The Abhainn Dearg distillery, founded by Mark Tayburn in 2008, is located on the the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, one of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.
Since 2011 they are selling a 3 years old Special Edition whisky (at a whopping £ 150), but this is their new make, a single malt spirit (not yet whisky) which is aged in sherry casks for just a few months before it’s bottled.
Abhainn Dearg ‘The Spirit of Lewis’ (46%, OB 2014, 50 cl.)
Nose: strange. Huge rubber and plastic comes out. Burning plastic. Pear syrup and honey pops. Burnt grasses and hay. Hints of grappa. Mouth: quite acidic and bitter, a kind of planky bitterness. Hints of burnt herbs. Rubber and gravel. Brrr… Again a berry / pear sweetness behind it. Finish: invasive, dry and bitter with some metallic notes.
Oh boy, oh boy, it has been a while since I tried something this bad. It’s maybe even the worst thing I ever tried that was labelled ‘whisky in progress’. Very disappointing, really off-track. Around € 50 for 50 cl.
This Kavalan Solist is a sister cask of the one bottled for TastToe. Both sherry casks were filled on the same day, 21st of August 2006 and bottled one day earlier in 2013.
Kavalan Solist Sherry (57,8%, OB for La Maison du Whisky 2013, sherry cask #S060821047, 497 btl.)
Nose: really profound, big yet elegant sherry. Prunes, dates, lots of cherries and raspberries. Toasted nuts and cinnamon. A big fruitiness covered with layers of turpentine, camphor and varnished oak. Chocolate and Balsamico. Mouth: big and powerful again. There’s still a fruity side (plum jam, blackcurrants, some exotic hints like baked banana) but also a dry and slightly bitter side. Dark chocolate with fleur de sel, cocoa powder and cloves. Pepper and liquorice roots. Very intense. Finish: long, slightly tannic, with coffee powder, cassis and tobacco.
Quite excellent, just like its sister cask. Slightly engineered and very overpowering but highly attractive. Around € 150. Still available from LMdW, although it’s unclear whether it’s actually the same cask.
Highland Park Dark Origins is a new addition to the core range. It refers to the origins of the distillery, a time when the founder Magnus Eunson had to pull ‘dark’ tricks to smuggle his illicit products and stay two steps ahead of the exciseman.
Dark Origins has no age statement, but it’s said to be a teenager which uses twice as much first fill sherry casks than the 12 years old (i.e. 80%, of which two thirds was European oak), hence with supposedly darker flavours.
Highland Park Dark Origins
(46.8%, OB 2014)
Dark doesn’t really refer to its colour, in any case. Mind that it’s a natural colour. Nose: sherry alright. Almonds and hazelnuts, soaked raisins and baked apple. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Some butterscotch. Oranges. A big smoked / charred note as well. A slightly fuller nose than the other youngster in the core range. Mouth: medium-sweet. Quite tarry and smoky for a HP expression, which means limited complexity. Slightly woody as well, with hints of mint, pepper and a bitterish edge. Earthy notes, liquorice and dark cocoa. Finish: long, smoky and oaky. Sweet cereals and herbal notes in the background.
This is a peatier, smokier kind of Highland Park. Darker indeed. The dark side works well with the sherry notes on the nose, but it’s a little harsh and oaky on the palate. Around € 75 – available from stores around Europe and the US later this month.
Middle-aged Ardbeg, especially matured in a sherry cask, is something every bottler wants to have. Malts of Scotland released a couple already and now there’s one in the occasional Amazing Casks series.
The cask has been selected by Malts of Scotland’s Thomas Ewers and Ardbeg collector Geert Bero.
Ardbeg 16 yo 1998 (58,2%, Malts of Scotland ‘Amazing Casks’ 2014, ref. Mos 14027, 222 btl.)
Nose: slightly rubbery (tires) and beefy / vegetal at first. Chocolate and mastic. Some liquorice, chestnuts and leather. After a while it becomes more classic, with tar and plum jam, but it stays too much on the dirty side for me. Mouth: sweet peat (though not THAT big), chocolate, figs and ashes. There’s camphor and resin, some walnuts. A sourish side as well (raspberry and grapefruit). Nice balance of sweet and dry elements. Finish: long, ashy with salty hints and dried fruits.
Ardbeg and sherry can lead to a very nice marriage. The previous Ardbeg from Geert and Thomas was a great example. In this case I have some trouble with the beefy parts of the nose, but overall it keeps growing in the nice direction. Allow it to breathe. Around € 200.
I guess the eBay period is almost over for these Feis Ile bottlings, so let’s publish my take on the Lagavulin Feis Ile 2014. Like previous years, it’s taken from sherry casks.
Lagavulin 1995 ‘Feis Ile’ (54,7%, OB 2014, European sherry oak butts, 3500 btl.)
Nose: excellent, focused nose with a backbone of coastal notes: shells, oysters, waxed rain coats, flints and brine. Big medicinal notes, mainly iodine. Plasticine. Also sweeter notes like oranges and berries, as well as some honey, although the sherry doesn’t overpower in any way. Smoky lemon juice. Rose pepper. Tobacco. More on the sharp, edgy side of sherried Lagavulins, but quite perfect really. Mouth: oily, with plenty of tar, ashes and soot. Highly medicinal again, salty and immensely full-bodied. Sharp but it mixes nicely with yellow and pink grapefruits, Seville oranges and dark Lapsang tea. Then some honey sweetness and hints of dried apricots. Sweet liquorice. A fair dose of oak as well. Finish: very long, with lots of wood smoke and cigars. Cinnamon. Tobacco. Still a striking balance of sharpness and sweetness.
Excellent Lagavulin, similar in style to the 2012 release of the 21 Year Old. Originally around € 125, which is really cheap for a near-20yo (considering the official 21yo was around € 500). Most of these Lagavulin Feis Ile releases are top-notch and this one in particular is just great. An instant classic.
Here’s another Glenmorangie in disguise, or rather an almost pure Glenmorangie, with a few teaspoons of another malt being added (usually Glen Moray). Westport is a common name for this, remember independent bottlers can’t use the name Glenmorangie on their labels.
Nose: aromatic nose. Vanilla and blood oranges. Fruity lokum (apricot / orange) and powder sugar. Hints of golden raisins and honey. A ginger / alcohol tingle, as well as some kiwi and fresh mint. Mouth: thick, oily and very sweet, with lots of fruity notes (fresh ones and tinned / candied ones) and honey. Cointreau. Marzipan and vanilla custard. Followed by balanced spices (ginger, pepper, clove) which give it a pleasant bittersweet edge in the end. Hints of sweet liquorice too. Finish: still this fruity / spicy combination. Lots of honey.
A similar sweet and fruity profile, easily drinkable though not as intense as the North Highland 18yo. Around € 90, still available in some places.
Swedish bottler Svenska Eldvatten is not giving us a distillery name this time, only the indication North Highland. This 18 years old malt from a first fill sherry cask is said to come from a distillery rarely bottled by independents. Make a guess and read on.
North Highland 18 yo 1995 (56,1%, Svenska Eldvatten 2013, first fill sherry butt #233123, 428 btl.)
Nose: toffee apples and rhubarb compote. Sweet and sour. Berries, oranges and vanilla. Some hay and soft minerals. Dried apricots too. A profile that’s very open and inviting but complex at the same time. After a while it gets more leathery with hints of eucalyptus oil, camphor and a hint of polished cedar which I find rather ‘Japanese’ if you know what I mean. Mouth: punchy, oily, nicely sherried, with syrupy fruits, red apples, raisins and hints of candy. Some drier, grassier notes as well as cloves and grape pits. Muscovado sugar. A mintiness like on the nose. Finish: medium long, fruity with some cocoa and toasted notes.
Could this be a sherried Glenmorangie? I don’t see why not. It surely fits their wood engineering skills, resulting in an interesting (American) sherry oak expression. Maybe a little woody but very flavoursome. Around € 100, still available.
Balblair 2002 is not the first young Balblair I’m trying: I’ve already had the Balblair 2000 and I’ve even reviewed its successor, Balblair 2003. Now there’s also a duo of Balblair 2004 available in travel retail, one bourbon matured and the other sherry matured (only in Asia).
Balblair 2002 is made up of ex-bourbon casks.
Balblair 2002 (46%, OB 2013)
Nose: malty and sweet, with lots of sugared cereals and quinces. Fairly youngish, with some esthery fruitiness of banana. Lemon and white grapefruit. Sponge cake. A grassy / minty note too. Mouth: malty, sweet and sour. Lemon drops, pear and grapefruit again. Some tangy / zesty notes coming out as well. Lemon verbena. Green apple and honey. There’s an obvious sweetness going on (icing sugar) but it’s mixed with bitterness and sourness. A hint of moccha in the end. Finish: rather short, zesty, slightly metallic. Still sweet honey too.
I like this one more on the palate than on the nose, where I think it’s slightly unbalanced and flat. Overall a fairly light, decent young whisky, not a one-trick pony but nothing extraordinary either. I do like the fact that each of these young vintages has its own character though. Around € 40. Thanks Joeri.