Grain Whiskies – Haig, Chita, Nikka, Cambus

Though the humble grain is mostly found in blends, the Whisky Ladies are no stranger to exploring grains…

Just a couple that come to mind include….

All of our earlier grain experiences were mingled with trying malts or blends, so when it came time to decide a theme anchored by Suntory’s grain whisky Chita, we decided to go all out with grains!

We put out the word and here is what turned up!

And here is a selection of other grain tasting experiences:

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Campbeltown’s Glen Scotia Victoriana 51.5%

Our Campbeltown minis explorations returned from Springbank to Glen Scotia to crack open the Victoriana NAS cask strength single malt.

Glen Scotia Victoriana 51.5%

  • Nose – Lemon pie, tart, sweet, doughy, lots of vanilla, more citrus chased by fresh caramel toffee sweets. After the 1st sip, added to the mix a light leather, more of the toffee, dried bay leaf or thatched straw roof, banana, sweet powder and above all vanilla… overall quite aromatic
  • Palate – Toffee caramel, tart, tobacco leaf, balance sweet spice
  • Finish – Tobacco, bitter yet pleasant and long

We both quite enjoyed this whisky – found it perfect for settling down in a comfy cushion chair or sofa, curling up with a nice dram and good book. However to be approached with caution as there is nothing that would hint at its strength – entirely deceptive as has the silky smooth flavourful feel of a 46% not 51.5%.

Here is what the folks over at Glen Scotia have to say about this whisky:

Each cask is chosen for its rare character and exceptional maturity. Finished in deep charred oak, the result is an exceptionally smooth single malt whisky whose aroma and flavour work in harmony. Bottled in the traditional way straight from the cask and without filtration, its subtle wood and vanilla flavour is enhanced by a full bodied spicy fruit aroma and mildly smokey aftertaste.

  • Nose – Dark again. An elegant nose with hints of oak driving the bouquet. Interesting creme brulee notes leading to generous caramelised fruits and finally polished oak.
  • Palate – Sweet and concentrated start with some jammy blackcurrant fruitiness. A big mid palate. Typical tightening towards the back palate. Becomes more austere with water.
  • Finish – Clean and initially sweet.The green bean, with cocoa characteristic.

What all did we try in our Campbeltown meanderings:

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Campbeltown Quartet – Glen Scotia 15 + Victoriana, Springbank 15 + 37

It had been some time since we had a minis evening, and this time we focused on Campbeltown… augmented by a special whisky.

What all did we try in our Campbeltown meanderings:

What fun to explore a few drams  from the Campbeltown region… a once prodigious producer of whisky, now much reduced yet still bringing most enjoyable malts to the world.

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Port Charlotte MP5 10 year Virgin Oak Cask #005 63.5%

Last in our Port Charlotte cask evening was one that stumped our entire group. We sampled it blind, with no clue beyond everyone knowing the whiskies sampled that evening were from the same distillery, similar age, barley, peat level yet matured in different casks.

What did we find?

Port Charlotte MP5 10 year (2005/2016) Virgin Oak Cask #005 63.5%

  • Colour – Dark amber
  • Nose – Dark chocolate, cinnamon spice, raisins, prunes, apricot, such fruity sweet, almost sweet wine-like, shifting from dark to white chocolate nougat, vanilla, cappuccino, marmalade, walnut, not a hint of peat… then after some time, became almost meaty with a subtle ash and… believe it or not… bubblegum! After even more time… was that lemon custard? Or coconut cream pie?
  • Palate – Spice, even more than the others this one was sooooooo sweet! Then a roaring spice behind the sweet which eased into a ginger spice, followed by salt, roasted coffee bean and a gentle peat, with wonderful oils
  • Finish – Lovely
  • Water – Needs a splash of water – then it becomes juicy, fruity and simply fabulous!

For some, this was the favourite or runner up of the night!

There was something so completely appealing about the complexity of the aromas and, once water was added, it was absolutely wonderful on the palate. There was a lovely balance between the fruits, chocolate and light peat… which initially had a ‘barely there’ quality but revealed itself after adding water.

And our cask speculation?

After tossing out possibilities from rum to muscatel to sherry PX, most settled on Port thanks to its rich sweet character. No one even came close to guessing French virgin oak.

With the reveal, everyone was stunned!

On two counts…

  • First, did it really get all these elements from virgin oak?
  • And second, while it really came into its own with water, how could it be 63.5% after 10 years!

For both… there was more to the story which can be found in the MP5 broadcast with Adam and Allan.

Let’s start with the alcohol strength…

63.5% seems nearly impossible for 10 years until you consider the approach taken at Bruichladdich. Unlike other distillers that first add water to their new make spirit to bring it to a uniform 63.5% before maturing, Bruichladdich puts it into the cask at the full force of a true cask strength which is closer to 70%.

And what about the cask?

They shared that after nearly 10 years in an ex-bourbon cask, it was finished for 6 months in a French virgin oak with a medium char from Seguin Moreau cooperage which held nothing before… they credited the virgin oak for providing the depth of colour to the whisky.

An interesting twist… all we know is that we really enjoyed the results!

What more do we know from the bottle?

  • Barley type: Optic
  • Distilled: 30.11.2005
  • Bottled: 2016 – Aged 10 years
  • Cask Type: Virgin Oak
  • Warehouse: P4. L8 – Dunnage

I purchased this set at The Single Cask in Singapore and we opened the bottles in August 2018 in Mumbai.

Port Charlotte MP5 Single Casks:

We also started our evening comparing casks with a Port Charlotte 8 year Cognac Cask 57.8%.

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Port Charlotte MP5 10 year Bourbon/Bordeaux Cask #0013 59.9%

One of the ‘traditions’ of our original whisky group is to taste blind… In this case, I gave a bit of a twist by openly sharing we were sampling whiskies from the same distillery, peated at the same level and nearly the same age with the only difference the cask.

My goal was to eliminate wild speculations to instead focus on the narrow range of variable – cask. With the reveal made only after we tasted each whisky separately and then compared them to each other, sharing thoughts on the possible cask(s) used.

We began with the Cognac cask – while not part of the MP5 series – I chose it to calibrate the palate. We then moved on to the Bourbon cask, then this one… which added a Bordeaux finish.

What did we think?

Port Charlotte MP5 10 year (2005/2016) Bourbon/Bordeaux Cask #0013 59.9%

  • Colour – A clear touch of red – which we later found clearly came from the Bordeaux cask finish
  • Nose – Initially greeted with curd and tobacco, quite strongly spirit driven, some sulfur – like we just set off some crackers ‘patakar!’, then settled down with less peat, revealing chocolate, and a range of aromas that went from wine to sweet and salty dried fruits, pistachios and raisins
  • Palate – Very spicy at first, with an interesting over brewed tea quality, like tannins from red wine, sweet with an interesting spice, shifting into raspberries and walnuts
  • Finish – A long finish with a strong peppery close
  • Water – Initially made it spicier then really opened up with many finding it quite fabulous once opened up with a splash of water

While we found this one a bit thin on the palate, lacking the body of the MP5 Bourbon, it had quite a distinctive and appealing quality. We also found it less salty than the 1st with almost negligible peat.

For one, he confessed that if he wasn’t already told this was a peaty Islay whisky, he never would have guessed. We wanted to know how that could possibly be the case – given similar ppm from other distilleries retain a much more pronounced peat.

The answer in part can be found in the Laddie MP5 broadcast in which the head distiller Adam Hannett speaks with Allen Logan, distillery manager.

Around the 20 min mark, they shared how their PC style is to always start at 40 phenolic parts per million (PPM). However the phenol content changes as it is mashed, malted and further softened through the slow distilling process. The shape of the still is another factor, which enables lighter flavours to come through. Then, as the spirit ages, it loses more phenols…

The result? You end up with considerably less ppm than you started with… And for Port Charlotte (PC) specifically, it means the whisky is surprisingly versatile with different cask types, particularly if it is aged for a longer period.

Yet without this insight or knowledge of the re-casting, what did our merry malters think?

After much speculation, most votes veered to sherry with one clear it could not be sherry as it had a wine quality. Clearly this taster was exceedingly close!

What Adam shared in the broadcast is this whisky began in an ex-Bourbon cask for 10 years then was finished for 9 months in the fresh Bordeaux cask from the town of Margeaux.

When asked why they recast the spirit, the answer was:

“We wanted to see what else we could explore, do and try new things.”

In part this was motivated by a recognition the whisky needed an extra ‘boost’ from re-casking.

And when the topic of the wine cask finish arose, Allen spoke of their early experiments with finishing 15 and 20 year stock using ex-Bordeaux casks, which turned the whisky pink after only a short period of time! What to do? Jim McEwan suggested releasing the whisky as a special edition for Valentine’s Day, what else?

As for this whisky? I revisited it the next evening and found the wine element unmistakable… and think we underestimated it in our first foray. Or perhaps with just a little oxidation, it revealed its balanced complex character. Superb!

What more do we know?

  • Barley type: Optic
  • Distilled: 29.11.2005
  • Bottled: 2016 – Aged 10 years
  • Cask Type: Bourbon / Bordeaux
  • Warehouse: WH5. L2 – Dunnage

I purchased this 200ml tasting set trio for an embarrassingly high amount from The Single Cask in Singapore.

Port Charlotte MP5 Single Casks:

Before we tasted the MP5 series, I opened a Port Charlotte 8 year Cognac Cask 57.8% to help calibrate our palate to the Port Charlotte style.
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Revisiting Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 57.8%

Over a year ago, we had two different evenings exploring whiskies from Bruichladdich… doing a peat progression from no peat to peat to super turbo charged peat. At the time, I specifically remembered how the Cognac Cask surprised, given it was a different cask that the usual ex-bourbon, with an interesting inter-play with the peaty Port Charlotte style.

So when planning my special evening with the Port Charlotte Micro-Provenance 5 trio, I thought of having a ‘starter’ to push our palates into the smoky mode. My logic was this would better enable us to discern nuances in the trio, past the peat. Picking up another duty free bottle of the Cognac Cask seemed a perfect fit, in keeping with the cask theme.

I began our session warning my fellow tasters that this was the ‘appetizer’ before the main course. And while we sampled blind, I shared all four were from the same distillery and started at the same ppm – 40 in case you were wondering – but from there diverged.

Only after we sampled all four whiskies blind did they get revealed – one by one – after a round of trying to “guess” what cask magic produced that particular single malt.

Here is what we thought of the Cognac Cask…

Port Charlotte 8 year 2007 CC:01 57.8%

  • Colour – Coppery gold
  • Nose – Sour lemon, apricot, dark chocolate, cinnamon, a sharp “snuff” like quality, pungent like wasabi peas… as it settled down, the bite of tobacco sweetened, with more of the fruit coming to the fore, eventually taking on a chocolate creme
  • Palate – Strong cognac, bitter, dusty, rock salt, despite the almost brash aromas, the flavours were much less phenolic
  • Finish – Chilli, lightly bitter
  • Water – Makes it sweet, beginning with an explosion of pepper of all types – from black pepper to cayenne – settling into a cinnamon sweetness

This one needs time… when we returned to it, we discovered creme brule, a delicious custard, vanilla baked goods quality. Delicious!

The speculation began…

  • Thoughts of alcohol strength hovered around 48%… a far cry from the actual 57.8%
  • As for cask type? It was split between ex bourbon, virgin American oak to one lone voice wondering if it may have a French wine twist… none guessed it could be a Cognac cask

It turned out to be the perfect “kick start”. The bolder peat in this Port Charlotte cleared the path to focus on the more subtle peat of the MP5 trio.

Port Charlotte MP5 Single Casks:

And what did we try last year? Our Bruichladdich peat progression evenings featured:

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Bruichladdich Port Charlotte MP5

The whole idea behind Bruichladdich’s Micro-Provenance (or MP) series is to demonstrate the difference to be found between casks when starting at approximately the same place. Through this journey, one can explore the evolution of a single malt, comparing and contrasting…

For #LaddieMP5, head distiller Adam Hannett selected three single casks of Port Charlotte whisky:

  • All starting at the same peat level – 40 ppm
  • Using the same barley type – Optic
  • Distilled within 2 weeks of each other in November 2005
  • Then matured for 10 years…. just in different casks…

The result was a fascinating experiment and experience enjoyed by our original Mumbai whisky tasting group late August 2018.

Port Charlotte MP5 Single Casks Trio: 

I asked the Comms team for more info and they said the best thing to do is to watch the MP5 broadcast where Adam and Allan talked through the whiskies – well worth watching!

To get us in the mood for peaty full cask strength drams, I also opened up another bottle of Port Charlotte to help calibrate our palates. The whisky I selected for this purpose was:

Tasting notes will be available over the next few days….

Curious about other Bruichladdich Port Charlotte tasting experiences?

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North Star Discovery – Islay 8 year 58.3%

Last in our North Star trio was a whisky from its 2nd series simply named “Islay”. We sampled it blind and were floored by the reveal with an introduction to a new independent bottler who certainly seems to be bringing quality and value to his selections.

Islay 8 year (June 2008 / May 2017) 58.3% 1 of 230 bottles

  • Nose – A sour peat… dare I say it… almost headache inducing? Certainly highly medicinal. Which then slipped into ham, pineapple, mellow with a very different character than how it began, lemon tart, musk melon, some spice… shifted again this time into smoked sweet grass, green coffee beans, cut hay, quite vegetal, dry forrest
  • Palate – Starts exceedingly smooth then SPICE. Had a phenolic Islay style sweet peat not the palate with smoked pepper ham, with more fruits like grilled pineapple and apricot
  • Finish – Sweet, slightly briney and ends with something we couldn’t quite name… after going on and on and on…..
  • Water – Wow! What a difference! It really brought out the best qualities – the nose took on a peak smoke with dark chocolate and cherries, the palate augmented the sweet peat with a berry dimension and the finish then revealed beneath the salty sweet ash a light citrus sweet

As the last of our trio, we joked that perhaps the theme of the evening was spice, sweet and slow things down as each whisky took its time to fully reveal  its character.

Our talk turned to speculate the origins of this dram. For all it was sufficiently distinctively Islay to fall in that camp. But which one? We veered towards Caol Ila which, though not actually stated by the bottler, may very well be the case.

The extra fruitiness that emerged behind the peat made sense once I learned the whisky was finished in a pair of ex-sherry octave casks.

And what about the official tasting notes?

  • Nose: Medicinal, peat smoke & dark chocolate
  • Palate: Sweet peat, delicate sherry notes
  • Finish: Subtle ash, citrus & peppery peat smoke

Interestingly our findings were most aligned with the official tasting notes with water. And certainly we would highly recommend adding some generous drops to bring out the best in this whisky.

What were we fortunate to sample in our introductory North Star Trilogy?

Before it sold out, you could find it through Master of Malt for approximately £75.

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North Star Discovery – Ardmore Peat 8 year 58.7%

Next up in our North Star Discovery was another from their inaugural series… this time from Ardmore. We’ve not come across much Ardmore in our whisky explorations – my only brush has been a speed sniff and swish of the Ardmore 1997 45% (G&MP).  at Whisky Live Singapore at the Gordon & MacPhail booth.

Ardmore Peat 8 year (June 2008 / Oct 2016) 58.7% 1 of 198 bottles

  • Nose – PEAT, oily, sulfer, soapy, capsules… like walking into a doctor’s or chemist shop, iodine, steam engine, musty… then started to shift character revealing waves and waves of cinnamon, plums, mosambi juice, dark juicy fruits, black cherry, cinnamon apple juice, sour cherries…. kept evolving shifting from fruits to a slightly oily soot, like sacred ash, then a bit lactic, old flowers like malas after a day or so… then dark chocolate… and yet another element revealing such a delicious BBQ honey bacon, lots of smoked meats, light tar… followed by coffee, creamy yoghurt… an absolutely unbelievable nose
  • Palate – Sweet roaring spice, lots of sweet peat, stewed chewy fruits, then sweet meats and BBQ. Has good body, lots of character, oodles of spice yet still beautifully balanced between all the elements.
  • Finish – Chocolate cinnamon with a slight orange zest with a “hold” that really stays… dry
  • Water – Brilliant with! Becomes so sweet, lovely honey bacon with a mandarin perfume twist on the nose, silky smooth with a lovely rolling cinnamon sweet on the palate and fantastic finish.

We began to speculate, while it clearly had peat, we thought it wasn’t an obvious Islay dram, yet still likely Scottish. It has a gentle peat quality, pronounced, firmly there but with a subtle hand.

Thinking about the cask, we wondered about french oak? Something that gives a good kick like the way the virgin oak does for Spice Tree.

Again we guessed cask strength and absolutely loved the way water gave it even more “something.”

One remarked that it was a bit “naughty” in the nicest possible way…

Could any of us pick out that it was Ardmore! Not a chance… and that too from a new independent bottler? Impossible.

Which made the reveal all the more enjoyable.

And what about the official tasting notes?

  • Nose: Delicate peat, smoked meats & iodine
  • Palate: Sweet fruit juices & smoke from a BBQ
  • Finish: A great balance of savoury, smoke & chocolate orange

What were we fortunate to sample in our introductory North Star Trilogy?

Unfortunately North Star bottles fly off the online “shelves” quickly!

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TWE Cask Strength – Ledaig 12 year (2004) 58.1%

Last in our TWE Cask Strength evening was a Ledaig from Tobermoray‘s distillery on the isle of Mull. Ledaig, pronounced ‘Let-chick’, uses peated malted barley.

There are no official tasting notes available however this particular bottle was personally recommended by TWE’s owner Sukhinder Singh and an easy pick given how much I’ve enjoyed Ledaig’s sampled til date.

Ledaig 12 year (5 Feb 2004/29 Aug 2016) Cask 1030, 327 Bottles 58.1% (SMSW)

What did the ladies think?

  • Nose – We were immediately greeted with peat, then brine – making us imagine sea swept coasts, there was a wildness to it, stormy weather and bold character… even as it opened revealing marmite, fruit, apple pear, herbs and more with even a hint of heather, it retained a robust quality
  • Palate – One spoke of fresh oysters, another of steak tartare, the herbal quality on the nose followed through on the palate, there was also a lovely cinnamon spice with black pepper, yet all combined in a very smooth, balanced dram
  • Finish – Such a long finish, continuing to reward with peat and sweet spice with that slightly salty briney dimension too

If the Glen Moray was a bright spring morning, and the Arran a hot summers day, then the Ledaig was a wind lashing, rainy cool winter evening.

I’ve enjoyed Ledaig’s bold peaty character before yet this was clearly a top notch cask – remarkably silky smooth and clean with no harsh or brash qualities even at full cask strength. No need to add water but also lovely with too.

A 12-year-old Ledaig, the peated whisky from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, from The Single Malts Of Scotland. This was distilled in 2004 and bottled in August 2016 from a hogshead. I picked it up from The Whisky Exchange in London in June 2017, under the owner Sukhinder Singh’s guidance for GBP 64. It was opened from a fresh bottle in July 2017.

What else did we sample in our single cask, cask strength evening?

Each whisky sampled that evening was unique, quality and well worth sampling.

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