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New Whiskies

Batch 187

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Arran 21, Caol Ila 6 and 17 years old from Master of Malt, Caol Ila 11 years old from James Eadie, Caol Ila 33 years old and Macduff 20 years old from Connoisseurs Choice.

Islands – and the coast – are the theme in a week dominated by a quartet of indie-bottled Caol Ilas, showing Dave Broom four different facets of the distillery. The Islays are sandwiched between a 21-year-old from Arran and a haunting bottling from the enigmatic Macduff.

As the oldest whisky in its core range (the distillery opened in 1995), Arran’s new 21-year-old is soft and fruity with a hint of piney coastalness. ‘How did Arran get to be 21 years old?’ Broom wonders, aghast at the passing of time.

Onto the first Caol Ila, as Broom finds a six-year-old from online retailer Master of Malt demonstrates more depth than a lot of distillery-forward, peaty malts of a similar age.

An 11-year-old Palo Cortado-finished expression from James Eadie meanwhile is a decent, easy-drinking dram with some rich fruitiness imparted by the Sherry cask finish.

Master of Malt’s second Caol Ila of the bunch is a 17-year-old bottled at a tempestuous 68.6% abv. ‘Drinking as an exercise in masochism,’ concludes Broom, likening it to a wild, stormy sea.

Out of the storm and into the restaurant, the final Caol Ila is a 33-year-old from Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range that’s all ‘smoked scallops, lobster shell stock and light smoky bacon’.

It’s a return to the mainland for Broom’s last whisky, a 20-year-old Macduff from a refill Sherry hogshead. The ghost of a leathery note reminds Broom of the legend of an old boot said to haunt the Highland distillery. Spooky, and a little stinky.

This week’s playlist is a little more nautically inclined, verging from bluesy ocean odes to sailor's shanties, all guaranteed to shiver your timbers. Avast!

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Arran 21 Years Old

    Arran 21 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Rich and soft. Ginger and rhubarb, old orange hulls, dried banana peel and rose petals to start with, then sealing wax, tonka bean and a herbal quality. As it opens (and this takes time) some raspberry jam and a glimmering of peach juice arise before an aroma like pine sap begins to take over, adding a strange exotic quality. Water accentuates this, then stirs in huge angelica elements, Jaffa cakes and fresh fig. As a little more is slowly added things relax once more into peach and, increasingly, pineapple.

    Palate

    Very soft texture with Juicy Fruit chewing gum, then baked peaches and just enough oak to add bite and structure as things pick up. Heavier on the chocolate now, while the addition of water shows its full ripe maturity as the pine and botanical elements return. Persevere and the tropical elements start to emerge.

    Finish

    Chocolate-covered cherries and nutmeg.

    Conclusion

    Reminds me of walking through the pine woods on the French Atlantic coast. Worth sticking with. How did Arran get to be 21 years old?

    Right place, right time

    Drifting through the Whispering Pines.

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    Caol Ila 6 Years Old (Master of Malt)

    Caol Ila 6 Years Old (Master of Malt)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Sweet and smoky, with some delicate nuttiness (almond) then pears, the light briny whiff of a whelk stall and a nose prickle of fresh horseradish with an accompanying sweet vegetal hit of pumpkin. The smoke is there, but initially it hangs back before being blown forward by the sea breeze. Water adds more weight, seashells and salinity. Full of the aroma of the coast.

    Palate

    The smoke comes in pretty much immediately, alongside light menthol (Vicks). A bittersweet mix on the mid-palate, with that typical, green, mezcal quality you often get (or to be more precise, I often get) from young Caol Ila. Has a thrilling mix of the salt, mint leaf, grass and smoke. While it might need some more oak (there’s whispers of vanilla foam) to hit perfect balance at this stage, who’s quibbling? Water adds more weight and a light oiliness.

    Finish

    Smoke returns along with saltiness.

    Conclusion

    Young, low-cask influenced smoky malts are a thing. Often though, they are one-dimensional. This isn’t. Judged within its competitive set.

    Right place, right time

    Bluebells and Cockleshells.

    Caol Ila 11 Years Old, Palo Cortado finish (James Eadie)

    Caol Ila 11 Years Old, Palo Cortado finish (James Eadie)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    The finishing cask contributes some rich fruitiness here, adding a sweeter and slightly more savoury dried fruit edge. Some toasted macadamia, stone fruits, hints of fig, some graphite and, relatively unnoticed, the smoke. Water brings out some raisin, lemon, salt water taffy and light herbal notes.

    Palate

    Sweet, fresh and lively with some oxidised elements. The smoke pulls itself clear in the mid-palate before the soft fruits poke though. In the middle you get black butter on shellfish, then billowing smoke. It’s hot as well, but water calms that down adding in more oiliness which balances the distillery’s lean elegance.

    Finish

    After drifting around, the smoke is now back in the overall mix.

    Conclusion

    Easy drinking, but there’s a slightly blowsy quality to the fruit.

    Right place, right time

    Slumping at my feet like a Broken Wave.

    Caol Ila 17 Years Old (Master of Malt)

    Caol Ila 17 Years Old (Master of Malt)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    68.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    The smoke seems slightly drier with ash-covered barbecue coals, a touch of rendering pork fat, then tomatillo. In time, the embers are strewn on the shoreline. Becomes a little blunt and while water throws in scented grasses, rockpools and more smoke, there’s heat.

    Palate

    Clean. A wild stormy sea: spume, smoke, lemony acids. The alcohol is obtrusive (68%?!) It becomes painful. Even a lot of water (and settling time) can’t reduce the agony.

    Finish

    Smoke and heat. Breathing in too deeply while next to a steel furnace.

    Conclusion

    Very much a companion to the six-year-old, but not sure there’s an extra decade of accrued wisdom. Drinking is an exercise in masochism.

    Right place, right time

    Chastise me, I’m full of Sin.

    Caol Ila 33 Years Old, 1984, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Caol Ila  33 Years Old, 1984, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    The storm has passed and we are once again in calm waters. Smoked scallops, lobster shell stock and light smoky bacon. There’s maturity and depth but not at the expense of any liveliness. Peat smoke over sea-washed rocks, wet straw and hemp and, when water is added, more oils.

    Palate

    A very soft, clinging start, the oils now in charge. It then moves in an unusual direction, picking up dry spices, then mint, bay and thyme. The smoke is fully integrated, then comes a retronasal whiff of sea-soaked woollen walking socks, dried fruits and honey (and honeysuckle). Though over 50% abv it is balanced and layered. Smoked mussels, then gammon before some light tropical fruits emerge.

    Finish

    Smoky bacon. Balanced and long.

    Conclusion

    Elegant yet perky, smoky yet gentle.

    Right place, right time

    Heading north, knowing that My Home Is The Sea.

    Macduff 20 Years Old, 1997, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Macduff 20 Years Old, 1997, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Quite leathery and mature. Deep, with chestnut, pecan pie, hard toffee, prune, pot ale then yew tree and a meaty element in the back. There’s some dunnage or bung cloth in the mix, while water moves things further to the forest floor but with a rich stewed sweetness.

    Palate

    A strange and very oily start adding to the thick feel. There’s treacle toffee, stewed plum, red fruit/cacao and supple tannins. The leather workshop is a constant. Water shows some light tannins.

    Finish

    Spicy with the bittersweet touch of liquorice.

    Conclusion

    A sailor’s wet boot is said to haunt Macduff’s stillhouse, and it also seems to have manifested itself in this refill Sherry hoggie. There’s just a slight element of show here – a lot of immediate impact but you do wonder what’s behind. That said, a good, burly, early-evening dram to be taken by the fire after a fishing trip. Gather round, I’ve a story to tell… 

    Right place, right time

    He regaled us with tales of High Barbary but never mentioned his missing boot.

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