Let’s be brutally candid, most malt whisky is very drinkable. We’re looking for the subtle nuance, hence the snobbery. What we have here is a slight perversion of the brand that I normally love, and the reason, IMHO, is to get younger whisky to market. The nose has a welcome telltale peatyness and packs a punch. The dominant flavors are a woody caramel with a citrus kick, no doubt from the American Oak barrels, which were used in a mash up with some sherry casks. The ultra light color is all natural but a bit deceiving as this is not a light scotch at all. The mouth feel is a tad thin but the finish is surprisingly lengthy and predictably edgy, probably due to its fairly young age. My guess is that the conversation at the distillery went something like this, “ so how can get this product to market without waiting 10 or more years?” . The answer is a gonzo barrel dance with some hocus pocus thrown in for good measure. For me this seems like a disappointing money grab from our normally stellar Islay friends and that makes for a weak rating of 7 on the snob scale, still drinkable, just not remarkable.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask- Way back before Elon Musk mesmerized the world with all things scientific, Mr. Wizard ruled via the television. So how would Mr. Wizard explain how this Islay wonder pours golden caramel with this wonderfully peaty nose? Given that the distillery lives on what is basically a rock outcropping, trees don’t exist and Mr. Wizard would concur that burning peat chunks is a logical solution for roasting the grain. Due to the centuries old floor malting methods, the smoke infuses the barley in a subtle and delicious way. I found the malt to be thick and briny and better balanced than a Wallenda. This is one bottle that you either love it or hate, middle ground does not exist. Some of the unique flavors are the result of the namesake smaller casks which bring in oaky nuances rather quickly. The finish is longer than a ballerina’s legs, and almost as interesting. Embrace the intensity and you’ll enjoy the warming and lingering flavor of this excellent dram. Not even Mr. Wizard’s Science can explain the art of Scottish distilling and hopefully Elon leaves the single malt world alone. Mr. Wizard and I rate this a smoldering 8 on the snob slide rule.
Ledaig 10- Let’s assume that you would like to combine your love of surfing and single malts. I have just the solution and place. Get your favorite board on the plane and head to the Isle of Mull off the western coast of Scotland where this distillery lies . Sequentially, it’s probably better to surf first and then head to the bar for a wee nip of this wonderfully peated malt. The seaside brininess and not so subtle smoke are the first things you will note in your glass . The bracing cold waves you just left will give way to a swell of warmth and vanilla creaminess after your first dram disappears. The palate is sweet and peppery at the same time and the peat smoke from the dried barley is ever-present. The finish is quite brief like a fast breaking wave……. Both of your endeavors involve flowing liquid energy and the latter will add new meaning to hanging 10. After your next set of waves, collect some drift wood and make a roaring beach fire , having this dude join your party makes it easy to go with the flow and rates a 7.5 .
Ardbeg 10- As our world begins the inevitable return to near ice age conditions…….seek warmth this evening. A gigantic smoky wallop is what you will get with this powerful dram from Islay. Embrace the outdoor cold and revel in the warmth of this massive dram. Pouring the rich golden liquid will immediatly fill the surrounding air with tremendous smoke and peat, nothing subtle here . Get your nose right into the glass to enjoy the full intensity of this monster. I taste the earthy goodness that the distillers infused the whisky with and possibly some dried fruit as well. All this fire and brimstone is however nicely softened by the caramel and honey notes that carry the complex flavors to a fine warm and rather lengthy finish. This is a full bodied and ultra rich malt , not for the delicate of palate . Remember the last campfire you enjoyed with friends ? This scotch will bring back that memory each time you pour a glass and warm you just as nicely, without the sooty mess on your plaid sweater! Snobbishly rated a 7.5 for most, but add a point if you are a peat lover. Three cheers for the smoke.
Bowmore 12- As we enter into the cooler fall months it makes perfect sense to add a bit of warmth to our lives. I suggest a glass of this slightly magical amber malt might be the perfect solution. This Islay distillery uses a unique peating process which is manifested in the wonderful smoky nose as you swirl the whisky . Make sure that you taste this with the appropriate glass to help focus the aroma as your enjoy the citrus and honey flavors. I found some saltiness in the front and a lingering finish that is well worth sharing with your best friends……For an Islay Scotch , this one is only moderately peated and in our tasting group it disappeared faster than Houdini. I rate this smoldering beauty a rock solid 8 on the Snob Scale.
Bruichladdich Rocks- These people break all the rules and somehow the result is just grand. An un-peated Islay malt is unheard of and it’s the water that filters through the rocks that makes the magic happen according to head distiller Jim McEwan, and I surmise that he know’s a wee bit about this issue. This non-smoky single malt is a feisty dude with a boat load of character. Islay is home to several of my favorite single malts and this newbie just made the list even longer. Rocks indeed…..the name is a misnomer if ever there was one because this is a smooth drink dripping with character, nothing crude here. The liquid is a beautiful amber color and the nose is rich and slightly sweet with a good dose of alcohol initially. The usual caramel flavors give way to some interesting heather or floral notes and the finish is lingering. Keep the ice away from this one even in the summer sun, it demands to be enjoyed neat ….. Oh, and that crazy color on the label? My pal Nicole swears that the ocean at the Bruichladdich distillery really looks like that, maybe we need a field trip to verify . I rate this crazy rebel a solid 8.
Caol Ila 12- This Olympic caliber single malt harkens from Islay on the Scottish west coast and has a classic peaty character. The nose is crisp and smoky with a bit of organic grassyness in the mix. Swirl this in you mouth for a good long time and more complexity will present itself. I suspect that fans of NHL defensemen will appreciate this Scotch as opposed to those who wear yoga pants on a regular basis as it sports powerful flavors. I highly recommend this refined tough guy for the fan of outsized flavor , it’s a bit like a slapshot to your taste buds, in the best possible way. Get your bottle in house right away in case you end up in the penalty box. Its rated as highly as a hat trick….. just hold the ice. Final score is a winning 8.5.