Laphroaig Week – Day 3: Laphroaig ‘An Cuan Mòr’ (48%, OB)

Laphroaig SignDay three of Master Quill’s Laphroaig Week and we are still in the territory of Official Bottlings (OB). Probably one of the nicest NAS (No Age Statement) Whiskies around is the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, but just like other distilleries, Laphroaig seem to have gone berzerk, issuing lots and lots of NAS Whiskies lately: Brodir (Port), PX Cask (self-explanatory), QA Cask (partly uncharred oak), Select (I hate that name) and the Triple Wood (Bourbon, Quarter Casks and Oloroso Sherry). Like so many other (NAS) Whiskies, the Laphroaig at hand: An Cuan Mòr (Big Ocean), was released to travel retail but it seems somehow pretty available everywhere else too.

From the Laphroaig website: “All have been matured in first-fill-only ex-American white oak bourbon barrels in our warehouse right next to the Atlantic. This whisky is then carefully re-casked and left to sleep in the finest European oak.” Alas no word about age or how long both particular types of casks were used. Oh well, we’ll have to do with the end result, and not care about age then.

Laphroaig An Cuan MorColor: Orange brown gold.

Nose: Hefty and rubbery. New bicycle tires. I like this. Not your ordinary Laphroaig. Dry red-fruity peat (dare I say medicinal?), and lots of (dry) Sherry influence. (I mean dry as a result, not that the Sherry is dry). It’s hard to get past the rubbery elements in this. The red fruits come across as the cherries in modern and new world Pinot Noir Wines with forest strawberries and raspberries. Probably the new favorite malt of Christian Grey (or Dorian Gray for that matter). Hints of Vanilla, but the rubbery Sherry is so hefty it’s hard to pick up lots of the masked notes.

Taste: Ashes, sweet and fruity. Laphroaig themselves mention burnt apricot and that fits the bill. Let’s not forget the peat. Well balanced, and a great development throughout the body. Halfway through: paint, licorice. Good ABV. Candy sweetness and fruitiness. Winegums and vanilla. Nice warming body, and all the strange aroma’s are working extremely well together. Long lingering finish, and never a bitter wood note.

Yes, They’ve done it again! Another Laphroaig love it or hate it Malt. I’m loving it. What a great WONKY NAS this is. For some, completely over the top, but isn’t that what Laphroaig is all about. Isn’t that what Lamborghini is all about. They should make crazy stuff, that’s what they are here for. Both make love it or hate it products, and in my opinion both are trying to be too nice with their latest offerings. Concerning Laphroaig, just look at the toning down and  over-sweetification of my beloved 10yo (they have ruined it!) and the Select. (I hate that name). Many of you won’t understand why I love this An Cuan Mòr so much, and that’s OK. Laphroaig are releasing quite a few other Whiskies too, and they all are pretty different and decent, so pick out another one, you’ll be all right. Leave this one for me (and Franc W).

Points: 89

This one is for Billy “Wonky”Abbott and Franc “The Mayor” W.

Laphroaig Week – Day 2: Laphroaig 18yo (48%, OB, Circa 2012)

Laphroaig SignAll good things come to an end, and after that they come back again. It happened to Lagavulin 12yo, and it is said to happen shortly to Laphroaig 15yo. Not yet, but soon very soon though, with a special 15yo commemorating Laphroaigs 200th anniversary. Yesterdays 15yo was eventually replaced by an 18yo and by some curious coincidence we’ll be having a look at that very replacement right now. Is it a step up from the 15yo, or maybe a step down? One thing is certain, the ABV went up a few notches from 43% to 48% and the box didn’t come back. The bottle I’ll be reviewing now, is still an 18yo which looks like the release that replaced the 15yo. In 2013 the look for the 18yo was slightly revamped.

Laphroaig 18yoColor: Light gold.

Nose: Peaty, salty and pretty smoky. Kippers with seaside saltness. A promise of salt and smoke. Warming and vegetal. Garden bonfire, and wet freshly cut peat. Mocha. Lit fireplace in an old farmhouse. Good nose but very straightforward. You more or less get what you’ve come to expect from a modern Islay Whisky. Islay Whisky, not especially Laphroaig even. When smelled longer I also get some deeper, more meaty notes. Dried meat again, warming and salty.

Taste: Definitely more points in the ABV department (when compared to the 15yo). Again, also in taste more straightforward. Burning wood and quite sweet actually. Lots of ashes and licorice powder. Ferrero Rocher cherry bon-bon fruitiness, combined with licorice root, fatty peat and smoke. Again it is what you might expect.

This 18yo lacks the awesome specialness of the 15yo. They are both Islay and both Laphroaig, whereas the 18yo is straightforward and obvious in what you are getting but the old 15yo is much more than that. It delivers more aroma’s than the 15yo, and the delivered aroma’s are more special. The 15yo is very fruity ánd Islay, The 18yo is ónly Islay. Yesterday’s 15yo to me is a special Laphroaig, this 18yo is indeed a modern Laphroaig which doesn’t surprise, it’s decent, it’s good, but it doesn’t bring anything extra to the table anymore. Dare I say that it’s good but a bit anonymous? Is the 15yo a Whisky they can’t make anymore? I don’t mean that particular age statement…

Points: 85

Laphroaig Week – Day 1: Laphroaig 15yo (43%, OB, Box, Circa 2005)

Laphroaig SignSecond of March and it’s still winter over here. Days starting with scraping ice from car windows and the occasional slippery road. Now and then a faint, watery sunshine and even a snowflake was spotted this year (luckily). Since this is primarily a blog about Whisky, why not try seven Islay Whiskies for conditions like this? Seven I hear you say? Yes you understood correctly. You know what that means, another Master Quill Week! I already mentioned Islay, but what are we going to do with Islay? Not too long ago we already shared a Bowmore Week, and yes, now it’s time for another week about a single distillery (from Islay). This time we’ll be focussing on Laphroaig, as you already might have guessed considering the sign above. Why another Islay Distillery? Simple, because I felt like it! But it’s not ony that. 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig! Up untill now three Laphroaigs graced these pages with their presence. At first an independent bottling by The Ultimate, next up was the official 30yo and last, but alas also least, the new Laphroaig NAS named ‘Select’. These three are a selection of official and independent Laphroaigs, a selection of Bourbon and Sherry casks. This week will be no different. Today we’ll have a look at the boxed version of the 15yo. In 2006 Laphroaig replaced the box for a tube, and I’m guessing this example is probably from just before that time. Laphroaig 15 BoxColor: Ocher gold. Nose: Ahhh great fruity peat. Yellow and red fruits. Black coal. Coal dust and ever so slightly tarry. Small hints of vanilla ice-cream. A truly fantastic nose. Just the nose alone shows you that Whiskies like this can’t be made anymore. Maybe this is an older expression of the 15yo (bottled before 2005)? Slightly burnt wire and steam. Hints of cooked vegetables emerge over time. Taste: Sweet, clay and fruity again. Not very peaty and the taste is much simpler than the nose was. Hints of almond shavings and a kind of delayed warming sensation. Elegant and pretty old tasting peat. Part of this Whisky must come from older casks. Crushed beetle, and cask toast in the finish. Burnt wood. Almonds ánd Amaretto combined with some sugared yellow fruits. Cancel my remark about (the lack of) complexity. Not true. It needed some time to develop. Given even some more time the fruitiness develops more and more into Amaretto and the peat develops into a wonderful kind of peat, ashes and a little bit of smoke. Top notch! Extremely different from my first love from around that time, the 10yo at export strength (43% ABV). Remember the 20cl hip-flask bottle? This 15yo is a lot more elegant and nicely crafted. Utterly complex and a wonderful companion to that 10yo. I haven’t even mentioned the cask strength version of the 10yo from that time. What a trio that was. Life was good back then! By the way, Laphroaig will be releasing several one-off special  bottling commemorating their 200th anniversary and supposedly one of them will be a 15yo. Hope it is anything like this boxed 15yo.

Points: 89

Glenfiddich 18yo “Married in Small Batches” (40%, OB, Batch #3404)

Slowly but surely we move on up (and down) the rather large collection of Glenfiddichs, the mother of all malts. Earlier we’ve already covered the 12yo “Special Reserve” (80 Points), the 15yo “Solera Reserve” (82 Points) and the 15yo “Distillery Edition” (83 Points). The odd one out was a Vintage 1974 (91 Points) bottled for the nice people of La Maison Du Whisky in Paris, France. This time around we’ll up the age again and move from 15yo up to 18yo and with that, we arrive at a bottle that was married in small batches. The latest offering of this bottle is now called Small Batch Reserve, maintaining the 18yo age statement.

Glenfiddich 18yo "Married in Small Batches" (40%, OB)Color: Full gold

Nose: Malty, waxy (like in old bottles), and very fruity. A fruit mish-mash since no specific fruit is discernable. A vegetal and new wood smell. Nice and elegant. Dusty but also creamy. Nice combination between vanilla and the waxyness I mentioned before. Not overly complex for a malt of this age, but it does have great balance and is well made around good maltiness, the wax and the fruit.

Taste: Waxy and lots of woody notes. Wood, oak, cardboard and just the right amount of bitterness. Next toffee, caramel, creamy not sticky nor sweet. Hints of the wax is in here too. Malt and old cellar notes. Peanut skins and maybe walnut skin bitterness right at the back of my tongue. Vanilla, but typical vanilla you get from American oak. Definitely a Glenfiddich with some (wooden) balls. OK at 40% and definitely is presented as an old (18yo) malt. Like the nose, this is not overly complex, but very drinkable (even with this wooden bite). This lacks the fruit I got in the 15 Distillery Edition, and lacks the acidity I got from both 15yo’s. This is definitely older and spicier (like it should) and placed in the range as such. Despite the oak, this has a short finish.

Often scuffed at and I never got that. Even if it would taste lots worse than it actually does, I still love the history and the pioneering work done by this malt. But it doesn’t taste bad, and it is pretty good stuff. Why does it have a bit of a reputation then? Sure the 12yo is pretty simple, and most of them are bottled at the lowest strength possible. Most anoraks prefer “the other” Grant brand Balvenie. Yes it’s not complex, but very enjoyable nevertheless and very inexpensive to boot.

Points: 82

For Tony, Mr. Glenfiddich!

 

Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block 2012 Franschhoek South Africa

Already a lot of Whiskies are covered this year, so why not divert to a nice Wine again. There is a lot around to enjoy! Today we’ll be looking at a nice blend from South Africa, but first, an introduction:

The winery was founded by Hugenot settlers in 1776. A group of wine-enthousiasts bought the farm in 1993 and major development took place since 1996. Boekenhoutskloof today has around 20 hectares of vines. 75% are red grape varieties (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and thus 25% are whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier). Boekenhoutskloof is farming organically and has plans for bio-dynamic wine making. The winery produces around 3 million bottles per year of which 95% is branded as Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap, the other 5% are marketed as Boekenhoutskloof and Chocolate Block. Chocolate Block we’ll be looking at is made with 70% Syrah, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Grenache, 6% Cinsault and 1% Viognier. The Syrah grape variety is grown in Malmesbury where it has deep-rooted vines and gives a lot of color, flavor and tannins. Grenache is grown in Citrusdal which has a sandy terroir, excellent for Grenache. Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier are grown in Boekenhoutskloof and Cinsault is grown on granite soils in Wellington. So quite a complex blend.

The Chocolate Block 2012Franschhoek Valley is a broad valley in the south-east corner of Paarl, Western Cape. Franschhoek is warm and produces robust red wines (and fruity whites). The surrounding mountains (Wemmershoek to the north and Groot Drakenstein & Franschhoek to the south) cast shadows which help reducing the temperature and hours of sun the grapes get. They also reduce the influence from the sea. On the other hand, the mountains also hold the cooler winds from the south. Terroir is alluvial sandstone (doesn’t hold water well) and in the north some granite (in the mountains). On the hillsides there is some clay to be found.

Color: Dark ruby-red.

Nose: Spicy, sweet red fruits, very nice and very appetizing. Fat (sweet) fruit notes, like plums, apple skins with a hint of Tobacco, but also fruity strawberries. Lots of creamy vanilla. Excellent warming nose.

Taste: Dark fruits, although none of them leap out my glass specifically, slightly unripe strawberries and some red berries maybe. A sort of “total” taste. A mild and very nice acidity that transforms into the oaky bitterness that is in the finish. Spicy wood, and no shortage of soft tannins. Next a hint of licorice. Hint of oaky bitterness in the finish.

Definitely a Syrah, although the Cabernet Sauvignon is detectable too. Excellent stuff. The wine has an ABV of 14.5%. The bottle was from Lot No. L13/252 and this vintage yielded 1735 barrels.

Points: 87

Caperdonich 26yo 1980/2007 (56.2%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask #7349, 164 bottles)

Earlier this month my Whisky club reconvened again and this time we picked Glen Grant and Glen Grant 2 as the subject of choice. Glen Grant 2 is better known as Caperdonich. This 1980 was my entry into the line-up and got a lot of thumbs up. Not the winner in the end, because what Whisky could compete with the great Glen Grant, Gordon & MacPhail bottled to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Diana (the clear winner in my opinion). Also present was a highly praised Duncan Taylor Caperdonich from 1972 and two Murray McDavid Missions from 1968 and 1969…

Caperdonich 26yo 1980/2007 (56.2%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask #7349, 164 bottles)Color: Dark gold.

Nose: Vanilla, but a very strict kind of vanilla. Lots of influence from the wood. Spicy vanilla. Buttery and creamy. Demerara sugar. This also has a nice luxurious paper like quality to it. Old warehouse full of ageing Malts. A wonderful old Malt this turns out to be. The (dried) spiciness is quite complex. Light honey and nutmeg. Have you ever treated yourself at home to a quality vanilla ice-cream and didn’t do the dishes right away? Remember the smell of the dried out ice-cream at the bottom of the bowl? It’s in this very Whisky. Nice! Dried leaves partly from forest plants and partly from dried herbs and to a lesser extent: pencil shavings.

Taste: Vanilla again, but also a hoppy character. You also try the occasional beer don’t you? Toffee and caramel. Just the right amount of sweets, combined with a very zesty, although, tiny hint of fruity acidity. Red fruits, little forest strawberries, half-dried raspberries and other red berries. Where in most cases the acidity isn’t all that well-integrated, here it works like a charm. The fruitiness continues well into the long finish where the hoppy (cannabis?) bit returns. Is there even a tiny, tiny hint of coconut? All of this is given a good and astringent backbone of oak, that is aiding the Whisky along and giving it character. It’s not overpowering, just, but definitely in there. The high strength is noticeable but the Whisky is never hot.

What a great Malt this is. Fantastic development over the time you’re trying it and what wonderful flavours this gives off. This may take water very well, but I have never been feeling the need to do that yet. Thankfully I still have quite some left in this bottle to play around with and mostly, to enjoy myself with it. A great buy. Sad this distillery is no longer producing Whisky. But you never know how modern Caperdonich would have turned out in the first place. Luckily the old Caperdonichs are often stellar, especially from Bourbon casks.

Points: 88

Benromach 30yo (43%, OB, First Fill & Refill Sherry Casks)

For those of you who haven’t noticed it, Benromach is HOT these days! Since the day word got out Gordon & MacPhail are taking over the distillery, people started to take an interest, but nothing more. But all of a sudden Benromach seems to have arrived. The core range got a bit changed and the look modernized. Big winner from this all: The Benromach 10yo and when it was released later in 2014 The Benromach 10yo “100 Proof”, both reviewed by me lately. Gordon & MacPhail are some kind of synonym for quality, so even though the 30yo, we are about to review, was distilled under different management, The Whisky was cleared for release.

Benromach 30Color: Light gold with a pinkish hue. Sherry all right.

Nose: Extremely malty and waxy. Stuff you smell from older Whiskies. Wood excellently blended in, never to overpower. Great balance already. Vegetal oil and old polished furniture. Polished a long time ago for the last time. Next dry and powdery. Aren’t there any sherry note then? Yes there are. Although this could be from different kinds of Sherry casks, I’m especially picking up notes from Fino Sherry, hence the light colour? Although Fino’s are quite dry or even bone dry, This Whisky’s aroma promises some sweetness. Distant remnant of smoke and coal. The whole has some “oldness” to it.

Taste: Sugary sweet, (marzipan, vanilla), with fruity Sherry. Dry old raisins. Slight bitterness from the (toasted) wood, but more in a refill cask style. Hints of burnt caramel. Elegant again. The fruits, apricots, dried pineapple, try to add some acidity to the sweetness but they don’t manage to. It’s only a breath of fruity acidity, not enough apricots to do that. My tongue proves to me that the finish is drying and probably quite woody, but the sweetness coats it all and hides this very well. Two layers, interesting. The finish is exactly like the body, a seamless transition.

Today this Whisky is quite expensive. I love it but it somehow lacks some complexity to warrant its price. Although there in nothing wrong in this case with 43% ABV, I would have like this slightly higher in alcohol, it would make the woody part stand out a bit better, and I hope it would balance out the sweetness a bit. As I said before, good balance and none of the markers I mentioned are overpowering.

Points: 87

Thanks Stan for the Sample!