Whisky Tasting 15th November 2004
Tasting Notes by Franz Scheurer
Our panel Andrew Derbidge, Andy Harris, Peter Thomson and Franz Scheurer taste some the whiskies of Scotland’s ‘Wild West’.
Arranged by weight, starting with the milder northern Islay whiskies and tasting via the Isle of Jura, Campbelltown and the Isle of Skye to the substantial, heavily peated southern Islay whiskies, scored with the 10-point system used world-wide for judging whiskies.
Bunnahabhain, 12 y/o, Islay, 40%, $91, Score: 6.75
A relatively mild Single Malt, by Islay standards, from Port Askaig.
Colour: Ripe wooded Chardonnay.
Nose: Full of honey sweet toffee, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Palate: The toffee is confirmed and caramel and cereal notes creep in. It is mouth-coating and smooth with excellent structure and a mild and grassy finish. Water effectively kills it. This whisky displays no obvious maritime features but makes for a pleasant, unassuming dram.
Bruichladdich, 15 y/o, Islay, 46%, $128, Score: 7.2
One of the milder Islay malts from Argyll, with just a hint of peat, often referred to as a ‘beginner’s Islay’.
Colour: light, translucent straw-yellow.
Nose: Freshly cut grass, a horse paddock at sunrise with leathery, briary and savoury elements. Add a little water and Thomson smells ash.
Palate: This whisky is quite oily and leaves a malty coating on the palate. Hints of kerosene, it leaves a tickling sensation on the front of the tongue not unlike Szechuan pepper. Derbidge finds toast, Thomson cherry-chocolate and we all agree on just a hint of peat. The finish continues with all the flavours until it gently fades away. Adding water does absolutely nothing for this whisky, quite the contrary, it flattens out and fades to nothing.
Bowmore Mariner ‘Dawn’, No age statement, Port Casked, Islay, 51.5%, $124, Score: 7.13
Quintessentially Islay, Bowmore combines the peaty strength of the southern Islay malts with the tempered complexity of the ones from the north.
Colour: Bronze with a plum tinge.
Nose: Ether, volatile alcohol, burnt sugar and tar make for a fairly unpleasant nose. Developing liquid paper and leathery burnt elements don’t help either, but water brings out a bit of sweetness and lily-of-the-valley aromas.
Palate: This whisky comes into its own in the mouth. It’s deliciously rich and spicy with a barely perceivable hint of cherry. It’s gloriously smooth, gentle, smoky and tightly structured, finishing quite short but warming with bacon and eggs. Add a little water and brandy-like aromas develop, and sweet rock-sugar flavours on the palate.
Isle of Jura Superstition, No age statement, Island of Jura, 45%, $87, Score: 7.35
A mild, slightly sweet whisky with a hint of salt, which betrays its island origin.
Colour: Greenish light mustard yellow.
Nose: A veritable fruit salad of watermelon, paw paw, and custard apple with dry biscuits and Italian meringue, tarnished by a drop of diesel fuel
Palate: All the tropical fruit aromas are confirmed on the palate with added salt and a pleasant juiciness. Scheurer encountered some chocolaty, malolactic elements and Derbidge wine gums. The finish is pleasingly long, sweet and warming with Jaffas rolling over the palate at the very end. This is definitely the best expression of Isle of Jura so far.
Springbank, 10 y/o, Campbelltown, 46%, $90, Score: 7.33
Springbank’s reputation is legendary; the best-selling whisky of its type in Japan, it is sought after by collectors worldwide.
Colour: pale yellow with a hint of green.
Nose: Very tightly closed it is slow to give up its scents. When it starts to open up it releases aromas of candle wax, crushed leaves and alcoholic Belgian chocolates. Thomson discovers pineapple and Harris finds turnips and swedes.
Palate: Caramelised root vegetables, quite oily with banana, chocolaty undertones and a touch of leather. The finish is savoury, clinging to the roof of the mouth for a very long time. Water brings out meaty elements and improves the texture and mouthfeel. Maybe not one of the best Springbanks on the market, it is nevertheless very drinkable.
Talisker, 10 y/o, Isle of Skye, 45.8%, $73, Score: 7.23
Talisker’s famous peppery flavour profile puts it somewhere between a Highland and an Islay.
Colour: Old gold.
Nose: Seaweed, salt, sand, a touch of sweetness and Chinese gooseberries turning into something quite astringent.
Palate: The typical Talisker pepper is unfortunately missing, replaced by a very unusual sweetness possibly from sherry. It’s warming at first, with lots of spice and stewed beef flavours. Pepper finally makes an appearance as does toffee and caramel and hints of chicken stock. The finish is a crescendo of heat refusing to let go. This whisky is not as hot and spicy as Taliskers of old and certainly much sweeter.
Talisker Distiller’s Edition, distilled in 1990 bottled in 2003, Islay, 45.8%, $124, Score: 7.7
Colour: Dark copper, a tinge of pink.
Nose: Oloroso sherry with peaty and spicy notes.
Palate: The first thing you get is the typical Talisker pepper, which is the reason for the illusion of higher alcohol levels than the 10 y/o. Sherry and peaty notes layer a textural mosaic, highlighted by maritime salty, iodine flavours. Harris finds stewed rhubarb and Scheurer white stone-fruit. The finish is full of warming coastal notes and slowly ebbs away like a friendly tide.
Ardbeg, 10 y/o, Islay, 46%, $74, Score: 8.0
Ardbeg was established in 1815 at ‘Smugglers’ Cove’, one of the most picturesque spots on the south coast of Islay, and is known for its massive level of peat.
Colour: hallmark light, almost anaemic, colour.
Nose: Very pleasant with chocolate, honeyed vanillin, almond and a touch of salt.
Palate: Sweet, white chocolate turns into honeyed vanilla flavours with juicy red berries. It is surprisingly sweet without a hint of sherry or caramel. Thomson finds sweet esters and camphor and Harris detects grapefruit and tobacco. This is an unbelievably complex and layered whisky with a long, refined finish and a moreish, lingering sweetness.
Laphroaig, 10 y/o, Islay, 43%, $71, Score: 7.68
The ‘Pinot Noir’ amongst the Single Malts. Its flavours are divisive and Laphroaig is either much loved or fiercely hated.
Colour: Rich gold with a green tinge.
Nose: Memories of a fire in a hospital, chlorophyll and peaty aromas with a touch of iodine. Harris finds grilled mackerel or sardines and dried apricot.
Palate: Bread and yeasty flavours vie for attention among dark chocolate, overripe melons and a tingle of star anise, with a finish of toffee and caramel not previously obvious. Water brings out a toasty maltiness and a sweet, almost mellow, complexity, but even with water this is still not a beginners’ Islay.
Caol Ila, 18 y/o, Islay, 43%, $127, Score: 7.6
Relatively light-bodied but intensely peaty this whisky can be hard to get as it is always in high demand.
Colour: Wet straw.
Nose: Reminiscent of rolling waves with a hint of boiled lollies, pleasantly peaty with very noticeable wood. Derbidge comments on it being dry with whiffs of industrial engine oil and grease aromas.
Palate: The wood flavours with associated varnish and coconut becomes strong, barely tempered by cocoa and burnt toffee and a hint of lime leaves. Finish is dry and mellowingly woody. Although a little one-dimensional it is nevertheless a happy quaffing Islay with a little age to boot.
Lagavulin, 16 y/o, Islay, 43%, $80, Score: 7.85
Lagavulin is Gaelic for ‘small cave with the mill’, it is one of Scotland’s most celebrated whiskies.
Colour: Liquid amber.
Nose: Classic Islay perfume of smoked oysters, brine, seaweed, old rope, tar and liquorice. Scheurer perceives suckling pig, and Harris bacon aromas.
Palate: This is a very complex, textured dram. There is so much going on it’s difficult to isolate the flavours, but sweet dark treacle, honey, chewy malt, roasted nuts and marmalade dominate. With water the nose flattens out a little but lots of spicy meat, charcuterie and Chinese master stock allure the palate. The finish is long, warming and very satisfying.
Laphroaig, 15 y/o, Islay, 43%, $120, Score: 8.0
One of the few distilleries whose malting floors are still open, they even cut their own peat.
Colour: Rich, old gold.
Nose: Burnt leaves, dark muscovado sugar, cherry-ripe chocolate and crème brûlée; Thomson detects some citrus notes.
Palate: A rather civilised Laphroaig with chocolaty, marshmallow and gingerbread flavours. Delicious sherry notes are evident and the finish is long with cereal overtones. A little water brings out rose petal and cassia bark notes on the nose but the palate remains unchanged. An exquisite dram for quiet contemplations.
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