New Whiskies

Batch 170

by
Ardbeg Twenty Something, Caol Ilas from Duncan Taylor and Asta Morris, a Laphroaig from Cadenhead, a Secret Islay mystery bottling from Lady of the Glen and Rock Oyster blended malt from Douglas Laing

Five Islays and an island blended malt make up this week’s whisky reviews, as Dave Broom immerses himself in Scotland’s smoky outlying regions.

First up is Ardbeg Twenty Something, the latest in Ardbeg’s famous committee-only bottlings, which is designed to honour the men and women who kept the distillery afloat during darker times. Open and gentle, it’s all smoked cheese and scallops – not quite the beast you might imagine, according to Broom.

Asta Morris returns with another excellent young whisky at an absolute steal. With a big walnut whip nose and a thick, treacle palate, Broom proclaims this Caol Ila ‘another must-buy’ from the indie bottler.

Another young Caol Ila, this time from Duncan Taylor’s Octave range. Broom proclaims this 2008 vintage ‘good and expressive’ with chocolate Hobnobs on the nose and a touch of roast crab on the finish – not the most common of combos, but it works for Broom here.

Moving into older territory, a 19-year-old Laphroaig from veteran indie bottler Cadenhead, reveals a subtle light smoke and elements of tropical fruits, more reminiscent of a Bowmore.

The only non-single malt on today’s roster, the second batch of Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster Cask Strength is a reasonably priced blended malt that Broom advocates as a shot, as it’s all heat, seaweed and citrus. Incredibly maritime with sweetness, salt and smoke, which some will undoubtedly love.

Finally, we come to a mystery independent bottling from Lady of the Glen, a Secret Islay. At cask strength, it’s oily, chewy and bittersweet, although Broom enjoys the balance (and surprising lack of heat, given its 56.1% abv).

Appropriately, the playlist zips across the ocean this week. Starting with Scottish post-rock heroes Mogwai, head across the pond for American new wave the B-52s’ classic Rock Lobster and over to Mississippi John Hurt for the sound of the Bayou.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg Twenty Something, 22 Years Old

    Ardbeg Twenty Something, 22 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    Committee exclusive
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    An open and very gentle Ardbeg which starts with balsa wood elements, then ashes (raking out the grate in the morning) as well as a strange quality of the blandness of lychee and panna cotta, but also fragrant smoke whose slightly heathery, floral edges bring to mind a National Trust gift shop. It becomes more milky in time, especially with water, when a mix of White Rabbit sweets and smoked Caboc cheese takes over.

    Palate

    This creaminess continues on the palate, shifting what smoke there is to the edges of the tongue. In time you pick up both vanilla and scallop meat, but there’s a slightly hollow feel. Water brings out some more oakiness, thereby drying things slightly but not shifting things from the milking shed.

    Finish

    Though slightly stony to start with, it becomes quite zingy and smoked.

    Conclusion

    Not quite the beast that you might imagine.

    Right place, right time

    Drifting off into the Ether.

    Caol Ila 7 Years Old (Asta Morris)

    Caol Ila 7 Years Old (Asta Morris)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Massive with walnut whip aromas (fondant cream, chocolate, nut), then coffee before smouldering smoke begins to inveigle itself into your nostrils, mixing burning grass – or hair – with an earthy richness that brings to mind smoked beef, that’s then lifted by a nose-clearing blast of peppermint. Some more nuttiness comes through in time that shifts it towards a high-end old amontillado, then iced gingerbread. When water is added it moves once more, taking on darker tones of treacle-cured black bacon.

    Palate

    A thick and almost liquorous start, before a massive gear change at the half-way point when things become decidedly smoky and slightly medicinal. There’s some more of that treacle, tarry elements and then paprika. As it develops, there’s raisin while dilution pulls out rich fruits and a lovely balanced bitter edge.

    Finish

    Slight heat and a sensation like licking wet, sea-washed pebbles.

    Conclusion

    Is there a third digit missing here on the price? Integrated, sumptuous and mature. Another must-buy from Asta Morris.

    Right place, right time

    A pulsing mass of Dark Matter.

    Caol Ila 2008, The Octave (Duncan Taylor)

    Caol Ila 2008, The Octave (Duncan Taylor)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    This is a good, expressive Caol Ila with quite turfy smoke that’s reminiscent of a garden bonfire. Then you get fruit cake on a peat fire, hickory and smoked oysters. A touch of felt then comes through alongside wet slate and an underpinning of grassiness. Water makes it more expansive, with some rather lovely sweet nut elements, light tar, pimento, chocolate Hobnobs and more smoke.

    Palate

    Softly textured with a good flow and the peatiness prominent from the mid-palate onwards, then smoke and sweet dried fruit and, as with the Asta Morris, a cleansing menthol touch. It’s got fresh acidity and a slightly saline element. Water brings out more spiky spiciness, with the smoke now providing the balance.

    Finish

    Embers, then a touch of roasting crab shell.

    Conclusion

    Rewarding and well-balanced. Caol Ila always delivers, amazing eh?

    Right place, right time

    The catch delivered from The Final Trawl.

    Laphroaig 19 Years Old, 1998 (Cadenhead)

    Laphroaig 19 Years Old, 1998 (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    53.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky and Peaty
    Nose

    Very light smoke, in fact almost no smoke to speak of. Instead you get juicy melon and some light cereal elements. In time, the oatmeal element increases, while water allows it to settle better and bring out the soft fresh fruits and more of a phenolic back note.

    Palate

    Subtle. In fact, you’d be fooled into thinking that with its glimpses of tropical fruits that it’s almost trying to be a Bowmore. The smoke doesn’t get going until the very back when you get some iodine, as well as Laphroaig’s signature green, mossy angelica-like flavour. In time (and if diluted) things becomes more distinctly salty.

    Finish

    More mineral elements now. Everything now comes together: phenols, fruit, salinity. It’s taken time, but it’s worth the wait.

    Conclusion

    An intriguing package.

    Right place, right time

    A cheeky wee Salty Dog.

    Rock Oyster Cask Strength, Batch 2 (Douglas Laing)

    Rock Oyster Cask Strength, Batch 2 (Douglas Laing)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.5%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    That familiar intense smoke and salt-forward opening, though there’s some sweet, almost pineapple-like elements alongside candied fruit (Dolly Mixtures). The peatiness is intense but balanced with some lime, and as it relaxes in the glass it begins to bulk out slightly, introducing fresh seaweed and clam juice but always with citric brightness. Water makes it slightly spirity, with a sensation like the sea wind in your face.

    Palate

    There’s immediate smoke, then comes the salt and a smear of Savlon-like ointment, before it perks up with gingery heat as the fire begins to blaze. The mid-palate has a fresh, sharp attack like a seaweed salad with a squeeze of lemon. When water is added it seems to gain in punch.

    Finish

    Continues in this sweet/ salty/ smoky fashion.

    Conclusion

    A shot not a sipper – and well-named.

    Right place, right time

    Bikini whale? Rock oyster? Rock Lobster!

    Secret Islay, 14 Years Old, 2003, Cask #1828 (Lady of the Glen)

    Secret Islay, 14 Years Old, 2003, Cask #1828 (Lady of the Glen)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Initially quite restrained in overt smokiness, but there’s a phenolic element that, weirdly, mixes fresh paint and creosote, then comes big raisined elements. A slightly oily aspect brings to mind tarry ropes before cask-driven elements raise dry autumn leaves. Water makes things more bonfire like with added baked black fruits, wood and liquorice.

    Palate

    Things start very sweet which, with that oiliness, adds a chewiness to the palate with some poke. A bittersweet element then begins to build (grape skin and pips) with the alcohol mixing with the peppery smoke. Water brings out more smoke, with a backdrop of rich black fruits and the burnt bitter touch of blackstrap molasses.

    Finish

    Thick, tarry, and smoked.

    Conclusion

    Well balanced and not too hot given the strength.

    Right place, right time

    Wiping your hands on your Tarry Trousers.

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