Whisky Lady – March + April 2022

March slipped into April with a wonderful yet HOT journey home to Mumbai, India… then return to a warming Deutschland, where miserable grey rain shifted into welcome sunshine.

This India trip came at a time when many COVID restrictions were lifted and events starting again. What this meant was an opportunity to meet renowned Indian master distiller Surrinder Kumar who was the talent behind Amrut’s journey to global fame and India’s own Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

It kicked off with a tasting evening at home with the lads behind SMAC India and Krishna exploring a remarkable range:

Then was followed by the launch of a new Indian Single Malt – Indri.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

Next up was a curious trio of Rum, Tequila and Mezcal finishes from London’s Whisky Exchange with:

And finally, the ladies joined me in (re)exploring St Kilian Signature Edition:

Whilst April was a busy tasting month for me, March was largely devoted to catching up on prior tastings from my previous trip to India! You would think nothing happens in Europe – which is far from the case as I missed not one not two but three events in Deutschland whilst holidaying in India.

Early 2022, our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents held a fun-filled evening of one of my favorite distilleries – Lochranza – with a quartet of Arran expressions exploring cask finishes:

I also brought back to Deutschland samples kindly set aside from the Whisky Ladies December 2021 session which featured:

And finally, I shared another remarkable whisky tasting from last year’s Paris trip to Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Inouïe Mélodie!

Curious to know more? Check out a few more monthly summaries:

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with:

Single Malts of India’s Neidhal 46%

Independent bottlers can be a great way to explore dimensions of distilleries that don’t necessarily follow their original bottling approach – those singular gems that stand out with the bottler. We’ve become huge fans of some terrific indie bottlers out of the UK and Europe however India? And some go a few steps further – buying the new make or younger whisky, taking on the responsibility for maturing the spirit.

Enter “Single Malts of India” by Amrut… maturing and bottling an undisclosed ‘coastal’ whisky… touted by Amrut’s head distiller Ashok Chokalingam as “the first independent bottling in India.

Let’s explore…

“Neidhal” Peated Indian Single Malt (18 Sep 2021) Batch 1, 46%

  • Nose – Hello peat! Loads of iodine… shifting to campfire and charcoal, heavy vegetal, smoked meats, salted black old fashioned licorice, becoming sweeter and sweeter the longer it remains in the glass
  • Palate – Quite salty, toast with buttery salted caramel or perhaps even coconut kaya toast, clear peat stamp with pepper too
  • Finish – Ash… and yet surprisingly light given the robust peat on the palate… fading  into a hint of hickory smoke
  • Water – Didn’t try

One of our tasting companions called this a “dirty” peat – heavy medicinal peat.

We all concluded this was clearly a ‘winter’ dram… something one would better enjoy coming in from the bracing cold. Whereas our sweltering April Mumbai heat didn’t quite match its personality.

Single Malts of India “Neidhal” Peated Indian Single Malt was matured and bottled by Amrut Distilleries, available only in Bangalore, retailing for INR 5,900.

What do the folks behind this bottle have to say?

Neidhal, presented by Amrut, is a single malt Eponymously sourced from a Neidhal or coastal region and exhibits traits that uniquely spring from the locale – notes of tropical fruits, vanilla, punctuated by soft phenols and above all sea salt on the nose. On the palate, it is fruit cocktail and mesmerising phenols with a touch of iodine. The middle ground is an essay in chewability and a finish that is phenolic with a touch of sweet vanilla.

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Chorlton’s Orkney 22 year (1999/2022) 53.4%

These days trying to acquire one of the beautiful bottles from Chorlton‘s  La Nouvelle Vague series requires lightning speed! If you miss the email for even an hour you very well may be out of luck!

When I scored this bottle in Feb 2022, I suspected it would be many months, perhaps even years before I would find the right opportunity to open it! First was getting it from London to Mumbai – which happened in March 2022. Then I needed to join from Nurnberg to Mumbai – also happened by April 2022. And most importantly, finding the right occasion? And that’s when India’s Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula mentioned he would be in town, together with two founders of SMAC India. I also knew once opened, an additional tasting session could follow where this could be shared as a “bonus”! Including the very person who kindly let me use his London address and brought the bottle to India!

So what did we think?

Orkney 22 year (9 June 1999 – February  2022) bourbon hogshead 53.4% (311 bottles)

  • Nose – Subtle and mellow at first, salt spray from the seashore, lovely herbal notes, then started to reveal butterscotch and gingerbread, fruit strudel – perhaps apricot? Then pears and melons, then tart slightly sour stewed apples. Then sweet varnish.  A nice earthy element kept the desert qualities in check – sweet but not overly so!
  • Palate – Wonderful! Buttery brandy. Salted old-fashioned black licorice, a hint of tobacco. Such a fabulous mouthfeel – tempts you to just keep rolling it around, enjoying its marvelous viscosity, a marvelous mix – from herbal to lightly fruity to smoke and pepper – all beautifully balanced and creamy
  • Finish – Rewarding, dry, bitter cinnamon bark, more of that enchanting herbal element… only complaint is that it dissipates too quickly leaving only a faint impression
  • Water – Necessary? No however also lovely with! Makes it sweeter, black peppercorn pops out, cloves and still nice and buttery

Take your time with this one… the more time you give it, the more it gives you! I was so happy to revisit it a few days later in a leisurely long evening over excellent cheese, fresh bread, and conversation.

Simply put – what an utterly lovely dram. If you blind tasted it, I strongly suspect Highland Park would NOT be the obvious option.

What did David have to say in his email?

Also available is a new 22-year-old Orkney. H*ghl*nd P*rk produces a consistently excellent distillate, but I always think these late-1990s vintages have a special something about them.

So, the nose starts on soft notes of lemony wax, honey and orange, with a wee clean herbal backing (eucalyptus, spearmint, lime leaves) and then really opens up the longer it breathes. There’s something fruity and lightly medicinal happening (think cherry lozenges), banana Nesquik powder (my secret shame), sea air and a thin thread of bonfire smoke. Adding water is transformative: tangerine Altoids, spearmint chews, angelica, sea water and heather.

The palate is rich, resinous and honeyed in texture. I get malt extract, lemons & limes & salt, plus a peppery peatiness that almost has a gentle Talisker feel. I also find seafood with salty-buttered brown bread, herbal liqueur and cough syrup. The finish is really long, with dried herbs, sweet citrus, and lingering smoke. Water again opens things up in a herbal direction: crushed mint leaves, lemon tea, pine needles and salty orangey honey.

This bourbon hogshead produced 311 bottles at 53.4% for £135 plus tax and courier charges.

Here are more from La Nouvelle Vague series:

  • Mannochmore 12 year 58.7% – A delicious fruit basket!
  • Orkney 15 year 57.1%Absolutely gorgeous dram
  • Croftnegea 13 year 53.9%Enchanting!
  • Ledaig 12 year 55.5%, Speyside (Glenrothes) 13 year 64.6% – Waiting in Paris
  • Glen Elgin 12 year (21 April 2009 / summer 2021) refill hogshead 56.6%,  Tormore 28 year (16 Nov 1992 / summer 2021)refill hogshead 42.4%, Bunnahabhain 18 year (28 Feb 2002 / Dec 2021) sherry butt 53.4% – Waiting in London

Here are the Chorltons we’ve sampled from the L’Ancien Régime series:

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Blends of yore – Hedges + Butler 21 year 43%

Without a doubt, this blend made our evening “remarkable“! It also prompted our meeting as I had brought it back from Germany where Krishna Nakula – India’s Malt Maniac – had bought it at an auction nearly two years earlier. As he just so happened to be in Mumbai for an event, we naturally had to catch up for a dram or two! Very generously, he chose to open this particular piece of history… Lucky us!

So what did we think?

Hedges & Butler Royal Scotch Whisky 21 year (1950/60s – 1970/80s) 43%

  • Nose – Rich and robust, think German cherry liqueur or a single rum, dark fruits – particularly plums, earthy and bursting with character, buttery milk chocolate with a heavy fruit liqueur
  • Palate – It has a velvety silky smoothness, well rounded and balanced, waxy with some mineral and tobacco, luscious juicy fruits and berries, a hint of spice and wood at the back, chased by bitters
  • Finish – Long and lingering with a hint of sweet spices

Superb and simply delicious! This blend provided clear evidence that they don’t make them like they used to! Very different – incredibly complex, rich, rewarding… a big full whisky. The nose and palate are outstanding… and very memorable. Lucky, lucky us to have an opportunity to try something like this!

It is hard to find too much in the way of exact details however based on the label and auctions, it is likely from the 1960s / bottled in the 1980s. The auction price was around EUR 88 however with taxes and shipping, came to EUR 105. I thought it quite reasonable, however Krishna shared such bottles earlier were selling for significantly less. As more and more people are now discovering that these mere ‘blends’ are in fact hidden treasures from a time when the BEST malt went into a blend, the price is also rising.

Hedges & Butler (aka H&B) is a brand of blends part of the Ian McLeod group. They trace their history as a wine and spirits producer back to 1667, relocating in 1819 to Regent Street, supplying the coronation banquet of King George IV with wine, port, and champagne. Their relationship with whisky began in the 1830s with blended Scotch whiskies – gaining their 1st of several “Royal Warrants” by King George IV, followed by Queen Victoria, then eleven different Monarch’s.

Fast forward to the 1960s, H&B was acquired by The Bass Charrington Group, then from 1998 the brand name has been owned by Ian Macleod Distillers.

Today you can still find H&B with a no age statement and 12-year version.

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Getting started with Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%

There we were – one hot sweaty April evening in Mumbai – about to kick off a tasting with a random yet remarkable range of whiskies. Just like with fine dining, it helps to have an “amuse-bouche” to whet the appetite, so we needed a whisky to ease into our evening.

I considered a few options before settling on the Arran no age statement – Lochranza Reserve. Launched in 2014, it was intended to be part of the core range as the ‘entry’ dram replacing the Arran Original, easily accessible – in terms of flavour profile, price, and availability in travel retail. Today in 2022? It has joined the Limited Edition section with just a few bottles remaining… though if purchased in the UK it is still quite reasonable – at a mere £25.

So what did we think?

Arran Lochranza Reserve 43%  

  • Nose – Hmmm… after a slightly musty start, becomes a clean, classic whisky with green apples, dry leaves and toasted oats, dry desiccated coconut, citrus, a hint of honey… also a herbal element – rosemary or thyme? Or a touch of cardamon?
  • Palate – A light spice, slightly salty and initially a bit astringent, it then shifted into more of that citrus joined by crunchy tart green apples, oak, and a dash of cream, nicely coats your tongue
  • Finish – Pink peppercorns, slightly bitter, chased by bourbon vanilla
  • Water – One would think with such a low ABV there is no need… however a splash of cool water brings out the orchard fruits and citrus after the initial spice hit settles down

Whilst the nose had a honey sweetness on the palate it deepened into a creamy caramel toffee and milk chocolate, smooth and straightforward. We weren’t expecting anything complex, however, I will admit that I had anticipated something a bit lighter. Even still, this hit the spot as a teaser of tastings to come!

What do the folks at Arran have to say about their Lochranza Reserve?

Our Lochranza Reserve is back for a short time only as the very last bottles of this edition.

This light, fresh and fruity Single Malt is bottled at 43% and is delicious on its own, with a splash of water or a bit of ice.  It is the perfect Single Malt for mixing and is a marriage of both Sherry and Bourbon matured casks.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Vanilla and lemon
  • Palate – Fresh Island notes. A touch of salt and sweetness
  • Finish – Citrus. Vanilla. Salty.

What else have we tried from Arran? Rather a lot as this distillery has become a clear favourite with a few of us:

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Remarkable Random Range of Whiskies

What does a Scottish blend from the 1950 / 60s made for a Hamburg distributor and a German malt that barely qualifies as whisky have in common? Or what does a peaty coastal single malt bottled by an Indian distillery have to do with a sophisticated complex Island dram from a much-coveted Indie bottler? And how about the price range from an affordable entry-level Island OB in GBP 20s vs another over 150?! Or sourced from an auction some 40 years after bottling vs direct from bottler within hours of going on sale, to Le Clos Dubai duty-free or available exclusively in Bangalore only… Frankly speaking, they have practically nothing in common beyond a random sweaty evening in Mumbai where they just so happened to be tasted together!

A Remarkable (Random) Range

What a remarkable – if random! – range for a brilliant evening… which was revisited another night in Mumbai with more malt experts!

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St Kilian Signature Edition ‘Nine’ 55.3%

I love being able to bring something new and different to our tasting groups in India. The delight of hunting down something that is both novel and worth the time spent considering its different dimensions. Now, a high-end mature Scottish malt and a young upstart from Deutschland cannot be compared, however, there are some very worthy experiments taking place in Europe these days! And St Kilian distillery from just outside Frankfurt is one to watch.

What did we try?

St Kilian Signature Edition “Nine” 55.3%

  • Nose – Young, malty, with a different kind of sweetness than the One and Six. Lots of pears, crunchy orchard fruits. Cinnamon candy. Flaky biscuits with cream. Quite summery in character…
  • Palate – Well, well, well… Not nearly so ‘innocent’ on the palate as the nose teased… There was still lots of candy, and cinnamon however it was joined by a healthy dose of spice, malt, bitter apple, quite warming… and was that a hint of peat? Overall we found it quite chewy and well-rounded
  • Finish – Resin, dried orange peel… a proper finish
  • Water – Don’t mind if I do! This dram easily integrates a splash of cool water – revealing more orchard fruits like peach and apricot

It could be described as contradictory. When we first opened the bottle, Krishna Nakula (Malt Maniac) called it a bit ‘funky’ with an active nose that veered on sour mash.  The kind of whisky one would prefer to have on a wet cold rainy day….

However, just a week later with the Whisky Ladies, we found it had settled down considerably. And rather than be considered a ‘cool weather’ whisky, it held its own in the summer heat. More importantly, did we like it? Absolutely yes! For some, it was a clear ‘win’ – either the favourite or jostling for that position with the peaty ‘Four‘.

This just goes to show, that different stages of oxidation, different environments, mood, and company make all the difference. Tasting progressions are also key! With the Whisky Ladies, the Nine followed the St Kilian One and Six, so our palates were pre-calibrated to something European not Scottish.

What do the folks behind this bottle have to say?

The Signature Edition Nine is an intense, fruity and creamy-sweet taste experience. The melange of exotic fruits harmonises pleasantly with the spicy warmth as well as the sweet and full-bodied flavours.

What more do we know? The cask composition is 11% Oak, 27% ex-Sauternes, 62% ex-Bourbon.

Here are the official tasting notes:

  • AUSSEHEN Leuchtender Bernstein
  • GERUCH Ein betörendes Bouquet von reifer Aprikose und saftigem Pfirsich steht im Einklang mit süßem Toffee und feiner Vanille, begleitet von floralen Noten, dezenter Ingwerschärfe, würziger Eiche sowie einem Hauch Grapefruit.
  • GESCHMACK Ein süßer und vollmundiger Start mit Pfirsich, Ananas und Grapefruit, gefolgt von cremigem Honig, Vanillepudding sowie sahnigem Toffee und getragen von einer wärmenden Eichenwürze mit Ingwer und etwas Zimt.
  • NACHKLANG Lang und cremig-warm mit Karamell und süßem Mandelgebäck, dazu etwas frisch geriebene Grapefruitschale mit einer Spur Walnuss.

A rough google supported translation:

  • Nose – A beguiling bouquet of ripe apricots and juicy peaches is in harmony with sweet toffee and fine vanilla, accompanied by floral notes, subtle ginger sharpness, spicy oak, and a hint of grapefruit.
  • Palate – A sweet and full-bodied start with peach, pineapple, and grapefruit followed by creamy honey, custard, and toffee and carried by a warming Oak spice with ginger and some cinnamon.
  • FinishLong and creamy – warm with caramel and sweet almond biscuits, with some freshly grated grapefruit zest and a hint of walnut.

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Whisky Ladies tryst with St Kilian Signature Edition One, Four, Six and Nine

Three from this particular set of St Kilian whiskies had made their way to India in late 2021 and were opened for the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents to explore… however being overall a generous lot, they decided the Whisky Ladies should also partake, so the bottles were set aside and tasted in April 2022. Naturally, I simply couldn’t resist augmenting with the German distiller’s latest Signature Edition – Nine.

What did we find?

Signature Edition ‘One’ (2016/2019) 45%

  • Nose – Sweet and smooth, cherry, fruity honey, rum and vanilla, orange, grilled pineapple, candied fruit with a slight hint of sweet spices like cinnamon
  • Palate – Subtle at first and then builds with a surprising spice. Green, fresh, and almost rye-like with capsicum, green peppercorns, a hint of dry hay with a nice bitterness. Overall quite smooth, rounded out by tropical fruits – especially pineapple
  • Finish – Short to medium finish

For some, it was almost on that ‘sickly’ sweet end of the spectrum – reminding us of a super sweet Shirley Temple cocktail! The rum influence brings a nice tropical quality. We concluded it was an easy sipper and a rather apt way to ease into our evening.

Personally, I recalled how my first impression was mixed but how much this grew on me in Germany – particularly its nice ‘warming’ quality in contrast to the cold outdoors. To discover it also adapts well to sweltering in Mumbai heat was a pleasant surprise.

Signature Edition ‘Six’ (2016/2020) 47.5%

  • Nose – Initially reaction was – yummy! A delightful rose of a sweet gulab jamun. Whilst it was incredibly sweet, warm with nice pepper spice, there were subtle additional elements like kafir lime leaf, hazelnut followed by chocolate milk
  • Palate – We could really catch the Rye in the flavors, joined by wood, sweet… Think more along the lines of a chocolate bar with red chili and cinnamon, joined by slightly bitter nuts
  • Finish – Closed with bitter chocolate, very nutty… certainly present but also a wee bit elusive or deceptive and teasing

Definitely interesting and could discern the rye influence. Worth trying, however, is it really the one to come back to? The verdict was never firmly made here.

Signature Edition ‘Four’ (2016/2020) 48%

  • Nose – Initially medical peat, it quickly settled into sweet peat and cola! There was that delicious smoked bacon, loads of hickory wood chips, nicely nutty – brazil or hazelnut? Followed by baked apple pie
  • Palate – Delicious! Tastes even better than it smells with sweet cured ham… over time tannins came forward followed by Montreal smoked meats or Canadian back-bacon drizzled in maple, beautifully oily and well-rounded, it had just a fabulous mouthfeel – as much chocolaty to the taste as the sense of melted  chocolate rolling around your mouth
  • Finish – I found a nice long cinnamon spice, others tasted a light leather with a hint of salt, and one even noted there was a bit of mustard oil!

A complete departure from the others, we absolutely loved it! No doubt this was a rather good peaty dram – enough that I’m hoping to catch their next peated edition.

As for our overall conclusion? By the end of the evening, we pronounced the St Kilian exploration worthy of our time and attention. In short, a terrific example of why we come together to explore and experience the range of what’s out there in the world of whiskies!

And what about the Nine? I haven’t forgotten about it. We tasted it after the ‘Six’ and before the ‘Four’ with the full tasting notes posted separately.

And if you are curious, you can read all about the different casks below or click the links to compare our Ladies and Gents impressions!

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Denmark’s Stauning Rye with Mezcal finish

This wasn’t my first taste of Denmark’s Stauning offerings…. a distillery in Western Denmark started by nine friends back in 2005. I believe my first sample of their Rye was before it could even officially be called whisky and the 2nd their 2nd batch of peat. So I was curious to see how they evolved over the last few years.

This particular bottle with its original artwork and distinctive name “Bastard” was what inspired the whole evening’s trio of unusual finishes. You gotta admit, with both a moniker like “Bastard” and a roaring slobbering wild beast on the bottle, one can’t help but think this will be a brash bold humdinger of a dram!

So what did we think?

Stauning Rye (2021) Mezcal Finish 46.3%

  • Nose – Caraway, rye, grassy, heather… a hint of smoke like faint smoke of sweet grass, some sour mash that then shifted into quite a strong sourdough bread, honey-sweet with slightly sour yogurt… then as it opened up further heaps of caramel, quite warming with a touch of salt, dried cherry or that Chinese dried plum that is all at the same time sweet, sour, spicy and salty! Then shifted to porridge, a bit of oak and something else which was a bit hard to pin down – perhaps this is the Mezcal element??
  • Palate – Think dark rye bread, some burnt caramel, resin, and yes – here you can find a Mezcal influence combined with sweet spices like cinnamon – a slightly curious combination with the rye
  • Finish – Wood shavings and sawdust, very bitter and long

Clearly young and a bit brash – once the aromas settled down there was a pleasant sweet sourdough on the nose. Overall an interesting experiment and talk turned to how it should pair well with cigars…. however I will admit this isn’t one I’m desperate to run out and repeat!

What do the folks at Stauning have to say about the “Bastard”?

The wind from the North Sea mixes blood with the desert of Mexico in this double-distilled rye whisky aged in old mezcal casks. An illegal love affair with a gentle and exotic aftertaste.

Stauning Bastard a rye whisky made purely of local ingredients, malted on the floor at our distillery and double-distilled in flame-heated pot stills. After three years in new, toasted virgin American oak casks, it has been rounded off with 6-months ageing in old mezcal casks from Mexican Oro de Oaxaca.

The result is an elegant love child whose equal you won’t find anywhere else in this world.

Official tasting notes:

  • Nose – Sweet tobacco smoke, raisins, oat biscuit, citrus, oak
  • Taste – Tobacco, vanilla, barley, dried fruit, cinnamon, brown sugar, molasses, shortbread, oak
  • Finish – Long sweet, slightly smoky, salty, brown sugar, pepper

Well…. I’m not sure I would describe this as an ‘elegant love child’ however would agree to the oats, oak,

So here goes an evening devoted to a curious trio of Rum, Tequila and Mezcal finishes with:

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Kilchoman Tequila Finish 53.4%

It has been a while since I sat down and properly tasted a Kilchoman… in truth, I don’t think even once since meeting Kilchoman’s charming founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale. I will fully admit to a certain fondness for Kilchoman – in part as this Islay distillery is part of the ‘new generation’ of distilleries who have proven with an eye to quality and artistry, you don’t need to wait more than a decade to produce a fine dram.

So what did we think of Anthony’s experiment with Tequila? Did it need salt and lime to knock back as a shot? Or favour an extra anejo? Or reveal little to no influence of the agave finish at all?

Kilchoman 8 year (11 Dec 2012 / 15 Nov 2021) Bourbon Cask No 824/2012, Tequila Finish 53.4% (50 PPM) TWE Exclusive, Bottle 147 of 267

  • Nose – Ripe mushy bananas, a fruity sour mash, leafy and a bit vegetal, saline with light hint of smoke, we even speculated if there was a touch of black salt? However the more time it spent in the glass, the more it opened up… shifting into candied red apples, marshmallows, then more tropical fruits
  • Palate – Unmistakable peat and sweet, powerful yet exceedingly well balanced, chewy with a good mouthfeel, some pepper and sweet spices, perhaps a bit of that agave element subtly peaking through
  • Finish – Sweet red cinnamon candies, followed by a nice agave finish
  • Water – Not necessary but holds well with a splash, becoming more herbal

So…. does the tequila work? Yes… as it has only a subtle influence rather than being very pronounced unbalancing the other elements. And that was the success here – everything in perfect harmony – sweet and salt, peat and sweet, spice and herb – all working together.

What more do we know? As usual, Kilchoman peats to 50 PPM and in this case used an ex-Bourbon cask for 8 years before finishing for approx 8 months in an ex-Tequila cask. It reminded me why Kilchoman has made its mark – there is no dramatic heavy peat here – instead, the peat provides a lovely interplay with the other cask elements.

I noted down the official tasting notes from the bottle:

  • Nose – Malted hay and tropical fruit sweetness
  • Palate – Herbacsious with layers of fresh fruits and burst of agave
  • Finish – Waves of agave freshness with soft sweet peat

In large part, I would agree with the notes… however, personally found the peat more pronounced on the palate with the agave much more subtle.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

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