Port Charlotte, Islay Barley


Port Charlotte, Islay Barley, Heavily Peated.  50% ABV.

The Port Charlotte, Islay Barley, is a single malt Scotch whisky from the Bruichladdich distillery.  Their peated whisky is bottled under either the Port Charlotte or the Octomore name.  The peat component of a whisky is measured by the parts per million (PPM) phenol levels.  The Octomores are have very high PPM, in the 160-250 range.  This Port Charlottle, Islay Barley whisky has a PPM of 40.  The barley is from six farms on Islay, all designated on the bottle.  It is aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 5 years.

On the nose, the smoke is clearly present, but subtle.  There are elements of pear, and apple, producing a pleasant smoke-sweet blend.  On first sip, the peat comes on initially, but again not overpowering.  I find a malty sweetness, appricots mixed with salty elements, maybe salted cashews.  On mid palate there is smoke and a tease of  cinnamon.  The finish is medium, balanced, with the peat smoke mingling with fresh fruit sweetness.

I find myself going back and forth on this whisky.  Not from bad to good, more about where I place it in the good range.  Generally, when I think of peat, my leanings are more to the slightly higher PPM offerings of Ardbeg or Laphroaig.  I may have come to this thinking of an Octomore-light type of offering, and it is not that.  But, if I set that notion aside, I find this a very pleasant whisky.  Indeed, what makes this a very good dram, is it’s balance, one where no one element dominates.   I like the dance between light peat and the natural fruit sweet elements.  Another Bruichladdich which I am happy to have in my single malt cabinet.

Bruichladdich 1989


Bruichladdich 1989, Carmel Wine Cask Finish, 46% ABV

Since my Paul John tasting made me think of Bruichladdich, I thought it would be fun to visit one from my whisky cabinet.  I decided on a limited release Bruichladdich 1989 that was aged 18 years in oak and then finished in a Carmel wine cask.  I know that it will not have a similar peat profile, so it is not really a comparison to my prior tasting.  For that, I would be wiser to turn to one of Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte offerings.  A tasting note for another day.

On the nose, my first impression is dark chocolate.  As I explore it more, there are floral and possibly toffee elements.  On first sip, I get a strong spice and clove rush, with a tease of peat.  In mid-palate I find pepper and heat.  The maturity of this whisky brings a smoothness to the overall impression.  The finish is medium-to-long, and I find a little peat-infused-sweetness, like a saltwater taffy, that emerges as the pepper heat subsides.

I am a bit unsure about this whisky.  To my taste preferences, the balance seems a bit off, where the mix of sweet and spicy somehow translate into dominant clove-like elements.  It does not give a complexity of flavor profiles that I prefer – more one-note that I would expect from a whisky bottled with this age profile.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm, 2009/2014


Kilchoman Loch Gorm.  46% ABV.  Non-chill filtered.  No color added.

This will complete my end-of-2016 tasting note frenzy.  I do not plan to let this blog become as dormant as it was for most of this year, but the pace will now slow.  Not for lack of old friends to revisit, just simply with winter break nearing the end, I will need to find more balance.  At least until I retire!

Kilchoman Loch Gorm offerings are the product of a five year aging.  Loch Gorm differs from other Kilchoman offerings in that the aging is completed exclusively in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

The 2013 release of Loch Gorm won a Gold Medal in the Islay Scotch Single Malt category at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.  The bottle that I am sampling is the 2014 release (distilled in 2009).

On the nose one can clearly smell the characteristic notes of an Islay whisky, seaside peat and smoke.  But on second pass, there are also sweeter components, citrus and ginger.  The sweet elements seem a bit different to me on each pass, always a bit difficult to clearly identify under the peat layer.  On the palate, it is smoky on entry but not overpowering.  Brine, spice, and lemons come forward out of the smoke.  The finish is moderate length, with a little heat.  The finish is both semi-sweet and smoky.

I am still a bit uncertain of how much I enjoy the sherry cask sweetness added to the peat base of Islay whisky.  I think that Kilchoman Loch Gorm carries it off as well as possible.  A bit like the Lagavulin Distiller’s Editions, just with the associated brash edge of youth.  While it would not be my first choice, I certainly find it to be a very enjoyable member of the Islay family of single malt whisky.

Lagavulin Distiller Editions, 1991 & 1993


Lagavulin 1991 & 1993 Distiller Edition

I have two of the Lagavulin Distiller Editions in my single malt collection; Lagavulin 1991 Distillers Edition (bottled in 2008) and Lagavulin 1993 Distillers Edition (bottled in 2009).  What could be more enjoyable than a side-by-side tasting of these two?

Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1991,  43% ABV.

On the nose, I find a sweet, orange, scent mixed with peat and smoky seaweed.  The palate brings liquorice, oranges, salt and smoky peat.  The finish is medium to long, white pepper, a little caramel, with lingering smoke.

Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1993, 43% ABV

First, it is clear that these both share a common lineage.  Like a younger brother to the 1991 Distillers Edition.  On the nose, it is like it plays similar notes, but softer.  On the palate, I find more of a contrast.  The smoke and peat are bigger, while the orange, liquorice and salt remain part of the mix.  There is a distinct note to the spicy element, maybe a little more clove-like.  The finish seems a bit longer, warmer, with less caramel, and more smoke.

In reality, I suspect that if I tasted these two whiskies on different days, my descriptions would be nearly identical.  Tasting them side-by-side is likely to bring to the front rather minor differences in their profiles.

Bottom line, if you can get your hands on either of these limited editions, and have any affinity for Islay style scotches, I do not think that you would be disappointed with either whisky.  I find that I have enjoyed the additional flavor that the double maturation in sherry casks brings to the traditional Lagavulin profile.

Kilchoman Machir Bay


Kilchoman Machir Bay.  46% ABV.  Non-chill filtered.  No coloring.

Kilchoman is the newest Islay distillery. They started operation in 2005. The Kilchoman Machir Bay release is a blend of 4 and 5 year old whisky, where the 4 year old has been finished in Oloroso sherry casks before being blended.

Kilchoman is also distinctive in being the only farm-to-bottle distillery.  They grow their own barley and do the malting, distilling, maturing and bottling on premise.

The nose on this whisky is smooth and light.  Green apple with peat and a hint of vanilla.  On the palate, the peat is forward, but not overpowering.  There are lemon and pear elements.  A fun balance of peat and sweet that leaves a final smoky olive oil feel on the tongue.  The finish is very pleasing while relatively short, with peat and a bit of peppery heat.  Smoke lingers.

This whiskey surprised me.  I expected one this young to be more aggressive and less refined.  But, it has very good depth and balance despite it’s youth. To be certain, I would not mistake this for an 18 year old whisky, but it stands up very well in comparison to whisky aged 8 to 10 years.  And, it comes at a very reasonable price, making it a great dram-for-your-dollar value.

If you want a good value in a young whisky, I think you would be pleased with Kilchoman Machir Bay.  As long as you remember it does have the peat and smoke profile of an Islay whisky.

SMWS 29.165 – Cigar-smoking, perfumed nurse


SMWS 29.165 – Cigar-smoking, perfumed nurse

This is an offering from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that comes from a Laphroaig distillery cask. This whisky was aged 20 years in an ex-bourbon barrel and is bottled at 57.4% ABV.

One of the entertaining aspects of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) offerings are the names, and tasting notes that they provide.  Here is the SMWS tasting note:

 “The nose wafted enticing tendrils of complex smoke, saddle soap, leather, straw, green olives, lemon bonbons, root beer, raspberry jam and a nurse in starched uniform giving out malt extract and vitamin c. The unreduced palate teased us with perfumed, fruity smoke, beach bonfire ash, sweet pears, walnuts and peppery, aniseed flavours. The reduced nose was wonderfully complex and balanced, with pot-pourri, wood shavings, antiseptic lotion, oil paint, vanilla slices and burnt heather, all woven around delightfully unobtrusive smoke. The palate was now fresh and tangy; pineapple, lemon, strawberry, mint and Edinburgh Rock candy, but also teasingly seductive, like a Sobranie-smoking, perfumed lady.”

I found the nose to reflect this whisky spending 20 years in an ex-bourbon cask.  A mature balance of peat, smoke, and fruit.  On the palate, the peat and smoke are immediately evident, with a spicy BBQ element and pepper on the tongue.  There is some sweetness, but it is a subdued dry fruit contribution, nothing like the sherry casked whiskies.  The finish is long and warm, certainly contributed partly by the alcohol volume.  Peat, smoke, leather with a spicy pepper adding to the warmth of the finish.

It is a complex and fun whisky. There were just 214 bottles produced, and it is no longer available from SMWS.  So it is a journey that will not be repeated once I find the bottom of this bottle.

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist


Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist.  ABV 46%. Non chill-filtered. No color added.

This is a single malt whisky that has been in my collection for a time now, and it has been one of my favorites.   The bottle I am sampling is the 1990 vintage that was bottled in 2006.  It was aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks.  The vintage statement translates into this being a whisky aged 16 years.  There were two subsequent bottlings of 1990 Airigh Nam Beist in 2007 and 2008.  This whisky was a limited production, as the Ardbeg distillery was not in year-around production in the early 1990s.  Subsequently, other than the standard Ardbeg 10, the distillery has moved primarily to non-age statement offerings.  That is not all bad, since the two non-age statement offerings that immediately followed Airigh Nam Beist were two of my favorites, Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Ardbeg Uigeadail.

For an Islay whisky, this has a tame nose.  Peat on first exposure, then notes of vanilla, buttery oak with a hint of smoke.  On the palate, first sip is warming peat, with a smooth creamy feel.  On second sip, I find salt, black olive, pepper and smoked bacon.  A very pleasurable balance of flavors embedded in a silky texture.  The finish is long and complex.  There is certainly a foundation of smoke and peat, with a strong spice element and a sweet undercurrent – like a lightly sweetened vanilla-infused coffee.

This is a wonderful whisky.  Not as aggressive as the younger non-age statement Ardbeg offerings, but with all of the dimensions of a fine Islay whisky.  This is a more balanced, nuanced, peated single malt.  Unfortunately, since it had a limited production, it can be very difficult and quite expensive to find an Airigh Nam Beist these days.  This was a whisky that was selling here for around $80 when initially released.  Now, about the least expensive options I find online place it in the $350-$500 range!

Fortunately, I long ago started buying backup bottles of favorite whisky when sale time rolled around at my local shop.  I have an unopened Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist that was bottled in 2007.  If I were wise, I suspect I should save it as an investment.  But, I cannot quite see myself parting with this bottle.   Rather, a special treat that I set aside for some future enjoyment with friends.