Peated Malts of Distinction Tweet Tasting

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Earlier this evening I took part in the Tweet Tasting event for Beam Suntory’s Peated Malts of Distinction. Prior to the event held online, I was very intrigued by the prospect of experiencing 4 new whiskies connected by their love of peat and featuring a No Age Statement (NAS) across the board. For some commentators this is the future of whisky as due to increased demand, aged stock just isn’t there anymore or comes at a real premium.

This vertical tasting was an opportunity to appreciate the skills of the master blenders and what’s possible with good casks. I had a chat a couple of years ago with Gordon Motion, the master blender for the Edrington Group, and his belief was give him good casks with young whisky rather than aged whisky in bad or average casks, any day of the week. There are strong NAS whiskies on the market and unfortunately some overpriced poor examples of the genre as well; the skill is getting it right.
Currently we are experiencing a boom for anything peated as seen in my recent tale with the Cadenhead shop in Edinburgh having to take emergency measures. The press release included with this tasting pack highlights the popularity of peated whiskies in Sweden (29%), Germany (25%) and the Netherlands (21%) and this isn’t a surprise from my travels.

Of the malts the most anticipated for me was the Connemara Original, as I’m unfamiliar with this Irish whisky. The Ardmore Legacy has a tough role in replacing the solid and bargain priced Ardmore Traditional Cask that will be sadly missed. Prior to the tasting I had heard some mixed feedback on the Laphroaig Select from fellow enthusiasts and the Bowmore Small Batch (not to be confused with the Small Batch Reserve from a couple of years ago). As they always say the proof is in the tasting or is that pudding?  So let us begin this peated whisky extravaganza!
The Ardmore Legacy
Distillery: Ardmore
Strength: 40% ABV
Additional: Chill Filtered, 80% peated malt, 20% unpeated malt
Price: £29.99
Colour: apple jelly
Nose: a very restrained nose even after letting it sit for an hour with a glass lid. A slight echo of peat, mandarin, buttery raw pastry, red liquorice laces and stewing apples.
Taste: it's like having been at a campfire the night before and waking up with that residue on your clothes and palate. Charcoal, vanilla but not much else going on here and adding water brings out a suggestion of iodine yet expels the smoke. A warming but very flaccid finish.
Overall: disappointing given how much I enjoyed the Traditional cask which this Legacy is replacing; a step backwards with a higher price point attached. I cannot recommend this Ardmore and suggest you scour the internet/retailers for the remnants of the Traditional Cask release.
Laphroaig Select
Distillery: Laphroaig
Strength: 40% ABV
Additional: natural colour, uses a blend of spirit from Laphroaig Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood (European Oak casks) and the 10 Year Old.
Price: £34.99
Colour: very pale just a hint of wood
Nose: malted vinegar, plump raisins, stale white supermarket bread (not that I buy this stuff anymore, I bake my own) and pine cones. On another swing past I'm taken with the classic sweetie now as refreshers. Another taster suggested being in a saw mill and that is spot on.
Taste: a mixture of salty sweetness and maple cured bacon. I had heard bad reports about this whisky but it isn't as poor as those comments lead me to believe. The classic iodine note is there but a supporting act. Cloves, white pepper, that smoky residue on your clothes when you had to endure smokers in the pub. Perfectly acceptable to a newcomer, but like the new Mortlach's, if you know what the distillery is capable of then you'll probably ignore this release.
Overall: a lightweight Laphroaig. I recently attended a tasting at the SMWS and one of the drams that night was a well aged Laphroaig that was very refined; not the bold beasty I was expecting. This sibling is similar in that respect but lacks the complexity of its older brother. As I said on the night, its a brave thing trying to move away from the iconic image of Laphroaig being the last stop on your whisky journey.

Connemara Original
Distillery: Cooley
Strength: 40% ABV
Price: £29.16
Colour: apple cider vinegar
Nose: a blast of smoky sweetness - I wasn't expecting that. Takes me back to Caol Ila in some respects. A real freshness on the nose with a meaty body of smoke that acts as seasoning. Vanilla most certainly with a coating of beeswax, I'm thinking Cadbury's Dairy Milk Caramel of all things; it has that sugar sweetness that also leans towards ripe pear.  
Taste: very smooth exactly what I'd expect from an Irish whisky. Refined and very gentle on the palate. The peat comes through on the finish but prior to that you have honey, barley sugar drops and a Frankenstein chef experiment of smoky vanilla ice cream - Heston's probably already done it?  
Overall: my favourite dram of the evening and all going well I'll be in Ireland seeing family sometime during 2015. There will be a slight detour now.
Bowmore Small Batch
Distillery: Bowmore
Strength: 40% ABV
Additional: a marriage of first-fill and second-fill ex-bourbon casks
Price: £33
Colour: vibrant golden honey - almost radioactive in its sparkle
Nose: Initially some rendered bacon fat and a used matchstick box providing that smoky waft. Then it moves onto melted margarine and honey pancakes.  
Taste: this was the 3rd dram of the night and I thought the Ardmore would be bottom of the palate notes league, but no its this Bowmore. I'm unclear whether its really feminine and delicate or just Haig Club-esque in its benign characteristics. My lasting impression is cardboard and before that buttered toast.
Overall: traditionally I'm just not a huge fan of the current Bowmore range despite a vertical tasting and all the best efforts of Heather at the distillery to entice me with their produce. Actually, the best was being able to taste straight from the cask in their legendary warehouse, either the bourbon or the sherry casks; both were a lovely treat. This Bowmore is an empty shell of what it could be. It's annoying as this should be a great shining light in the whisky world producing the best of the best.

So there you have it; 4 NAS whiskies all bottled at 40% and an average price of around say £30. A discussion for any congregation over a few whiskies and again continues the mixed form of NAS experiences I've built up in recent years. In reality if buyers are not solely focused on official bottlings, I can see supermarket white label exclusives and good quality blends winning. Some tasters on the night preferred the Bowmore generally, followed by the Laphroaig whereas the Ardmore seems to be a mainstay of 4th place. That's the joy of whisky tasting - I'm right and you're wrong!

^That's a joke.

As long as we enjoy what we are drinking in a responsible fashion, then that's what matters in my book even if you add lemonade or ice to a dram.
 

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