I just wanted to write a short note to commemorate this as our 100th blog post. Eileen and I started this blog about a year ago and, while we haven't really spent a lot of time developing it (no need for any more people to tell me to get a dedicated URL...), it's been a fun way to share our perceptions and thoughts with the world.
Eileen and I will be moving to the Phoenix, Arizona area at the end of June, so we'll be reporting from there in the future.
This whisky has been finished in casks that previously held oloroso sherry, madeira, port, marsala, bourbon, and cabernet sauvignon. I first tried it at a tasting led by Whyte and Mackay Master Blender Richard Paterson (check out his blog here) and was pretty astounded by what I tasted. It's an amazing effort in maturation and blending, and Richard's trademark presentation flare made it really come alive.
The whisky's name derives from the story that, in the year 1263, a member of the Clan Mackenzie (long the owners of the Dalmore distillery) saved King Alexander III from being gored by a wild stag with a single arrow. The king granted the clan the right to bear a stag's head on its coat of arms, which is now on every bottle. Bet he didn't see THAT coming.
This bottling of Laphroaig has been discontinued and replaced with the Laphroaig 18. The 15 generally didn't get very good critical reviews, and I'm sure the word made it back to the folks at the distillery after a while. Though I do like the 18 very much, you'll see below that the 15 is welcome on my shelf as well...
Laphroaig 15, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)
Nose: Smoldering charred wood from a camp fire, grass/hay, and a medicinal note.
Palate: Gentle smoke up front with a honeyed background. Overall, a fairly tame palate for Laphroaig.
Finish: Smoke and a vegetal note fade into the distance...
Rating (of 100): 87. The first time I tried this whisky, I was hoping for it to be a smoke explosion (or "smoke-splosion") like the Laphroaig 10 Year. It's not, but I feel like it's subtle in its allure. True, it's not especially complex, but there's something very nice about just having mild peat and some grassy notes and being able to enjoy only those flavors.
This is a peated whisky I could drink for the whole evening without regretting it; the Laphroaig 10 is probably not.
Four Roses was the best-selling bourbon in the United States in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but was bought by Seagram and sold only in Europe and Asia after that. In 2002, Kirin Brewery from Japan bought the distillery and started selling Four Roses in the United States again. So even though it might seem like a relatively new brand to many people, it has actually been around since the 1800s.
Four Roses makes a wide array of bourbons, including single barrels and small batches. Their especially unique feature is that they use ten different recipes to create their whiskies, employing five proprietary yeast strains and two different mashbills to get them.
In their basic whiskey, the yellow label reviewed here, they combine all ten recipes in one bottle. Others, like their small batch and single barrel, use a smaller subset of recipes.
Four Roses Yellow Label, 40% ABV
Nose: Red apples, green apples, char.
Palate: Floral sweetness with char. Perfumed.
Finish: More char, young fruit. A bit dissonant.
Rating (of 100): 81. Gets the job done if you're looking for a bourbon with some character but not enough to have to stop and appreciate it.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label is a blended whisky, where all the whisky in the blend is at least 18 years old. Gold falls above Green and below Blue in price (at around $70-$80/bottle), so it represents the premium but not quite luxury end of the Walker family.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label, 40% ABV
Blended Scotch whisky
Nose: Peach skins, pears. Peat drifts in after the fruit.
Palate: Sweet peat balanced with juicy fruit. The peat seems more apparent on the palate than on the nose. Superb use of peat to complement the fruit of this dram, coupled with a silky mouthfeel.
Finish: Soft peat lingers with warmth. I kind of want to just die right now.
Rating (0f 100): 93. This is one of those blends that I use to counter the "blends aren't as good as single malts" argument that a lot of whisky simpletons try to make. While Johnnie Walker Blue Label can also be a great blend (though I've had mixed experiences), at less than half the price of Blue, I think Johnnie Gold is the best value of the whole Walker lineup.
Ardbeg is one of the Islay distilleries doing heavily-peated whiskies, falling prey to the "peatiness envy" that has also engulfed Bruichladdich with their Port Charlotte and Octomore offerings.
The Airigh Nam Beist (pronounced "arry nam baysht") is named after the small hill lake between Loch Uigeadail (from which Ardbeg draws its water) and the Ardbeg distillery, and translates from the Gaelic to mean "shelter or pasture of the animals." It is a vintage bottling, put into casks in 1990 and bottled in 2007, and has since been discontinued because the stock has run out.
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Islay)
Nose: A sweet smokiness that includes some medicinal notes and aromas of fresh, green twigs.
Palate: Smoke, peat and honey entwined to give a well-rounded dram. Velvety mouthfeel.
Finish: Peat at first, fading to honey and caramel with a background of smoke. Honey and smoke seem to linger forever.
Rating (of 100): 91. A very nice all-around peated whisky, though I think the complexity of this whisky is still far less than what was achieved in the primo batches of the Ardbeg Uigeadail.
GlenDronach has undergone some ups and downs in the past few years. In 1996, the distillery was mothballed (put into hibernation) and was re-opened in 2002. In 2008, it was sold to the BenRiach Distillery Company, the same private company that owns the BenRiach distillery.
GlenDronach is committed to producing heavily-sherried whiskies. This 18-year-old is named "Allardice," after the founder of the distillery, James Allardice, and has been matured solely in oloroso sherry casks made from Spanish oak.
GlenDronach 18, 46% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Highlands)
Nose: Spicy raisins, dark fruits, jammy sherry. A very thick nose that lets you know a lot of sherry has gone into this...
Palate: Sherry, dark berries and fruits (oranges, plums). A deep flavor that is kept vibrant by a good alcohol content.
Finish: Spices and toasted wood that keep lingering, turning to lighter fruits as time goes on.
Rating (of 100): 90. Tasty and not cloyingly sweet, though I don't think I could take more than a few drams because this is a big whisky. The heft of the sherry in this makes a Macallan 18's sherry content seem comparable to that in a glass of tap water.
Speyburn is a Speyside distillery, built on the site of an old gallows in the town of Rothes along with Glen Grant, Glenrothes, and Glen Spey. It was the first distillery to use drum maltings, in which the malt is dried in a rotating metal drum instead of on a perforated floor (the floor maltings are the traditional way of doing it, but require a lot of labor).
Speyburn is owned by the same company that owns the Pulteney, Balblair and Knockdhu distilleries, Inver House. However, they do not normally market Speyburn nearly as heavily as they do the other three. I'm not sure why, but I have a feeling they have Speyburn for blending.
Speyburn 10, 43% ABV
Single malt Scotch whisky (Speyside)
Nose: Very floral and sweet with a bit of a toasty characteristic.
Palate: Citrus (green apple, orange, lemon) followed by a bit of earthiness.
Finish: Citrus and some malt.
Rating (of 100): 86. This is not a very complex whisky but it is extremely drinkable and, at about $20/bottle, it's a great deal.