The four whiskies that make up this collection are:
The Ardmore - Legacy,
Connemara - Original,
Bowmore - Small Batch,
Laphroaig - Select.
Capitalising on their "leading position in the category", Beam Suntory have brought these whiskies together to allow "both the trade and consumer to explore an extensive variety of peat flavours and taste profiles."
The whiskies involved are powerhouses in their own right and for this collection they have chosen to use NAS presentation (bottled at 40% ABV), which, in my humble opinion, will provide a great entry level insight into peated whisky and allow anyone, who has maybe stayed away from peated whisky in the past, to re-approach this unique flavour in a fresh way.
An accompanying press release, that arrived with the samples, provided some insight into rise of the peated malt category by suggesting that it is currently experiencing a 8% growth rate in the Europe, Middle-East and Africa region. We are also informed that peated malts currently represent 17% of total malt volume sales within the same area.
Perfect timing then for such a collection to be presented to the world?
Onto the whiskies themselves.
First up on the evening was The Ardmore - Legacy.
Replacing the "Traditional Cask", as it's core expression, it is described as being "aimed at challenging mainstream single malt brands, offering a lightly peated liquid that is sweet and uplifting."
To push the boundaries Ardmore have experimented by balancing unreleased unpeated malt with their traditional peated malt. They have also gone "all out" with the packaging by having a design that "reflects the spirit of Ardmore" which, by their account, is a symbolic eagle and a contour map of Ardmore's home Kennethmont.
Nose - Crisp smoky bacon, lemon biscuits, mashed banana on toast. The smoke is light and playful. Sweet, creamed rice pudding with citrus honey. Not much spice going on here and with time the sweetness eases to allow it to become more green with grass and pine.
Palate - Sweet with underlying earthiness that wasn't too visible on the nose. Incredibly smooth (possibly too smooth, if possible). Orange peel, lemon citrus and some menthol. Spice is still absent and the green flavours lurk in the background with the emphasis again on grass. Also a light caramel flavour running through the spirit. Obviously not Islay but great to try against them.
Finish - Short with slight smoke and fresh fruit.
Overall - A very easy drinking malt that's interesting to try against the bigger Islay flavours. A touch on the thin side and, as with all these whiskies, could do with a bit more oomph on the ABV front.
Connemara - Original
This is one worth watching as time moves on. I have long been a fan of the whiskey produced down in Cooley, with Greenore single grain and Locke's being two stunners, but I have to be honest. Recently, as you may know, I wasn't at all blown away by the new Connemara 22yo and again, with this tasting of the "Original", I've been left feeling a little let down.
I can't quite work out what the problem is. Is it that the lovely spirit character of Cooley does not integrate well with peat? Is it that they are being too restrained and need to pump more phenols into their entire range? Is it that they have rested on their laurels too much from the days when Connemara was winning awards across the world? The honest answer is that I do not know but, as I stated, I'm looking forward to seeing how this brand develops under the new Beam Suntory regime because I love Irish whiskey and would love to see this become a great, great representative of what we can produce.
Nose - Fruity, orange, lemon, pineapple and some red apple. The smoke builds slowly. Not massive, earthy, turf but rather light, gentle, peat smoke that drifts lightly over the fruit. Slight perfumed note hiding underneath and you get a great sense of freshness and vibrancy. Pear drops appear and a strange plastic note comes through but not in a bad way.
Palate - The very instant fruit arrival is quickly dominated by spice and heat. Chilli pepper, black pepper and cloves. After a while the orange and lemon return but you get a feel that it's all a little watery and thin. There is some wood influence showing through and again the peat smoke just hides in the background.
Finish - Medium due to the heat which lingers on in the mouth. To get any big sense of the peat you really need to take a hell of a gulp which a) will get you hammered, b) burn your mouth to a cinder with chilli and c) give you no sense at all of what this spirit should be.
Overall - I just find this OK. Does not fill me with excitement and I certainly wouldn't rush to buy a bottle. Work needs done to turn this into a whiskey that can truly contend with the big Peat champions out there. By all means try it if you can and formulate your own opinion but in comparison to the likes of Locke's and Greenore this does not hold it's own.
Bowmore - Small Batch
Any of you that have followed this blog from the very start will know that this was briefly reviewed by myself back in December 2013. Back then I stated that I was worried about the NAS presentation and expected it to be a young, feisty dram that would be hard to like and to my surprise I was delighted with what I had tasted.
Naturally then I was excited to see this in the line-up, to give me a chance to confirm what I had thought last year, and compare it amongst it's other entry level rivals....again I was not disappointed.
Nose - Salty, plastic seaweed. Proper earthy mineral peat that feels it has been ground into the malted barley. It is by no means over the top though and the peat asserts itself in a restrained way. Citrus freshness is here in abundance and is accompanied by toasted oats, light vanilla honey and milk chocolate. The feel becomes lighter with time but does not detract from the fact that this is extremely well balanced.
Palate - Clean, fresh with a lovely combination of lemon, honey, smoke and spice. A light wood smoke comes through along with some more salty notes. The spice is perfect and integrates so well with the other flavours. Yet again I can not believe that this is a NAS whisky.
Finish - Slightly longer than I remembered with smoke, spice and a serious urge to drink some more.
Overall - This has once again taken my breath away. For a NAS whisky to be so well balanced and, comparatively speaking, so complex is truly a wonder. With talk that you can pick this up for as little as £25, in certain stores, all I can say is BUY, BUY, BUY. Really magnificent stuff.
Laphroaig - Select
A release that was chosen out of 6 different samples by the "Friend's of Laphroaig", who also chose the name. This particular whisky is a real mix up with Oloroso sherry butts, straight American white oak (non-filled with bourbon), PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks and first fill bourbon casks all being represented here.
Having not tasted this before I was naturally curious as to how all these strong influences would marry together (if even they do?)
Nose - Sweet, malty peat smoke. Iodine, salted popcorn, pine and pineapple (yes both), sticking plasters, some dark chocolate and with time the sherry notes appear with dried fruit. As with the Ardmore I get some rice pudding and familiar Laphroaig toasted oats are here. This is distinctly Laphroaig but much, much more restrained.
Palate - BOOM, we're definitely in Islay now with big earthy peat smoke. Mineral, iodine, TCP, sweet with a little red apple and salted caramel. Some chilli spice in here which is maybe it's age showing through and towards the end a little tar / oil feel comes into play.
Finish - Decent length with a nice linger of peat.
Overall - A good solid whisky but could this be too over complicated? Have too many cooks spoilt the broth? I think this is one that I would need to spend a lot more time with before making a real final conclusion.
Well that's all for this journey through the peated drams of Beam Suntory.
Once again a huge thanks to Steve Rush at TheWhiskyWire.com, where anyone can apply to join in the fun of the tweet tastings, and also a big thank you to Alexandra Gerolami of Focus PR for the lovely samples and press release.
Until next time,
The Whisky Wire - http://www.thewhiskywire.com
The Whisky Wire Twitter - https://twitter.com/TheWhiskyWire
Focus PR - http://www.focuspr.co.uk/
Focus PR Twitter - https://twitter.com/FocusPR
Focus PR - http://www.focuspr.co.uk/
Focus PR Twitter - https://twitter.com/FocusPR