Monday, April 8, 2013

Time for a whisky review - Skype style...

Soooooo sorry ---
First and foremost my sincerest apologies go out to Richard for my extreme tardiness on this.  It's been quite a while since I actually have done a whisky review and there's a really good reason for that.  I promised myself I wouldn't review one single whisky until I finished this particular blog.  I've been writing about experiences, trips, people but not one whisky review.  

Back in November I received a message from a fellow twitterer that he really enjoyed our blog and banters on the "interweb", so much so that he was quite intrigued by a blog idea I was toying with.  I am always looking for the why's in just about all aspects of my life and whisky is no different.  I wanted to see if there was much of a difference between a distillery bottling and an independent bottling of the same whisky and this is where Mr Culver fits into the equation.  After a few discussions, we narrowed it down to Ledaig 10 year old and a Duthies Ledaig 13 for a head to head comparison and tasting challenge.  I invited Richard to join us and I was very happy he obliged.  
We had a great 2 hours talking over Skype, sharing stories and of course drinking whisky! When we hung up both Graham and I agreed it was a fantastic way to enjoy whisky with friends who didn't live in the same city.  So, soon thereafter I started writing my blog, then Christmas season came along and I put it on the back burner.  Survived that and quickly realized I caught the worse cold in the world (I kid you not as I think back to me sitting on the couch at 11:00am on a Saturday begging Graham to help me because I was so sick even my hair hurt).  That awful pestilence lasted almost 3 full weeks.  Then we were off to Victoria for 10 days.  It simply felt like there was one thing after the other that seemed to keep me from writing this particular blog.  I had what I call my "had to writes" because I had committed to review or write something for someone and this one sat in draft form... waiting.  Finally, a break in the madness and the first draft of the blog was finished the long weekend in Easter.   So, again my sincerest apologies for dragging this one along.  I've cleaned off the dust and here it is. I introduce Richard Culver (@rmculver),  fellow Canadian twitterer, imbiber, traveler and member of the "whisky community" of Toronto who has a great nose for whisky.
Richard enjoying Canadian winter & whisky
"Thanks for letting my own whisky journey be a part of your experience.  Glad to provide you with a dram of Ledaig from Duthies.  Duthies, a division of Candenheads, is one of three independent bottlers.  There are independent bottlers like Cadenheads who bottle their own products; and lots of companies whose products are bottled under contract.  The information can be almost overwhelming.  Thankfully the Malt Maniacs do a pretty good job of sorting it out for me.  I like Ledaig.  This lightly peated malt hits a sweet spot for me.  I usually bring back a bottle from my trips to Scotland since it's not readily available in Ontario.  Loch Fyne Whiskies puts this malt in the same single malt flavour map quadrant as Lagavulin 12.  I can tell why they do.  Do a taste comparison keeping in mind the Ledaig 10 is half the cost of the Lag 12 cask strength.  Nose both glasses the next morning and see if you can tell the difference then.

On my last trip I traveled to the distillery on the Isle of Mull.  Definitely excited about going, and really hoped to pick up a distillery edition or something more aged than their 10 year old.  I know that older bottlings exists because I've seen them on I tended to shy away from independent bottlings because I've been burnt before.  I bought a different but well known distillery product that I can best describe as vapid.  It was a lifeless spirit from a tired old cask.  I had always wondered if a distillery contacts the bottler and says:  "You can have these tired old casks for cheap" OR, if the bottlers come into the distillery with their accomplished noses and say "How much do you want for these casks with the bright shiny spirit that seems so promising".  In truth it's neither of these extremes.  Many bottlers buy the new make spirit freshly distilled to put in their own casks.  I am still cautious about buying independent bottlings.  The Duthies Ledaig was a bottle I picked up at a Companions of the Quaich meeting.  It's nice to sample whiskies before deciding what to buy.  Ralfy says you always should.  I trust Ralphy and Ed Patrick.  Both are respectable individuals. First time I imbibed these two whiskies I sat down with Tom Alexander.  Here are our comments on the head to head we did with the Ledaig 10 vs the Duthies Ledaig 13:


Colour:  Bright shimmering sunshine.  

Nose & Tasting:  Reminiscent of Springbank and Talisker with its peppery caramel seaweed background.  I found a lemony citrus afternote like that which persists after you have licked the salt off of your hand and washed it down with tequilla.  Water muted it, but brought out more peat.

Colour:  Slightly muted.  Lighter & more pale than the Distillery Ledaig 10.

Nose & tasting:  More of a vegetable note, also wet rubber boots.  With water it definitely opened up more than the distillery bottling and the extra age did offer more to savour.   

VERDICT:  Both were well liked.  My favorite was the distillery Ledaig 10 whereas Tom's favorite was the Duthies.  Either way, both bottles offer a good dram at a very attractive price. We ended our evening with the Lagavulin 12 and it was interesting to note the similarities.

Part of my own whisky journey is about discovering and identifying the base spirit and notes with a brand.  This light bulb went on after attending a Glenfiddich deconstruction with Jamie Milne and tasting the range with Ian Millar, both Masters of their craft.  While tasting the Glenfiddich range with Ian, he brought out a bottle of Peated Glenfiddich and the epiphany happened.  This dram that I was enjoying was at its core the Glenfiddich that we all love, just so wonderfully peated.  I recommend you look for the 125th anniversary edition."


Back to Lassie writing:

From my perspective what I truly loved about this experience was meeting yet another person from the whisky fabric, having the most wonderful evening sitting at the computer, laughing, sharing stories, enjoying a whisky and simply living in the moment of today's technology.  As Richard sat in his home in Ontario and Graham & I sat at the kitchen table in Saint John, we connected.  We met someone who shared the same passion as us, we enjoyed the stories (some of which were truly hilarious and PG rated somehow, totally by accident of course) and in the end our horizons were broadened just a little more by the curiosity and love of all things whisky.  It was Graham's first experience doing a Skype tasting and he truly enjoyed it.  He and Richard now follow each other on Twitter and often have great discussions about all aspects of whisky.  

So here is what I thought of the whiskies:

LEDAIG 10 year old, 46.3% ABV

Color: Golden wheat.  Whisky legs are plentiful and almost sticky.

NoseQuite light I thought with a very soft salty peat.  There's some cereal on the nose, but with a hint of seaweed and Atlantic ocean "air". 

Palate: Not much spice at the forefront, seems a bit muted now with the peat but there's a nice smokiness to it.  I find this quite rich and a full bodied dram.  Some earthiness to it, like a bit of "wet forest".

FinishNot overly long but still smoky with a bit of "hotness" to it like cinnamon or cloves.


Color: Simply not as golden as the distillery bottling.  It's more like a winter sunny yellow.  Seems slightly muted compared to Ledaig 10.  The legs are also plentiful and very viscous.

Nose: This whisky seems to have more personality and is slightly more aromatic on the nose then the 10. It's much more citrus and cereal on the nose.  Don't get me wrong the peat and coastal salt is there, but they are at the background.  It seems a bit creamier or more full on the nose.

Palate As we sat and chatted, I noticed the palate changed slightly from start to finish.  It started off a bit more herbal for me, very smooth. Grassy meadows.  Then after a few minutes the smoke comes back, more like a burnt out fireplace.  Quite a nice palate, not as aggressive as the nose.

Finish:  Medium finish, a bit longer than the 10.  Also a bit more "piquante" in nature (assuming because of the ABV difference).  

Overall I think I liked the 13 just a bit more than the 10 from the distillery as it was a more balanced dram from start to finish.  But I would easily own either bottle in my personal collection or recommend them to others if you like whiskies like this:  Salty, slightly peated, full bodied and quite tasty in nature.  The "meat and potatoes" sort of dram that does not disappoint when you are in the mood for something that will linger and makes you take note from the time you lift the glass to your nose.  

So, I will thank Richard yet once again for indulging in my curiosities and I plan on doing this type of little tasting again soon with a few other distillery vs independent releases.  And of course, I plan on asking Richard to "assist" me on this part of my journey.  It was truly a pleasure doing this, my only regret is that I didn't get to put it in "print" a long time ago like I should have.  Sometimes the Lassie is not remotely close to being on top of things.  Doesn't happen often but when it does...  oh boys does it ever happen.

I strongly encourage you try a whisky tasting via Skype if ever you can.  Hell, just ask....  I'd be happy to take part!   

From yet another wonderful aspect of the whisky trail, I remain the silly and slightly embarrassed Whisky Lassie...

  PS - Very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Culver in person at Spirit of Toronto in a few weeks!

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