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Review – Laphoaig Scotch

Posted by Reese On June - 14 - 2014

Scotch is quintessentially manish.  That’s certainly not to say that women don’t like it (Elisabeth being a prime example), but you must admit, it’s typically considered a man’s drink.  And, with Father’s Day just around the corner, now seems like a most appropriate time to talk scotch.  And, I’m talking serious scotch.

When you walk into my house, you can’t help but notice the liquor collection.  It’s giant, occupies a full wall, possibly visible from space and can be more than a bit itimidating.  The less discerning stop there.  But, I’m betting you’re not one of those.  You’d notice that the bottles are catagorized and and the top shelf is comprised of personally prized bottles.  Looking closer, you’d note that almost all of those are scotch.  Not to say that I don’t treasure all sorts of liquors, but I do love me some scotch. At recent count I have nearly 30 bottles of scotch. Mostly single malts, a few select blends and all at a variety of ages and finishes.  A lot of scotch to be sure.  And, the bottle of Laphroaig Cask Strength tucked along one side was one of my very first.

In 2009 I attended a scotch tasting led by Master Ambasador Simon Brooking.  The tasting was focused on Laphroaig and Simon shared a lot of great tips (and sips).  One of my favorites he outlines at this link. Try it, you’ll be impressed by what you can smell once the alcohol evaporates a little. *

Laphoaig Distillery

After that tasting I knew I needed a bottle of smokey, peaty Laphoaig to sit atop my shelves.  At first, I bought it almost as a challenge and it’s been consumed in much that same fashion.  It was bold and strong and deep.  Lots of peat, lots of smoke.  A challenge to be sure.  But as the years have progressed my palate (and my view on whiskies) has changed.  It’s not a challenge any more, it’s just a fantastic whisky.  One to be valued precisely because it is so bold, it is so different.  As such, when the opportunity presented itself to sample some of the other expressions, I jumped on it.

Background

Laphroaig has a hugely distinct flavor profile and there are a few key factors that play into making the whisky what it is.  First, and some would say most important, is the water supply.  Laphroaig has their own stream and reservoir, now wholly owned by the distillery and surrounded by land parcels gifted to each Friend of Laphroaig.  The water is soft and rather peaty, adding much to the flavor of the finished whisky.  Next are the Islay peat beds which provide the peat used for flavoring and drying the malted barley.  Islay peat is composed of primarily grass and fungal material (as opposed to wood) and this gives the whisky its peaty, medicinal qualities without providing huge smoke flavors.  Finally, at Laphroaig, the largely manual process of floor malting and then peat kilning is still used.  These factors as well as a number of other small nuances make Laphroaig the whisky it is.  If you’re interested in the full process, I’d highly suggest watching the distillery tour video on Laphroaig’s website.  It’s very well done.

So, with the story told, let’s get to brass tacks.  Tasting time.

TL;DR – Buy the Quarter Cask and gift it (come on he’s your dad) or drink it yourself.  Either way it’s a win.

Laphroaig 10 yo (43% ABV – $49.99 SRP)

Aging:  10 years in Makers Mark bourbon barrels

Color:  Light honey

Nose:  Peaty (wet forest, moss, fog), mild smoke, vanilla sweetness and a touch of fruit

Flavor profile:  Light sweetness at the beginning and smoke immediately as you swallow that tapers off leaving light sweetness and distinct peat flavors.  As Chris put it during our tasting “It’s like gentle flute music, then WHAM! bass drum”.  The finish is long, smooth and peaty.  Remeniscent of sitting around a camp fire in the Pacific Northwest.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (48% ABV – $54.99 SRP)

Aging:  Started in full size Makers Mark bourbon barrels, finished in smaller barrels from the same wood

Color:  Straw colored.  A bit darker than the regular 10 yo.

Nose:  Vanilla, Christmas spices, sweeter aroma than the 10 yo, peat is present but less intense.  Notes of burnt orange peel and very light smoke.

Flavor profile:  The sweetness isn’t as forward as we found in the 10 yo but lingers a bit longer.  The smoke flavors are still present, but more muted.  Despite the higher proof, we found we didn’t need any ice or water to tame this whisky.  The finish is medium in length and very smooth with flavors of spiced fruit cake, peat and light sweetness.

Laphroaig Triple Wood (48% ABV – $59.99 SRP)

Aging:  Started in full size Makers Mark bourbon barrels, next into quarter casks, then finally into Spanish oloroso Sherry casks.

Color:  Solid amber color.

Nose:  You can definitely smell the sherry influence here. Notes of stone fruits, the smoke is similar to the level in the 10 yo (bold, but not overpowering) and the peat is downplayed a bit.

Flavor profile:  There is a ton going on in this whisky.  The smoke and peat are back with the flavors of stone fruits and subtle sweetness.  After adding a couple drops of water you get a lot more of the sherry flavors coming through to temper the peat and smoke.  Don’t overdo the water though, truly just a few drops will do you.  It’s interesting to note that the strength of the peat and smoke we tasted in the flavor wasn’t as readily notable in the aroma.  The finish is medium with the stone fruit, peat and a touch of smoke carrying through to the end.

Laphroaig 10 yo Cask Strength (55.7% – My original bottle from 2009)

Aging:  10 years in Makers Mark bourbon barrels.  Bottled at the cask strength which varies from year to year.

Color:  Honey

Nose:  Surprising subtle for the strength of the whisky.  Earthy and peaty with a touch of salty sea smell.  Very small hint of sweet fruitiness at the front.

Flavor profile:  More burn (duh, cask strength) but not as much as we had expected.  The peat is squarely at the forefront, but not unpleasantly strong.  Surprisingly sweet throughout the flavor profile which clearly notes that this is the same whisky as the 10 yo.  A touch of water is certainly warranted with this whisky given its proof.  But, start slowly.  You can quickly water it down too much and lose some of the complexity.

Now that I’ve tasted the standard Laphroaig range (without the special stuff, sadly) my choice would definitely be the Quarter Cask if I had to choose just one. While I truly enjoyed each epression, the Quarter Cask is the one that I could see myself drink dram after dram and enjoying every last drop, every single time.  Elisabeth on the other hand, loved the 10 yo best.  She appreciated the sweet smokey/peaty flavors and tried to steal the bottle as soon as her glass was empty.  Last note, if you (or your gift recipient) loves sherry finished scotches, you definitely can’t go wrong with the Triple Wood.

Sláinte, Friends!

*My other favorite tip from Simon – Eat dark chocolate while you’re sipping scotch.  Trust me, you won’t be dissappointed.

PS – I love Laphroaig scotches, and the Cask Strength especially, for making cocktails.  You can add just a touch (1/4 oz is plenty) to a whiskey cocktail and give the drink a smokey/peaty depth that you can’t find anywhere else.

PPS – I’m FoL member #394061 and I very much look forward to visiting my plot of land someday and enjoying the best rent you could ever ask for.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Captain Morgan Black

Posted by Reese On May - 7 - 2014

CaptainMorganBlackSpicedRumWhen I say the words “Captain Morgan” I would be willing to bet that nearly anyone would know what I’m talking about.  It’s ubiquitous and duly so.  Captain Morgan Spiced Rum is an approachable rum for nearly anyone, mixes well with Coke and has a solid vanilla flavor that works well in that application.  No surprise that, when Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum came through the door, I was intrigued.

Dark rums, by default, tend to have a stronger molasses flavor and thus a steeper learning curve, for lack of a better analogy.  Black didn’t follow suit as I had expected.  It has a strong vanilla aroma with some other hints of spice coming through, but only barely.  The flavor is sweeter than I had expected with the vanilla again being the star.  There are tones of brown sugar and molasses but gentler than other dark rums I’ve had.  The other spice notes are there, but not strong.

Captain Morgan Black is aged in double charred barrels which, I can imagine, is where the strong tones of vanilla come from.  But this aging brings with it other tones that are more familiar to aged whiskies like caramel and butterscotch.  The thing I find most intriguing is that the sweetness of the rum totally masks the fact that it’s bottled at 47.3% ABV.   While the flavor is gentle it’s a bit like getting hit with a pillow full of bricks.  Gentle on the outside, but still capable of knocking you down.

While I certainly can’t recommend that you mix this rum in a Dark and Stormy, given that that name is a copyright of the Gosling’s brand, I could recommend something similar.  Perhaps a Dim and Thundery.  I’m sure you can work out the details.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Angry Orchard Green Apple

Posted by Reese On May - 1 - 2014

ANGRY ORCHARD LAUNCHES GREEN APPLE HARD CIDER NATIONWIDEIt’s no secret that I’m a huge hard cider fan.  My friend and college roommate Ted first introduced it to me and to this day calls it “the gateway beer”.  While I didn’t agree at the time (see my early post on beer) I’m starting to come around to the idea now.  But, no matter my take on beer at the time, I was hooked on cider from the start.

In the last few years we’ve seen the cider market in the US grow like kudzu and Angry Orchard is one of the newer kids on the block.  They certainly know their cider though.  Most of their ciders tend to be on the sweet, but not cloying, side and their newest flavor, green apple, follows suit.

It has a bright, crisp flavor with the distinct tannic notes you get from the peel of a green apple.  In addition to the tannin there is the unmistakeable flavor of tart green apples. The finish is quick and light and there is no aftertaste.  Overall this is a great summer cider and I could see myself drinking quite a few.  Knowing that the only ingredients are their blend of apples and yeast makes it all the better.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey

Posted by Reese On March - 16 - 2014

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us yet again and I’m coming to the party late.  However, I hope I’ve arrived in time to save you from green beer or an Irish car bomb.  If you want to drink something truly Irish this year, how about a nice glass of Irish Whiskey.  I’m serious.  You’ll enjoy the heck out of it and you’ll finish the night without green teeth or on the floor (last claim not guaranteed).

The word whiskey is an Anglicization of the old Gaelic word uisce beatha meaning “water of life”.  Further, it’s been said that Irish Whiskey is the oldest form of whiskey in existence, dating back to somewhere around 1000 AD and Bushmills being the oldest whiskey distillery in the world claiming continuous distillation since 1608.  So what makes a whiskey an Irish Whiskey?  Simple

  1. Irish whiskey must be distilled and aged on the island of Ireland
  2. The contained spirits must be distilled to an alcohol by volume level of less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and flavour derived from the materials used
  3. The product must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks
  4. If the spirits comprise a blend of two or more such distillates, the product is referred to as a “blended” Irish whiskey

Okay, enough stealing from Wikipedia.  I’m hoping by now you’re at least convinced enough to try a few sips instead of a green beer. Go read the article if you’re interested in more cool details about Irish Whiskey.  But now that you’ve come this far, how about a bit further with some Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey tasting notes?

Knappogue Castle 12yo (40% ABV) - This whiskey presents with a light straw color and delicately sweet floral aroma.  The flavor is tremendously clean, lightly sweet with a touch of vanilla.  Ending with a quick clean finish this is a fantastic light and refreshing Irish Whiskey.

Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood (40% ABV) - Very lightly honey colored with definite hints of the sherry casks in the aroma this whiskey grows on you quickly.  The flavor is wonderfully smooth  with a long, mellow finish highlighted by notes of stone fruits and very subtle spices.  There is no smokiness to be found and I feel this whiskey speaks of it’s origins very clearly.  A great sipping whiskey that needs no ice or water.

Knappogue Castle 16yo Sherry Finish (40% ABV) - Rich honey color and distinct aromas of stone fruits and specifically dried cherries start you off with this dram.  The flavor is sweet and fruity with a relatively quick finish.  The smooth flavor brings back the stone fruit notes with an underlying current of vanilla and Christmas spices that stays with you through the finish.  This is a sipping whiskey that I had a very hard time sipping.  I swear, this stuff must evaporate quick at this elevation. :)

If you’re still insisting on a green beer then I can only ask that you enjoy it, have a great time and be safe.

Sláinte!

 


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Iceberg Vodkas

Posted by Reese On January - 4 - 2014

As far as spirits go, vodka does not have much character. A really good vodka will taste only of clean alcohol with very little else to distinguish it. One way to add character would be to flavor it, but those who have shopped with me (Elisabeth especially) know how horrified I am by the flavors of vodka on the market — whipped creme? toasted marshmallow? Yeah…no.

Iceberg Vodkas

Iceberg Vodka from Canada recently sent me four vodkas to taste: their regular unflavored vodka and cucumber, creme brulee and chocolate mint flavors.

The regular vodka (40% ABV) smells and tastes like a pure vodka should, with no aromas and no lingering flavors on the palate. Very clean, crisp and drinkable.

The cucumber vodka (35 % ABV) has a slightly off scent — more like cucumber peels, rather than the crisp scent you would expect from a peeled cucumber. It does taste cucumbery. Elisabeth didn’t find this flavor appealing at all, although she is not a cucumber lover either. I think this could be a really interesting vodka for a Bloody Mary or Dirty Martini. For an interesting twist, you could add this to a Pimm’s Cup or a twist on the traditional vodka tonic, perhaps.

The creme brulee vodka (35% ABV) had a great buttery caramel vanilla aroma reminiscent of custard fresh out of the oven. The vodka comes off as slightly sweet with a toffee-like flavor that is fairly subtle. This vodka does not have an overpowering or fake flavor, as so many other creme brulee/toffee liqueurs will. It would be a great addition to hot chocolate, although its subtle flavor may be lost if you mix it with it an ingredient that’s strongly flavored.

The chocolate mint flavor (35% ABV) smells just like an Andes Mint. Elisabeth tasted this one first, and almost refused to let me have any. The vodka is definitely reminiscent of Andes Mints: not overly sweet with well balanced chocolate and mint flavors. Again, this would work great in a hot chocolate, but why not add to a mudslide or something similar for a little minty kick.

Overall, these were pretty tasty flavored vodkas. Cucumber vodka, like most savory infusions, will be the most difficult for me to use. The Iceberg Vodka website also had great suggestions for cocktails based on all the different flavors. So, am I a flavored vodka convert? Probably not. I’ll still reach for gin more often than a flavored vodka. But, if you’re looking for a unique twist on a traditional vodka cocktail these might be just what you’re looking for.

Big thanks to Elisabeth for co-writing (and co-sampling) this post with me!


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.