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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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Braon Peat 57.5%

Last in our Whisky Warehouse No. 8 quartet was a contrast between Braon Peat and Inchfad! I’d hoped to try Braon Peat but alas after ordering was informed it was no longer available – sigh… so the Inchfad 14 year was sent instead. Whereas with the Miltonduff substitution – clearly the PX Sherry 14 year trumped the ex-Bourbon 11 year, it was the opposite here – Braon Peat had the Inchfad beat!

So…. what did my tasting companions think of their dram?

Braon Peat Batch 7 (15 April 2019) 57.5%

  • Nose – First whiff was smoked bacon, apples, sweet beef jerky then back to apples and pears
  • Palate – An explosion – very sweet, peat, “feel meal deal!”, meaty with a great mouthfeel
  • Finish – Smoke and spice and everything nice with a long finish

In short, they loved it! They particularly enjoyed how it was sweet peat, perfectly in balance.

What do the folks at Whisky Warehouse No 8 have to say about their Braon Peat?

The latest batch of Braon Peat lives up to its name ‘peat drop’ because ‘peat as peat can’ applies here! There aren’t many whiskies that showcase their peaty side with o much impact in the glass. This is mitigated with a little thinning, but then it’s not that much fun anymore. You’re really looking forward to the coming winter time with horiztonal sleet showers and cold feet. These will be the moments when you want the Braon Peat in your hip flask.

  • Odour: Warm smoke with some dry dust, oily-fleshy with sweet molasses notes, machine hall, slightly herbal like dried oregano.
  • Taste: The peat notes are in the foreground, the whiskey comes across as a bit meaty, while at the same time surprisingly herbal, as if the meat had been previously marinated in mallow leaves. Although one searches in vain for fruity notes, the whiskey has a slightly sweet taste. With dilution, some malty crispness is revealed and the peat notes are less meaty.
  • Finish: Oily, intensely peaty with some black pepper and long lasting.

As for the Inchfad? It was more or less what we found when tasting with an earlier set.

What more did we have in our WW8 Regions set?

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Dynamic Duo 2 – Bunnahabhain 25 year vs Tobermory 20 year

For our next dynamic duo, we went to independent bottlers – both new to me! From what little I could find, both seem to be German based… and were chosen by our whisky guide to contrast and compare drams in their 20s from Islay and Island.

Now I must admit, I’ve had a mixed relationship with Bunnahabhain – particularly their older whiskies which haven’t always lived up to expectations. However I’m always game to be be pleasantly surprised!

Bunnahabhain 25 years Single Cask (2016) 47.7% (Wiebers Brothers)

  • Nose – Citrus, hay, honey and yoghurt, very light toffee, milky and a bit shy, mineral, musty
  • Palate – Surprisingly light and effervescent, then took a slight odd turn – was that sweet pickles?? Followed by some cayenne pepper, tangy, more of that mineral quality, a tough vegetal
  • Finish – Verbena and cayenne

This definitely fit into the category of “ya gotta work it”… what was interesting is how the empty glass held more aromas than when it held liquid.

I still haven’t been able to find any details on Wiebers Brothers with this having a mere 120 bottles. We aren’t sure when the bottle was originally opened however it is possible it was for some time or not… one never knows the impact of oxidation on a whisky’s character.

Tobermory 20 years (1996/2016) 58.8% (The Alambic Classique Collection)

  • Nose – Lemon balm, beeswax, fresh, sweet grass, honey, fresh raw cashew nut… it began evolving becoming fruitier
  • Palate – Quite a contrast to the aromas! Sweet spices, pink and white peppercorns, lots of character without heat, beautiful and well rounded, light cinnamon
  • Finish – Wonderful! The flavours just carry on and on and on….

Once upon a time, we discovered “mouth breathing” whisky – where you take a good waft of aromas then swig and then breath, seeing what the whisky has to say. In this case, it was like having a lovely aromatic hookah.

Some whiskies are all the nose with the palate a pale shadow, others are the reverse. That would be the case here – an absolute stunner on the palate – really outstanding. This is also one of those drams where just a little goes a very long way – particularly with that remarkable finish. A true class act.

Alambic Classique has been an importer and wholesaler of specialty spirits since 1981, and is also an independent bottler for rare and exclusive single malt whiskeys from Scotland. Our bottle was from their Special Vintage Selection – cask strength, uncolored and not chill-filtered.

What more do we know about this one? It a bourbon barrel from a single cask with 247 bottles.

If you haven’t already gathered so far  – the Tobermory was for us the clear winner!

What else did we explore that evening at The Union Jack in Berlin?

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Bunnahabhain 14 year 56.7%

Long back, a very talented multi instrumental, multi country music buddy encouraged “Bunna” explorations as his kind of Islay – not really peaty but having substance and character to spare. Over the years, I’ve had mixed experiences – some excellent, some so so and some that didn’t quite do it for me.

Bunnahabhain 14 year (24 Oct 2002 / 31 Oct 2016) Bourbon Hogshead No. 3048, 56.7% 307 Bottles

  • Nose – Initially greeted us with quite a distinctive coconut oil… which settled down into salt water taffy, candied guava, fresh bread, orange comfy or cointreau, even a bit of coffee candy, swirling about with a hint of smoke too – more like an echo or subtle embers than a live burn…overall leaving an impression of fruity
  • Palate – Silky smooth… some salted caramel, spicy desert, herbal, buttery… with a wee bit of even peanut butter, richly rolling around nicely on the tongue
  • Finish – Lovely and long, delicious
  • Water – No need… truly

I have to confess that this is without a doubt the best Bunnahabhain I’ve had in a long time. Even better as it sits in the glass, opening up more and more. While a different character, there was an element of the lightly salted ‘buttery’ quality that made us think of the insanely delicious Aveux Gourmands.

As for the folks at Whisky Warehouse No. 8? I’ve taken the liberty to ‘google translate’ my way through Julia’s terrific tasting notes:
Whiskeys from Bunnahabhain are always good for a surprise and this single barrel is no exception. Anyone who wants to deduce the taste from the nose impressions of this bottling will be amazed at how different the whiskey ultimately behaves on the palate. At least one can rely on the well-known attributes of most Bunnahabhain bottlings: hardly any wood, a little salt and a good balance of all aromas.
  • Nose: Soft and fully ripe fruit notes such as cherries, star fruit and lychees. Underneath there is a layer of salty peat that has a slightly medicinal effect, but also a damp campfire that was already burning the day before.
  • Taste: Spicy like in a hay barn, herbal notes like dried thyme and thistles, slightly nutty and almond-like, the fruit notes linger in the background, but they now appear much fresher and crisper. The peat and smoke notes also remain surprisingly restrained.
  • Finish: It is especially the herbal notes that stay on the palate for a long time and become dry towards the end. Very late, a pinch of fleur de sel tickles the taste buds.

What about other Bunnahabhain explorations?

My “Last Chance” set also contained:

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Glenturret 8 year 57.5%

This would be my 3rd Glenturret 8 year from an independent bottler! We were rather impressed by the North Star’s Glenturret – which was distilled the same month as this Warehouse cask and bottled within a month of each other. I’d also had the pleasure of trying Chorlton’s Ruadh Maor aka peated Glenturret.

So what about this one from The Whisky Warehouse No. 8?

Glenturret 8 year (Dec 2010 / Apr 2019) Bourbon Hogshead Cask No. W8 181, 57.5% 330 Bottles

  • Nose – Even before putting in the glass, we had a whiff of our wee bottle and went – Mmmm….sweet smoked bacon! And then into the glass it went and… huh? Where did the delicious aroma go? Instead we found a brine, hay… predominantly cereals like hot (slightly boring) porridge, wet fall leaves, rubber gum… is that gym shoe? Curious
  • Palate – Ah.. now here is the light peat smoke, bay leaves, cinnamon spice, a bit of ginger bread… not a heavy peat, more like peat ‘adjacent’
  • Finish – It does last…

Let’s be honest, we were a tad disappointed. I happened to have the North Star Glenturret bottle handy and pulled it out to compare, making my virtual tasting companions a wee bit jealous. Yup! There were all the fabulous elements we enjoyed about the Glenturret – a nuanced peat, tasty cereals, maple bacon… We dismissed the Glenturret and moved on to our other minis..

However a funny thing happened along the way… as it patiently sat there… an amazing alchemy with air took place. We returned for a revisit and we delighted to discover much that we enjoyed in the North Star was now present! Where had all those lovely qualities been hiding?

  • Nose – Gingerbread joined the light puff of smoke,
  • Palate – Some cheese, smoked meats chased by cinnamon spice
  • Finish – Remained dry and long

Even on the first go, we enjoyed the palate more than nose alone… however with the revisit it was clear this had all the makings of a rather enjoyable dram. Certainly one to wait for it…. wait for it… as it just might be “Legend… wait for it…. dary!

Curious about other Glenturret experiences?

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Peaty persuasion – Laphroaig Four Oak 40%

So there I was, one fine evening early 2021 in our wee country home outside of Mumbai… during these days of lockdown, being able to spend time in a calm place where you can freely walk about outdoors, even have dinner with a neighbour, is such a special treat.

To then discover your neighbour also enjoys whiskies… well… that’s another level! I brought a few drops from an Arran flight, and he shared a recent purchase – Laphroaig Four Oak.

Hmmm… peat? The evening was a nippy 20’c, the breeze fragrant… why not?

And I am so glad that I did! Even better, back in Europe I had a sample to enjoy – bringing a lovely memory of a special evening.

Laphroaig Four Oak 40%

  • Nose – Smoky cinnamon, almond pastry, lightly fruity,
  • Palate – Tasty cinnamon spice, more smoke, vanilla cream, silky smooth
  • Finish – Sweet and long, tobacco leaf… even ashy

So…. what I like is that this is a kinder, gentler Laphroaig… young, fresh… silky smooth… not bad. Quite clear this was 40%… but works.

That evening in the country, as I kept sipping, I kept thinking how it had been such a long time since I enjoyed a cinnamon smokey spice.

And back in Nurnberg?

Even more enjoyable…

What more do we know about the Laphroaig Four Oak?

Four different casks are selected by hand; ex-bourbon barrels. Small quarter casks, virgin American oak barrels and larger European Oak hogshead. Four Oak is an extraordinary fusion of flavours including sandalwood, pine, fir and willow. It’s the big malt from the shores of the big ocean.

This complex combination creates a golden, creamy peat-smoked Islay malt with warm, toasted vanilla notes.

  • Colour – Bright Gold.
  • Nose – Aromas of peat smoke with stewed fruit and warm, toasted vanilla.
  • Palate – Hints of sandalwood, pine, fir and willow, experience oak embers and seaweed with smooth buttercream.
  • Finish – Salted liquorice and peaty.

Here’s what more our Whisky Lady shared in her evening of peaty persuasion :

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Advent Minis – Caol Ila 8 Year Old 46% – Provenance

After a rye, bourbon and highland, it was time to turn to something peaty – and what is a more classic expression than Caol Ila?

Caol Ila 8 Year Old – Provenance (Douglas Laing)

  • Nose – Pure peat, wood smoke, cured meats, bacon, maple
  • Palate – Full peat, cinnamon, a clear classic Caol Ila, nicely rolled around on the palate with a lovely peat
  • Finish – Nice finish, cinnamon spice

While I can’t guarantee it, I think this is cask #13077, which was aged in a refill hogshead from February 2011 to February 2019. After its maturation, it was bottled at 46% ABV with an outturn of 392 bottles.

Here is what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Toasty at first, becomes increasingly coastal. Sweetness of honeycomb in the background.
  • Palate: Flapjacks, oatcakes and plenty of smoky barley.
  • Finish: Meaty malt and black pepper spiciness.

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Original Club – Caol Ila 8 year 59.2%

Our original tasting club in Mumbai has a tradition of sampling blind. We also try to explore something new – which sometimes leads to amazing new discoveries and sometimes disappointments.

What this means is trying familiar distilleries but in new avatars. In this case, we explored an old favourite Caol Ila from Hunter Laing’s newer Distiller’s Art bottling line of Single Casks. Then to add an even further special twist, these particular bottles were picked up from a particular store at cask strength.

Caol Ila 8 year (2009 / 2018) 59.2%, Sherry Hogshead, Bottle 173 of 180

  • Nose – Varnish, sharp, astringent, light banana, honey and caramel, vanilla, overall quite young
  • Palate – A bit harsh, raw, salty, spice kick, very piquant, hint of bitter coffee, chocolate
  • Finish – A warm burn, jaggery, spice, salty butter lingers… long and tingling

We suspected it was likely an ex-bourbon cask and definitely was high alcohol with an ‘in your face’ quality. Powerful and unbalanced… so we added water – a generous dollop. What a difference water made!

  • On the nose, it brightened it up, revealing lemon, floral honey.
  • Then on the palate, rounded it out, smoothing it into buttery leather, old wood and had much more depth
  • Suddenly it had an insane long finish!

While there were clear hints of peat before adding water, there were just too many forward elements competing for attention. With the water, it was truly a different dram.

What else did we explore?

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Singapore’s The Swan Song

Imagine a place that has only one of a kind drams… those rare bottles where there are merely a few hundred or so ever produced. And once gone, they are no more!

That is exactly what you can expect at The Swan Song in Singapore.

It is tucked away behind the main Prinsep Street, up a flight of stairs and open only Thursday to Sunday or holidays. Why? Put simply this is a passion project run by individuals who were brought together by a philosophy that sharing is caring.

Here you can try a rare open bottle from a closed distilleries such as Lochside, Port Ellen and Brora or explore mature marvel from the 1960s.

Kelvin Hoon and Arun Prashant are the men behind this remarkable place. Arun I had met years before when he managed The Auld Alliance where he was responsible for one of my most memorable tasting evenings in Singapore. Amazingly after many years, when we walked in, he remembered that night too.

So under his able guidance, what did we try November 1, 2018?

We began with a Cadenhead’s Linkwood-Glenlivet 28 year (1989/2017) 43.7% with only 289 bottles from a barrel purchased by The Swan Song, The Writing Club, Quaich Bar and Ubin Seafood.

It was rich, complex, one that makes you slow down and unravel its many layers. In short, it was the perfect way to get into the mood for something truly special.

Curious to know more? Just check out Justin Choo’s post on Spirited Singapore with some insider insight.

Then my companion and I each selected one dram:

Lochside 22 year (May 1979/Jan 2001) 50% (Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask) 1 of 276

I had such fabulous memories of the Lochside 1981, that this was an easy pick. And it absolutely did not disappoint!

Port Charlotte 12 year (2004/2016) 57.3% (Highland Laird) Bottle 81 of 225

Spot on for my friend – peat, complexity and just a damn good dram!

And an incredible experience in honour of my birthday…

Longmorn 1969 61.5% (G&MP), bottled in the 1980s

Can I just say… words failed me. This was by far the highlight of my entire trip to Singapore.

Huge thank you to Arun and team for your generosity of spirit with your spirits – a unique collection that is there to be enjoyed by the discerning or those who simply want to discover! Bravo to the team and look forward to more opportunities to enjoy a dram there on my next trip to Singapore… before it sings its swan song.

You too can enjoy your Swan Song experience in Singapore at:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Harmonious Balance” 19 year 55.2%

We almost didn’t open this bottle… after sampling a quintet of “Dream Drams” in Dubai early 2019, we stopped to enjoy a delicious dinner, socialize with our better halves until someone somehow came to the conclusion that we simply had to open just one more bottle!

So out came this Laphroaig, bottled by the folks over at Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), fancifully dubbed “Harmonious Balance.” Matured for 19 years in refill ex-bourbon hogshead cask, this whisky truly turned out to be the “show stopper” of the night!

SMWS 29.229 “Harmonious balance” 19 year (13 May 1988) 55.2% (Laphroaig)

  • Nose – A floral perfume, hand spun candies, a hint of tobacco leaf peaking through  honey
  • Palate – A delicious spice, peat yet more nuanced and balanced than expected from a Laphroaig, think a mild sweet cigar not a brash bold bad boy, chased by a bit of sweet salted toffee
  • Finish – What an absolutely glorious finish! By far the longest, lingering and lovely finish of the evening… much after sipping, one could still enjoy the sweet peat and touch of spice with a chocolate minty freshness too

For many, this was the favourite of the evening… even those who purport to not care for peat were won over and we must admit it was aptly named “Harmonious balance” as all the elements came together in the most beautiful way.

When I compared our impressions with the full version of their tasting notes found online, there was a clear resonance in experience. Here is what the SMWS folks had to say

Imaging waking up, looking out the tent door pitched on the beach and seeing a glorious sunrise over the sea. We then made breakfast on a driftwood campfire by toasting bread and having it with salted butter and thick set honey. To taste, cigar smoke sweetness at the start, ashy with a hint of tar in the mid palate and a slightly herbal/peppermint finish – all in perfect balance and harmony. When we reluctantly added a drop of water the sun continued getting higher in the sky and the scent of fresh salty sea air made us feel ready for whatever the day had in store for us.

It was one of only 234 bottles produced from the cask, last seen online selling for approx EUR 200.

Our Dubai host put together a remarkable collection of “Dream Drams“:

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