When we think of Single Malt Whisky we first and foremost think of Scotch – and for good reason. Single Malt Whisky from Scotland easily takes up more shelf space than any other type of whisky (or whiskey) here at Kensington Wine Market.
If you come into our shop and ask me to recommend a single malt one of the first questions I will ask you is what kind of style you are looking for. Typically this is shorthand for one very specific question: Do you like peaty and smoky whisky?
Over the years – thanks mostly to marketing but also books and articles and blogs that talk about scotch – we have gotten used to the idea that the flavour and style of any given single malt has to do with the place it resides in. Speyside whisky is meant to be soft, fruit forward and easy drinking. Islay malts are monstrous, smokey brutes that put hair on your chest.
Breaking up style by some nebulous region is impossible and shortsighted. For the most part, it never made any real sense -and it definitely does not work now. In the current whisky boom, we find everybody and their cousin is doing a peated malt in Scotland. Those that aren’t making peated whisky directly experiment by aging or finishing their unpeated spirit in barrels that once held heavily peated whisky.
All this is happening within Scotland. We haven’t even mentioned the experiments in Single Malt happening all around the world at younger distilleries that can experiment without being shackled to a traditional style to hamper innovation – or replication of another’s style as the case may be. Both Scotland and abroad have come to realize that modern consumers of their whisky are not going to stick to one brand out of taste or loyalty. They are much more likely to seek out new styles themselves.
That is what we looked at for this tasting. I chose four distilleries – two from Scotland and two from elsewhere in the world – that are creating both unpeated and peated single malt whisky. It seemed like a great way to debunk that whole region idea. It also shows that while the Scots might remain the kings of single malt – they are definitely not the only players in town.
Here is the lineup we tasted our way through:
The Paul John line of single malt whisky hails from John Distillery in Goa, India which was established in 1992. Like Amrut which is also in India, the John distillery loses a tremendous amount of liquid during maturation in the barrel to evaporation: the angel’s share is around 12 to 13% per year.
1.) Paul John Brilliance – 46%ABV – WAS $63 – CURRENTLY SOLD OUT
Made from six-row barley grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and distilled and matured in Goa. Paul John Brilliance is unpeated. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels.
2.) Paul John Edited – 46% ABV – WAS $69 – CURRENTLY SOLD OUT
This bottling uses up to 20% Peated Malt from Islay and Aberdeen in Scotland then brought over to Goa to be used in the malting of their own six-row Indian barley. The malt is peated to about 20-25 PPM. The other Malt is unpeated. The marriage of these two styles together gives us the lightly peated Paul John Edited. Also aged in ex-bourbon barrels.
The Isle of Arran distillery started production in 1995. It is currently the only distillery running on the Island. There is currently a sister distillery being built on the southern end the Island. Once it is up and running tt will focus on producing peated whisky.
3.) Arran 1997 KWM Cask 1085 – 19 years old – 51.4% ABV – $145
Our 7th single cask bottling of Arran for KWM is the oldest yet at 19 years of age! Bottled at 51.4% from an Ex-Bourbon Hogshead. Yes, we know it says Sherry on the label, but it is not… 258 total bottles.
4.) Arran 2008 KWM Cask 1131 – 7 years old – 56.8% ABV – $105
Our 6th exclusive single cask from the Isle of Arran is actually our first peated cask from the distillery. Bottled at just 7 years from an Ex-Bourbon barrel, don’t let its youth scare you away, there is plenty of character in this malt! Think of it as a single cask of Machrie Moor, Arran’s peated single malt expression! 270 Total bottles! Distilled December 3rd, 2008 and bottled August 23rd, 2016.
Westland Distillery came to life in 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Unlike most other American craft distilleries which typically jump on the bourbon bandwagon, Westland’s sole focus is on single malt whiskey. In 2016 Westland Distillery was bought by Remy Cointreau, which also owns Bruichladdich.
5.) Westland Sherry Wood – 46% ABV – $100
Made from a mash of five different malts including a few that are more heavily roasted. Matured in a combination of American Oak as well as Oloroso and PX Sherry casks for at least 24 months. Bottled at 46% ABV
6.) Westland Peated – 46% ABV – $100
This is a combination of heavily peated style malt and unpeated malt from Washington-grown barley. It is aged for at least two years in a combination of virgin oak and 1st fill American oak casks.
Bruichladdich is a Scottish distillery located on Islay. It now tends to be a fan favorite but it was actually closed in 1998 and did not reopen until 2001 under new ownership. Jim, McEwan – the previous Master Distiller at Bruichladdich that helped get the distillery back up and running retired in 2015. These 2nd Editions of the ten-year-olds were actually put together by his protege and the current Head Distiller at Bruichladdich: Adam Hannett.
7.) Bruichladdich Laddie 10 Year 2nd Edition – 50% ABV – $75
Only 18,000 bottles will be released World Wide of the second 10 year old distilled and bottled by the distillery after its reopening. The malt in this bottle was all distilled in 2006 and was aged in a combination of first fill Bourbon, Sherry, and French wine casks.
8.) Port Charlotte 10 Year 2nd Edition – 50% ABV – $95
This is only the second release of Port Charlotte 10 Year, with just 18,000 bottles released worldwide. Matured in Bourbon, Sherry, Tempranillo, and French wine casks. Port Charlotte is heavily peated to about 40 PPM. It was actually the first distillate to run from the stills for the first two months after Bruichladdich reopened in 2001.
The lineup made for a fun and challenging tasting as we tasted the unpeated and peated single malt from each respective distillery side by side. This was a change from the more typical tasting where we would taste the peated whisky closer to the end. The attendees really enjoyed the range but at the end of the night here was one favorite and two tied right behind it in votes. Here are the winners:
2nd (tie): Westland Sherry Wood
2nd (tie): Arran 1997 KWM Cask 1085
1st place: Port Charlotte 10 year 2nd Edition
There you have it: a peated single malt won the night but two of the unpeated bottles followed hot on its heels. The whole tasting made for a fun concept – one that I hope to do a sequel of some time in the future!
Cheers and until next time,
Twitter and Instagram: @sagelikefool
Instagram: one part of @kwmwhisky