and the Blackadder Ledaig 7. Honorable mentions to the Blackadder Tobermory 15, the G&M Ledaig 15, the D&M Ledaig 12 and the MMD Ledaig 6 (the first bottle poured — a tough spot to be in).
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19 Bottels of Bunnahabhain

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Quite a different tasting last Thursday. The beginning and end we’re more of our classic sit down tastings, but the middle definitely had a strong party vibe.

For those who missed the reveal, here’s a list of what we tasted:

A1 — New 12 yr Official Bottlling (OB) nonchill-filtered (NCF) @ 46.3 ABV
A2 — Old 12 yr OB chill-filtered (CF) @ 43 ABV

B1 — Old 18 yr OB CF @ 43 ABV
B2 — New 18 yr OB NCF @ 46.3 ABV

C1 — OB Cruach Mhona NCF @ 50 ABV
C2 — 1997 Signatory 12 yr UCF @ 46 ABV
C3 — 1997 Signatory 13 yr UCF @ 46 ABV
C4 — 1997 Signatory 13 yr Cask Strength (CS) @ 53.9 ABV
C5 — Black Bottle 5 yr
C6 — Black Bottle 10 yr

D1 — 1997 Duncan Taylor 12 yr NC2 Series @ 46 ABV
D2 — 1981 Whyte & Whyte 14 yr @ 43 ABV

E1 — 1997 Murray McDavid 13 yr (Port Finish) @ 46 ABV
E2– 1992 Murray McDavid 18 yr CS Mission Series (Sherry cask — unfinished) @ 54.6 ABV

F1 — 1988 Scott’s Selection 16 yr CS @ 54 ABV
F2 — 1977 Scott’s Selection 28 yr CS @ 49 ABV

G1 — 1980 Malt Trust 26 yr CS @ 57 ABV
G2 — 25 yr OB CF @ 43 ABV
G3 — 1981 MacKillop’s Choice 20 yr @ 43 ABV

Yep, 19 bottles. Quite a lot to taste and choose from. Of these 19, here are 5 — in order of their appearance in the tasting lineup — that stood out for various reasons:
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Benriach: Something For Everyone

Round Ten Recap:

Before diving into the reviews, here are a few overview comments:
  • Benriach really does have something for most;
  • Benriach acts like an indie; and
  • Cask Strength is so the way to go
As to the first point, I and many last night, were hard pressed to recall a single distillery that had as much variety within their official (“official” or “OB” meaning from the distillery itself, as opposed to via an independent bottler such as Cadenhead’s or Signatory or Duncan Taylor, etc.) and independent bottlings.   We tasted old school straight-up Bourbon barrel expressions without a lick of peat in the “Cs,” Bourbon barrel expressions with varying levels of peat in “As,” and peat plus a variety of finishes ranging from sweet to dry in the “Ds.”   (“B” was the wildcard that may or may not have even been a Benriach.)

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