Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peat and Sherry

Two very traditional ways of "flavouring" whisky is to use peated malt or to use a cask which prior content will affect the current

A lot of wellknown brands, like Highland Park, Ardbeg Uigeadail are of this type and BenRiach has been bottling quite a few old expressions of peated malt that received a finish (see : for a review of a 1984 BenRiach finished in a Pedro Ximenez Cask)

In this blog I'll be tasting a couple of Islays, one Caol Ila and one Laphroiag. These days a lot of distilleries have side productions of peated whisky, but only very few distilleries have the production of very peated whisky as their main expression. They are Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Kilchoman and Bowmore on Islay and Talisker on Skye. Port Ellen on Islay, which closed in 1983 would belong on this list as well. Caol Ila and Laphroaig uses mainly ex-bourbon casks for maturing their whisky, so getting your hand of a bottle of whisky matured on a sherry cask from these distilleries isn't very common.

Laphroaig 2001

The main "problem" with peat and sherry is balance. You want to be able to taste both. You don't really want one of the flavours to dominate the other too much. Maturing has its affect here. The peatyness of a whisky will decrease as the whisky matures, and the influence from the cask will increase. As the sherry influence comes from the cask, this will increase as time go by. Cask influence is not an exact science so some casks will hold their peat flavour better than others. The sherry influence is also dependant on if the cask used is a 1st fill, 2nd fill or so on, and also to what kind of sherry was used in the original cask!

Laphroaig 2001

1. 29.83 Kissing a Balrog's Bum (Laphroiag) 20yo 52.3% bottled by SMWS Refill Butt

This whisky somehow seems a bit closed and don't really want to to come out and say hello and release its flavours. It takes some time

Nose : ashes, fruity - some dried sweet fruits but "normal" fruityness as well, peaty
Palate : Nice peat, and the ashiness is still there, the sweet sherry hits you first but then the peat comes creeping in, some woodiness. The sweetness is there but the ash gives you a dry impression. Vanilla and then liquorice which dominates the finish

Overall a very nice dry mix of sherry, ash and peat.

Quite a few finds sulphur in this, but I don't!. I got the thought that what I pick up as ash (dust!) others get as sulphur, but who knows ?
Rating 85

2. Caol Ila 1996 Gordon and Macphail Cask Strength, 59.0%, cask 16070-16072. Dist. 29/10/1996 bottled 05/04/2007

Nose : Fudge and vanilla, benhind the peat and sherry

Palate : The first thing that hits you is a sherry whisky but the finish is a very powerful peated Islay. Liquorice

The finish on this Caol Ila is amazing long mix of liquorice and peat, ending up with a hint of smoked bacon/meat after several minutes
Rating 85

Caol Ila 2001


  1. I think you're absolutely right about the ash/sulphur thing.

    I tried it a couple of months back and certainly found sulphur, but somehow it combned very well with the peat, giving it what I would call a 'distinct profile' instead of just being sulphured. Also guess that by naming it 'Kissing a Balrog's Bum' somebody else found sulphur in it...

  2. I think I'm the only one not finding sulphur in it. SO how would you describe the sulphur in this one (if you remember!) ?