Rock Oyster

Maker: Douglas Laing & Co, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20161007_111358.jpg

Distilleries: Isles of Arran, Jura, plus unidentified distillers from Orkney (Highland Park?) and Islay.

Style: Blended island (including Islay) malt.

Age: NAS

ABV: 46.8%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Note: Not chill filtered, likely not colored either.

Appearance: Pale straw with thick sea legs.

Nose:Peat, alcohol, smoke, sherry, seaspray.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet butterscotch, then brine, peat smoke and burn.

Finish: Peat, buttercream, then burn. Lang lasting.

Parting words: 68 year old independent bottler and blender Douglas Laing & Co had a big hit a few years ago with their Big Peat blended Islay malt. They’ve now followed up with other regional blended malts. Rock Oyster is the Island edition, as one might guess from the name. Islay is usually considered its own region and not a part of the islands or Highlands but Islay whisky (-ies?) are included in the blend here. This isn’t Big Peat Jr, though. The smoky, peaty, Islay malt is balanced with sherry, bourbon and maritime aromas to great effect.

It’s hard to get a single malt this complex for $60 in these parts. There’s nothing I don’t love about Rock Oyster. Highly Recommended.

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Highland Park 18 y/o

Maker: Highland Park, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Edrington Group)HP 18

Region: Islands.

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $120

Appearance: Light copper with long thin legs. No added coloring (to my knowledge)

Nose: Vanilla butter cream icing, oak, sherry, alcohol, a whiff of peat and a splash of sea spray. Water brings out more brine and peat.

Palate: Medium dry, full-bodied and well balanced. Some sweet malt and vanilla, apricot, followed by sherry and maritime notes. Opens up with a little water. Licorice and oak join the party and the mouthfeel becomes velvety soft.

Finish: Some vanilla and fruit, then burn and peat. Water gives the finish a big burst of peat, toffee and chocolate. Fades more quickly though.

Parting words: I’m fond of saying “nobody doesn’t like Highland Park”, and with HP 18, it’s easy to see why that is the case. Everything that can be in a single malt is here: Fruit, Vanilla, oak, peat, the sea, sherry, burn. It has something for everybody but doesn’t go off one end (smoke and peat) or the other (fruit and sherry). The 12 year old edition is a balance of all those elements. The 18 tilts the seesaw more in the direction of the barrel, which is not surprising considering it has spent six years longer in said barrel than its sibling. This is accomplished without diminishing sweetness or pungent peat, which is brilliant. It is the epitome of the style associated with the Isles, although it is made in a different set of isles (the Orkneys) than Jura, Talisker, Tobermory and the rest.

The hurdle for me is the price. At $120, it’s not bad for a Single Malt of its age and quality, but it’s a big bite for my budget to take. If it were even $20 cheaper it would be highly recommended but at its current price it is still recommended.

If you want don’t want to pay that much to taste HP 18, do what I did. Look for one of the HP 12 bottles with the special bonus 50 ml bottle of 18 attached. That should only set you back a total of $50. You’re welcome, world.

Talisker Storm

Maker: Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK (Diageo)
Talisker Storm

Region: Island

Age: NAS

ABV: 45.8%

Michigan State Minimum: $77

Appearance: Light caramel (likely colored)

Nose: Peat, dried flowers, smoke, alcohol, pine needles. Water brings out more smoke but doesn’t alter the flavor much otherwise.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Smoke, cocoa powder, alcohol. Water brings out vanilla, white cake and then a burst of smoke.

Finish: Soot, alcohol, butterscotch candy, Mexican chocolate. Water doesn’t change much here.

Talisker Storm is a relatively new expression from Diageo. Price-wise it is situated between Talisker 10 y/o ($70 state minimum) and the Distiller’s Edition ($80). All three are bottled at the same proof. I have not had the Distiller’s Edition, so I can’t comment on how Storm compares to that, but Storm is definitely superior to the 10 y/o. Storm tastes more mature and shows better flavor integration than the 10, which seems to vacillate between sappy new make and murky maritime peat. Storm works better than the 10 as a gateway to Talisker and smoky Hebridean single malts in general. There is also a Dark Storm available in travel retail outlets that is aged in heavily charred casks.

If I have one criticism, it’s that it’s by-the-numbers with nothing in the way of surprises lurking in the nose or finish. That’s OK though, since it seems to be intended as a gateway or go-to type malt. It’s not cheap, but the price is firmly in line with comparable malts. If I have two criticisms, it’s that the label and packaging are cheesy.

In sum, I liked it, and could see myself buying it again. Talisker Storm is recommended. It’s worthwhile noting that this whiskyalso won Whisky Advocate’s Highland/Island Single Malt Scotch of the Year for 2013.

The Arran Malt, 14 y/o

Maker: Isle of Arran, Lochranza, Arran, Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

Region: Highlands- Island

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 46%

Notes: Non chill-filtered

Appearance: Bright new gold.

Nose: Wildflower honey, vanilla pudding, butterscotch pudding, heather.

On the palate: Full-bodied and buttery. Hard toffees, sweet cream butter, blondies, wild thyme.

Finish: Hot and buttery. Like freshly made caramel corn, not entirely cooled yet.

Parting words: Founded in 1995, Isle of Arran Distillers is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland producing whisky. This 14 year old expression, released in 2010, is their oldest expression to date. It’s a good, solid single malt. It is firmly in the tradition of the Highlands with plenty of sherry and bourbon notes, but with the maritime tang of the costal malts. Isle of Arran is on the right track, and this is a good whisky for a distillery of any age. Isle of Arran 14 y/o is recommended.

Head to Head- Lonely Islands: Talisker 10 vs. Jura Prophecy

  1. Talisker 10
  2. Jura Prophecy

Maker

  1. Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland
    (Diageo)
  2. Jura, Craighouse, Isle of Jura (joo-rah), Argyll, Scotland (United Spirits)

Region: Highlands- Island

ABV

  1. 45.8%
  2. 46%

Appearance

  1. Pale gold with thin, quick, sticky legs.
  2. Middle-aged copper (caramel coloring?) with thin, but also sticky legs.

Nose

  1. Peat, smoke, your grandma’s medicine cabinet meets your grandma’s candy dish.
  2. Intense bonfire smoke, but a bonfire with some unusual woods in the mix, maybe a little cedar. Behind all that, though, lurks a touch of chewy vanilla taffy.

On the palate

  1. Full-bodied and creamy. Burn, then big sweetness. Very little sign of peat or smoke.
  2. Medium-bodied. Burn and then that vanilla taffy comes in a big way.

Finish

  1. A lovely light tingle on the lips, followed bydying cigarette or maybe disintegrating lump charcoal after grilling up a couple of pork chops. A hint of honeyed sweetness, but pretty far in the background.
  2. Campfire the morning after the night it rained. The caramel/vanilla flavor is turned up pretty loud after the embers have finally died. Somewhere in the middle appears a chipotle chili.

Parting Words: The “Island” sub-region is such a mish-mash that I didn’t expect these two to have much in common other than their use of peat. They do have a lot in common, though. Jura Phophecy drinks like a louder version of Talisker, if that makes sense. Talisker is assertive, to be sure. Smoke and peat drive  and sweetness takes a back seat. In Prophecy all the amps are turned up to 11, even the sweet candy flavors. The result is jarring, but not unpleasant. Both of these are recommended, although Talisker 10 is more refined than Prophecy. But sometimes I like them loud and unrefined.

Review: Signatory Vintage, Ledaig 1993

Signatory Vintage: Ledaig 1993

Age: 15

Cask: 401

ABV: 43%

Distillery: Tobermory (Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides)

This is an independent bottling of the peated version of the Tobermory single malt.

Appearance: Very light straw

Nose: Rich, malty, brown butter, hint of lemon

Palate: sweet lemon tea, malty sweetness.

Finish: long burn plus a little hit of peat at the end.

Parting words: I was hoping to make hot toddys using this Scotch, but the I realized that would be redundant, since it already is a toddy in a bottle.  Tobermory has a bit of a bad reputation as a single malt distillery, but the peat here really pulls everything together.  Still, nothing earth-shattering but a nice afternoon, after work, single malt at a reasonable price.