Whisky Review: Elements of Islay Peat

Elements of Islay Peat

If you are familiar with Elements of Islay, you can recognize their distinctive bottles and labels from a mile away. Elements is a series of single malt releases, each one produced by a different distillery in Islay. The bottles are made to look like those you might find in a chemistry lab. Each one has a symbol on the label which is presented like a chemical element, but it is actually a code for a specific distillery, for example “Lp” for Laphroaig.

This makes “Peat” an unusual entry into the series, since “Peat” is obviously not a specific distillery. Let’s see how this blended malt whisky measures up.

In the bottle, “Peat’ is very pale gold in color, one of the lightest whiskies I have tried. The label is the classic Elements of Islay design, with “Peat” written in the same clear font as the “chemical symbols” denoting the distilleries of the other whiskies in the line. It’s a very eye-catching design, and one I really love.

Opening the bottle, I smell exactly what I expect: peat, and lots of it. There is also a clean citrus note, very bright. I pick up something flowery and sweet and a hint of hay and smoke or ash. The sweet smell on closer examination seems like it is probably vanilla. All in all, more complexity than I expected from something simply named “Peat.”

The flavor is again is exactly what you would expect given the name and the scents. You get a strong wave of peat, coupled with some hay and pepper notes (the pepper caught me a bit off guard; I picked it up on the nose, but it was hotter than I thought it would be). The pepper is woven into a medley of cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. The clean, bright citrus note is distinctively present, and the finish is very peaty. Only now do I pick up the vanilla along with that ash or smoke flavor. The peat is definitely in the “medicinal” flavor area.

You can pick up a bottle of Elements of Islay “Peat” for around 35 GBP. That is a reasonable price for a solid whisky. Peat is something which draws up strong reactions from whisky-drinkers; some love it, others detest it, and others still like some peat flavors but cannot stand others. If you like “medicinal” tasting peat, you will probably really like Elements of Islay “Peat.” While it is not the most complex whisky you will ever try, the citrus notes and spices save it from being overly simplistic.

Elements of Islay Peat : Review Summary

Color: Very pale gold, more like the color of straw.

Nose: Peat, peat, peat, citrus, flowers, vanilla, smoke, hay, ash.

Palate: Lots and lots of peat (medicinal), hay, pepper, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, citrus, vanilla, smoke, ash.

Whiskey Review: Defiance

Defiance Whiskey

Photo credit: http://defiancewhiskey.tumblr.com/

Defiance Whiskey is a new bourbon whiskey made in St. Louis and aged in Missouri white oak barrels. According to Daniel Fort, owner of the father-and-son brand, their goal was to create a new type of bourbon whiskey that would appeal not only to the traditional whiskey-drinking demographic, but to a younger and more diverse crowd including women and Millenials. As Fort explains, “We don’t want to be just another Southern-branded, the-Civil-War-could-have-gone-either-way kind of whiskey.”

If the name sounds familiar, it could be because you are already familiar with Defiant American Single Malt Whisky. The two shouldn’t be confused: Defiant comes from North Carolina, not Missouri, and there is no connection between the two brands.

Defiance comes in a beautiful bottle with a design that combines new and old elements and shouts “classic, yet modern.” I love the DW logo in stylized script and the modern, edgy typeface for “Defiance Whiskey.” The ribbon design around it gives the entire graphic a very sleek look. The liquid is a deep gold which is almost, but not quite, amber.

Opening the bottle, I detect rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and caramel, with the rye as the prominent note. Tasting, I get plenty of rye and cinnamon with an astringent punch. The sweet notes of caramel and fruit only emerge on the aftertaste and smooth, dry finish. I love the progression of the flavors from spicy to sweet, but I could live without the astringent bite. A bottle will cost you around $27, which isn’t bad.

All in all, this is a great debut for a new whiskey brand, and as the beautiful design work on the bottle promises, it definitely is different from a lot of whiskeys I have tried. If they can get rid of that astringent note, their next bourbon will be even more delightful.

Defiance Whiskey : Review Summary

Color: Dark gold (or light amber).

Nose: Rye, corn, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, caramel.

Palate: Rye, cinnamon, astringency, caramel, sweet fruit.

Whisky Review: Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach is an old name in the whisky world, and I do mean old. The distillery first got started in 1898. In 1983 they closed up for a while, but they re-opened again in 1993 after being purchased by Gordon & McPhail. Since then, they have specialized in Speyside style malts, and in fact won “Best Speyside Single Malt – 12 Years and Under” at the 2014 World Whisky Awards.

The Benromach 10 Years Old was matured for the first nine years in bourbon barrels (80%) and sherry hogshead casks (20%). For the final year, it was aged in oloroso casks. Naturally I was excited to get a chance to try it. Let’s check it out.

The bottle distinguishes itself immediately through the quirky “handwritten” style writing on the front which reads, “The Classic Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky.” Aside from that, the labeling is very simple and basic. The liquid in the bottle is a bright golden color.

Opening the bottle, the aroma that reaches my nose is complex, and it takes me a while to distinguish all the different notes. I get sherry right off the top (as expected), and of course peat—though the peat is lighter than I would have thought. Other definite notes include apples, nuts, something sweet like toffee or caramel, and spices.

On the palate, I immediately pick up the apple note, which is more like a green apple than a red one—it has that bitter tang, which plays nicely with the sweetness from the caramel and sherry flavors. There are other fruits in here as well, maybe oranges or some other kind of citrus. I also pick up a hint of licorice, white pepper, and some other spices I can’t quite pick out. I am delighted that this isn’t overly sweet. I also am happy to say that the peat is there, but it never is overpowering.

This is a classic Speyside whisky, but in more than one way it surprised me. I saw the notes listed, and both peat and sherry gave me pause because I often find that there is just “too much” of either flavor. That is not at all the case with the Benromach 10 Years Old. It is beautifully balanced, and at around $30-$40, it is a bargain to boot.

Benromach 10 Year Old : Review Summary

Color: Golden.

Nose: Caramel, apple, nuts, peat, sherry, spice.

Palate: Green apple, citrus, caramel, sherry, licorice, white pepper, spices.

Whisky Review: BenRiach 15 Year Old (Sherry Cask Finish)

BenRiach 15-Year-Old (Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish)

I’ve tried a few BenRiach whiskies over the years, and most of them were heavy on the peat. There are times when I like peat, but I often find it overwhelming, so I haven’t really gotten into the brand all that much. Recently, though, I decided I would try the BenRiach 15-Year-Old. I’d read that it’s a lot different from other whiskies in BenRiach’s catalog, and having tried it, I must concur.

The BenRiach 15-Year-Old was made using a two-step maturation process. First the whisky was matured in American oak bourbon barrels. Then it was transferred to casks from the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. These casks previously were used to mature Pedro Ximenez sherry. Having had good experiences before with whiskies aged in sherry casks, I figured this one might be worth a try.

In the bottle, the BenRiach 15-Year-Old is a deep amber colour. Aromatic notes include caramel, vanilla, pineapple, and nutmeg. But all of these notes are melded into something dusty. The best way I can describe it would be to say that it smells like the bottle was left open in an attic for a decade.

Flavours are quite surprising given these aromas. I was expecting this to be overwhelmingly sweet because of the caramel smell and the sherry, but both of those flavours are quite well blended into the whole. Other notes include orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, wood and—yes—peat. Thankfully however the peat is very light and stays in the background where it doesn’t take over the entire flavour profile. There is plenty of spice. The finish is long and dry with the fruit flavours lingering.

I can definitely tell that this is a BenRiach whisky, but it is far more balanced to me than most of their whiskies. I enjoy peat, but I like it in short, controlled bursts. I don’t like when it takes over a drink completely. Here the peat is just one element weaving into the whole. I was also pleased that this wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet (nor does it taste like dust). All in all, it exceeded my expectations. You can purchase the BenRiach 15-Year-Old for around $50-$60, which isn’t cheap, but it’s worth your money.

BenRiach 15 Year Old: Review Summary

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, pineapple, nutmeg, dust.

Palate: Caramel, sherry, wood, orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, peat.

Whisky Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky Review

Japanese whisky has become more and more popular around the globe over the past few years, and Hibiki has become a big name. More than ten different malt and grain whiskies were used to create this unified blend, sourced from Suntory’s Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries as well as the Chita grain distillery. The word “Hibiki” translates to “echo.”

This whisky comes in beautiful minimalist packaging. The box is mostly white with beautiful insignia and lovely typography. The same design is used again on the label of the bottle itself. The liquid inside is a warm golden hue.

Opening the bottle, I detect fruit, flowers, and vanilla. Oranges, pineapple, and bananas accompany a bouquet of roses, mellowed and sweetened by vanilla and a hint of spice. The smell pulls you right in, and I found myself very excited for the first sip! On the palate, you get plenty of orange and a hint of peach or apricot. The vanilla is easily detectable as well, and the spices taste like cinnamon and nutmeg. And unless I am mistaken, there is a hint of ginger. It adds a great kick and a little bite, and keeps the sweet flavors from getting out of line. There is a lovely long finish which is both spicy and sweet.

This is not a cheap whisky. You will pay at least $60 for it, and I have seen bottles go for close to $100. It is well worth it, though. The flavors are beautifully blended and balanced, and dare I say “harmonious”? Yes, this whisky has earned its name. Give Hibiki Japanese Harmony a try, especially if you are a lover of citrus and flowers.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony : Review Summary

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Orange, pineapple, banana, rose, vanilla, spice.

Palate: Orange, peach, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.

Rum Review: Dos Maderas P.X. (5 + 5)

Dos Maderas 5+5 Rum Review

Dos Maderas (5+5) PX is Caribbean rum I’d been hearing great things about for some time, so I decided to give it a try. The name “5+5” is a reference to the aging process. For the first five years, the rum is aged in the Caribbean in American oak casks. After that, it is sent to Spain. There, it is aged for another five years, this time in Spanish oak sherry casks. Thus the “5+5,” which essentially translates to “5 years + 5 years.” “Dos Maderas” translates to “Two Woods.”

The second part of the aging process actually is broken down into two steps. The first three years in Spain, the rum is aged in Palo Cartado sherry casks. The second two years, it is aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. So in total, there are three different types of casks involved. The concept of aging in sherry casks may be familiar to you if you have ever tried sherried whiskey. But sherried rum? This was a first for me, and an exciting one at that.

In the bottle, Dos Maderas (5+5) PX is a deep amber color, the hue so saturated it is almost red. It’s beautiful just to look at. This color is typical of a sherried beverage. The aroma is just what I would expect—sweet. You can detect a lot of different notes if you take the time to breathe them in: caramel, nuts, dried dark fruit, vanilla, sherry (of course), and something heavy and musty like leather.

The taste is absolutely incredible. Sweet notes of sherry dominate, along with caramel, vanilla, spice, and dark fruit. There is a hint of chocolate and coffee in the backdrop. It tastes like no other rum I have ever tried, especially with respect to all the fruit notes! The finish is long and delectably smooth. Oak emerges along with a hint of anise. The sherry flavors linger on the tongue before melting away.

The craziest thing about this rum to me is the price point. You can pick up a bottle for just $35-$40. Normally I would expect a drink like this to cost substantially more. It would easily have been a good buy at $60! So the fact I got it for $35 makes it a ridiculously good deal. It really is a unique experience, and again, very different from any other rum out there. If you enjoy rum and sherry, you will love Dos Maderas (5+5) PX, a perfect melding of flavors. This is the ultimate in sweet and smooth!

Dos Maderas 5+5 PX Review: Summary

Colour: Deep mahogany, almost red.

Nose: Caramel, nuts, vanilla, sherry, dark dried fruit, leather, earth.

Palate: Sherry, caramel, vanilla, spices, dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, oak, anise.

Whisky Review: Brenne Estate Cask

Brenne Estate Cask

Brenne Estate Cask is a French whisky distilled in Cognac. Production is limited to 30,000 bottles a year, and it’s matured in French Limousin oak barrels before being finished in young Cognac casks. The farm that produces Brenne Estate Cask has been in operation since the 1920s and has been making single malt whisky since the early 2000’s.

The barley used in Brenne Estate Cask is organic and locally grown. The soil in the Cognac region apparently has a nice pH balance which helps to produce a smooth distillate. Since Brenne has only been bottling their whiskies for the past few years, this is an entirely new experience for me. Let’s see how Cognac’s unique soil and Brenne’s innovative distillation processes pan out!

You will pay around $50-$60 for a bottle of Brenne, which is significantly more expensive than a lot of whiskies I have tried, but still in a reasonable range. The bottle has a simple, classic design with minimal flourishes and a bright blue label. The blue contrasts beautifully with the deep amber liquid inside.

Opening the bottle, I detect so many aromas that it takes me a few minutes to start sorting them out. There are a lot of fruit aromas here, and I can’t be entirely sure what they all are, but I think I am picking up pineapple, peach (or apricot), and maybe even coconut—but that might be vanilla. There is something a bit citrusy in here, and a hint of something else candy-ish, maybe licorice. Basically, I feel like I just walked into a candy store full of fruit gum drops and other sweets.

This tastes exactly like it smells—like you are strolling through a dime store candy aisle. I am getting pineapple for sure, maybe banana, and definitely peach or apricot. There may be raspberry in here too. It’s just packed with sweetness, but there is a hint of something tart here too. The tartness balances out the sweetness so that it isn’t overwhelming. There is also a subtle taste of something grounding and mature in the backdrop, maybe oak. I think if not for that oak, the subtle tartness, and a hint of spice that weaves through it all, this would be an odd experience, and a bit too “high pitched” for me. But the oak and tartness round out the flavors nicely, bringing them back to earth.

… Not for long though. The finish here is nothing; it just evaporates. I wasn’t sure what to think of this whisky at first, but I found myself gulping down more to make up for the nonexistent finish.

So in short? It’s good stuff, but not what you usually picture when you head out to buy some whisky. It’s very sweet, but not too sweet. If you are a candy lover, this is like a party in a bottle. I think since this is a different kind of whisky, it may also appeal to people who usually don’t drink it. A very interesting and unique purchase.

Brenne Estate Cask: Summary

Colour: Deep rich amber.

Nose: Candied fruits: pineapple, coconut, peach or apricot, citrus, vanilla, licorice.

Palate: More candied fruit: pineapple, banana, peach, raspberry, vanilla, oak, subtle spice.

Whiskey Review: Teeling Small Batch

Teeling Small Batch

When you think of Irish whiskey, odds are one of the first names you think of is Teeling. Until relatively recently, most of the whiskey produced in Ireland came from three distilleries: Cooley, Old Bushmills, and New Midleton. The Cooley distillery was founded in 1987 by John Teeling. While the Colley distillery was purchased by Jim Beam just a few years ago, former manager Jack Teeling decided to start his own brand. And that is how the Teeling Whiskey Company was born. Teeling Irish Whiskey is the flagship product for the brand.

This small-batch whiskey was hand-selected and then matured in barrels formerly used for rum. It’s non-chill filtered and 46% ABV. The rum barrels are noteworthy, since it is far more common to mature Irish whiskeys in barrels which were previously used for sherry or bourbon. As a result, there is a very distinctive flavor to this whiskey. The 46% ABV is also notable, since 40% is much more common for Irish whiskeys. Small-batch production like this is uncommon as well. So naturally, there is a lot to get excited about here, especially backed by the Teeling name.

The bottle is very dark green, almost black, so there isn’t a whole lot to see when you look at the bottle. You can only see the color of the whiskey when you pour it. It turns out to be a beautiful golden yellow. Lifting the glass to my nose, I smell something that immediately reminds me of Christmas. It takes a moment to figure out why, but I believe it is a combination of dessert-type aromas blending with the sharpness of pine. Focusing more closely, I detect vanilla, caramel, and apple. The smell is very much a warm apple pie on a crisp winter day with the Christmas tree nearby.

This whiskey is very smooth on the palate. The flavors are sweet, with vanilla taking the front seat and apple still prominent. There are also elements of lemon and something syrupy and almost floral. I taste hints of caramel and coconut. The finish is a bit of a surprise twist. Instead of staying sweet, the flavor turns peppery, contributing a nice warmth and balancing out the sweet flavors. That hint of pine is there in the backdrop the entire time, contributing a sharp edge. That spicy sharpness keeps the sweetness from becoming overwhelming, and also makes the flavors glow.

You can purchase Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey for around $50 per bottle. While that is by no means cheap, it is also not ridiculously expensive, and the quality is very high. It is a unique blend, and one which is very evocative for me of wintertime and Christmas comfort. If you enjoy sweet whiskeys with balanced flavors, it is definitely worth a try. I will savor this one.

Teeling Small Batch

Color: Rich yellow gold.

Nose: Apples, vanilla, caramel, pine.

Palate: Apples, vanilla, caramel, coconut, lemon, pine, pepper.

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