Tag Archives: Big Smoke

Islay distilleries explained thru Rock and Roll comparisons – Part 1 – Bruichladdich & my review of Octomore Orpheus 2.2

I had a “sit” and a “think” the other day and wondered if I could explain Islay distilleries and their whiskies, specifically to people that are new to whisky, by way of Rock and Roll; which is a universal language.  Right?

Sure, scientists will say that math is the universal language.  If that’s so, why did we send a Rolling Stones tune into outer space?  Answer me that.  It’s not Freakonomics, it’s Jaggernomics is what it is!

So, let’s see if this works out.  I’ll go over the eight existing distilleries and make my comparisons…  First the whisky review then the Rock Band comparison.  Cool?  Cool.

Octomore Orpheus 2.2 – 61%ABV – Petrus Wine Finish$145

On the nose –  Whoa.  Huh.  Interesting.  This is huge.  We’re talking huge.

I’m not sure what has the most influence – the levels of phenol (peated to 140ppm) or the wine finish (Petrus).  Lots of root vegetables with parsnip seeming to win that battle.

Fresh soil and port wine spice.  Grape jam, sweetened overly so.

No smoke whatsoever, this is peat.  Peat and a bit herbaceous, briny capers too.

Currently, I’m sitting outside and with the sun on me and the cool breeze… I could nose this forever.  The day is perfect and this is shining even more so because of the day.

With water, there are some fantastic coastal elements that come to the fore.  Salty sand castles, browning apples, ocean stones.  I am LOVING this with water!

On the mouth – A numbing quality upfront that forces the focus on the finish rather than the flavors upfront.  I need to give this some time and a second go…  An elusive whisky, aren’t you??

Very ashy for sure after the 3rd sip, and once it’s noticed it’s a bit of an affront.  *However*, there are these fine wine influenced notes that offer up some tanniny grape skins (think dark Rose where they use a better part of the skins in production).

Very creamy, ooey.  Yummy.  Me likey.  Reminds me a bit of an heavily peated Black Arts (that Bruichladdich spirit quality shines through).

The addition of water brings out notes of chocolates and spent welding flux.  The mouthfeel becomes massive with a dash water.

Finish – Heavy wine influence, good wine influence.  Not very long though…

In sum – Don’t let the high ABV and 140ppm peating level scare you off (if those do in fact tend to scare you off).  All it takes is a dash of water to subdue this baby and s/he will be yours.  Big, powerful and full of character.  If you can find some, grab some and enjoy sparingly.  A dram will go a long way.  I envision many wonderful conversations being had over a dram of this whisky!

Special thanks to Ronnie R for the sample!!

Gal of Whisky Israel reviewed this one quite a while back as a head-to-head review with Octomore 2.1 and it’s well worth a read!


Bruichladdich – the band! — Man, this is an easy one for me.  Sex Pistols.  Simple.  Easy.  Let’s move on.

Wait, you need more explanation?  Ok, ok…

Back in 1976/77 few major bands had the look or (raw) impact on the music like the Sex Pistols.  Rock was stagnating and Disco was becoming more popular.  But the Sex Pistols burst upon the scene like a lion on new kill.

Compare this to Bruichladdich, look at their kick-a$$ packaging or their all-over-the-place releases of yesteryear (and by yesteryear, I mean the past 8-10 years and up until the newest Laddie Ten).  From the moment they released their amazing new “Laddie Ten“, it takes people from a scratch-your-head, “what are these guys doing?!” position to a more, “Ah, NOW I get it!” position.

And then, like Springbank, they’re making three different whiskies in the same place.  An unpeated one (Bruichladdich), a heavily Peated one (Port Charlotte) and the world’s most peated whisky (Octomore).

What’s more is they have a still (called Ugly Betty, by the way), they they installed a short while back that now makes what I feel is one of THE best gins on the market – The Botinist.  Seriously, A-MAZ-ING gin!

My point?  They are doing what they want to do and not what people might expect from them.  They don’t give a $#!?.  Solid.

“We are Bruichladdich – love us or leave us.”

To me, that’s punk rock and that’s why the are the Sex Pistols of whisky.

Peat’s Beast Single Malt Whisky

Region of Scotland – ?? – ABV 46% – Released on March 27th, according to the bottlers, specifically in conjunction with “World Whisky Day.   You can find a bottle at Mast of Malt for £38 (not available in US stores but MoM does ship to the US).

A few months back I received an email that basically said:  Hey there, I’m sure you hear this all of the time but, we want to send you a sample of a single malt, un-chill filtered whisky and are curious to know your thoughts.

The obvious response to a statement such as the above is, well, “Ummm, OK.”

I followed up, mind you, with some questions:

What are the details of the whisky?

Who produces or who bottles it?

The response was basically… well, there was no response.  But you know what?  I sort of liked that!!

A short while later, just prior to the whisky arriving at my doorstep, another email came my way telling me that the whisky in question was to be called “Peat’s Beast” and that it was a intensely peaty whisky.

There was also mention of Richard Paterson giving his tasting notes on the Peat’s Beast website but they were very clear – Richard’s review was simply that – a review and they were independent and in no way tied to Whyte and Mackaye.

So, all I knew at this point (as well as all I now know) is that:

  1. Peat’s Beast is a single malt whisky, not a blend
  2. Peat’s Beast is, well, peaty
  3. It’s bottled at 46% ABV and there is no chill filtration.

Nothing about age, distillery, terrior.  Nothing.

You sneeky-cheeky-monkeys!!!

Let’s investiage…

Color — Very pale – like a Sauvignon Blanc (young 1st fill bourbon casks or a 2nd fill?  A mixture of 1st, 2nd and refill casks?  The world may never know…).

On the nose –  This little beastie does offer up some smoke infused notes (peat smoke indeed) but what I find most striking, and enjoyable, is the waft of lavender then lilac that floats above it all.

Reminiscent of a whisky dunnage warehouse, dirt and oak in all.

A tiny hint of apricot and buttery crumpet.  Fruits that tend to give away a whiskies youth: Pear and maybe (maybe) a touch of apple.

Not so much a big beast but I’ve had other self-proclaimed peat monsters that haven’t offered up some of the interesting floral tones I’m getting with this one.

So far, so good.

On the mouth – This is where the fiery roar comes in to play.  Lots of burning twigs.  Very peppery.  A snuffed out spring campfire (snuffed by spring morning dew with the slightest hint of spring moss rolling around here).

Not big with the mouthfeel but not overly watery.  A young effervescing quality to this whisky.

New buds, young wood.

Not sure if this is all inspired by spring fever but it’s all on the burning of old brush and in the with new life for me with this one.  This does pack a smokey wallop (though not very peaty as the nose initially suggested, just very smoky).

Finish – Longer than I expected given that this is supposed to be a younger whisky.  Peppery and smoke lasts and tingles the sides of the tongue.

In sum – A satisfying young, brash whisky that will satisfy most (I include myself that that “most” category).  Bottled at a solid ABV (46%) and the fact that it’s non-chill filtered and there was no color added makes me smile.

I can find myself pouring this as a no-brainer, “I need a smoky whisky”, whisky.  I like young peaty whiskies and if you do, too, then you can’t go wrong with this whisky.

Special thanks to Pauline G for the sample!

A new one for the US market – A peated Bunnahabhain by the moniker of “Toiteach”

Islay region – 46% ABV – $75-$80 |  £50

Today, along with the next few days as I catch up with my whisky reviews, I’m going to have to keep some of the preamble short and try to get right to the whisky review.

A few weeks back I got an email from Jeff K with Burns Stewart asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a new Bunnahabhain to the US market – a peated ex-bourbon Bunny.  Quite a stretch from their more standard, sherried, lightly (if at all) peated whisky.

My response to Jeff?  “Yes,” and “Thank you!”

So Jeff, thanks for the official sample!

This whisky is set to be launched in the US on April 1st (or there abouts).  No, this is not an April Fools Joke.

One more thing before I get to the review – I have to say kudos to Bunnahabhain, once again, for releasing their whiskies now at 46%+ ABV and non-chill filtered!  I hope other major distilleries follow you (yes, I’m looking at you GlenWhisky!!)

On the nose –  Wow, not what you’d expect from a Bunnahabhain – Pungent, briny, high tide, seaweed.

Good bits of toffee and floating about is a touch of lavender.

Sand buckets filled with wet sand from your trip to the beach with the kids last week.

Cigarette tray from a ’70’s Chevy Nova (with hints of Naugahyde in the background).

On the mouth – Welcome to the industrial age.  Jackhammer smoke and contraction sites.

Fantastic mouthfeel, quite oily.

Bursts of Dragonfruit slide down the back of the tongue.  Pears and apples quite browned but minus and and all brown spices – just the baked fruit.

Strip all I said away, bring it down to brass tacks and this is a solid, solid peat monster – and a bit peppery one at that!

Finish – Sweet and smoky with a fair amount of laminated cardboard candy boxes.  Medium length to the finish.

In sum – This 14yo whisky is one kick ass peat monster.  To be used as a really enjoyable way to warm the bones.  Good one, you little Bunnies!  Very nice to see that Islay’s more gentle whisky can hang with the other Islay peat monsters with head held high!

Smokehead vs. Smokehead

You know, when I first thought about what I could say before reviewing these whiskies, my initial thoughts were to make comparisons to the subject of this post to Kramer vs. Kramer (the 1979 movie with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman).  I haven’t seen that movie since… I don’t know, 1979?  After watching the trailer, I saw that there was no way I could tie Smokehead vs. Smokehead to Kramer vs. Kramer so I decided to abandon the idea altogether.

Sure, I could then get all silly and give you links to Kramer vs. Predator or Modern Day Jesus vs. Santa or even Bobby vs. The Devil.  But I won’t do that.

Instead, I’ll just get down to brass tacks and tell you about these two whiskies bottled under the “Smokehead” name.  Smokehead is a single malt Islay whisky bottled by Ian MacLeod.  If you know your Islay distilleries then you’ll know that there is no distillery on Islay that goes by the name Smokehead.  Similar to Port Askaig, Smokehead is a whisky distilled by an Islay distillery but bottled under a different name.

While some people are ardently opposed to bottling whisky under a secret name, I beg you to look at the quality of the whisky inside as you might be getting a fine whisky for a great price – regardless of what it says on the bottle.  Speaking of bottles, I’ve got to say I dig the Rock and Roll quality/look to their packaging.  I feel like I’m drinking whisky bottled by the Hard Rock Cafe.

Let’s have a taste.

Smokehead NAS (no age statement) – Islay region – 43%ABV$45

On the nose –  Well, it is called Smokehead for a reason.  Initial blast of smoke upon first sniff.  However, that is quickly peeled back to reveal lime popsicles; stick and all.

Bright and fruity (citrus and rhubarb) with a smoky and biscuity backbone.

A nice malty/beer like quality shines through.

A really nice nose – not over the top complex but one that’ll make the peat heads happy.

On the mouth – Here’s where the smoke REALLY comes into play.  A bit of an ashy-doosy.

Diesel engines, construction sites and construction paper (burnt or burning).

Burnt toffee and apple crisps inside manilla envelopes and packaged up nicely with some industrial packing tape.

Interesting mouthfeel – this whisky benefits from the high phenol content which seems to be forcing my mouth to water which makes the somewhat thinnish mouthfeel turn to a more oily one fairly quickly.

This really is a smoky monster with a bright sweetness that tells me there must be some younger whisky in here.

Finish – Short to medium finish with some of those popsicle sticks I got on the nose.

In sum – A powerhouse in the smoke arena.  One to help get your more thrill-seeking friends into Scotch Whisky.  There is a bit of a wow factor.  Also one that can be used as a warmer upper in the winter time for sure.

Smokehead 18yo – Islay region – 46%ABV£86 (due to short supply, not available in the US but Master of Malt has it)

On the nose –  Big smoke and brine and cups of over-steeped orange pekoe tea and a few shakes from a jar of Bacon Bits.

This might be 18 years old but there’s a youthfulness here that comes through in spirity version of almond brittle and butterscotch.

Red flecks of hot chili pepper sprinkled over salted lemon wedges.

For 18 years old, the smoke & peat is not as tamed as I would have expected.  Again, there’s a youthfulness here…

On the mouth – A bit of a weak entry; not what I expected after all of the smoke, spirit, red pepper, salty lemons I got on the nose.  I guess the age is now showing; rounded peat.

Decent mouthfeel and, wait a sec, there’s a bit of an evolution in flavors here.  The strength gets… stronger, which counteracts the the bubbe-grannykins “attack” from the get-go.

Smoke, coffee, burning coffee grounds.

Turmuric (?) and paprika laced chocolate shavings.  Lemonade and, again, red pepper flecks.

Finish – Drying now in the finish.  Decent length, smoky, oaky and chocolatey.

In sum – A decent whisky.  Expensive but tasty.  Well balanced and would satisfy many an Islay worshipping, peat loving Smokehead.  You might think me an odd duck but, as smoky as this is, I could easily pour a dram in the summertime…  Perhaps after mowing the lawn or gardening the… garden.

Special thanks goes out to the good folks over at Impex Beverages for the Smokehead NAS sample!

Special thanks goes out to David H for the sample of the 18yo!

Kilchoman Spring 2011 Release – Very mature for its age.

Islay region – 46%ABV – $41 – $60 (another crazy spread in US prices.  And believe it or not, some places sell for more!) | £39

Kilchoman is a very young distillery on Islay in Scotland (young, like only 5 years old, young).  Surely they fall within the peaty style of the island.  With regards to Islay whiskies, only Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain have non-peated whiskies as part of their standard range and as flagship whiskies.

With regards to Kilchoman, from the moment of their inception, Islay whisky-philes have been watching this little farm distillery with a keen eye.  Since their inaugural release, their first REAL whisky (aged at 3 years and 1 day), people have had nothing but good things to say about their products.  The list of people with good reviews is seemingly endless.

As of a later last year, Kilchoman stopped doing their various releases (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) and have launched a 2006 vintage – basically a five year old whisky.  To my knowledge, there has been only one indy bottling of Kilchoman and that was put out by the Whisky ExchangeI have had two of their OB single cask bottlings and really enjoyed them (I still had a tiny bit left from my Binny’s Exclusive bottling).

This is my first run-in with a non-single cask Kilchoman.

On the nose –  Only four years old, eh??  Bright and fresh with some smoke and peat and interestingly enough light notes of juniper (charred as it were).

OK, now some of those younger spirity notes creep through – pear drops, fresh apple too.

Some apple bread joins in on the fun as do some brine/coastal notes but it’s not very intense on that front.

Cinnamon over bread pudding.

Paraffin wax and a brininess as well.

On the mouth – Big, mouth coating, oily, smoky, lemons, limes.

There’s nothing young about this.  One could confuse this for a single cask 10yo Ardbeg.

Cooked apples, baked pears, old and heavily used rubbers/wellies.

Lots and lots going on here.

Finish – A lasting fizziness on the tip of my tongue.  Citrus notes remain.

In sum – This is a fine, fine whisky.  While I think I enjoyed the full throttle experience of 60%+ ABV on the two single cask Kilchomans (or would it be Kilchomen at that point?) a bit more, Kilchoman is showing some great promise.  If their whiskies are this good at only 4 years of age, I can’t wait to see what happened when they release a 10yo!  This is a winter warmer-upper.

Special thanks goes out to the good folks over at Impex Beverages for the sample!