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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Port Finish – Amrut Port Pipe Peated 48%

India is making its mark with Amrut and Paul John single malts… so when we were planning an evening exploring different finishes and the Amrut Port Pipe Peated became available, well… we simply had to give it a whirl!

Amrut Port Pipe Peated 48%

  • Nose – Well hello peat, smoking pipe, sea salt, apricots, a richness, then as it opened up more, became spicier, smoked meats, some cognac and even sweet candies, apples, give it even more time and there was a whiff of mocha coffee chocolate
  • Palate – Spice and peat and sweet combine, heavy and creamy on the tongue, balanced
  • Finish – After the 1st sip, the finish was a bit bitter, then a few sips in, the finish was nice long, lazy peat, with sweetness and salt, just hanging around

We thought it a good ‘all rounder.’ Overall… there was something quite ‘desi‘ about this one. We even speculated about tasting besan – the chickpea flour used to make pakoras. Whereas another suggested kebabs picking up on the hint of smoked meats dimension. Yet another called it a solid 4 course meal. Hmm…. were we starting to get hungry?

It was apt though – this is a whisky of substance. What was curious was how the port element was subtle, whereas the peat was predominant.

Certainly this is a whisky you would be proud to call Indian.

Zoe and Amrut

And what do the combined Amrut and The Vault folks have to say?

This a single cask release made with a combination of 3 YO Virgin Oak & Ex-Bourbon matured malts that are further aged in the very rare 30 YO Port Pipe cask from Portugal, for another 2.5 years. Whisky aged for 5.5 years in tropical climate like Bangalore, which is 3000 ft. above sea level brings the flavour to its apex profile. The peated malt, imported from Scotland, uses Aberdeenshire peat that delivers well rounded peat notes with only a hint of iodine on the nose and palate.

  • Nose: First up is butterscotch wrapped in delicious gentle peat with growing sweetness of honey, and raisins. Thick oak tannins and hints of cinnamon flavoured dark chocolate.
  • Palate: The peat has come to life with all the creaminess from raisins and honey. Lots of citrus and tropical fruits. Cinnamon and chocolate in the background.
  • Finish: Ever so long and mouth coating. Peat, citrus and sweetness lingers on with massive salivation and little dryness.

You won’t find this whisky easily…. only 100 bottles were released for sale in Mumbai – launched as part of The Vault Biennale, held in Mumbai February 2019. And if you managed to snag one of those bottles? It would cost you Rs 7,000 / approx $100.

Curious about other Amrut experiences?

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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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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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Smoky Night – Kilchoman Loch Gorm 46%

Last in our Whisky LadiesSmoky Night” evening was this Islay – Kilchoman’s full sherry expression – Loch Gorm.

What did we think?

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 46%

  • Nose – Mmmmmm…. lovely tobacco, sea salt, smoke, mixed with Christmas cheer, some orange twist, dried fruits and sweet spices
  • Palate – Yum! Soft and buttery, chocolate, peat rolling around with a clear sherry dry richness
  • Finish – Gorgeous peat

For many, this was proper peat and sweet dram – a full, robust and satisfying whisky.

More than anything else, this evening was a terrific reminder that tasting order and environment makes all the difference!

After the rather disappointing Bunnahabhain, this Loch Gorm was “Oh yeah!” The peat hit just the right note and the sweet was also quite welcome.

Whereas for the Bombay Malt and Cigar lads, we sampled this same whisky after a trio of unpeated sherry drams. And the one just before – the BenRiach – was particularly spectacular. So when we got to the Loch Gorm it was a bit of a shock to the palate.

And what do the Kilchoman folks have to say about Loch Gorm?

  • Nose – Orange peel, cloves, caramel and mixed spice with waves of fruit cake and citrus.
  • Palate – A beautiful balance of spicy richness, cooked fruits, chocolate with layers of brown sugar sweetness and earthy peat smoke
  • Finish – Mouth-filling peat smoke, lasting tropical sweetness, toffee and rich dried fruit.

The biggest distinction here being 100% oloroso sherry cask matured… As the Kilchoman folks put it:

It is common for distilleries to use a variety of sherry producers but for our consistent quality and character, it is vital that we source them all from just one bodega. We select a combination of sherry butts and hogsheads from Jose Miguel Martin that provides two separate styles of maturation.

These ex-oloroso sherry casks impart a combination of heavy sherry notes, spicy dark chocolate, rich fruits and burnt sugar. This balances beautifully with the Kilchoman peat smoke and citrus fruits found within our farm crafted spirit.

For us, the results worked!

Our Smokey Night with the Whisky Ladies also included:

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Smokey Night – Bunnahabhain Chuach-Mhona 50%

We continued our smokey explorations with Bunnahabhain…. typically known as the one Islay distillery that typically doesn’t use peat. Yet more and more you will find Bunnahabhain flirting with variations of peat.

Bunnahabhain Chuach-Mhona 50%

  • Nose – Shy yet familiar, a bit sharp and came across as immature, initially not so peaty, some spice, a bit of zing, honey, hay, sweet grass and then a bit of smoke and ash
  • Palate – Direct, burnt toast
  • Finish – Spice
  • Water – Much sweeter and brought out a pleasant cinnamon

To be honest, this was the most disappointing whisky of the bunch. It was surprising how there was both minimal peat and how young it seemed, missing so many elements we appreciate in a good dram.

And what do the Bunnahabhain folks have to say?

Gaelic for ‘peat stack’, this malt has strong influences of peat and sea salt. 

  • Colour – Pale gold
  • Nose – Crisp and lively sweet peat, with herbal hay, dry smoke and burning grass
  • Palate – Starting light, malty and sweet, developing into smoky white pepper and seaweed saltiness
  • Finish – Lingering dry smokiness with seaweed and spice

Our Smokey Night with the Whisky Ladies also included:

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Smokey Night – Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish 46%

We started our Smokey Night on a lighter note… with something from the Highlands…

Long back our Mumbai original group tried some new make spirit from Glengassagh. I then had a chance to try the Torfa – ugh. I then revisited it as a mini together with the Evolution… better. I reminded myself to keep an open mind and see what we discovered with this bottle.

Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish 46%

  • Colour – Bright ruby red
  • Nose – Began with a bit of tar, smoke yet very mild, a bit rubbery, butter crème, spice, raisin, ginger…
  • Palate – Spice, steamed plums, brandy cherries, raisins, very peppery, wood, some mystery pulpy fruits, however pleasantly rolled around the palate
  • Finish – Then sweet

It was pronounced a good daily whisky. While not terribly distinctive, it was easy to enjoy.

As for me? I was happy to try a Glenglassaugh that I enjoyed!

Here’s what the Glenglassaugh folks have to say about their Peated Port Wood Finish:

Glenglassaugh’s waves of fruit and smoke are amplified in Peated Port Wood Finish. Whilst finishing in ruby Port pipes, the open structure of the oak brings waves of velvet tannins and peppered dark fruit, reminiscent of Winter berries by an open fire, kissed by the sea.

  • Colour: Rose gold
  • Nose: Heather honey drizzled over a medley of fresh red fruits, all backed by intriguing waves of sweet peat smoke
  • Palate: Delicious wild red berry compote and clotted cream balanced by a hint of cracked black pepper, surrounded by a fantastic sweet campfire peat note.

Would we agree? Not sure we would call the light smoke “waves” or describe as campfire peat… but overall, the notes weren’t far off.

Our Smokey Night with the Whisky Ladies also included:

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Smokey Winter Nights – Glenglassaugh, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain

Delhi in winter has a smokey quality from the stubble in fields surrounding the city being burned to little roadside fires to keep warm.

While it has been years since I lived through a Delhi winter, I was reminded of those chilled evenings with smoke in the air during our recent Whisky Ladies evening which featured Smokey Whiskies!

What did we try?

So let’s talk a bit about peat with its PPM or Peaty “Phenol Parts Per Million”….

Once upon a time, peat was the norm to dry malted barley. Then enter this new fangled alternative called coal… or more precisely coke… made readily accessible by the 1960s via rail. Coke burns more evenly, more consistently and with less smoke than peat. The Lowlands and Speyside regions jumped on the unpeated bandwagon early.

Yet most of Islay kept to using peat. As do other distilleries – some craft both unpeated and peated variants – occasionally under different brand names.

Glenglassaugh, for example, have two versions of their port wood finish – the peated one we tried and one without peat.

Whereas Bunnahabhain from Islay, once known for eschewing peat,  has more recently been flirting more openly with peat. Today approx 25% of their whisky has varying degrees of peat.

Kilchoman, by contrast, has from the start kept peat as part of its consistent style, playing instead with the casks with a gradation from none to full sherry.

And PPM? It is measured at the point of the dried barley… typically using UV spectroscopy or High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). However where the PPM level starts is NOT where it finishes.

Throughout the whisky making process, phenols are lost. How much depends on a range of different factors from what is left behind in the draft at the end of mashing to how they are changed during fermentation with the type of still changing the character and intensity and most importantly how it is impacted during the second distillation.

So while Kilchoman may consistently START at 50 PPM, where it end up may differ significantly… Just check out what we found with the Port Charlotte 10 year MP5 series!

There are those that suggest that given PPM can bear such little relation to actual “smoke” strength, why not drop using PPM completely and instead define the peat as light, medium or heavily peated?

Want to know more? Don’t listen to me, check out an expert like Dave Broom on Whisky.com.

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