Peaty Highlander – Ballechin Heavily Peated 12 year 54.5%

Our explorations of Highland peaty drams led us to Edradour distillery with a full cask strength dram.

Ballechin Heavily Peated 12 year (May 2017) 1st Fill ex-Bourbon Cask 330 54.5% 251 Bottles

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Wow! Floral yet with a power punch, some sharpness, sweetly herbal, cinnamon, star anise, then the floral dissipated to be replaced by maple bacon, honey sweetness with a citrus twist
  • Palate – Honey, maple syrup, very dry, holds and took on that distinctive maple bacon whisky, substance
  • Finish – Nutty, toothpaste, lovely spice, iodine
  • Water – Sour with no spice… given time revealed cinnamon then a nutty quality, like pressed almond oil

Our final conclusion was this would be a perfect monsoon whisky… one to enjoy when the heavy rains wash away all the heat and pollution, dropping the temperature too.

What did the folks at The Whisky Exchange have to say?

A single-cask Ballechin bottled at a cask-strength of 54.5% and exclusive to The Whisky Exchange, this heavily-peated single malt from Edradour distillery boasts a smoky, farmyard character to rival any Islay whisky. Balanced by sweet citrus and hints of honey, this is a fantastic dram which elegantly combines sweet, savoury and smoky notes to memorable effect.

TASTING NOTES BY BILLY ABBOTT (THE WHISKY EXCHANGE)

  • Nose: Sweet and green smoke at first: freshly sawn branches newly tossed on to a bonfire of burning pine. Hints of jelly-baby fruitiness develop, along with Vick’s Vaporub, honey and lemon lozenges and white toast with honey. The lighter notes at the front obscure but don’t hide a darker background of rich smoke.
  • Palate: Savoury smoke to start: smoked ham and signed lemons. White pepper heat mixes with bicycle-tire inner tubes, sharp lemon curd and a hint of creosoted fence. A bubble of black liquorice rises from the depths, bursting to reveal blackcurrants and anise.
  • Finish: Tar and char fade to leave bittersweet liquorice and lemon butter sauce.
  • Comment: Softer than many Ballechins, this brings together sweet and savoury notes, all wrapped up in a smoky blanket.

And what would it set you back? If, like our Whisky Lady, you purchased it from The Whisky Exchange in London, expect something around £80.

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies Peaty Highland drams evening?

What else have I tried from Edradour distillery?

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Peaty Highlander – Inchmoan 12 year 46%

From Loch Lomond distillery, Inchmoan is another variant of Inchmurrin (or Inchfad, Croftengea, Rosdhu)… with peat to go with the Highland sweet.

Here is what we thought of this 12 year expression…

Courtesy DevPaula

Inchmoan 12 year 46% (Loch Lomond Distillery Island Collection)

  • Colour – Burnished copper
  • Nose – Quite metallic to start, iron, copper, rust, fruits, back to a blacksmith, wet leaves, then campfire s’mores, sweet, apricot, rum raisin, macadamia nuts
  • Palate – A nice campfire peat, juicy raisins, butter, silky smooth, syrupy with a herbal quality like sipping Jägermeister with a flash of fresh tarragon, then tannins and a bit of “raw hide”, then back to herbal, followed by sweet coffee and chocolate, and is that a bit of ginger and cinnamon?
  • Finish – Long finish, surprisingly gentle, sweet grassy peat, smoke and peppery spice with a stoneware close
  • Water – Simply perfect as is – no need to add

What we enjoyed most was the shifts and changes with this whisky. We thought there was a bit of a burn to start – a touch of “dragon’s fire” which then settled down and became dangerously delicious!

What did the folks at The Whisky Exchange have to say?

Inchmoan is the peated single malt produced at Loch Lomond. The 12 Year Old is sweet and spicy with notes of vanilla and a smoky backbone.

And what would it set you back? If, like our Whisky Lady, you purchased it from The Whisky Exchange in London, expect something around £45.

What other Peaty Highlanders did our Whisky Ladies try?

What else have we experienced from Loch Lomond?

And that’s it! Me thinks it might be time to explore more!

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Peaty Highlander – Aird Mhor 8 year 55.3%

Sound it out… “Aird Mhor” and you realize perhaps this might be “Ardmore”… and sure enough it is!

Our Whisky Ladies session dove straight into this cask strength offering from the Single Malts of Scotland range bottled by Speciality Drinks. It was purchased at their Whisky Exchange Covent Garden store under the guidance of Duncan.

So what did we think?

Aird Mhor 8 year (1 Dec 2009 / 25 June 2018) Cask 707910 55.3% 261 Bottles

  • Colour – Golden
  • Nose – Gentle smoke, leather, wood, citrus, orange, as it opened became increasingly sweet
  • Palate – Spice, tobacco, warm, 2nd sip was like an echo of Laphroaig, calming, sweet
  • Finish – Long finish with a bit of liquorice and vanilla
  • Water – No surprise it initially ramped up the spice, but when it settled down it brought out a nicely nutty quality, helped balance it out a bit, with it a bit oily on the palate

This one was a bit curious and not for everyone. Going straight from zero to full cask strength was also an adjustment.. though one our Whisky Ladies can easily make!

One remarked this whisky was a bit of an “attention seeker” with a fierceness and forcefulness that demanded notice. In this respect, it showed its youthful enthusiasm.

We discovered that the hint of Laphroaig peat came from the Ardmore being matured in ex Laphroaig barrel.

It wasn’t complicated and yet it provoked a clear divide between those who enjoyed and those who didn’t care for it so much.

Apparently Mogambo also has something to say!

Aird Mhor + Mogambo courtesy DevPaula

What did the folks at The Whisky Exchange have to say?

A smoky dram from Aird Mhor (aka Ardmore distillery). While nearby distilleries are better known for unpeated whisky, Ardmore bucks the trend, making a powerful and smoky dram. This single-cask bottling from The Single Malts of Scotland – distilled on 1 December 2009 and bottled at years old on 25 June 2018 – is a classic, with punchy smoke, honey and lemon.

I must say, I rather think “punchy smoke, honey and lemon” is a rather good way to describe this one!

What else did we sample in our Whisky Ladies Peaty Highland drams evening?

And what else have I explored from Ardmore?

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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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Red Casks – Longrow Red 11 year Cabernet Franc 55.9%

We don’t often get a chance to try drams from Campbeltown, though there are a few clear ‘fans’ in the house! For our original Mumbai based tasting group, this was the first peated Springbank whisky under the Longrow brand that we tried together.

We sampled this whisky blind without bias… and here is what we thought…

Longrow Red Cabernet Franc 11 year 55.9%

  • Nose – Peat! Medicinal and maritime, Hamam or Lifebuoy soap, carbolic, fish oil and salt
  • Palate – Full raging peat fire yet still sweet, well balanced between sweet and peat, most enjoyable… terrific to just roll around the palate and bask in its full flavoured peaty sweetness
  • Finish – Gorgeous sweet spice
  • Water – While it seems counter intuitive, don’t… it somehow made the whisky a bit funky

Overall we quite enjoyed this one! It provoked a lively debate about the different characters of peat… contrasting this style of peat with seaweed vs ashy campfire, with neither elements found in this whisky.

One member was absolutely insistent that it had to be Campbeltown – that the peat style was distinctively from that region! Obviously he was spot on and with the reveal backed up his pronouncement with a short discourse on the three different Islay peat bogs vs Highland vs…. you get the picture!

What do the folks at Springbank have to say? Alas the exact expression we sampled has been replaced with a pinot noir… however this remains consistent for what they are aiming to achieve with their Longrow Red expressions:

Our Longrow Red, always bottled at cask strength, is released annually in small quantities and every year a different type of red wine cask is used to mature the whisky.

Offering a different sensation from Longrow Peated, this whisky is smooth, elegant and subtly juicy.

What did we try in our special “red” casks evening?

Other peaty Campbeltown drams

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Red Casks – Linkwood 16 year (1998) Côte Rôtie 45%

From Gordon & MacPhail’s Private Collection, this special wine cask finish expression was released in the US.

We sampled this whisky blind without bias… knowing nothing about it beyond our immediate experience… until our host revealed it!

Linkwood 16 year (14 Dec 1998/Oct 2015) Côte Rôtie 45% (G&MP)

  • Colour – A gorgeous almost unreal ruby red
  • Nose – Starts as a delightful Christmasy rum raisin with varnish… full on fruity, berries, very sweet, plum cake… loads of caramel, vanilla, soaked dried fruits, red apples, cinnamon brown sugar, malt, herbal green tea, burnt syrup, oily, coconut, calvados, a bit of spice from the oak, some rose petals?
  • Palate – Soooooo sweet! Enough character to bring one back, a lovely mouthfeel, some oils on the palate yet still had a lighter body, green apples, delicious with a hint of tannins, sweet berries
  • Finish – The oil continued… ever so slightly bitter … more creamy nutty… gorgeous
  • Water – While not needed, it opened it up to make the whisky even sweeter and more oak forward on the palate

This one was certainly a shift from the 1st… we struggled to reconcile the rich colour with the lighter body, sparking considerable speculation – how could it be such a bright red? Surely it wasn’t natural! To which our host shared the whisky was not chill filtered and completely natural colour. Hmm….

This confirmed our suspicions of a red wine cask however it didn’t quite fit with previous experiences with whiskies matured in port, pinot noir, bordeaux… so then which red wine? How long was it finished for?

And the reveal? Delighted to see we had a treat from Linkwood – a distillery our collective experiences has given rise to an impression of an underrated whisky well worth catching – particularly if seen fit to be bottled by the folks over at Gordon & Macphail.

As for the wood and finish? The notes on the bottle revealed it was aged for 15 years to then be finished for 23 months in the Côte Rôtie – which is considerably longer than most finishes.

We set the whisky aside for some time and revisited – absolutely exquisite! Definitely one to slowly sip and enjoy.

While further details are not available in the Gordon & MacPhail website, there were short tasting notes on the bottle:

Sweet and cream accents with rich summer berries and green apples, which are complemented by a smooth milk chocolate edge.

Last seen in the US online for approx $160.

What did we try in our special “red” casks evening?

Other Linkwood experiences?

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Red Casks – Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask 43%

Our original tasting group was in for a surprise! A special theme of unusual finishes, first sampled completely whisky blind without bias…

Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask 43%

  • Nose – Fruity, floral and distinctly ‘feni’-like, some citrus, distinctly ‘prickly’, syrup, salted cashews… as it settled down, started to reveal a nice oily aroma, a sweet and sour of khoya, strongly reminded us of a gulab jamun, toffee cream chocolate, spice… after the 1st sip, had a nice vanilla biscuit, retaining the gulab jamun chased by salted caramel, rum spiked honey water
  • Palate – Initially greeted us with a spicy ginger, salt then gentle tobacco, something of substance and a bit astringent, yet still heavy oils, chewy, butter biscuit, a good balance… if you the breathed it in were rewarded with khatta meetha  or sour sweet
  • Finish – A bitter pepper spice that sparked a debate – lingering with orange peel and almond or short yet balanced? I was in the camp that found after the initial oomph… the shadow of the finish remained
  • Water – After it initially sharpened the spice, it settled down to make this whisky more pleasant and mellow on the palate however didn’t reveal anything new

Overall we found the aromas quite volatile when freshly open, taking some time to settle down… and interesting.

There was loads of speculation… we didn’t think it was sherry cask but there was definitely something different going on. One member was clear it was rum, others not convinced.

And the reveal?

Well our rum speculator was spot on!

What did we try in our special “red” casks evening?

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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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Dubai Dream Drams – Kilchoman Sherry Single Cask 59.5%

Started in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new distillery on Islay in nearly 125 years. More importantly, the distillery crafted a distinctive “Islay character” style that challenged assumptions that quality required age.

Recently in Mumbai, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kilchoman’s founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale, where he shared with pride their journey into the world of whisky making.

There will be more on that another time, for now let’s focus the whisky! This particular single cask release featured as the 5th whisky sampled early January 2019 in Dubai.

In keeping with our “unique” theme, this bottle was one of only 42 produced to be sold from the Kilchoman distillery shop. It is approximately 5 years of age and according to Whisky Base, last sold for EUR 161.

Here is what my tasting companions found…

Kilchoman Sherry (8 Nov 2007/22 Feb 2013) Cask 447/2007 59.5%

  • Nose: Wet wood, campfire, burnt sugar cane, cinnamon, black pepper
  • Palate: The peat from the fresh bottle was quite pronounced, edgy, taking time to settle down and reveal the sherry dimension
  • Finish: A sweet peat cinnamon
  • Water: Tamed it considerably but for some it still remained a bit brash and unbalanced

I could swear one of the guys called it an “utara” whisky… which in Hindi literally means “descend” or “bring down” but is also slang for what you drink the next morning to take the edge off a bad hangover… like “hair of the dog.”

For a few of my sampling companions, this was simply too powerful and peaty for their palate – which is perfectly fine as half the fun of tasting a range of whiskies is discovering your personal preferences. That said, moving to a fresh pour of a cask strength at nearly 60% after the Longmorn 25 year or Strathclyde 38 year was certainly a shift in approach!

For these gents, perhaps something like the rich fruity Kilchoman Sanaig 46% might have been a more natural progression in our sampling journey. For a strong expression like this, having the right setting, time to ease into its personality, slowing down and settling in, makes all the difference.

Here is what the folks at Kilchoman have to say in their tasting notes:

  • Colour: Rich golden
  • Nose: Nice, combines peat and sherry, typical Kilchoman cloves and cinnamon
  • Palate: Soft peaty aromas with overtones of sherry, slightly dry on the palate. A good example of Kilchoman in sherry wood.
  • Finish: Clean, long and rich

If you are curious about other Kilchoman tasting experiences, check out:

The other Dream drams generously shared by our Dubai host included:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Longmorn 25 year 46%

The Longmorn distillery has an interesting history – after building Glenlossie, John Duff founded Longmorn near Elgin in 1893, part of the Speyside region. He then went on to set-up nearby the BenRiach distillery too. What is also notable is Masataka Taketsuru, the man behind Nikka whiskies did a stint at Longmorn in 1920.

Today part of Pernod Ricard’s Chivas Holdings, it produces the official Longmorn 16 year bottle plus can be found in a collection of independent expressions like this one. The rest of Longmorn’s production lends a sweet, deeply fruity element to blends.

This 25 year old Longmorn graced our “Dubai Dream Drams” evening as the 4th whisky sampled…

Longmorn 25 year (1988/2014) Cask 14384 46% (Berry’s Bro)

  • Nose – What a nose! It immediately greeted us with ripe tropical fruits…. it really was sooooo fruity! Then shifted into an eggnog rich sweetness
  • Palate – While no doubt the fruits remained, they were joined by deeper notes – including speculation about a hint of peat, plus continuing our theme of the evening we also pronounced it “buttery”
  • Finish – Long, lovely

In truth, the scant scribbled notes I took that evening did not do justice to this whisky. It was truly quite superb in a class of its own. Sweet, substance and one to savour.

As for what they shared on the bottle?

The name Longmorn is said to derive from an old Scottish word meaning “place of the holy man”. Produced near Elgin, this malt whisky is high respected for its smooth, complex full character and heady bouquet.

The primary aromas give peach skins, tropical fruits and honey. There is some underlying grapefruit and pineapple to enliven the nose. The palate offers a creamy texture with abundant fruit and some white chocolate notes cut by a little spice.

As for other Longmorn encounters? Read on…

Here are are few more remarkable drams our Dubai host generously shared that evening:

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