Review: The Balvenie Peat Week 14-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky

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The Balvenie is known for its honeycomb-led flavor profile.  One week a year, The Balvenie distills a heavily peated malt.  That week, known as Peat Week, leads us to this wonderful whisky.  Distilled back in 2002, this 14-year-old expression from the famed distillery utilizes only peated barley – no non-peated malt here.  That whisky matured in American oak casks.

In addition to being bottled at a modest 48.3% abv, Peat Week is also non-chill filtered.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

The nose is exactly what you’d expect.  Notes of honeyed malt, wood smoke, lemon peel, and sweet oak abound.  More of the same on the palate.  A quick explosion of rich, sweet honeycomb and vanilla followed by a wave of tempered smoke.  Some sautéed mushroom on the mid palate is accompanied by toffee and wood spice.  The finish is clean and lovely, with hints of burnt orange peel, toffee, and peat smoke.

I love this “heavy” side of The Balvenie.  I use the quotations for a reason.  The Balvenie’s standard profile is generally that a lighter style whisky, though it still has some richness.  The peat here is not heavy handed.  Rather, it nicely balances with that honeycomb nature generally found in The Balvenie.  Peat Week’s a great way to experience The Balvenie.  At $99 a bottle, this is an easy recommendation.  8.5/10

Thanks to The Balvenie for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.


Review: Glenfiddich Fire & Cane Single Malt Whisky

Photo Credit: Joshua Brasted

How’s this for attention grabbing – a peated Glenfiddich finished in rum casks.

I repeat – peated Glenfiddich finished in rum casks.

If I’ve lost you, there’s no hope.

If you’re still on board, Glenfiddich Fire & Cane is the latest entry to their Experimental Series.  Glenfiddich isn’t known for its peated whisky because, to my knowledge, it rarely releases any peated expressions.  We’re not talking Laphroaig peat levels here.  Bourbon barrel-matured peated AND unpeated whisky is blended together and then married in Latin rum casks for three months.  The resulting whisky was bottled at 43% abv and is available in stores for $49.99.

Rum fans should enjoy the nose with its tropical fruit, sugarcane, and slightly earthy peat notes.  On entry, sweet toffee and green banana develop into spiced pears, smoke, and wood spice.  The medium length finish leave a sweet caramel and slightly smoky note.

Delicious.  The spiced pear Glenfiddich flavor profile works beautifully with those smoky and rum notes.  At 43% abv, Fire & Cane doesn’t feel thin.  Though I’d love to have seen this bottled at a little higher proof, it’s current abv serves it well.  Bottom line: this whisky delivers big flavors at a price that will please both your palate and your wallet.  Recommended!  8/10

Thanks to Glenfiddich for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Did Somebody Say Ardbeg? A Review of their 10-year and Uigeadail Expressions

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery.

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery.

I’ve never had the pleasure of drinking Ardbeg.  That is, until this tasting.  You see, until fairly recently, I wasn’t interested in Scotch.  My whiskey drinking was limited to bourbon and rye whiskey.  The former is a generally sweeter style of whiskey, and like most Americans, I have a sweet tooth.  Then as the fascination obsession with American whiskey grew, the once great selection of fantastic bourbon and rye on store shelves shriveled and simultaneously retail prices increased.  I found myself spending less time browsing the bourbon aisle and more time looking at Scotch.  After a while I began researching Scotch whisky and realized the abundance of outstanding bottles simply collecting dust on shelves.  I then made the decision to broaden my palate.  I began my Scotch journey with a few blended whiskies (Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse) and standard “beginner” single malts (Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, etc.) and worked my way to much more complex offerings.  Eventually it came time to explore Islay whiskies.  Instead of starting with something unpeated or mildly peated like Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain, I went straight for one of the biggest whiskies produced on the Islay – Laphroaig.  From the moment I opened the bottle and that lovely peaty aroma filled the room, I was hooked.  Many months (and whiskies) later, I decided to properly revisit Islay whiskies with this current series.  Which begs the question: if I love Laphroaig, how is it I’ve never tasted Ardbeg?  Let’s briefly talk about the distillery and get into the tasting.

Like the Laphroaig Distillery, the Ardbeg Distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2015.    The two are similar in that both distilleries produce some of the peatiest whiskies on Islay.  Ardbeg almost has a cult following.  Fans of the brand REALLY love Ardbeg.  Ardbeg does not chill-filter their whisky, and most releases are bottled higher than the standard 40% abv.  While not outright stated and based on the color of their whiskies, Ardbeg doesn’t seem to add caramel coloring.

The distillery has been owned by Glenmorangie since 1997.  Two men are mainly responsible for what’s being bottled – Mickey Heads and Dr. Bill Lumsden.  Heads is an Islay native who is the current distillery manager.  He’s responsible for the everyday distillation.  When it comes to crafting new blends of Ardbeg, Dr. Lumsden, who also oversees Glenmorangie, is the key figure.  Both men pour their hearts into their work, and it’s evident in the whisky.

Ardbeg 10-Year-Old

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery.

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg Distillery.

Just like Laphroaig, Ardbeg’s base expression is a 10-year-old single malt.  This whisky is matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 48% abv, giving the whisky some punch and allowing the flavors and aromas a better chance to shine.

The nose is strongly peaty, giving us some earthy and briny notes.  A light caramel sweetness gives this whisky some balance.  I do get a sense a barbecue on a beach here.  Interestingly, a small citrus note creeps up in the background.  Taste-wise, a peat punch straight out of the gate.  Instead of an upper-cut, it’s more of a strong right hook.  Brine, light toffee, and vanilla are the key players here, all over a bed of smoke.  With some airtime, the sweet notes become a tad more prominent.  The finish is long, sweet and smoky, eventually developing that small briny note.

A criticism of the current bottlings of Ardbeg among experienced whisky enthusiasts is that the whisky just isn’t as good as it once was.  As I haven’t tasted older bottlings, I can’t really agree or disagree.  What I will say is the current Ardbeg 10-year-old is a full-bodied masterclass of peated Islay whisky.  If this is the base expression, I can’t wait to explore other offerings from the distillery.  A bottle of Ardbeg 10-year-old should cost around $55.


Ardbeg Uigeadail

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg.

Photo courtesy of Ardbeg.

Another whisky in Ardbeg’s core lineup is Uigeadail (Oog-a-dal).  It’s named after Loch Uigeadail, which is the distillery’s peaty water source.  Uigeadail is a cask-strength (54.2% abv) expression that blends whiskies matured in ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks.  There’s no age statement found here, but that’s not an issue.

The sherry cask-matured whiskies provide a nice richness to the nose.   In addition to the “peat reek” found in Ardbeg, dried fruits and stewed fruits are abound, specifically raisin and prunes.  After the initial alcohol sting of the entry, Ardbeg Uigeadail becomes a smoky and fruity beast.  I don’t get the earthy peat notes like I do in the 10-year-old because they’ve taken a backseat to the fruit notes.  Raisin, dry red wine, toffee and vanilla play well with the smoked meat notes.  There’s a subtle brininess buried here as well.  The long finish is a blend of smoke and tropical fruit (almost like a fruit punch).

I seem to be a sucker for sherried peated whiskies.  Bowmore 15-year and Laphroaig 32-year come to mind.  This is an exquisite whisky.  Although it doesn’t represent Ardbeg’s style as well as the 10-year expression, Uigeadail might be my favorite of the two.  Highly recommended.  A bottle of Uigeadail retails for about $79.

(Note: Review samples were provided by Ardbeg.)