Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection Ledaig 2007 (12 year) review

The whisky community, like many communities, has their share of people who are not just enthusiasts, but are geeks and all-out nerds. And they are proud of it. They help to drum up enthusiasm, always have time for you and are respectful towards the entire community, regardless of your experience level.

Although he no longer works for Distel, Mike Brisebois (@thewhiskyexplorer), more than anyone else, helped to put their products on the map. Now Tobermory (Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Black Bottle are household names from coast to coast. As Canada’s unofficial official whisky ambassador, his enthusiasm has helped to introduce countless numbers of people to the water of life. Now striking it out on his own, his Whisky Explorer Society will continue to spread his passion for whisky within Canada.

Since we are talking about Ledaig, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky) of The Whisky Heathens. From his home in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, he has probably tried all the Ledaig available out there and is the most vocal supporter of both Tobermory and Ledaig on social media.

With these two acting as major cheerleaders for the whisky under review today, it’s no wonder Ledaig (and Tobermory for that matter) does a brisk trade in this country.

And so to the whisky in question. This Ledaig has been matured in a re-fill sherry butt for over 12 years and was bottled by Signatory Whisky as part of their Vintage Cask Strength Collection lineup at 60.1%.

Nose: Since I popped this bottle back in late April of this year, it has mellowed significantly. Make no mistake, this is still a bold dram, but it is far less “burnt rubber” forward than it used to be. Usually, Ledaig is far more maritime than it is medicinal and that is the case here. In that regard, there’s a hefty dose of sea spray, seashells and weathered driftwood. Moving inland a little, there are some lovely BBQ notes of sweet smoke and meat on the grill. This bottle, coming from a re-fill sherry butt, is more distillate than cask forward but there is a little bit of fresh plum and earthy spices such as clove and nutmeg. There’s only a hint of dark chocolate so I’m guessing this is Oloroso rather than PX. Finally, there is a whiff of mint toothpaste to round this all out. This does not nose like a cask strength whisky, but I have a feeling that this will not be the case on the palate!

Palate: My prediction was correct. This is mellow for about two seconds before the heat takes over in a big way. On the entry, brief though it is, it’s sweet, a little bit tart and much more oily than creamy. Lots of rich honey, sponge toffee and orange and lemon peel initially. Then the proof, spice and oak kick in along with a strong mint toothpaste and mouthwash vibe. The initial sweetness is not entirely drowned out however, and it’s joined by a rich dark chocolate note that builds through the development. Bobbing along the surface are those salty and mineral maritime notes. Towards the end of the development clove and nutmeg are joined by ginger.

Finish: The oak is present, but by no means is it dominant or drying. The baking spices slowly fade, but do not disappear. The saltiness remains and does a hint of dark chocolate. All of this combines to give me a sort of spice cake note that I get off of a lot of whiskies like this. The citrus helps to cut through the dryness of the oak. It goes without saying that the finish is insanely long.

With water added

I let try this sit with seven drops of water in my remaining ounce of whisky for at least 30 minutes while my taste buds recovered. It’s quite a bit more cask forward now with stewed stone fruits, but the mint toothpaste is still there. The spices are a bit less earthy now. Allspice rather than clove and nutmeg. It’s also not quite as maritime either. The role reversal between distillate and cask continues on the palate. More stewed fruits, baking spices and dark chocolate. It’s also more orange marmalade than citrus peel. The finish is more citrus forward this time round and has a little bit more oak.

Conclusion

I like the contrast here between sipping this neat and with water. Although there is a reversal between distillate and cask dominance, one isn’t hugely victorious over the other in either case. Signatory had a Ledaig in the out turn previous to this one that was the same age and strength, but in a first fill sherry butt as opposed to a refilled one. It would be interesting to try a Ledaig along those lines someday, just to see what the contrast is.

Although special releases of Ledaig and anything besides their official 10 year expression are fiendishly difficult to find in Canada, it seems to be very popular with independent bottlers these days. It’s thanks to them that there will always be a Ledaig available on a shelf nearby.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Rodger’s Whisky Vintage Selection 6 Year Heavily Peated Ben Nevis review

Today, we’re reviewing the first in a series of Single Cask Clan bottles that are available to members only. Up to bat in this review is the first of two bottles from Roger’s Whisky. The Single Cask Clan is based in Canada, is free to join and gives you access to exclusive bottles from all over the world. DM @singlecaskclan on Instagram for more information.

Rodger’s Whisky is a friendly reminder that not all players in the scotch independent bottling space are based in Scotland. Roger Tan was born and raised in the Netherlands and has been in the world of whisky as a fan, investor and photographer for over 25 years. In 2020, he added independent bottling to his resume. His first release included two 12 year Caol Ila casks. The first was finished in first fill PX sherry octaves and other in first fill Oloroso.

This second set of releases includes the bottle we have poured today. This single cask six year, heavily peated Ben Nevis was exclusively matured in ex-sherry casks and bottled at a healthy 58.4%. Both Sean Kincaid and I are reviewing this bottle. See our thoughts below.

Paul’s review

Nose: Sadly, my bottle is about 3/4 empty already, but as it was quickly drained, it has gone through a few phases. First, there was the bacon, then it got real sea-brine forward (Nicole, aka @blackcatwhisky suggested Oysters Rockefeller). Now it’s a glorious mashup of the two with a few extras thrown in. The brine note now, to me at least, is very much a low tide in an ocean marina kind of smell. The bacon starts to shine through as you let it sit in the glass. It’s a rich, smoked bacon that’s super crispy. There’s a little bit of a medicinal note that has started to crop up now. It’s not Laphroaig-like, but it is present. The European oak is rearing its head now as well. I’m expecting more of that with water when I get there. Getting back to the saltiness of this whisky, there’s some sea salt milk chocolate. The fruitiness is some cooked down plums. Finally there’s just a little bit of the Ledaig kind of burnt rubber, but not as much as I got when I cracked the bottle.

Palate: This is actually quite sweet and tart on the entry as well as very oily. This coats your whole mouth in a hurry. It’s honey, plum compote and orange zest. This lasts for about a second and a half and then it’s just a mountain of brine, peat, oak and sherry. The brine is like the juice from fresh cooked shellfish. Then the smoke and salt from the bacon overtakes that. Next in line is the peat. Citrusy with lemon and orange peel. Finally comes the European oak, coming in much hotter than when I first opened this bottle. Overlying all of that are the sweeter notes that I got from the entry as well as a healthy dose of earthy baking spices (cinnamon ad clove). Nothing wins out here. The balance is near perfect.

Finish: Long. The tongue tingles for a good, long while. Mostly a sourness from the peat, oak and dark chocolate at first. Particularly when I smack my lips and suck in some air during the development, the finish is dry at first, but the citrus zing that lingers helps to make my mouth water again. There’s just a touch of the sweetness that I got on the entry that helps to balance this all out. I should be getting a stopwatch out to time how long this finish is.

With water added…

The nose is now much more oak forward, as I was expecting. The medicinal note has faded and the bacon and sea brine are using a microphone to make themselves heard. The notes aren’t as varied with water, but the ones that remain are bolder. The arrival is much more measured and the transition to the development isn’t as sharp. The sweetness is more prominent during the first half of the development until the oak and baking spices kick in big time. As I swallow this, the spicing has some red chilli flakes and black pepper. It’s almost a little too hot for me. Still, this transition to spice is slow and builds gradually. The finish is just as long and the dark chocolate is very much at the forefront here.

It will depend what kind of preference for spice you have regarding adding water or not. If you want a dram with a lot of spice, add water. Otherwise, stay put. Either way, it’s delicious.

Sean’s review

Nose: The very initial breath immediately picks up the peat notes. It’s also not nosing like a cask strength whisky at all. This is savoury peat. Meaty peat. The peat immediately reveals that sweet, syrupy Sherry note that I swear is PX but is simply stated as Sherry on the bottle. As the label suggests this is campfire style smoke and there’s something else in there. A touch of sourness (in the most appealing way possible), almost like a handful of copper pennies, or freshly sewn copper tubing. All I know is this nose makes me immediately want to sip and I found it really hard to nose it without sipping long enough to get proper notes.

Palate: This is opposite of the nose where I get the PX sweetness up front and then it welcomes in the peat and smoke notes. This is savoury in the best way. Let me set the scene. Breakfast is served. All on one big plate where you have cinnamon french toast (cinnamon and malty notes) dabbed with a dark red fruit compote (PX sherry notes), which is then drizzled with heavy, thick maple syrup. Also on the plate is a helping of Maplewood smoked bacon, fresh out of the oven (big savoury notes) and the syrup is running on to them. Lastly there are a couple fried eggs glistening and waiting to be devoured (touch of sulphur and that copper note). Now eat (drink) up and enjoy as this is one of the best young whiskies I have had in a really long time. Does not show it’s youth at all. In fact there’s almost a dusty, leathery note I find as well which on a 6 year old whisky isn’t usual. Damn that’s good!!

Conclusion

Darn it. I should have bought two of these. For those that have not drained their bottle their bottle quite as quickly as I have, I assure you that the best is yet to come. There is an almost perfect balance between sweet, salty, sour and spicy.

It’s hard to believe that this whisky is only six years old. There’s a depth of flavour and balance that is usually reserved for bottles that are twice this age or more. Roger’s next couple of releases sound pretty tempting already and it’s hoped that Canada will be able to see some bottles of this as well.

Instagram: @paul.bovis and @seankincaid

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt review

When whisky drinkers think of peated single malt whisky, they immediately think of the Isle of Islay. Although the most iconic peated single malt brands call that island their home, there is a whole world of peated whisky out there to explore. And not just in Scotland. Almost every whisky producing nation has it’s take on peat, it seems.

For those who are newer to the world of whisky, the basic difference between peated and un-peated malt is the burning of peat bricks (literally chunks of dried peat from bogs) when the malted barley is being dried. The smoke from the burning peat gets introduced into the barley. The phenols infused into the barley from the peat smoke gives peated malt it’s distinct smell and taste. Typical notes introduced as a result of this process include iodine, tar, ash and smoke.

The strength of this peated signature in the malt is directly related to the amount of time the malt is exposed to peat smoke. For example, Laphroaig exposes their malted barley to 15-30 hours of peat smoke. Some go higher. The standard measure of how “peated” the barley has become is its phenol parts per million, or ppm.

Different distilleries have different takes on peated single malt. Some distilleries take a great deal of pride in making the most peated single malt possible such as Bruichladdich and their Octomore series. Many of their releases are 150+ ppm. Most of the major Islay distilleries are in the 30-50 ppm range.

Boulder Spirits has taken a different approach. Rather than creating a heavily peated whisky, they keep their peated level quite low by mixing low ppm peated malt (35 ppm or so) with non-peated malt. The result is a whisky that has an earthy, rather than medicinal flavour. For those who have shied away from peated single malt in the last, this serves as a gentle introduction to what the genre has to offer.

The Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt was matured for at least three years in a #3 char virgin American oak barrel before being bottled at 46%.

Nose: This is a lovely intersection between peat and virgin oak. If I was forced to make a comparison between this and an Islay distillery, I would say it’s closest to Ardbeg. Much less peated of course! A faint whiff of Montreal smoked meat and campfire ash from the previous night. It’s ever so slightly briney. From my recent trip to Salt Spring Island, BC, we took several walks through cedar-rich forests. I’m getting that smell here too. As this sits in the glass for longer, some fresh herbal notes come up. Mostly Italian parsley and a bit of cilantro. There’s enough sweetness and spice to balance things out. A surprising hint of dark cherry lurks in the background. Some sponge toffee and a little bit of vanilla is in there too. For spices, I’m getting cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. Before I take a sip, some orange zest presents itself. The more time you give this in the glass, the more the notes of the virgin oak come to the fore. If you want the peat, drink it sooner! Otherwise, give it time! Speaking of time, it’s time to take a sip!

Pallet: The entry is rich and creamy. Dark toffee, dark chocolate, slices of lemon peel. It’s just a tad ashy. Some grilled cherries and rich vanilla. That cherry note becomes a little more sour as the entry transitions into the development. The volume on the orange and lemon zest gets turned up during the development along with the spices from the oak, but the sweet notes from the entry tame them just enough. Towards the back end of the development, this gets a little drier, but not overly so. After several sips, a peppercorn steak sauce note tingles the tongue along with a little bit of crushed red chilies. I’m getting something different with each sip.

Finish: Quite a long finish. It’s slightly drying and bitter from the oak and near-burnt sponge toffee. Some of the dryness is counterbalanced by the citrus which is fading from the development. Some old leather, a bit of ash and that cedar forest note come on at the end.

With water added…

I’m not so fond of the nose with a few drops of water. It’s a little too oak forward and swamps all of those other notes that make this whisky so unique. This sentiment carries forward through to the entry and, particularly, the development. It’s just too heavily oaked for my taste. For the first time, the youthfulness of this whisky is starting to rear it head. The finish is much the same.

Conclusion

This is definitely a better whisky without water added. Sipped neat and given some time, this is another reminder for the “age is everything” cohort that that adage simply does not ring true. For lovers of scotch, the addition of exclusive virgin oak barrel maturation introduces notes that come both from the single malt and bourbon worlds, creating a hybrid that can be found nowhere else at the moment.

If you have always been shy of peat, this is the perfect whisky to finally take that plunge. It’s not going to slap you across the face and even has some notes commonly associated with bourbons, if that’s the realm you’re coming from.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Talisker 15 Year (2019 Diageo Special Release)

Diageo’s “Rare by Nature” 2019 special release. “Limited” to 42000 bottles worldwide and sounding like very few made it to Canada. “Natural Cask strength” at 57.3% abv. Matured fully in freshly charred American oak hogsheads and comes in a tin with beautiful art prints of oysters and seaweed as found near the distillery around the Isle of Skye.

Nose

While it has the typical notes of spice and herbs and brine that Talisker is known and loved for, the smoke is rather faint on the initial nose. Digging deeper though, the smoke starts to present itself more firmly but the drill sergeant here seems to be the sweetness. As a mixture of flame melted and burnt sugar hits the top of my sinuses, a faint citrus fruit note poke it’s way through. Citrus like orange peels, and a freshly peeled peach. The high ABV doesn’t really show up too much on the nose which I like as it allows a lot of time searching around for ever changing notes without tickling those nostrils with high alcohol.

Palate

Immediately rich and clingy in the mouth. Spices and herbs literally fighting their way to the tongue. A touch of the smoke clears the way. A nice campfire style smoke. A second sip and the sweetness shines through. Salted caramel without the crunch and a touch of the citrus arrives again. Lemon rind and brown sugar dance together, muddling the high ABV which is present, but not obnoxious at all. Maritime brine and seaweed round of the profile but again, that sweetness is surprising refreshing.

Finish

Not the longest finish and medium in length. Starts heavy on cinnamon and smoke and the “tongue tingle” copyright… sticking around for a bit as the finish fades from salty spiced smoke to more fruit and burnt sugar sweetness again.

Talisker for me is always a fairly consistently, decent to great distillery with very few misses, with a lot of releases I have really enjoyed over the years. This one particularly, while not as typical as some other releases, really impressed with its subtle differences. That sweetness is such a welcoming surprise, as I previously mentioned, which offers a beautifully balanced and complimentary quality to those maritime and peat notes Talisker has become known for. If you can find this bottle and like this style of whisky, do not hesitate to buy one. 

Outside of my recommendation to purchase this Talisker release, I have some other advice to share….

Please always wear socks when Steve asks you to come help him with a few photos, just encase he asks you to walk through waist high snow banks! I learnt my lesson.

  • Review by Sean Kincaid

Bunnahabhain 12 Year

A regular release from Bunnahabhain, this 12 year comes at us aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks but composed with 30% ex-sherry which elegantly lends some beautiful colour and fruit sweetness to the expression. This whisky is somewhat of a darling in my circle as I am sure it is in every circle, mostly because it comes at a price of $60ish CAD and is one of the most drinkable whiskies on the shelf.

Whenever I am introducing the land of Islay to a new whisky drinker, there is not a better choice than Bunna 12. With all the fresh sea like characteristics quintessential to the region but with less of the peat punch you’ll get in the Laphies and Laggies, makes it a perfectly palatable introduction to the genre.

ABV – 46.3% / Age – 12 Years / Mash – 100% Malted Barley / Region – Scotland (Islay) / Cask – ex-Bourbon (70%) & ex- Sherry (30%) 

Mike Brisebois (Distell Brand Ambassador) happens to be a good friend of the society which makes a lot of people around here pretty happy. The perk of this friendship is that Bunna 12 tends to flow around our tasting like water. Along with our other faithful pre-dram – Deanston 12 year, Bunna 12 is a perfect way to wet your palate and get those buds ready for the evening or even turn your buzz into a night ending fizzle. Like I said, water is sometimes the second most beverage consumed at these tastings…

It’s funny, I have been drinking this whisky for so long that when someone asked me what my tasting notes were… I kind of froze. I then thought to myself, I have been drinking and enjoying it for so long that I never really stopped to actually appreciate it. So… in the realization of my complacency, I figured I would pull myself together to complete a review and tasting notes. Here we go…

NOSE – A waft of sherry along with some fresh briny citrus from the get go. After nosing past the citrusy sting, the Islay character very subtly shines through with earthy smoke.

PALATE – A significant richness you do not normally find in a 12 year. Full of earthy, nutty, sherried fruitiness and spice with a slight botanical character reminiscent of an unripe mango or a lemon peel. Intermittently throughout is a very light peat and smokiness, but not a crude peat like we are used to but vegetal like you’re burning the fresh branches and leaves from the vineyard, grapes and all.

FINISH – The finish is light and pleasant but carries nicely with all the lingering qualities of the palate. Short to medium in length which is perfect for this dram because the drink-ability of it makes sure the next sip is never far behind.

I should really come up with a measuring basis for these reviews to provide some context but until then you will just have to read my mind. Based on value alone, Bunna 12 scores high for me. Its no secret that I have a soft spot for this whisky and highly recommend it to all drinkers alike. My rating is 8.6/10.

  • Review by Steven Shaw