Five years is sufficient to age a good bourbon in the American South’s hot, humid summers and mild winters. While Scottish law requires no less than three years maturation, the colder weather of Scotland means that most single malts are aged 10 years before release. There are a few 8-year single malts out there but that is not common.
One wonders why Ardbeg, known for a superb 10-year and a collection of standout NAS whiskies, would release a young whisky like the Beastie, and as a permanent selection at that. Other whiskies are made with spirit as little as 5 years old, but more typically, distillers hide the spirit’s youth behind an NAS label. The Wee Beastie label proudly proclaims 5 years of maturation. I expect economics plays a part. If Ardbeg can figure a way to market their younger spirit in a way that does not sully their reputation, they can increase output and thus market share.
I gave Laphroaig’s Triple Wood a positive review a couple weeks back. Essentially their Quarter Cask whisky using Oloroso butts for a third stage, the ‘3Wood’ brought a punchy midrange of fruit and spice notes to the classic Laphroaig style. According to the carton notes, the Lore reads like a super 3Wood, as the spirit is “drawn from a selection of aged casks including first-fill sherry casks, smaller quarter casks and our most precious stock,” presumably of ex-Bourbon casks. The carton notes tell us the intent was to crate the “richest ever Laphroaig.” Like the 3Wood, the Lore is not chill filtered and is also bottled at 48% ABV. Frankly, using the Triple Wood as a starting point sounds like a good strategy to me. I assume they are taking the same recipe, but being more selective with casks. So I’ll use the 3Wood as a comparison for this review.
On the UK website, they state they use five different casks, aged 7 to 21 years. They also state Jim Murray listed Lore as the best NAS whisky in his 2019 bible. Promising! We won’t get much more info from Laphroaig’s website as they have terrible coverage of their range, just a shopfront. And their ‘contacts us’ page will not load if you have even the minimum protections on with your browser. Sorry Laphroaig, I’m not pulling my knickers down for you. Get with modern security! Anyway, the five types would be first-and-second fill Bourbon, same for Sherry, plus the quarter casks, there’s your five.
Last week I covered Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte 10-year and mused about the big talk and heady claims printed on the canister. In that post, I added tidbits about the distillery itself and their approach to spirits-making. This week it’s less talk on the background a bit more focus on the whisky itself.
In contrast to the Port Charlotte’s wordy canister, Octom0re’s metal canister is in contrast quite restrained. The unsaid message here is that they don’t have to say anything about the Octomore besides it being “Super Heavily Peated” Islay single malt, and stating that it was conceived, created, distilled, aged etc. on the island. Like the PC10, it is un-chillfiltered and free of coloring.
If Port Charlotte is their heavily peated branding, you might wonder, what does ‘super heavily peated’ mean? One hint can be found on the canister: “PPM: 167.” That’s parts per million of phenols on the peated malt. What ends up in the bottle depends on the distilling process and maturation, even the type of oak, but PPM is a good benchmark to start with. See this post from scotchwhisky.com for more info. Our nose has to tell us how much of that phenolic potential made it into the bottle.
Bruichladdich (‘brookladdie’) distillery is a small operation that punches far above its weight. It is known for using antique machinery to create unique, terroir-oriented crafty spirits. They also like to tout that their spirits are made without resorting to computers. They state “A whisky made by people not software” right on the carton. Whether that affects the outcome or not I’ll leave to more philosophical writers. Bottom line, you can’t argue with their results. They make damn good whiskies and their tasting room is a joy to visit—no marketing, just comfy couches, lots of swag on the walls and friendly people behind the bar who’ll proudly give you tastes of their spirits.
There is a lot of pride in their presentation. “This Port Charlotte 10-year old is who we are” says the canister. It is “distilled matured and bottled at the source” not “immediately shipped off to the mainland to mature in some undisclosed warehouse.” Ouch, fightin’ words, as some Islay distilleries do exactly that.
Laphroaig embraced the use of different types of casks with the Quarter Cask release of 2004. A NAS spirit, the Quarter Cask starts aging in the typical ex-bourbon barrels, then transferred to smaller “19th century-style quarter casks” as described on the the carton. The theory is that, with more surface-to-volume area of the smaller cask, the flavors from the oak are more quickly absorbed into the spirit. While that may be so, there is a noticeable mellowness seen only in older whiskies, so I would hold that aging has more to it than surface area. Who knows, maybe you could get a good whisky by dumping the spirit into a vat full of toothpicks for a couple months, but Scotland has that 3-year aging rule for whisky.