Exclusive Malts: Laphroaig (8 year) 2005-2013

(Note: This review directly contrasts this bottling with the official bottling of Laphroaig 10-year Cask Strength at 57.8%)

I received a sample of the Exclusive Malts single-cask bottling of Laphroaig, distilled 2005/bottled 2013, by the distributor ImpEx Beverages (Thanks Katia!). It’s a single-cask Laphroaig bottled at 55.9% ABV. As usual with single-casks from independents, I’m looking for two very specific things. I want it, first, to taste better than the similarly-aged cask-strength official bottling from the distillery (OR be significantly cheaper). Second, I want to detect something unique in it – a component from the official bottling that is amplified or elevated in the single-cask, or a unique note that gets hidden by the vatting of other casks in the official bottling. If it does not have both of those things, then I can’t see a reason to spend money on it.

Also, I’m always clear with anyone who sends me review samples, that I will not give a more positive review of something just because it’s free. I am, however, always grateful for samples – I love getting to taste a new whisky, especially when I can directly contrast it with a similar product from the same distillery. I also have a sample of Laphroaig’s official cask strength 10 year-old here, which I’ll refer to as “the OB”. With that said, let’s dive in…

Nose: Slightly more vanilla than the OB. Also, a bit more cereal sweetness. Not quite as much meatiness. Otherwise, notes are the same – intense Laphroaig peat and seaweed.

Palate: Far sweeter on the tongue than the OB. Vanilla in spades, and the usual complement of peat and salt notes, although not as complete as the OB is. This seems to be missing all of the charred meat notes.

Finish: Long, of course. Same notes (echoes of the peat and smoke aromas), but with a suggestion of sandalwood.

With Water: Water here does only what you’d expect it to – tames the burn, amps up the vanilla, and makes the finish sweeter. With this one, I would use water only to dilute the dram to a drinkable strength.

Overall: I struggle to find something unique here. It tastes like the OB cask strength, but with a few drops of vanilla extract added and with the complex smoky meaty flavor reduced. It could be thought of as a component of Laphroaig, and thus available as an analysis of one aspect of the OB, but its only claim to individuality – the increased vanilla – is little reason for me to own a bottle. Between the cheaper OB cask strength and this, I’ll opt for the OB.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

The heavily peated Laphroaig, pronouned “La-froyg”, was established on the southern coast of Islay in the mid 1820s. Laphroaig’s medicinal, seaweedy, ‘iodine’ flavors may be derived from its local, hand-cut peat, which is used to dry malt in its own floor maltings. The local peat is more fibrous than peat used by the Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, where other Islay distilleries source their peat. Laphroaig does source 80% or more of its malt from Port Ellen, since the maltings are too small to meet all of the distillery’s demand. Process water flows via a burn from the Sholum Lochs and collects in the Kilbride Dam. The water is highly acidic, but soft. The whisky is matured on-site, mostly in ex-bourbon casks from Maker’s Mark, in both dunnage and rack warehouses.

Exclusive Malts: Laphroaig (8 year) 2005-2013
55.9% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $80 - $100
Acquired: (Sample) Courtesy of ImpEx Beverages. Thanks, Katia!
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Laphroaig (10 year) Cask Strength

This is the full cask strength version of Laphroaig’s flagship 10-year. At 57.8% ABV and not chill-filtered, this is essentially the standard 10-year minus water, and without the chill-filtration. That means there’s nothing between you and the raw fury of Laphroaig peat. Beware!

Note: This is a sample I saved from a friend’s bottle, so I don’t know which batch it was. Sorry!

Nose: Unmistakable Laphroaig peat. Seaweed and salt seaspray, with dense, meaty woodsmoke, like a driftwood bonfire on the beach. At 57.8% ABV, it will crawl right up your nose if you get too close. Meat notes dance around the edge – like the charbroiled crust of a well-salted steak. Powerful and lean.

Palate: At full proof, this stuff will take a layer of skin off of your tongue, and pour saltwater in the wound. Once your tongue gets good and numb from the punishment, you can taste, finally, the malty sweetness hidden beneath that fiery inferno of peat smoke.

Finish: Super long. Meaty again, with crusty barbecued meat (minus the bbq sauce), smoldering campfire embers, and crispy dried seaweed (nori). Fades (amazingly) without bitterness. A welcome respite from the torrent of flame.

With Water: A healthy splash of water is almost required, as the malt is barely drinkable neat. Try to aim for a robust 50% ABV. At this point, the nose is more correctly balanced between woodsmoke, salt, and sweet cereals. Vanilla saltwater taffy emerges, and the finish acquires something minty. At even further dilution, look for some very faint fruit notes – strawberry or raspberry, and a more mossy, subdued peat.

Overall: I only have a sample here, but if I had a full bottle I might view it as an Everest in my cabinet. I would rarely be in the mood to hike its treacherous peaks, but once in awhile the manly urge to conquer might rise in my chest and I might crack open the bottle to brave the frostbite and possible loss of life or limb that waits inside. Seriously though, this is a challenging whisky that should only be attempted once a healthy respect for both heavily peated Islay (try Laphroaig 10 first) AND cask strength single malt (try Aberlour abunadh first as well). Even when you’re ready for it, don’t be a hero. Put in some water.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

The heavily peated Laphroaig, pronouned “La-froyg”, was established on the southern coast of Islay in the mid 1820s. Laphroaig’s medicinal, seaweedy, ‘iodine’ flavors may be derived from its local, hand-cut peat, which is used to dry malt in its own floor maltings. The local peat is more fibrous than peat used by the Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, where other Islay distilleries source their peat. Laphroaig does source 80% or more of its malt from Port Ellen, since the maltings are too small to meet all of the distillery’s demand. Process water flows via a burn from the Sholum Lochs and collects in the Kilbride Dam. The water is highly acidic, but soft. The whisky is matured on-site, mostly in ex-bourbon casks from Maker’s Mark, in both dunnage and rack warehouses.

Laphroaig (10 year) Cask Strength
57.8% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $60 - $80
Acquired: Sample from a friend's bottle.
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Should I Go To a Whisky Show?

Someone asked me this a few weeks ago: Should a newbie whisky lover consider going to a whisky show like WhiskyFest, Whiskies of the World, or one of the similar shows held annually across the world? Obviously, I can’t answer the question for everyone, but I thought I’d break down my thoughts on the matter and maybe help you decide for yourself if a whisky show is the right choice for you.

Before we begin, a caveat: I have been to exactly two of these (one WhiskyFest in San Francisco in 2011, and one Whiskies of the World in San Jose in 2014), so my opinion might not be as valuable as a jaded whisky marketer or representative who has been to hundreds of the things. Then again, my perspective might be less jaded and thus more useful. You decide.

First, you must ask yourself why you want to attend a show. They’re short (2 hours, or so), crowded, noisy, and usually require you to establish alternative transportation home. I’ll organize my thoughts based on the possible answers to this question.

1. To drink a lot of free whisky!

Tickets to a whisky show will range from $50 to $150 (or much, much higher) per person. At my last show I tasted about 40 whiskies in the two hours allotted and paid $65 for my ticket. That’s a little higher than $1 per taste, which would be a good deal if I’d been able to taste ANYTHING after the first eight pours or so, or if I’d been physically capable of swallowing more than about 10% of it (I spat or poured the rest out). You’d likely be able to enjoy the whisky more by spending $65 on 6 to 8 decent drams at a well-stocked bar, and taking your time.

Also, you will not be able to taste everything you want. Most tables have between 2 and 10 bottles, and there are dozens of tables. Hit your “must do” tables early in the evening, and then focus on tables without long lines. You can’t possibly taste them all, so know that beforehand.

2. To try things I couldn’t afford to buy, or can’t find.

While it’s true that whisky shows will attract big brands with pricy bottles to pour, the vast majority of the product on the floor will be either cheap (bottom-shelf brands trying to drum up business in an industry increasingly focused on premium product), bad (“craft” producers riding the craft wave with 18 month-old swill), widely available (everything at the Diageo table, and of course the 10, 12, 15, and 18 year products from all of the major producers), or not even whisky (brandy, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, etc. also trying to ride the wave of whisky popularity). You will certainly find a few gems: 18, 21, or 25 year-old bottles, choice independent bottles or rare distilleries (I had an awesome Mortlach from Gordon & MacPhail at WoW 2014), really good craft products (Corsair, Lost Spirits, or High West for example), or special editions that sell out quickly. There’s sometimes even a Pappy Van Winkle table, at least there was at WhiskyFest in 2011. Of course, it will be difficult to enjoy those gems due to the beating your sense of taste and smell have taken from previous pours, and the large crowds (‘lines’ would be too generous) that develop around those tables.

Also, the “best stuff” is usually reserved for very pricey VIP sessions on the tasting floor, or for equally pricey seminars.

3. To have a good time with friends who also enjoy whisky.

Shows are a great way for a small whisky appreciation group to get out and do a group activity. Some shows offer group discounts as well, and you can probably drum up a designated driver or two, or split accommodations in a hotel. Remember, though, that the expo hall will be noisy, everyone will have their own priority list of tables to visit, and few tables can handle more than four to six people at once. The chance of your whole group getting to stand around and chat with Julian Van Winkle over some Pappy is… well, zero.

4. To meet whisky celebrities.

Some shows bill high-visibility luminaries like master distillers, CEOs, authors or journalists, and prominent representatives like Dr. Bill Lumsden from Glenmorangie, John Glaser from Compass Box, and Richard Patterson from Whyte and MacKay. These people are usually attending the show to give seminars, but often hover around their company’s tables for part of the show. I’ve met John Hansell of Whisky Advocate, Steve Beal of Diageo, David Perkins of High West, Steve McCarthy of Clear Creek Distillery, John Glaser of Compass Box, and (OK I just stood near him) Julian Van Winkle III of Pappy fame. If geeking out for 3 seconds while shaking the hand of one of the heroes of whiskydom is your bag, then book your ticket now… but make sure to check the advertised attendee list and don’t get your hopes up. These events can be crowded.

5. To attend seminars.

Most whisky shows offer topical seminars about appreciating whisky. They usually cover aspects of tasting/nosing, blending, distillation, maturation, and other salient aspects of the industry. They also usually include samples to nose and taste while listening. Sometimes these offer vertical tastings that would be difficult (or impossible) to organize on your own, or include difficult-to-get products like new make (white dog), heads or tails from a distillation run, whisky from closed distilleries, privately-bottled whisky, or partially-aged spirit or blending components that aren’t bottled by themselves. The price is usually in excess of the value of the samples, however, and they’re almost always scheduled in such as way that you’d miss part of your time on the tasting floor… especially if you want to attend more than one seminar. Keep a close eye on the scheduled times (and available tickets) when choosing a seminar.

A few other things to note. Some tables often offer free merchandise (no, never actual whisky) like hats, whisky glasses, flasks, and the like. This isn’t nearly as common, though, as it is at other shows (like tech conventions). You’ll usually get a program and a tasting glass when you check in for the event, and sometimes a bag to carry any loot you might acquire, but you might also consider bringing your own bag in case they don’t offer one. There will be ample bottled water, and enough neutral-tasting snacks or finger-food to curb any appetite you might drum up while tasting. There will be buckets at each table for disposing of your extra whisky, since most tables will pour you more than you need to taste. You can either sip a little, swallow, and pour the rest in the bucket, or sip, taste, spit it back in your glass, and then pour that in the bucket. Never spit directly into the bucket, please!

You will NEED to spit! If you take a single swallow from every bottle that you can possibly taste in 2 hours, you will die of alcohol poisoning. Seriously though, just swallow the exceptional stuff and spit/pour out the rest. This is not a place at which to get roaring drunk.

You will find it difficult to get timely pours at every table, since the event will be full enough (especially in the first hour) to keep you waiting in small lines at the popular tables. Don’t push, but feel free to tap on the shoulders of people who already have a pour and ask if you can slip in. You may need to catch the attention of the representatives pouring the whisky, especially if someone else is bending their ear. Don’t be rude, however.

Speaking of which, don’t ask difficult questions unless you know you’re speaking to someone who has the answers. The people pouring are usually reps from the local distributor or importer, or simply people hired by those companies. They can answer simple questions, but don’t ask them what the mashbill is, or the angle of the lyne arm, unless you know you’re talking to someone who actually works at a distillery. That said, some reps are more knowledgeable than others.

I suggest keeping a bottle of water in your pocket, and rinsing out your glass (and your mouth) between every pour. This can get annoying, but it’s worth it to avoid everything tasting like peat after you visit the Ardbeg table. It’s also worth scheduling your stops to put peated malts at the end, but that works better in theory than practice. Don’t try to write down notes, but it might be worth carrying a pocket recorder (or using an app on your cellphone) to record your notes. You simply won’t remember anything about what you tasted later if you don’t record notes.

Lastly, arrive at the venue early (15 to 30 minutes at least) to check-in. You don’t want to lose tasting time standing in line at 5 minutes past the hour to register late. Don’t bring anything you aren’t willing to carry around, in case there’s no coat check.

I hope I’ve answered some latent questions about whisky shows, and I hope I’ve given enough information to help you make your own decision. If you simply want to try a wide range of whiskies in order to expand your horizons and identify a few products that are worth a closer look, a whisky show is perfect for you. Just don’t expect to leisurely sample high-end products and chat with whisky celebrities. Ask questions in the comments below. Cheers!

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Kirkland Small Batch Bourbon – 7 year

Kirkland (Costco’s brand name) has been offering up some substantial values in quality single-malt scotch over the last few years. I decided that their track record warranted trying out the American whisky side of the aisle, so I plopped down my $20 for a liter of “Premium Small Batch” Kentucky Straight Bourbon at 7 years of age and an impressive 103 proof. It’s from batch B-5183, if it matters. The label indicates that it was made in Clermont, which leaves no doubt as to its distiller – the Beam Corporation’s Jim Beam Clermont Distillery. Hoping that this was a 7-year batch of the company’s Knob Creek product (which I’ve enjoyed in the past and will be reviewing soon), I cracked open the bottle to see what kind of bourbon one gets for $20 a liter at Costco.

Right away I could tell. This was not Knob Creek. This was Jim Beam, and no question about it. Jim has a very specific flavor and aroma profile, which has no doubt been “crafted” over the decades to “perfection”, but which comes across to me as a vaguely vegetal, light-in-character nail polish remover. Eugh. I never liked the stuff in college, and it’s certainly not to my taste now.

Nose: Light brown sugar, a bare hint of acetone (nail polish remover), which reminds me instantly of Jim Beam. Less oak and less caramel than comparable bourbons. No detectable cherry element. Some raw corn and light corn syrup candies (caramel corn). The alcohol is somewhat biting.

Palate: A little syrupy, but with a rough tongue burn. Some astringency but without the woody flavors that come with older bourbon. Now there’s a bit of cherry (lozenge) and some hay notes. Still light on the sugar (no molasses) and rough on the palate.

Finish: Medium long. A little oak and more caramel corn. Forgettable.

With Water: A few drops of water don’t do anything to elevate the aroma, perhaps instead accentuating the nail polish remover. If you’re drinking this neat, water isn’t going to make much difference, except perhaps by proofing it down to tame the burn.

Overall: Unlike most Kirkland labelled booze, I’m severely underwhelmed by this one. It’s obviously Jim Beam, but I don’t think it comes from the recipe used to make Knob Creek (which was my hope) and instead seems to be slightly younger Jim Beam Black. I would not recommend this for drinking neat. It makes a passable cocktail (and $20 a liter isn’t a bad price), but you’d do much (much) better with a bottle of Knob Creek Small Batch, which is superior in basically every way. If you’re a Jim Beam lover, though, and looking for a value bottle, this should suit.

Kirkland Small Batch Bourbon – 7 year
51.5% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $20
Acquired: (1 L bottle) Costco, San Jose, CA, $20.
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Tomatin (12 year)

Tomatin is one of those distilleries – once the largest in Scotland – that was purpose-built to produce malt for use as blending stock. Only recently has the boom in whisky appreciation prompted Tomatin to release and market a single malt. The 12 year in the official lineup from Tomatin is aged in ex-bourbon casks, and then finished for 6 to 9 months in oloroso sherry casks.

Sometimes this oft-repeated “blend fodder to single-malt” Cinderella story is a boon to the marketplace, giving consumers access to previously-unavailable excellent malt. Sometimes, however, whisky that has been engineered for decades to “fill up” a blend with bulk malt might not perform so well as a solo act. Let’s find out…

Nose: Predominant note of candy apple, with undertones of nougat, cinnamon, fruit punch, and breakfast cereal. Standard, in a partially-sherried kind of way.

Palate: Nice density to the body, almost silky. Nut skins, shredded wheat, and dried cherries on a bed of hum-drum malt.

Finish: Short. Some dried fruit, nougat again, and a hint of bitterness, like over-caramelized sugar.

With Water: A few drops of water draw out the tart fruits – cranberries, sour apple, both on the nose and palate. Also some cocktail bitters and marshmallow on the finish. Water isn’t a bad idea here.

Overall: Underwhelming. There are some nice “sherried malt” effects, but nothing stands out as worthy of attention. Forgettable. Of course, it’s wisely marketed at the bargain basement price of $23 to $26, which is perfectly in line with its quality. If you’re desperate to find under-$30 malts in a market inundated with price increases, you should give this one a look. Then again, it probably performs best in a blend.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Built in 1897 with originally only two stills, Tomatin gradually increased capacity over the years until it reached a crazy 23 stills by 1986, which made it the largest malt distillery in Scotland at the time. It has since removed almost half of its stills, and now boasts the still-respectable number of six pairs. Tomatin also now produces less malt for blending and more for release as single malt, although its reputation remains as a “filler malt” for the blending crowd. The stills are small with long necks and condensers, and the distillery uses a long fermentation. It uses both ex-bourbon casks and sherry butts, but has its own cooperage, which is unusual these days. Process water comes from the Alt na Frith stream that runs through peat-covered quartzite hills and over red granite.

Tomatin (12 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $23 - $26
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Talisker 57° North

Ahh, Talisker. Although a prize pony in Diageo’s stable, this distillery has always seemed to be a wild card to me. A fiercely independent, borderline wild ward of the Diageo State, always going against the grain and getting away with it. I like to imagine meetings at headquarters where all the cowed distilleries of the Diageo rank and file nod in unison, eyes trained on the floor, while Talisker causes trouble on the third floor – getting the interns drunk and making photocopies of its arse. Now while I’m sure that’s wildly inaccurate, it helps rationalize my love of Talisker despite its corporate overlord.

Lately, however, Talisker has been starting to show its megacorporate stripes by releasing mediocre pap like Talisker Storm, trying to cash in on the NAS craze. Luckily for me, Talisker 57° North is different. Duty-free only (a.k.a. the Screw The Whisky Customers Who Don’t Travel Internationally market category), but entirely worth haranguing a travel-worn acquaintance into securing a bottle for you. As reliable as the Talisker 10 is, 57° gives you everything you expect from Talisker, plus more. Talisker++, if you will.

I have to say the marketing on this is refreshing – no obscure gaelic or strained nearly-factual allegories about the deer that used to graze in the valley by the water source. Just the latitude line that the distillery is located on – 57° (North) – and the ABV set at 57% ABV to match. Of course, one must wonder if 57% was really the ideal strength… what if it tasted better at 55% or 61%? Ah well, I guess that’s the price you pay for a good marketing campaign.

Nose: Nutmeg! A barrage of white pepper, nutmeg, smoked salt, burning incense sticks, salted caramel, and salmon jerky. There’s a lot of complexity packed into this little bundle. It definitely delivers on the promise of Talisker peat, plus a little something extra.

Palate: Thin body. Serious tongue burn (of course), with attendant smoke coming out of my ears. When the fury subsides, there is fresh (spicy) ginger, cracked black pepper, and a sensation of salty sea breezes.

Finish: Medium-Long. The peat makes a comeback, with plenty of brushfire smoke, residual brine, and only a faint touch of sweetness. A bit of mouth-drying tannin. Not a lot of bitterness.

With Water: Normally a dram is better when it’s cohesive, but here I find the opposite. The separate, independent notes of aroma create a chaotic jumble that very much works. When I add (a little) water, it becomes more cohesive and loses something – becoming muddied. The palate becomes markedly sweeter. If I add enough water to proof it down to around 50%, there’s a significant smoked fish element to the aroma. Also adds dried lemon peel and gingerbread (??) to the palate. I would only add water to proof it down if you aren’t enjoying it straight at full proof.

Overall: Well, that’s Talisker all right. A big, brutish dram with most of the complexity on the nose. It definitely delivers everything you’d expect from nearly-cask-strength Talisker. If you’re already a Talisker fan, then you’re ready to try this. If you’re not a Talisker fan, get comfortable with the standard 10 year first.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Talisker is located on the lonely Isle of Skye, off the western coast of the Scottish Highlands (included in the “Island” region by owner Diageo). The population there still speaks Scots Gaelic, and Talisker is the only whisky distillery on the island. But oh, what whisky. Poet Robert Louis Stevenson identified this distillery’s product as a category of its own, and once referred to it as “the king of drinks.” He wasn’t alone. In Ian Fleming’s original James Bond books, 007 drinks Talisker, not martinis shaken or otherwise. Like Bond, Talisker is rough by nature – rocky and influenced by the sea by which it is made. The spring water flows over peat and has a very high mineral content.

Talisker 57° North
57% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $80-$100
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Hankey Bannister Original Blended Scotch

There’s something I like about a little miniature bottle of a cheap blended scotch. It has so much promise. Might this be the next old-school gem from the days when blended scotch was what everyone drank? Has this one stood the test of time, and resisted the stultifying effects of a whisky market gone insane? Maybe I’ll find a new favorite value bottle, that I can mix or sip with impunity.

…and then I open it and I find more or less the same thing. Too much grain. too little flavor. Sigh.

Hankey Bannister is produced by Inver House Distillers, owners of Balblair, Old Pulteney, Speyburn, Balmenach and anCnoc. The blend, not surprisingly, contains malt from all of these distilleries, although other details are scarce. The line includes some weighty products with age statements of 12, 21, 25, and 40 years, but I only have a miniature of the Original non-age-statement blend. Also, while the name sounds like a silly British play on words, it’s in fact a conjugation of the names of the brand’s founders, Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister.

Nose: Light grain, lemon peel, and a heavy dose of grain neutral spirit (vodka).

Palate: Nice, creamy mouthfeel. A Glenkinchie-like lemon pervades the flavor, and isn’t much balanced by anything, including the continuing vodka notes.

Finish: Short. A slight marshmallow sweetness, lemon candy, and vodka. Finishes with – you guessed it – vodka.

With Water: A few drops of water heighten the citrus notes – adding grapefruit, notably – but do little on the tongue or finish. Water neither hurts nor helps.

Overall: Some part of me thought that a little-known (in the States) homestyle blend might carry with it a cure for the common blend, perhaps carrying the Old World love of blended scotch into the modern age. Alas, this is brown vodka in the worst sense, with entirely too much “light whisky” – practically grain neutral spirit or vodka – without nearly enough flavorful malt to fill it out. The only things it has going for it, aside from the silly British name, is a bumped ABV and some pleasant lemon notes.

For once, I can’t blame the plastic miniature bottle (this one is glass).

Hankey Bannister Original Blended Scotch
43% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $20
Acquired: (50ml glass miniature)
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Isle of Jura (16 year)

The Isle of Jura is within spitting distance of the eastern shore of the island of Islay, off of Scotland’s southwesterly tip. The tiny island claims only a few hundred inhabitants, and exactly one whisky distillery. Perhaps this harkens back to a time in Scotland when every community of 200 people required its own distillery? Sounds like a place I’d like to live!

The Isle of Jura distillery is owned by independent bottlers Whyte and MacKay, which also owns Dalmore distillery. The whisky of each is surprisingly similar, with lots of sherry-derived flavor, and some citrus elements. Jura is a little lighter in style and much more floral, while Dalmore is darker, sweeter, and more pungent. Neither is peated, except for some peat that might be in the water used to mash and proof down the bottles.

The 16 year-old official bottling, also subtitled ‘Diurach’s Own’ after the name for the people of Jura, spends 14 years in ex-bourbon, and then is transferred for 2 years into Amaroso Oloroso sherry casks to finish.

Nose: Elegant citrus – grapefruit maybe, or bergamot. Mildly sherried, as befits the finish. If there’s any Island peat present, it’s in the form of a soft, ferny, heathery aroma in the distance. The fruit is fresh and bright, and backed up by a capable maltiness with breakfast cereal and spongecake. Soft, lovely, and floral. Very nice.

Palate: Slightly chewy texture, and quite sweet. Candied orange peels, tawny fudge, blanched almonds, and marzipan. Not an ounce of burn on the tongue. Ladylike, even.

Finish: The heather notes return, with honey and a bit of oaky tannins. A final wave of very mild citrus – just pith, maybe – and a ghost of bitterness.

With Water: Several drops of water draw out a bit more of the eccentric aspects of the sherry, namely a leather note, and some lemon peel, which continues through the palate and finish as extra tartness. Water is not needed here, but does add something interesting.

Overall: An eminently likable malt. Flawless in execution, sweet and mild on the tongue, with a moderately perfumed aroma. This would be excellent with a mild cigar. Jura has a lot of ardent admirers, and I can see why. It is not intense nor challenging, but it is complex enough to reward contemplation.

I have not been able to say this much recently, but this malt is definitely worth the $65 or so that it retails for.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Owned, along with Dalmore distillery, by independent bottlers Whyte & Mackay, The Isle of Jura Distillery was built in 1962 and is the only distillery on the Isle of Jura, situated across a narrow strait from Islay. Process water comes from Loch a’Bhaile-Mhargaidh (the Market Loch). While the water flows through a great deal of peat, the whisky itself is not smoked and does not carry much peat character, in sharp contrast to most of its contemporaries across the strait. Jura malt, aged in bourbon and with some finished in sherry casks, is said to come into its own around the age of 16, the age of the distillery’s flagship official bottling. The distillery has only recently begun producing small amounts of peated malt for the single-cask market.

Isle of Jura (16 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $60 - $65
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Longmorn (16 year)

Longmorn has long been a sought-after component for blending. Robust and flavorful even without heavy cask treatment, it adds depth and sweetness to a blend. After several changes of hands, Longmorn is now owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard, although they don’t bother to recognize the fact on their English website. What gives, Pernod?

Having already tried Longmorn in the form of an independently bottled single-cask exclusive to K&L, I’m coming at this one from the wrong direction. Longmorn’s 16 year-old official bottling is aged in ex-bourbon, not sherry, and is bottled at a surprising 48% ABV.

Nose: Lemon and honey, over a bed of warm cereal grains and lightly toasted nuts. A faint oiliness suggests complexity.

Palate: Rich and syrupy in body. A poignant tongue burn at 48%, which subsides into nutty malt, nougat, and a faint tartness, perhaps orange peel. Chocolate-chip cookie dough! Yes.

Finish: Medium. Warming, with remnants of freshly-baked sugar cookies, fresh cashew butter, and white chocolate. No bitterness to speak of.

With Water: Water seems to only tame the burn (and useful, at that). It cuts a little of the cohesiveness, making the malt somewhat disjointed. I’d skip the water unless the burn is too much.

Overall: I’m coming at this a little backwards, having first tasted a heavily sherried single-cask expression of Longmorn before tasting the official distillery bottling, which is not sherried at all. I do miss the heavy fruit notes, but Longmorn still delivers flavor, and not just the typical ex-bourbon vanilla notes. It has enough body to stand on its own, and plenty of malty sweetness. The raw cookie dough component is especially exciting.

I’d recommend this to lovers of whisky who think bourbon is too strong, peat is too smokey, and sherry is too sweet. This is the kind of middle road whisky where you find the caramel, cookie, nutty notes that you want without sacrificing body or intensity. HOWEVER… we’re looking at an unreasonable $95 price tag, which I simply would not pay for a flagship official bottling at 16 years. What are they thinking? Sell this at $60 and you’ve got me hooked. If you do some web searching you might find it for $78, but that’s still too high in my opinion.

Good whisky, abhorrent price. For the price ALONE, I’m marking this “Not Recommended” – give us a break, Pernod Ricard.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

This Speyside distillery was opened in 1897 by John Duff, who also built Benriach next door. Spring water flows from Mannoch Hill. Little-known among mainstream whisky drinkers, new marketing efforts have started to expose this cult malt to a larger audience. It is a principal component in many blends, and was not sold as a single malt until recently.

Longmorn (16 year)
48% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $95 - $105
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.
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Exclusive Malts: Longmorn (20 year) 1992 – 2012

Ok, so I’m super late to the party, again. I have a bad habit of buying really good bottles and then sitting on them until it’s too late to do any good to my readers. So, in the interest of saving myself some face, this post is a birthday present to myself. Why? Well, it’s my birthday, it’s a post about something that none of you can buy, and (drumroll), this particular cask was distilled ON MY BIRTHDAY when I was 10 years old! I don’t even remember being 10, so the thought of this juice splashing out of the still and into a (probably) refill sherry cask to sleep for the next 20 years gives some real perspective to the glass in front of me. Also, it makes me feel old.

Distilled at Longmorn on the 22nd of June 1992, cask 86620 was bottled at 52.8% ABV 20 years later, in 2012, exclusively for K&L Wine Merchants by independent brand The Exclusive Malts. K&L Exclusives get a lot of buzz in the whisky scene online, but don’t have much impact to the rest of the world that doesn’t happen to live in California. That’s why I try to avoid writing about them, even when I buy one. However, I have the utmost respect for David Driscoll’s ability to select and negotiate excellent casks of whisky, even if they usually come out above my ideal price point. This one I got to sample last year and I was blown away. I bought a bottle, even though $120 is significantly higher than I usually spend. My excuse? Birthday!

Nose: Sticky sherry notes of strawberry jam, apple cider vinegar, fig preserves, underlayed with oaky sap (not quite maple syrup). Powerful, and delectable. The fruit is profound, but not cloying. The oak is beautifully balanced, and while the whole smells integrated and mature, there aren’t excess rancid notes. Very fresh for 20 years old!

Palate: A powerhouse of fruit, with equal helpings of jammed, dried, and fresh. The oak is present, but not overwhelming, and the tongue burn is surprisingly minimal for something over 50% ABV. It doesn’t fully represent its age, without much balsamic-type flavors, but it is round and complete. Eyes closed, I would say it was 16 years old.

Finish: Jolly rancher candies, a touch of cinnamon, a lot of fruitcake, and some more of that maple syrup (but not quite) on the fade-out. Becomes slightly bitter, with nut skins and burned caramel on the tail.

With Water: A dash of water really opens up the fresh fruit – there are even some cherry blossom or apple blossom notes added. On the tongue, the burn is even more muted, and some chocolate notes are displayed. The malt alone is an experience, water brings it to another level.

Overall: Wow. What a birthday present to me! I have a weak spot for fruit-bomb sherried numbers, and this ticks all of the boxes (except one). The nose is phenomenal, especially with some water to open it up, and on the tongue it purrs with sherry goodness and no undue burn. Alas, the finish has more bitterness than I like. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic whisky, and a real solid reason to seek out some more Longmorn, especially if it’s sherried.

Note: K&L sold out of this a long time ago, but they still have this, which sounds similar: http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1155020.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

This Speyside distillery was opened in 1897 by John Duff, who also built Benriach next door. Spring water flows from Mannoch Hill. Little-known among mainstream whisky drinkers, new marketing efforts have started to expose this cult malt to a larger audience. It is a principal component in many blends, and was not sold as a single malt until recently.

Exclusive Malts: Longmorn (20 year) 1992 – 2012
52.8% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $120 (Unavailable)
Acquired: (bottle), K&L Wine Merchants, paid $120.
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