Port Charlotte – The Peat Project

The Port Charlotte brand is part of the Bruichladdich distillery’s family of single malts. I’m not yet overly familiar with the Bruichladdich lineup, but I do know they are Islay whiskies and I assume they’re a bit different from their brethren, since they’ve chosen to use a completely different branding for their more peated expressions… my curiosity was peaked by the canister statement, Port Charlotte: The Heavily Peated Bruichladdich? To that point, I had thought that all Islays were big, snarling peat monsters!

I don’t usually consider presentation all that much but I have to admit I was also partially drawn to this particular whisky by the cool factor of Port Charlotte’s distinct packaging – its bold, modern looking tin definitely sets it apart from most other scotch presentations. The Peat Project is available in my market for about $55 and is bottled at 46% abv.

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To the Eye
The first thing that strikes me about The Peat Project is how unusually pale it is. I’m not sure if this is evidence of a young whisky that’s spent very little time in the cask, or if it speaks to the degree of artificial colouring used in other brands. This malt is a very pale straw colour and a swirl of the glass reveals very skinny legs. As with the packaging, this leaves me thinking that this dram will at least be different, if not special.

In the Nose
Okay, now I’m suspecting different but not special. The Peat Project has a very straightforward nose – I get a grassy peat aroma along with a little bit of ripe pears. As the glass decants, I can also sense a little bit of smoke and some sweet maltiness along with a hint of iodine. It’s balanced but, for me, a little subdued and lacking complexity.

On the Tongue
Again, pretty simple… one-dimensional, actually. I can taste oak, which is a little surprising again considering how pale the colouring is. There’s definitely peat as well, but less than I expected from a whisky that proclaims to be “heavily peated”. At first, I taste a pleasant spiciness but it rapidly turns into a bitter astringency. This bitterness catches me a little off guard because I didn’t pick it up in the aroma. The finish is very short, leaving me only with that bitterness lingering.

Final Thoughts
The first few times I sampled this whisky, I thought that I really liked it. Even now, there are moments when I think it’s actually pretty good. There are elements to The Peat Project that appeal to me – I like that it seems to be completely naturally coloured and I do appreciate how its peatiness does not overwhelm the whisky. Unfortunately that bitter exit is just too dominant for my taste, especially considering that there aren’t a great deal of other flavours to balance it out. I do wonder if this malt might be something more impressive if the edges were knocked off by a longer maturation but, as it is, I think I’ll take a pass on buying another bottle.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

By way of introduction, I need to tell you that their are two kinds of friend that every whisky drinker should have:
One is the kind of good buddy who does not have the same good sense as most of us, who just might surprise you with a bottle of whisky that you’d never buy for yourself. (Such as the friend who bought me the bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that inspired my very first review blog!)
The other is the kindred-spirit sort of friend whose love for whisky at least rivals your own – the person you get together with to enjoy a dram or two. This is the guy (or gal, of course) who you call to sample a new-to-you malt and with whom your spouse will most often notice you transforming into a full-blown whisky nerd.

I have a great friend, Rick, who definitely falls into the latter category. After being college acquaintances, years went by without much contact but circumstances – kids of similar-ages, employment, etc. – created the perfect storm for us to reconnect and become the best of friends… and this friendship has developed, at least in part, because of whisky.

I remember an early visit where Rick’s curiosity towards my drink of choice was obvious and soon enough, on subsequent get-togethers, he was suggesting, “Let’s try a scotch.” Initially, I struggled to watch my precious malts get bastardized with ice and too much water but soon enough, just ice and, eventually, straight up… before either of us knew it, we were in aficionado territory and our discussions about work or our kids’ latest sports exploits had to make some room so we could also talk about the complexities of the dram we were sharing.

This friendship has absolutely critical to my own growth as a drammer as well but the student officially surpassed the teacher last summer, when I enviously wished Rick farewell as he left for a two-week trip with his father to their ancestral homeland – Scotland. Objective number one: sample as many whiskies as possible right at their source! Fortunately for me, Rick’s good fortune was to my advantage as well, as he returned with gifts – my first Glencairn glass, and several new whiskies for me to sample. Among them, was a malt I couldn’t pronounce or spell – Ardbeg Uigeadail!

Up to the point of sampling that, my first Ardbeg, my palate had been developing to where I was adventuring away from the safeness of my preferred Speyside malts and occasionally into the more robust flavours of the Islay distilleries. I was in no way prepared for the Uigeadail’s attack on my senses but, wow, I was smitten from the get-go!

That first straight-from-Scotland dram of the Uigeadail made an immediate impression. So I was more than a little excited a couple of months later when I saw it had arrived in a local liquor store, for a little under $80. The Ardbeg Uigeadail is bottled at a nearly cask-strength 54.2% abv.

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To the Eye
Apparently this whisky is named after Loch Uigeadail, which supplies the Ardbeg distillery with its water. Uigeadail (pronounced Oog-a-dal) is Gaelic for dark and mysterious. I wouldn’t say that it looks all that dark or mysterious in my glass but its rich golden colour and thick viscosity certainly suggest that it is something more than some of the other malts in my cabinet.

In the Nose
Right!… So this is one beast of a whisky! The aromas above my glass are incredibly rich and complex. Of course, as an Islay malt, there’s an assertive dose of smoke and peat but there’s so much more as well. There’s a fresh, maritime character and I also smell a biscuity, malty sweetness. As the glass breaths, There is a pine-like aroma, kind of like a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and I also get a nutty, chocolately, coffee-like smell along with an occasional whiff of something like diesel fuel. I’m sure there are far more eloquent ways to describe what I’m smelling but all I know is that it’s amazing – I could sit and nose this glass for a long time!

On the Tongue
Once again, the richness of this whiskey blows me away! The full 54.2% delivers an absolute barrage of flavour that is smooth and incredibly balanced. Sweet, bitter, spicy, and even a little bit salty all at once… I taste smoke, like an excellent cigar but also a little like the charred crust on a creme brûlée, as well as peat and a strong malty character that is accompanied by a subtle honey sweetness. Everything is very balanced and integrated. Am I gushing a little bit? I love this whisky!

The finish is incredibly long. Immediately after a sip, I can almost imagine exhaling that nice cigar but the smoke subsides to leave me with that mocha-like flavour that I picked up in the nose, as well as some dried fruits that just go on lingering.

Final Thoughts
Wow! This is a monster of a whisky, but in the best way imaginable. I know that I have still only hit the tip of the iceberg as far as the whiskies I’ve sampled, and my palate is far from an expert’s, but I’m not sure I can imagine a dram getting much better! I don’t really know how to sum it up other than to say its complex, sophisticated and just brilliant! That said, this may not be the dram for you if you are a beginning scotch drinker – the flavours are very rich and intense. But, if you are starting to explore more robust flavours, stop waiting and grab a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail!

Highland Park 10 Year Old

Some things are difficult to judge purely on their own merit…

We can have this problem when it comes to sequels to movies and books, listening to a new album by a favourite band, hell it can even happen when we consider a relationship. But let’s stick to a sports analogy – Take Bobby Orr’s 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal, for example. Was it really all that miraculous? It’s consistently ranked among the top hockey goals ever, but I tend to think that it’s been a tad over-hyped because of the circumstances around it, because it was scored by an all-time great player, but especially because most people actually believe it was scored while #4 was soaring through the air, as the iconic image suggests.

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Click here to view video

I think that judging the goal for what it really is reveals a decent, but rather pedestrian, give-and-go , ending with a 5-hole goal that Glen Hall probably would have liked to have back.

So what does all of this have to do with a whisky review? Well, I’m having a similarly tough time deciding what I really think of Highland Park’s 10 Year Old single malt because I’m very familiar with – and very fond of – the 12 year old expression.

My father-in-law picked this bottle up for us to try during his most recent visit from Saskatchewan for Easter and to watch some of my son’s spring hockey action. HP-10 can be had for about $41 in my local liquor store, and it’s bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
Looks good but nothing really stands out about this whisky. A golden, honey coloured dram that leaves moderate legs on the inside of my glass.

In the Nose
Anyone who is familiar with Highland Park will immediately recognize this nose. Right away I pick up aromas of vanilla and peat. Letting the glass breathe a little brings forward a toffee-like note and I think I can also sense a bit of sherry. Of course, there are the traditional Highland Park smells: a wisp of smoke (but only ever so slight) and a somewhat vegetal, floral character that I believe is the Scottish plant, heather. What strikes me while nosing the glass is that everything about it seems so familiar… just less impressive than the 12 Year.

On the Tongue
After my first swallow, I immediately notice how smooth this whiskey is, considering it’s relative youthfulness. But I’m not sure that it’s a great thing that this is my initial reaction – I like flavour and there isn’t a whole lot of that jumping out at me. There’s sweetness, but it’s not overtly so, which I like. As I continue sipping, I do taste that very subtle sherry note that was suggested in the aroma. There is also a hint of peat and smokiness but not a whole lot more. The finish is rather short and weak, with a slight astringency/drying of the mouth, which I expect from a young whiskey – definitely not a rough bite, though, as it remains quite smooth.

Final Thoughts
While writing this review, I hesitated to label the Highland Park 10 Year Old Single Malt as “Recommended” but I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d pass on it. There is nothing wrong with this expression, I just have trouble judging it on it’s own, without comparing it to the HP-12. It really is amazing what only two more years of maturation does to develop the character of this malt and, for only a few dollars more, I would personally choose the 12 every time.

With that said, however, I still like the HP-10 and I would definitely accept a dram of it, if offered. I suspect that this whisky is aimed at fledgling drammers who aren’t yet ready for richer, more robust flavours in their whiskies. Is it great? Not quite, but the HP-10 is certainly a gentle introduction to the Highland Park profile and hints at the excellence that this distillery has to offer.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

First of all, this is not the kind of whisky I usually buy! At $220+ per bottle in my Alberta market (and I know it’s more than that in most other markets) it’s beyond my normal drinking budget! Fortunately I have a good buddy who doesn’t think twice about his drinking budget and he decided I should have this bottle for my last birthday… I hope everyone has a friend like that!

This bottle obviously has that “holy shit” factor. Even semi-knowledgeable scotch drinkers will likely have seen this bottle on a top shelf somewhere but even non-scotch drinkers will immediately recognize that this is something more than an everyday bottle. Everything about the presentation screams ultra-premium. “Blue” is among the rarest is the Johnnie Walker lineup and the back of the box says that this blend is composed from whiskies that their “Master Blenders handpick [from] just 1 in 10,000 casks of the rarest whiskies, from the four corners of Scotland to craft an rivaled masterpiece.” I can’t find an age statement anywhere on the bottle or the box, which is somewhat surprising, but I imagine that some of the rare whiskies in the blend must be rather mature. (For the price, some of them had better be!) As with most blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky appears pretty standard, as is true for most blends… pale gold. A swirl of my glass releases skinny, stubborn legs down the side of my glass. It looks good enough to drink.

On the Nose
With a whisky that sits in this price range, you can bet I’m going to let the damned thing breath a bit! Actually, maybe I just let this one sit for so long because I enjoy nosing it so much.

Right away, I smell fruit – green apples. I also get sawdust… maybe this is what some people call pencil shavings. Yep, I’m definitely reminded of pencil shavings. As the nose develops, the Islay character in the blend begins to assert itself with a mild peat and a subtle smoke. It is sweet and inviting, there is nothing harsh or overbearing about this dram and it has a really nicely balanced complexity about it.

In the Mouth

The first sip of this whisky always surprises me… it’s not as sweet as the nose suggests. It is a very smooth, easy-drinking dram with a light mouth feel. I don’t really sense any of the rough edges that are usually present in younger whiskies, so I suspect that the bulk of his blend is rather mature. This whisky has a mild, muted honey flavour and a slight caramel note. Additional sips reveal oak and an almost rye spiciness. Of course, there is the signature Johnnie Walker smokiness, but it is smoothed out nicely in comparison to the more common Red Label. The finish is medium, maybe a little shorter than I’d like. I don’t know if I’d call it overly complex but “Blue” is very good!

Final Thoughts
Every time I have a dram of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, I appreciate it a little more. My instinct is to say I have $50 single malts that I enjoy as much or more than this whisky but I’m probably a bit of a single-malt snob and I know I’m also a little harder on “Blue” because it costs three-to-four times more than most of the bottles in my collection. Taking it for what it is, “Blue” is a fantastic overall whisky. It’s complex, but approachable, and exceedingly drinkable! Will I buy myself another bottle when this one is gone? Probably not. Do I hope my buddy decides to buy me another one for my next birthday? Absolutely!

Welcome to my new blog!

I suppose if you have stumbled across this site, it’s for the simple reason that you enjoy whisky… I’m sure you must like the drink, and I’m guessing you have an interest in learning more about it. At the very least you are at a point in your dramming journey where you are curious about what others might have to say about this most-wonderful of spirits! After all, why else would you be spending your time reading words put down by some nobody like me?

Before I lose your interest and send you back-buttoning it back to Google to find the reviews you were hoping for, I do want to introduce myself and tell you why I’ve created this blog and what I hope it will be.

I’m just a guy… Mid thirties, with a decent job and the very good fortune to have three beautiful, very active young kids and a wonderful wife. In short, enjoying the occasional dram is just about the only “hobby” I have time for anymore! I guess I’ve always been a whisky drinker, but that used to mean that rye and coke was my drink of choice. I remember that my first taste of scotch was From a bottle of Chivas Regal that my brother got from somewhere, and it seemed pretty revolting to me at the time. Somewhere along the way, however, I started to enjoy my rye on the rocks and, eventually, I began to sip it neat. The rest is history – once I allowed myself to actually experience the aromas and flavours that the distillers were intending, I became fascinated with the nuances and subtleties that I could detect in each one.

I’ve been reading other people’s blogs and whisky review sites for some time now and I’ve decided that I just might have something to offer. Namely, I want to write some reviews of the whiskies I sample from a “regular-joe” point of view… nothing pretentious, without any of the over-the-top descriptions that I occasionally read, which leave me confused and experience a little bit of palate envy. I’m also writing this blog for me – I’d kind of like to have a record of what whiskies I’ve sampled and what I thought of them!

My reviews will never carry a percentage ranking because I don’t believe There’s any point even attempting to pinpoint the quality of a dram to this level of specificity but also because any number that I might assign would be nothing more than a reflection of my enjoyment of the drink – you might like the same whisky more or less than I do, and that is YOUR right, and one of the things that makes enjoying whisky so damned interesting! Finally, while I may speak to the presentation of the bottle, etc., I hope to never let this play into my description of a whisky’s quality – a whisky’s good because of how it reacts with your senses, not because you paid an extra $25 for the pretty box it came in, right! No, my reviews will focus on four elements:
To the Eye
On the Nose
In the Mouth
and
Final Thoughts

That’s more than enough, already, and more than I intended for my intro… Enjoy your whiskies and I hope you enjoy my blog.

Cheers!