Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey

This is an American single malt whiskey produced in the Santa Fe Spirits Distillery at Tesuque, New Mexico.  It is distilled from 100% malted barley and bottled at 46% ABV.  In contrast to scotch, the barley is dried with mesquite rather than peat.  It is double pot-distilled, and aged in oak casks in the high desert of Southwest.  Typical of American single malts, this is a non-age statement whiskey, but is relatively young from what I could determine (possibly somewhere from 2-4 years).

On the nose, the mesquite influenced smoke is readily apparent, but not as predominant as I had anticipated. The smoke is clearly distinct from any you would associate with whiskey or Scotches where the barley is peat dried.  A barbecue-like smoke mingling with sweet toffee, vanilla and some savory herbal elements.

The mesquite smoke is present on first sip, but more as a complement to the other flavors than as a primary note.  I find sweet notes of chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel as well as some earthy fruit sensations.  There is a bit of warmth, perhaps delicately peppered.  I am struck by the balance, maybe because I like a bit of smoke, and the way in which the mesquite lightly permeates the flavors.

The finish is medium, with a bit of raspberry, toffee and smoke.  Again, the mesquite smoke is always present, but not dominant.

I  like both the taste profile and the price of this whiskey. Some of the reviews that have been written suggest that it might be popular with those who like Islay single malts. While Colkegan brings some Scotch-like barley malted character, it tosses a curve with the mesquite smoke.  I find Westland Peated Single Malt, which uses peat in the drying process, to be an American whiskey that is much closer to Scotch whisky.  What I like here is the distinct profile of scent and flavor of Colkegan that is well balanced, but more like a distant cousin of Scotch.  In addition, it is a very affordable whiskey, currently selling for a little over $60 a bottle.

If you enjoy whiskeys with a bit of smoke, I suspect you would find this an interesting dram.

I should note that I am not alone in my assessment of Colkegan as a desirable American whiskey.  The Santa Fe Spirits website lists the following awards:

  • 2017 Silver Medal American Distilling Institute
  • 2017 Bronze Medal American Craft Spirits Association
  • 2016 Gold Medal Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
  • 2016 Silver Medal Whiskies of the World Awards
  • 2016 Bronze Medal San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2015 Gold Medal Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
  • 2015 Gold Medal from American Distiller’s Institute
  • 2014 Silver Medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
  • 2014 Gold Medal for the Telluride Colorado Distillery Tasting
  • 2013 Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival – Silver

Balvenie Peat Week 14

8oSzY5u8RK6UkzmPTwlLxQBalvenie Peat Week 14

This Peat Week bottling is the product of Balvenie’s practice of making a peated version of their whisky one week each year.  This whisky is aged in American oak barrels for fourteen years and bottled at a unique 48.3% ABV.

One of the really fun aspects of this bottling is the packaging provided by Balvenie.  The container provides a wealth of information and detail on Balvenie’s use of Highland Peat and how that differs from whiskies that use Islay Peat.

Here are images of some of the detail provided:


Highland Peat is said to have a more earthy campfire type peat. It has less Phenol than than Islay Peat, and thus would be expected to have less medicinal iodine influences.

The nose on this brings the comfortably familiar elements associated with this quality Speyside whisky.  I sense honey, pear and citrus with a very subtle tease of peat.  More sweet floral and citrus than peat.

On the palate, the first impression is honey, orange marmalade, and an oak wood vanilla.  A bit of nutmeg-like spice arrives before the peat. The peat is subdued, not as salty, more earthy than Islay whisky expressions. The peat/smoke infuses the sweet Balvenie flavor profile, but more as an enhancement than a primary element. It makes me think of something sweet, like an orange, that has been lightly smoked, but not grilled.

The finish is medium, honey and citrus elements that taper to a lingering peat.  I sense the earthy peat here more than on the palate, and certainly more than on the nose.

This is a great whisky that blends the Speyside sweetness of Balvenie with a nuanced peat element.  It would be a mistake to think of it as equivalent to the peaty expressions of Islay scotch, or even to Highland peaty scotches. If your preferences lean toward Islay and other heavily peated scotches, and you wanted to sample a Speyside whisky, this might be a more intriguing variation – introducing a lightly peated expression.  I also think it would be fun to do a bit of a comparison with some of the Highland peaty scotches.

This is a great addition to my single malt scotch collection.  It is a bottle that will likely have a short half-life in my Scotch cabinet.  And, each time I sample it, I will recall the pleasure of working with the colleagues who gave me a bottle of this unique whisky.

It has also pointed me in the direction of my next tasting note.  I have a Balvenie 15 at a similar 47.8% ABV, which would help me more directly experience how the extra peat has influenced the Balvenie character.  I also have a Balvenie 17 Peated Cask bottling, at a lower 43% ABV that was not distilled with extra peat influence, but was matured in heavily peated casks.  I anticipate a fun adventure ahead.


Westland 2017 Peat Week

Westland Peat Week 2017

Westland 2017 Peat Week

Westland Distillery holds an annual Peat Week celebration, marked by a release of a limited-edition bottling.  In the fourth annual Peat Week celebration Westland produced three bottle labels for the 2017 release, Phenostrus (The Demon of the Bog), Mistress Miasma (The Vixen of Vapor) and Spinther (The Man of Fire). I was able to obtain a bottle with the Phenostrus – Demon of the Blog label.

The 2017 Peat Week is bottled at cask strength, 54.4% ABV. Like most American single malts, this is a relatively young whiskey, been aged three to five years.  Westland matured this whiskey in new American oak and ex-bourbon casks.

I was a bit surprised at first impression, anticipating overpowering smoke. The initial approach on the nose is a sweet aroma with fruit and floral notes that accompany peat and smoke that become more prominent. The combination makes me think of charred fruit on the grill.

On the palate, the peat is immediately present, gradually joined by subtle sweet elements – perhaps vanilla, caramel, honey – and a bit of spice. It is a delicate blend of sweet and smoke, which strikes favorite elements in my whisky tastes.

The finish is medium in length, maintaining the blend of sweet with smoke and peat, with a little cinnamon-like spice in the background. There is some heat, but not as much as one might anticipate with a cask strength bottling.

I really do enjoy this whiskey. The profile is unique, the peat is much like some to the non-Islay Scotches, but the sweet elements are a bit more reminiscent of bourbons. As much as enjoyed this bottling, I would not be likely to buy another, although I would greatly enjoy one day visiting the Westland distillery for one of their peat week events.

Not surprisingly, the overall profile is close to that of the Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey. I will need to revisit my most recent acquisition of their core peated offering, as I best recall from my earlier samplings, the main difference is the greater prominence of the peat in this special release. But, likely due to the limited edition and special edition expenses, this Peat Week version is close to double the price of the core Westland Peated whiskey.  So the choice seems simple enough, two bottles of Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey, or one of a special Peat Week release.

Ardbeg An Oa

Ardbeg An OaArdbeg An Oa, 46.6% ABV, NAS.

Ardbeg An Oa is the new addition to Ardbeg’s core line of whisky … Ardbeg 10, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.  I was intrigued to see what they could add to this most satisfying trio.  This newest edition is matured in Pedro Ximénes sherry casks and ex-bourbon barrels, which were then married in ex-French oak vatting casks.

I found the nose to be a little subdued compared to the other Ardbegs.  Not bad, just no one dominant notes that immediately capture the senses.  It has that characteristic mix of sweet and peat, starting with caramel, brine and smoke.  It is an appealing blend of aromas, and after some moments I find a bit of banana as well.

On the palate, first the smoke and peat, but with sweet cinnamon spice, orange and a warmth … not quite peppery, but some heat does set in.  A bit of sweetened brine, peat and smoke linger. I find some of the classic Ardbeg notes to these tastes, but clearly less aggressive on the smoke and peat, and more of the sherry-sweet elements. In that sense, it reminds me some of the Ardbeg Dark Cove profile.

The finish is mild, but it has a way of lingering.  I find subtle elements of licorice and cloves, honey, and smoke.  It all comes together in a very appealing blend.

This is a fun whisky, maybe a great first one for anyone initially venturing in to sample Islay whisky, and particularly, Ardbeg single malts.  It certainly has the core elements, but with a mix that brings more sweet and less peat … it takes your hand and gently walks you into the Ardbeg neighborhood.

I would not hesitate to buy this again, particularly now that the price has settled in close to what they are asking for Ardbeg 10.  I am still much more likely to seek a dram of Ardbeg 10 and their other core offerings, but Ardbeg An Oa brings a new dimension that some may well prefer.

Ardbeg Kelpie, Committee Release

Ardbeg KelpieArdbeg Kelpie, Committee Release, 51.7% ABV.

Ardbeg Kelpie was the Committee Release in 2017.  Like other recent Committee Releases, this is a variation in maturation processes.  Ardbeg Kelpie was matured in casks made from virgin Black Sea oak and the traditional bourbon casks.

The nose hints at the Ardbeg origins. I get a little peat, smoke, and iodine.  Adding a drop of water brings out a sweet, fruit, coconut dimension.

On the palate, I find bacon, dark chocolate and pepper.  In ways, it reminds me of a smoked barbeque with a sweet sauce – maybe a bit caramelized.  As the light smoke recedes, flavors of cloves, olives and salt emerge.  The extra alcohol volume is apparent.

The finish has a nice medium to long duration.  Early I sense a mix of sweet, chocolate and toffee, with salt and a buttery feel. At the end, there is more pepper, smoke and cloves.

Overall, a pleasant dram that has a foundation of Ardbeg elements.  I suspect that there are some who do not like these types of variations off of the core expressions of Ardbeg.  I do wonder if the general release of Ardberg Kelpie at 46% ABV will come across as well.

I like having this bottle in my collection, a fun side trip from the foundational Ardbeg scotches.  I will enjoy it, while it lasts.  When it is finished, I would not likely buy another.  Like most Committee Releases, it comes at a somewhat inflated price.  Affordable enough for a one time exploration, but when I can get another bottle of Ardbeg 10, or even Ardbeg Correyverckan, for less of an investment – the choice is easy.

Westland American Oak

Westland OakIt has been too long since I last added an observation.  A bit of an overload at work consumed much of my spare time.  Fortunately, I did not stop sampling a variety of single malt scotch and American whiskey.  Now, I just need to catch up on my reflections on whisky and whiskey sampled.

I am going to start with Westland American Oak single malt whiskey.  I have previously written about Westland’s peated whiskey.  Westland is a Seattle based distillery which was recently purchased by the French spirits group Remy Cointreau (they also count Bruichladdich among their holdings). In their brief 7 years of production, Westland whiskeys have gathered a good number of recognitions and awards.  In 2016 the distillery was selected as “Craft Producer of the Year” by the Icons of Whisky.

One of the elements that I enjoy about Westland is the depth of information that they provide about their various bottlings.  Westland American Oak is distilled distilled using 100% malted barley – a blend of five different malts (from Washington, Wisconsin and Great Britain).  It is matured in American oak and first fill bourbon casks.

Westland American Oak is non-aged statement, but has a minimum of three years maturation.  It is non-chill filtered and no coloring has been added.  The whiskey is bottled at 46% ABV.

For a young whiskey, I am impressed by the complex nose.  I find a blend of vanilla, barley, toffee and just a bit of a coffee element.

On the palate I find a slightly sweet mix of vanilla, caramel, oak, and some spice.  It is smoother than I expected for a young whiskey, reminding me of how others have also succeeded in creating well balanced whisky aged 3-5 years (e.g., Kilchoman). Overall, a whiskey that has mild smoke and more pronounced spicy, sweet, and vanilla profiles.

The medium length finish has a modest warmth, with elements of pepper, oak and caramel.

It is, for me, the best American single malt whiskey that I have yet to sample.  I find the overall quality and the nose, palate and finish to be on par with many of the younger non-aged statement single malt Scotches.  Add to that a price point that is better than you find with the comparable Scotch, it is destined to be a whiskey that I will enjoy more frequently.

It seems that others hold similarly positive assessments of the Westland American Oak whiskey.  It was recently designated at the “Best Single Malt\Vatted Malt Whiskey” by the 2018 Drammie Award.  This whiskey was also awarded “Best in Class/Gold Medal” by the Whiskies of the World Awards competition in 2017.

SMWS 1.192

SMWS 1-192

SMWS 1.192 – Syrup Sponge in a Lumberjack’s Pocket

This SMWS bottling is from a Genfarclas distillery cask.  The whisky was aged for 22 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead cask.   It was bottled in 2015 at 56% ABV.

I always enjoy the rich descriptions of the SMWS tasting notes.  Here is what they had to say about SMWS 1.192.

“This dram smelled like a barista’s apron (coffee,brown sugar,chocolate) with further sweetness of honey, cinder toffee, dried dates, apricot jam and syrup-smothered pancakes, but always balanced by polished wood and a sawmill wrapped in Fablon. Waves of sweetness flooded the mouth-toffee,salted chocolate,honey,boiled sweets and lollipops and it had very attractive cigar box goodness. The reduced nose continued the wood and sweetness theme – syrup sponge pudding a lumberjack’s pocket. honey nut cornflakes (including the sunshine), butterscotch and maple syrup- completely sensual and elegant. The reduced palate was deliciously tasty and sophisticated- candy floss and passion -fruit.”

Not surprisingly, I find a different mix of elements in my tasting notes. There is a sweetness here, but more citrus based, I get scents of orange and apricot.   There is also a light peat smoke element.  As one who is fond of Glenfarclas whisky, I do find here is a real familiarity in the nose, just not as much of a sherry element.

The first sip is a strong reminder that this is bottled at cask strength.  The aggressive burn of 56% ABV brings a sweet, hot, spicy first wave to the palate.  Under that, as the burn subsides, I taste orange-chocolate, cinnamon, and light smoke.  The mix of light peat, spice, and sweet fruit lingers, I suspect it is that combination that contributes to the “Syrup Sponge in a Lumberjack’s Pocket” descriptor. The finish is medium-to-long.

When I add water, I find even more familiarity with a Glenfarclas whisky profile.  On the nose there is a bit more complexity, maybe adding a little vanilla.  On the palate, less burn brings out more of the spicy elements, and adds butterscotch to the flavor mix.  On the finish, I find elements of liquorice flavor added. Overall, this is a whisky that benefits from adding a little water, cutting the cask strength enhances the flavor profile while still delivering a strong whisky punch.

I read that there were only 264 bottles of this fun whisky.  I will enjoy my good fortune of having acquired one.