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Caol Ila Distillery – The Contributor of JW Blends

Caol Ila Distillery

Our visit to Caol Ila Distillery was the beginning of the end of our Islay trip. It was unfortunate that the distillery was undergoing renovations when we were there. It resulted in our tour getting cut, but the compensation we got was more of their gold nectar!

The Caol Ila Visitor Centre

Walking to the Visitor Centre

Due to the renovations, our vehicle was not allowed to go right up to the gate, so we parked far away and walked up to the distillery. The safety measures put up at the distillery were impressive, so we felt safe during our time there, even with all the construction works all around.

Curly the Pig reporting in

When we reached the visitor centre, the cask greeted us in a quiet corner. The cask served an important role though – it was the meeting point for all Caol Ila tours! Upon entering the little shop, we were quite shocked at the number of people squeezed into the tiny space. A group of Caol Ila fans turned up at the distillery without a prior tour booking, and they were unhappy that the team at the shop turned them away! There was a little commotion, but it was sorted out after one of the team checked the tour for the day after and managed to squeeze them in.

The Tour Proper

Our tour guide came to meet our group shortly after the commotion. She explained that as the renovation was on-going, we would not be able to visit the whole distillery but only the Still House, which was still untouched by the construction. We were quite disappointed, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

The Caol Ila Stills

Inside the Still House, our guide shared all the details of the production at Caol Ila Distillery with our group. We visited on a Sunday, and the stills were not running because the distillery only works Monday to Friday! It was surprising as most of the other distilleries work seven days a week, 365 days a year. Our group joked that it must be a good thing to be a production crew at Caol Ila! You get the weekend off!

The Caol Ila Way

Caol Ila smokes their barley to around 50ppm, and it should get a very smokey whisky like Ardbeg. However, their stills with the long lyne arms created a lot of reflux, and the result is a much softer smoke.

The wash still at Caol Ila has a capacity of 58 thousand litres, but they only charged 19 thousand litres of wash in each distillation cycle. The aim is to create high refluxes within the still and increase the purity of the distillate.

The distillery takes a cut of the heart between 75% to 65% abv of the distillate. Our guide shared that the process takes an average of 2.5 hours during a normal distillation cycle. The head is around 85%% abv while the tail is below 65% abv. The head and tail go back to the distillation cycle in the next charge, similar to most other distilleries.

The team then dilutes the new make to 63.5% abv (industry standards) before putting them into their respective casks for maturation. An interesting point to note is that Caol Ila does not mature their whisky on-site, but send them to mainland Scotland to mature in a separate warehouse.

Casks of Caol Ila

Noticing that some unfinished casks were sitting around the distillery, one of us asked our guide if those casks were no longer in use. She said that while those that we saw were indeed staves that they discarded, Caol Ila builds their own casks. How they do it is to import bourbon staves from the United States of America, and their talented team build the casks up on their own, complete with their specification. Most of the casks are hogshead.

Where does Caol Ila whisky go to?

Our article title already suggested that Caol Ila is the main contributor for Johnnie Walker blends. Still, you may be shocked to discover that up to 85% of all Caol Ila whisky goes to Johnnie Walker! Before the boom of Caol Ila single malts, up to 95% of the whisky goes to the blends. Diageo reduced it to 85% in 2011.

The Tasting Room

The Tasting Room

After the short but information session in the Still House, our group went to the Tasting Room, a large, upper room hidden by a wooden door! It overlooks the Sound of Islay and right opposite us, the Paps of Jura! Now you might remember that the Still Room in Ardnahoe overlooks the Paps as well, but we weren’t lucky during our trip to Ardnahoe to view them. However, we were lucky this time!

The magnificent Paps of Jura

Ta-da! This was the view right outside the window of the tasting room. Even though the clouds were still low, we could see the two peaks of the Paps, which were magnificent. Of course, our photograph couldn’t do justice to the beauty that we witnessed on Islay.

What was on offer?

Caol Ila 15 YO Unpeated, Caol Ila 10, Distillery Exclusive

Our guide invited us to take our places at a large table where our drams awaited. First, we gave us each a branded Glencairn glass; then she began introducing the whiskies. The distillery upgraded our tour basically, to include two drams direct from the cask as a form of apology for the renovations. You should hear the mumble of appreciation all around the table!

The list of whisky was as followed:

  1. 15 Years Old, Unpeated, Cask Strength
  2. 10 Years Old, Cask Strength, Feis Ile 2018
  3. NAS, Cask Strength, Distillery Exclusive
  4. 1996, 23 Years Old, 55.3% abv, Straight from the cask
  5. 2012, 7 Years Old, 60.7% abv, Straight from the cask

1996 Caol Ila Cask

2012 Caol Ila Cask,

It was a treat like no other! We enjoyed the large pours from our guide, chit-chat about whisky in general, and made new friends from the Netherlands! We also met the couple whom we saw at Ardnahoe, which was really a pleasant surprise! After all the drams, our guide also encouraged us to walk around the room, looking at some of the artefacts that the distillery collected over the years.

Used Barrels and a Colour Chart

We noticed some interesting old bottles of Caol Ila lying around too. Check them out!

Curly was really excited too!

Unfortunately, we needed to clear the room for the next tour before we could ask more about these bottles. Nevertheless, it was really enjoyable despite the disappointment of not being able to visit the mash tuns and the washbacks.

Return to reality

Exiting the Tasting Room carrying our drams, we went back to the shop just to meet yet another group of disappointed visitors who did not pre-book their tours. This group was unhappy when they saw us coming back, and some heated arguments started between the unhappy group and the team at the shop. Thankfully, our guide arrived in time, and she stopped the commotion.

As for us, we quickly side-stepped the incident by moving deeper into the shop to look at the bottles available.

Feis Ile 2019

Distillery Exclusive

It was disappointing that these were the best bottles on offer at the distillery, and the rest were the core range. As we had already tried the two expressions during the tour, we did not buy them home. All we did was to buy a super nice Caol Ila Down Jacket instead!

Saying Good-Bye to Islay

Our travels on Islay is over, folks! Caol Ila was the last distillery that we visited so we will be starting other articles from next week. Our team did visit Bruichladdich for a tour, but because we wrote a lot of articles on Bruichladdich previously, we decided to omit the tour unless our readers request for it!

We did not go on tours at Bowmore, Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain because we couldn’t make time for it. However, we visited their shops and bars to purchase bottles and drinks! This omission also meant that we have another excuse to go back to Islay in future!

WhiskyGeeks hopes that you had a lot of fun touring Islay with us! Stay with us, though! There will be more interesting articles coming up. 😀

 

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    Ardnahoe Distillery – Youngest of Islay (At the Moment)

    Ardnohoe Visitor Centre

    Ardnahoe Distillery is the newest setup on Islay, and we arrived bright and early to the distillery on our tour day! As you can see in our picture above, the visitor centre team member was just opening up for the day! Hahaha! Talk about enthusiasm and “crazy whisky people” – that’s us!

    Now, the relatively new distillery has an awesome team of people right at the front of their visitor centre. We went in and got ourselves signed in for our booked tour. As we were about 30 minutes early, we had the time to browse the shop for their different offerings.

    The full set of Kinship Bottles

    We saw many Hunter Laing bottlings for sale, including the much sought-after Kinship bottles (picture above). However, nothing intrigued us more than a bottle of Laphroaig 12 Years Old as it was their shop exclusive. We eventually returned to buy that bottle to bring home with us.

    The Beginning of the Tour

    Our guide came to us shortly after to bring us into the first room for our 10 am tour. With us was just one other couple from the United States of America, and we had a fantastic time interacting with one another. We met the same couple at Laphroaig and Ardbeg too! It was great fun to make new whisky friends and trade drams and stories. Whisky unites!

    The owners of Ardnahoe

    The family behind Ardnahoe

    Spread across the entire wall in the first room was the history of Ardnahoe. First and foremost, we wanted to talk about the family behind the distillery. Fully owned by Hunter Laing Group, the owners of Ardnahoe are none other than Stewart Laing, a familiar name in the Scotch whisky industry and his two sons, Scott and Andrew Laing.

    Stewart Laing founded the Hunter Laing Group in 2013, after fifty years in the industry. He first started his career at the Bruichladdich distillery, and later on, appeared to work with his family business. In 2013, Stewart decided to venture out on his own to create a new legacy with his sons.

    Ardnahoe was a dream come true for Stewart. He dreamt of returning to Islay after all these years to set roots down on the island that ignite his passion for whisky. His dream finally took shape in the building of Ardnahoe.

    A short history of Loch Ardnahoe

    The distillery takes its name from the nearby Loch that supplies the clean, crisp water for distillation. The building is purposely nestled into the hills close to the Loch for its heights. It was quite a sight to drive up to the distillery. The winding roads up the hill gave breathtaking views at every turn, and the tiny roads gave much excitement whenever a car appeared from the other direction. The elevation allows one to take in the sights of the Paps of Jura over the other side of the sea as well, giving visitors magnificent views of the Paps.

    According to our guide, Irish monks came to Islay in the 14th century and introduced the art of distillation to the islanders after they saw how suitable Islay was for whisky production. Incidentally, generations of families in the Ardnahoe region illicitly distilled their own whisky using traditional techniques and handmade copper worm tubs. The 1644 Excise Act forced these people to “disappear” into the hills and forests, taking their equipment with them to continue illicit distillation. As a result, every step of the distillation progress was done by hand from barley to peat to water.

    A note about Loch Ardnahoe

    Loch Ardnahoe is said to be the deepest loch on Islay, but nobody truly knows its depth. Perhaps nobody wanted to try as the risks are high. The water in the loch is soft and filters through thousand years old peat and rock. Ardnahoe distillery uses this amazingly soft water for all its distillation needs.

    Behind the First Room

    After the history of Ardnahoe, our guide took us behind the first room, and into the production hall. He went through the safety brief as required, and very quickly, the five of us made our way to the first stop – the Bobby Mill.

    The Legendary Bobby Mill

    The Bobby mill at Ardnahoe is the third one that we met so far, having been to Bruichladdich Distillery and Ardbeg Distillery earlier. As mentioned in the article on Ardbeg, the Bobby mill is precious to their owners as it is fully manual. Only four mills exist. The last mill is at Glen Scotia Distillery, located in Campbeltown.

    The First Step – Malting the Barley

    Ardnahoe is a modern distillery with limited space, which means it does not have its own malting floor. They buy barley from mainland Scotland, and Port Ellen Malting helps them to malt and smoke the barley to 40ppm. The peat comes from Castle Hill, which is known to be floral, and the team hand-cuts the peat for maximum effects.

    Peat from Castle Hill

    Port Ellen Malting delivers 28 tons of barley every week, and the team at Ardnahoe sets the Bobby mill to work. After milling the barley to the right ratio, they store the barley in a 2.5tons grist bin.

    Grist Bin

    Similar to most distilleries, Ardnahoe mills the barley into 70% grist, 20% husk and 10% flour. The maltster at the distillery weighs 100g of milled barley to check the ratio. It is a difficult job as one requires a lot of experience to know how to check the ratio. The maltster also needs to be accurate in his calculation as the Bobby mill is manual and does not have a control panel.

    Onwards to the Mash Tun

    Once the team completes the milling process, the barley runs along to the mash house, where they enter the first procedure on their way to becoming whisky.

    Semi Lauter Mash Tun

    Ardnahoe distillery enlists a 2.5 tons semi-lauter mash tun to turn barley into wort or sugar water. Three steams of water go into the mash tun at various temperatures. The first water (10,500 litres) goes into the mash tun at 63-64 degrees C, and drains before the second steam of 3,000 litres goes in at 80 degrees C. The last steam of water (8,500 litres) goes in at 90 degrees C.

    The end result is wort or sugar water, and it is cooled to between 18 to 23 degrees C before it gets pump into the Oregon pine wood washback. The remaining draff (spent barley) is channelled to the local farms to feed the cows!

    Draff

    The Place of Fermentation

    The Washbacks of Ardnahoe

    The wort that goes into the washback then gets fermented. One Oregon pine wood washback holds 12,500 litres of wort. The distillery uses 40 tons of yeast for each fermentation cycle. Once the team adds the yeast, the fermentation hours starts and the cycle completes after 70 hours. Most fermentation cycles are around 50 hours, but Ardnahoe increases their fermentation to 70 hours to extract more ethers and flavours from the wort. The completed fermentation yields wash at around 7-9% abv.

    Yeast in Action

    The fermentation in Ardnahoe was fascinating partly because the smell was pretty aromatic. Unlike some of the other distilleries where fermentation was a smelly affair, the washbacks in Ardnahoe smells good. It is a pity, however, that we could not taste the wash. It would, otherwise, be a very eye-opening experience!

    The Still House and the Paps of Jura

    Stills of Ardnahoe

    Ardnahoe has a pair of stills with the capacity of 12,000 litres. When the wash goes into the wash still, the team heats it up to about 90-92 degrees C to start the distillation process. The still has a 7 meters long lyne arm which encourages reflux. The lyne arm is connected to worm tub #1 outside the distillery which acts as a condenser. The liquid that exits the worm tub is now called low wines and it feeds into the spirit still.

    The Worm Tubs

    The process repeats in the spirit still and the liquid goes into worm tub #2 before condensing into new make. The new make makes its way into the spirit safe. Ardnahoe takes its cut of the spirit between 68% to 63% abv. The head is 69% and above, while the tail is 62% and below. Both head and tail go back to the wash still for the next distillation.

    Many people told us how magnificent the views are in the Still House of Ardnahoe. Unfortunately, we visited on a gloomy, rainy morning and all we could see were low clouds over the Paps of Jura. While the weather did not do us a favour that day, we enjoyed the cold and the rain!

    Back at the visitor centre

    As Ardnahoe currently sells some of its casks to individuals and brokers, we were not able to visit their warehouse unless we are cask owners. Therefore, we headed back to the visitor centre where our guide promised us a couple of drams to warm us up!

    Once we got back to the warmth of the visitor centre, our guide took us to another room where about six to eight bottles sat patiently. All of them were from the Hunter Laing series. In case some of you are wondering, Hunter Laing Group is an independent bottler. They buy casks from other distilleries and bottles them under their name. One popular series under the Hunter Laing Group is the Hepburn’s Choice.

    It is from one of the Hepburn’s Choice series that I chose a Tamdhu Bourbon cask. Tamdhu, as we know it, bottles exclusively in sherry casks. It was, therefore, pretty exciting to see a bourbon Tamdhu! I was quick to spot the rare dram and chose it as my complimentary dram. (We had another amazing Tamdhu bourbon cask last year in Taiwan too, but that’s another story for another day!)

    Tamdhu 2007 9 Years Old Bourbon

    Looking at how low the fill level is, we know that this is a popular bottle. Despite the young age, the Tamdhu presented itself strongly with vanilla cream, coconut, fresh apples and a hint of oak. I enjoyed it so much that our guide poured me a second dram of that!

    The other WhiskyGeeks member chose a Scarabus, a mystery Islay single malt. While we did not know for sure what the dram was, we had a lot of fun guessing it. Our final guess was Lagavulin, but our guide refused to confirm or deny it.

    Scarabus

    Our guide enjoyed our company so much (I think!) that he offered us a second dram! As he had already poured me a second dram of the lovely Tamdhu, I did not take advantage of the “second dram”. My partner chose another Hepburn’s Choice for his second dram, one that is named “Nice N Peaty”.

    Nice N Peaty 2006 11 Years Old

    The mysterious whisky in this bottle had us arguing for some time. All of us could not agree on the distillery. While we had no conclusion, it was great fun talking about it with our new-found friends from the USA.

    All good things came to an end, and we eventually had to bring our remaining drams out to the shop as our guide prepared for the next tour. The shop and cafe, however, provided us with another surprise.

    The Ardnahoe Cafe

    Once in the cafe, we took in the views and were really awed by the majesty of nature on Islay.

    The Paps of Jura

    Braving the cold once again, we walked out into the crisp, cold air outside the cafe and took this picture of the Paps of Jura. Due to the weather, the low-lying clouds hid the summits of the Paps, but we could still see them in all their majesty across the sea.

    Lunch was simple and yet delicious, with a sandwich that filled the tummy up really well! The experience at Ardnahoe was excellent and we appreciate the friendliness of the team at the distillery. We hope to visit the distillery again in the future as we learnt that there are more tours available now, including one that goes to the warehouse!

     

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      Ardbeg Distillery – The Making of an Untamed Spirit

      Ardbeg Distillery

      After our fantastic Laphroaig tour, we moved on to the next distillery along the coast. Ardbeg distillery is yet another famous Islay powerhouse that produces excellent whisky! It used to be known as the “smokiest whisky”, but in recent years, the title belongs to Bruichladdich’s Octomore series. Nonetheless, many whisky lovers still refer to Ardbeg as the “smokiest whisky” because they think that Octomore is more peaty than smoky!

      What’s famous at Ardbeg?

      Ardbeg distillery is not only famous for its whisky. It is also renowned for its food. The haggis, nips and tatties came highly recommended, as well as some of their other food choices. We decided to have lunch there before we went for the tour. It was the perfect decision. The food was amazing! You would, however, had to go there to find out just how good they were!

      A short walk around the distillery

      Ardbeg building behind the visitor centre

      After lunch, we took a quick walk-around at the distillery while waiting for our tour to start. We found this quaint building at the back of the visitor centre, with chairs fashioned out of casks. It took a lot of patience to take a photo without someone sitting on those chairs! We wished that we could take those chairs home with us though; they would look grand at my home bar!

      Starting the Ardbeg Tour

      Ardbeg Bus

      All tours at Ardbeg began in the area outside of the visitor centre, where a big Ardbeg bus stood. A child had cheekily placed his bike in the middle while he ran around. Our friendly guide came promptly at the start of the journey. After giving us a safety briefing, she took us back into the visitor centre where we gathered again under the Ardbeg signage for a headcount.

      Once everyone was accounted for, we were off to the second floor, and into the actual distillery!

      Step 1: Grinding of Barley

      Barley

      Ardbeg does not have a malting floor of their own. They buy customised malted barley (Concerto, smoked to 55ppm) from Port Ellen Maltings. Each batch of malted barley (30 tons) arrives at the distillery each week, and the malting team at the distillery grinds them into grist, husks and flour.

      Bobby Mill

      Say hello to the Bobby mill of Ardbeg. It is the machine that grinds the barley. There are only 4 Bobby Mills in Scotland. The four distilleries that have them are Ardbeg, Ardnahoe, Bruichladdich and Glen Scotia. The machine mills five tons of barley in each run. The team runs the mill for three to five seconds before catching a sample to weight and check if they got it right. The mill runs for 16 to 17 times in a week. The barley is grounded to 70% grist, 20% husk and 10% flour. The Bobby mill is a manual machine. The team depends on experience to know how long to run the mill as there is no control panel.

      Fun Fact: Ardbeg bought their Bobby mill in 1921 at GBP300 as a secondhand! Imagine how much the Bobby mill will cost today!

      Step 2: Mash House

      Mash Tun

      After visiting the relic that is the Bobby mill, we proceeded to the Mash House, where we got into more action. The mash house is the location where the team produces baby whisky. To extract the sugar from the barley, the mashing team puts the barley into the mash tun and adds three steams of hot peated water to it. The first steam of water (17.5 thousand litres) is at 68 degrees C. The water sits in the mash tun for 15 minutes to fully extract the sugar before draining. The second steam of water, also at 68 degrees C, goes in after, and flows out immediately to join the first steam. The last steam of water at 80 degrees C. removes the last bit of sugar available in the barley. It is also drained immediately.

      Washback

      The liquid at the end of this process is no longer ordinary peated water. It has become wort or sugar water. The team cooled the wort to 18 degrees C before pumping it into the washback. Once ready for fermentation, the wort received 22.5 tons of yeast. Ardbeg sets fermentation at 55 hours in the summer, and 56 to 58 hours in other seasons. The long fermentation allows for flavours to form, but the process is exceptionally smelly!

      Yeast in Action

      The end product of the fermentation process is known as the wash. The wash is technically a beer. It needs to go through the next step to become the clear liquid we know as new make.

      Step 3: Distillation

      The Ardbeg Stills

      The next step is the distillation, of course! 11.5 thousand litres of wash charges into the wash still at each run and undergo the first distillation. The interesting fact about this process is that the still actually can hold up to 18 thousand litres, but Ardbeg only charged 11.5 thousand litres into the still for every distillation. After the first distillation, the low wines (from the wash still) go into the spirits still for the second distillation.

      Ardbeg cuts the heart of the spirit at between 73% abv to 69% abv. Anything above 73% abv is the head, and those below 69% abv is the tail. The head and tail will join the next charge of the wash in the wash still.

      Step 4: Maturation

      All new-make needs to mature three years in oak casks before they can be called whisky. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the warehouse at Ardbeg due to renovation. However, our guide brought us out of the distillery to enjoy some excellent views!

      View from Ardbeg distillery

      She also showed us the new building that will house the new Ardbeg stills at the distillery when the renovation completes. There will be four new stills at Ardbeg, and the two old stills will be melted. The new stills will double the production of Ardbeg whisky from 1.4 million litres a year to 2.8 million litres. Our guide shared that the distillery hopes the increased production will eventually push prices down for their whisky so that more people can enjoy the goodness of Ardbeg.

      Step 5: Tasting

      The tour group returned to the visitor centre, where we entered the bar located next to the cafe. Our guide ushered us into a secret room at the back, and when all of us were comfortably seated, she told us that we would be getting a dram from a choice of five bottles.

      Available choices

      If you are disappointed, please don’t think that Ardbeg is stingy. We went for their regular tour, and not the warehouse tour, which means that we only get one dram each. Both of us chose the Ardbeg Drum because we had all the other expressions before. The Ardbeg Drum reminded me of pineapples, which was stunning for us! Our guide stayed with us, and we had a wonderful time chit-chatting. Towards the end of the session, we even laughed at the expense of others when our guide shared her stories of how people mispronounced distillery names!

      Before we went off, I managed to take a photo of Shortie, Ardbeg’s mascot!

      Shortie!

      Shortie belonged to one staff member of Ardbeg. He was always naughty and ran around the distillery looking for treats. As a result, the distillery decided to name Shortie the mascot for Ardbeg. Even though he was no longer around, his spirits lived on in every person at Ardbeg distillery!

       

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        Laphroaig Distillery – The Controversial Islay

        Laphroaig Distillery

        Laphroaig distillery is home to the world-famous whisky of the same name. It is a whisky that causes heated debates over how it tasted, and can seriously make one person look demented in the eyes of another. However controversial the whisky may appear to taste, Laphroaig distillery is a place that excites whisky drinkers all over the world.

        Entrance to Laphroaig Visitor Centre

        We visited Laphroaig Distillery on a sunny morning for a tour and tasting. Having a driver who used to work at Laphroaig Distillery as a Stillman made it extra special for us as our dear driver introduced us to everyone at the visitor centre! We arrived earlier than expected, and excitedly, try to explore the little museum located at the visitor centre. It is a small area detailing the history of Laphroaig, as well as providing some explanation to what peat is.

        Peat Explained

        Laphroaig Distillery Tour

        After going through the museum, we met our tour guide for the day and started our tour.

        Step 1: Malting Floor

        Malting Floor

        Laphroaig malts some of their barley at the distillery and buys the rest of them from Port Ellen Malting. The first step of malting barley is naturally seeping them in water. Barley seeped in water for roughly 48 hours. The time depends on the temperature and how fast the barley reacts as the barley needs to get a moisture content of 45% before they are used in the next step.

        The team at the malting hall changes the water regularly to keep the water fresh. Draining the water also helps to allow the barley to breathe before refilling it to continue the seeping process. Once the barley is ready, they will be spread onto the floor. The ideal temperature during the germination is about 18 degrees C to make sure that the barley is ready for the kiln. However, due to weather changes, the distillery needs to monitor the temperature carefully and make changes when necessary. In cold weather, the team keeps the barley warm by closing the windows; in hot weather, the windows are opened to keep the barley cool and well-ventilated.

        During germination, the team works hard to keep the barley fresh by turning them regularly. The process helps to ventilate the barley and prevent them from sticking to one another. It also allows the barley to breathe and germinate properly. During the tour, the guide allowed everyone to help turn the barley using a shovel that they kept to the malting floor. We were very excited to try that as it would be the first time that we get to do it!

        Turning the Barley!

        Here we were! Holding the shovel for the first time, and scooping barley in the attempt to turn it! It was great fun, honestly, with every one of us making a pose for pictures and videos! The barley germinates better with the regular turning, and soon, it would be ready for milling before moving on to the next step.

        Step 2: The Kiln and Smoking

        The germinated barley needs to be dried to stop the growth and make it useful for whisky-making. Maltsers transferred the barley to the kiln when it is ready. The kiln is responsible for both the smoking and drying of the barley. They do the two processes separately. Smoking using peat takes about 12 hours while the drying time depends on the moisture content. The team needs to dry the barley down to 2% moisture.

        The place the barley rest on

        To smoke and dry the barley, the team sends the barley to this “resting floor” above the kiln. The guide took us in to take a look and also to have a feel of getting smoked! The germinated barley gets spread out on the floor before they lit the fire below for the smoking and drying process.

        The Kiln

        This is the kiln at Laphroaig. As it was one of the slower periods in whisky-making, we got a chance to see the kiln when it was not in use. The team will pile peat into the kiln, light it up, and the smoke that rises will reach the floor above where the barley lies. As mentioned earlier, the smoking process takes 12 hours. After that, drying takes place. As mentioned earlier, the distillery takes part of its malted barley from Port Ellen Malting. We understood from our guide that the malt from Port Ellen is around 40-45ppm while the malts from Laphroaig is around 50-55ppm. To achieve an average, the distillery mixes the two malts to get a good balance.

        Peat Lesson

        An Aside: Peat at Laphroaig

        Our knowledgeable guide also worked us through a lesson on peat on Islay as well, explaining how Laphroaig cuts its peat.

        We learned that peat location plays a big part in the kind of peat smoke the distillery wanted. Islay peat is the product of salt-sprayed heather, ferns, gorse, sphagnum moss, moorland grass and seaweed. The combination gives Laphroaig its signature salty, medicinal and coastal notes that creates controversial reactions all over the world. The distillery owns peat beds on the east shores of Loch Indaal, near to the Islay airport. The team looks after the peat beds, making sure that they are in the right conditions for the cutting which is usually done between April to September every year.

        Laphroaig distillery is the last distillery on Islay that is still hand-cutting its peat. Usually, hand-cut peat is wet enough to make lots of smoke, which is perfect for Laphroaig.

        Step 3: Mashing and Fermentation

        We moved on to the mash house, where our guide treated us to more information about the whisky-making process. The mash tun gets three lots of water to extract the sugar from the malted barley. The first lot of water is at 63 degrees C; the second lot at 80 degrees C, and the last lot at 90 degrees C. The first and second lot of water move to the washbacks, while the last lot of water goes back to the mash tun as the first lot of water for the next mash. The sugary liquid, or wort, then cools to about 19 degrees C and moves to the stainless steel washbacks.

        Washback

        Laphroaig used liquid yeast, and the team adds it to the wort in the washback. Fermentation happens, and it yields a low wine (beer) at roughly 8.5% abv. Again, we were excited when our guides offered to let us taste the low wine!

        My cup of Laphroaig “beer.”

        Laphroaig also makes excellent “beer”! It is slightly peaty and smokey, coupled with plenty of sweetness. In my opinion, it tasted even better than the one we had at Kilchoman! Considering that I dislike Laphroaig, I believe I would instead drink its beer (if the distillery ever decides to release one)!

        Step Four: Distillation

        Spirits Still (four in the back); Wash Still (in the foreground)

        Our group trotted to the Still House like a bunch of eager children who had been promised chocolates. Once there, we wowed over the seven stills standing proudly in front of us. There are three wash stills and four spirits stills. Each wash still holds 10,400 litres, while the spirits stills vary in their volume.

        Spirit Safe

        The first distillation through the wash still increases the alcohol percentage from 8.5% abv to around 20-25% abv. The lyne arms slope upwards to get more reflux, which helps to increase the strength of the distilled spirit. The second distillation goes through the spirits stills and alcohol percentage goes up to above 80% abv. Laphroaig takes the cut of the heart between 78% to 62%.

        Step Five: Maturation

        Whisky cannot be whisky if it is not matured for a minimum of three years in Scotland. We headed off to the warehouse once we completed the still house tour.

        Laphroaig Warehouse

        A quick look at the warehouse showed rows and rows of casks lying in the dark and moist environment, waiting for their turn to shine as whisky in a prized bottle. As our tour was a cask strength whisky-tasting tour, we knew what laid ahead.

        The Best Treat at Laphroaig

        Our guide finally bought us to a low-lying warehouse where we see three casks waiting for us. Our group sat down and waited with bated breath as our guide explained the procedure of tasting the three cask-strength whiskies and how we should bottle our favourite into the glass bottles provided. The three casks consisted of a bourbon barrel, a Manzanilla Sherry butt and a Fino Sherry butt.

        Our guide showing us how to draw whisky from the cask

        We were all given a taste of the three casks, and then our guide waited for us to decide on the whisky that we wanted to bottle. Some of the participants rushed to the casks, but we took some time to decide. Our final choices were the bourbon barrel and the Manzanilla Sherry butt.

        The Final Look

        Bottling took longer than expected due to the crowd in our group, but we finally got our hands on the finished products! The above picture showed my bottle nicely sitting inside a beautiful package. Sadly, the box did not survive the flight back, and we had to throw it away in Edinburgh. Nonetheless, the bottle and the glass survived!

        Friends of Laphroaig

        Back at the visitor centre, we claimed our rental for the plot of land that we “own” on Laphroaig’s peat bed. While we did not have time to visit our little plot, it was good to get our rental “payment” of it.

        Our rental payment

        If you are a friend of Laphroaig, remember to claim your rent at the visitor centre when you visit the distillery. It is available once a year and if you are lucky to visit them every year, claim it! We moved on to the next distillery soon after our tour as we were on a tight schedule, but Laphroaig distillery truly gave me one of the best distillery tours on Islay.

         

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          Kilchoman Distillery – The Farmhouse

          Kilchoman Distillery

          Two team members from WhiskyGeeks went on an Islay-centric Scotland tour in September 2019 and we had a whale of a time! Coming back from Scotland was torturous, but such is life! It took us many months to get our bum to settle down in front of our computers to start writing, but here we are, finally!

          Let’s start our journey with Kilchoman, the second newest distillery on Islay. The distillery started distillation in 2005 and have since expanded their production to 220 thousand litres of pure alcohol a year! New washbacks and stills will be installed soon, and we can expect increased production after that.

          Going on a Distillery Tour

          It was fun going on a distillery tour, mainly because you get to see all the machines and get behind the storefront to see the actual production hall. On Islay, the distilleries normally consist of different buildings on the distillery grounds, and Kilchoman is not any different. We started the tour at the shop, where our lovely tour guide met us. She distributed our tour souvenir, a mini Glencairn glass and a lanyard, as we will be using them along the way. After the usual safety briefing, we were off!

          First stop – The Malt Floor

          Entrance to the Malt Room

          Kilchoman does some of their maltings onsite using Islay grown barley from the nearby Rock Side farm. Roughly 30% of the distilled spirit comes from Islay grown barley, while the rest comes from Port Ellen Maltings. Each malting is carried out in the traditional way of spreading the barley on the floor for germination to take place.

          Traditional Malting Floor

          Workers malt around 40 tons of barley at a time, by steeping them in water and allowing for 5-7 days of germination and drying.

          Barley germination in progress

          During the germination, the plant shoot, or acrospire, will start growing. The malting is complete once the acrospire grows to around three quarters or more of the length of barley. Once the maltsters see that the barley is ready, they will start the kilning process.

          Second Stop – The Kiln

          The Kiln

          The kilning begins by igniting dry peat to get the fire going before adding wet peat to create peat smoke. The workers will smoke the barley for 10 hours and leave it to dry until the malt reaches 5% moisture content. This malting onsite leads to a 20ppm phenol content in the Islay malt. To follow the traditional way of malting, Kilchoman lets the barley rest for four days after kilning and before milling them for mashing and fermentation.

          Third Stop – The Still House

          The Still House

          Kilchoman is a farmhouse distillery, which means that space is limited. To make work effective, the mash tun, washbacks and stills are placed in the same location.

          After milling, 1.2 tonnes of grist goes into the mash tun. To extract the sugars, the workers add three streams of hot water at 56degC, 85degC and 95 degC. 6000L of sugary liquid, or wort, goes into the washbacks, along with 20kg of dry yeast. This wort is then left to ferment for approximately 84 hours to become wash, a strong beer at 6-8% abv.

          Our tour guide asked if we would like to try the “Kilchoman beer” and proceed to pour us some when she got a resounding “YES!”

          The Kilchoman Beer

          The wash tasted sweet, with a yeasty, lightly fizzed note at the back. It was good! So good that we asked for a second helping. Personally, I think that Kilchoman should consider making their own beer. I would buy them if they make it!

          The Distillation

          The Stills

          Since the stills are pretty small, only 3000L of wash goes into the wash still at a time. After the first distillation, 1000L of low wines at approximately 19% abv goes into the spirit still for the second distillation. The remaining 2000L became pot ale, which is used to fertilise the crops at Rock Side Farm. Pot ale is useless for making whisky, but its organic compounds made them perfect as fertilisers.

          The low wines from the wash still, and the heads and tails from previous distillations are then added into the spirit still at approximately 26% for the second distillation. Kilchoman takes the cut of the heart between 76% and 65%; this means any distillate above 76% are foreshots, and any distillate below 65% are feints. These foreshots and feints are added to the low wines in the next distillation. After 3.5 hours of distillation, the spirit still produces 3.5 litres of spirit, which will be watered down to a filling strength of 63.5%.

          Fourth Stop – Not the Warehouse

          Sample Casks

          Unfortunately, Kilchoman distillery has a policy that does not allow visitors to see their warehouse. It is due to safety reasons though; they have nothing to hide! Instead, we got to see some sample casks which the tour guide explained their way of storage before she led us to the next exciting part of the distillery tour.

          Fifth and Final Stop – The Bottling Plant

          The machine that helps to bottle Kilchoman Single Malt

          The bottling process is a combination of manual and machine work. The bottling team needs to ensure the cleanliness of the bottles before feeding them to the machine, which will do the bottling. In the above picture, you can see the process of filling the bottle. The filled bottles then passed through the glass portion of the machine where the cork gets fixed onto the bottle. The final process gets the bottles sealed and labelled! The bottling team then completes the process by putting the bottles into their boxes and packed them into cases of six.

          End of the Tour – Back at the Distillery Shop

          Our tour guide led us back to the distillery shop and ended the tour. You must be surprised to see that we did not appear to taste any Kilchoman whisky. We did! It just did not flow nicely in the narratives earlier. We had a Sanaig in the malting room and it was surprisingly good! We got to admit that we are not big Kilchoman fans largely because we find it spicy, but the Sanaig was really awesome.

          Sanaig and peat 

          Back at the shop, we considered having a meal at Kilchoman because we heard that the food was awesome! Alas, we cannot, as we needed to move on to the next distillery. Nonetheless, we had enough time to explore the little farmhouse at the back of the distillery and the below pictures were what we found!

          The Kilchoman Cat and Hen

          There were some other hens running around but they ran away when they saw us. Hahaha…

          It was a fantastic visit to Kilchoman, and we look forward to seeing more of them after their expansion.

           

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            Paul John – 6-row barley Whisky

            Whiskygeeks sat down for an extraordinary tasting with Yash, the brand ambassador for Paul John whisky! He’s a geek himself, graduating from the Harriet Watts brewing and distilling masters course, and I have learnt a lot!

            The Barley

            One of the unique things about Paul John is their use of 6-row barley for their core range whisky production. However, this is not bere barley from Orkney; this 6-row barley originated from the Himalayas and grows in India today. In contrast, most whisky producers use 2-row barley like Concerto or Optic strains. In Scotch, the most common 6-row barley used is Bere Barley that originates from Orkney. 

            While the 2-row barley has more sugar but fewer proteins and fats, it is the reverse for 6-row barley. As we would need sugar to ferment to alcohol, this means that the alcohol yield for 6-row barley is lower than 2-row barley. However, for 6-row barley, the higher content of barley fats and protein results in more flavour and complexity in its spirit character. 

            The Peat

            Paul John produces peated and unpeated whisky and brings in 2 kinds of Scottish peat. The barley is peated using Islay peat and Mainland peat to approximately 20-25ppm and 30-35ppm respectively. The Paul John Bold uses Islay peat while the Paul John Edited uses mainland peat. These two bottles make an interesting comparison between peat from 2 different regions as the whisky comes from the same pot stills.

            The Fermentation

            The fermentation process is approximately 70 hours in total, using a unique strain of yeast that performs well in Goa’s hot climate. The wash undergoes a 60-hour primary fermentation and sits in the washback for an additional 10 hours to develop flavour. During the warmer seasons, the fermentation is slightly faster, and during the colder seasons, more time is given for fermentation.

            Distillation

            The copper pot stills in Paul John distillery is not from Forsyths, but they were made locally in India! The still features an ascending lyne arm, which causes more reflux, allowing for a sweeter lightly distillate. 

            The Maturation

            The angel’s share in Goa is 8% per annum, which means that whisky ageing in Goa will lose 22% of its original volume in 3 years. However, as whisky matures faster in a warm climate, a 3-year-old whisky in India would taste like a 12 to 15-year-old Scotch! 

            For the past few years, Paul John has released mostly American white oak matured whisky primarily due to the law in India with importing casks. There is a new upcoming bottle that I cannot talk about at the time of writing this article, but let me say this – Christmas is coming early for sherried whisky drinkers! 😛

            Paul John’s main ageing facility is on the ground level with ventilation from the wind. The distillery also has an underground cellar with a slightly lower angel’s share. Yash told us that it’s a challenge to stay in the underground cellar as the alcohol vapours are thick and intoxicating!

            Challenge accepted!

            Launch of Bruichladdich Black Art 6.1

            Photo Credits: WhiskyGeeks.sg

            Bruichladdich has an excellent series of whiskies named Black Art. Starting from Black Art 1.1, the series is as mysterious as the dark arts (hence the name)! As we go through the series, we arrived at Black Art 6.1 – the second Black Art series that new head distiller, Adam created.

            There was a Masterclass for the Black Art 6.1 during Whisky Live, where participants get to drink the whisky before anyone else does! However, the real media launch of this mysterious dram happened on 21 Nov 2018, at Jigger and Pony.

            Media Launch of Black Art 6.1

            Photo Credit: WhiskyGeeks.sg

            It was a grand tasting at Jigger and Pony considering how lovely the bar is. Bruichladdich has a small set up near the bar for about 15 pax, and we can all sit comfortably with our drams. The bottles were set up at the bar area (see above), and we even get a delicious dram of Classic Laddie before we start! Well, they offered a highball, but Chloe poured me a large dram of Classic Laddie after she knew that I had a long day ahead and did not want to mix my drinks!

            A Tasting of Black Arts

            We had the chance to revisit Black Art 4.1 and 5.1 during the session, and of course, we had to compare between the three. Black Art 6.1 is artfully created by Adam to be different from his previous rendition of Black Art 5.1. In my humble opinion, I think that Black Art 6.1 is more similar to the 4.1. The 4.1, of course, was created by Jim Mcewan, Bruichladdich’s previous head distiller.

            As usual, Chloe waxed lyrical about Bruichladdich and what the distillery has achieved so far. She knew that most of us probably could repeat what she said since we have been to various media launch, and hence, gave us something new to be excited about besides the whiskies.

            Photo Credit: WhiskyGeeks.sg

            Chloe revealed that Bruichladdich is building new warehouses, and it is currently the most significant construction on Islay! If you are heading that way, remember to visit Bruichladdich Distillery!

            Review of the Black Art 6.1

            Photo Credits: WhiskyGeeks.sg

            Nose: The initial nose is full of mellow toffee, honey, vanilla, cereal, nuts and chocolates, coming in layers by layers. There is a hint of spice hiding behind the sweet nose.

            Palate: I get toffee, nuts, chocolates and honey with my first sip. The oily mouthfeel is silky and makes the whisky very approachable. The second sip gets me all the above, in deeper concentration. It also brings out a gentle ginger spice that I did not get on the first sip. Delicious!!

            Finish: 6.1 has a long and floral finish, with nuts and gentle ginger spice along the back of the throat.

            Compared to the 5.1, Black Art 6.1 is richer and has strong flavours. I prefer this to the 5.1 as I like the richer notes to it. There may be hints of sherry notes as well, but too faint to catch it properly.

            It is yet another great whisky from Bruichladdich, so grab your bottle before it is gone!! I understand from Chloe that it is retailing at all major stores in Singapore, so ask, or regret forever!

             

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              Event: Launching the Port Charlotte 10

              The night was filled with wondrous music, joyful laughter and friendly banter as everyone gathered at Cargo39 for an evening of Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore. A trade and media session was over earlier in the day and the evening was solely for the consumers by invite only. We went to the consumer session partly because of Bruichladdich’s lovely thoughtfulness of putting us together with our friends.

              We arrived shortly before 7 pm, and after a little trouble, managed to find the venue. The first thing that caught our attention was the Rare Dram Bar. If you have taken a good look at our pictures, you would have seen a bottle of the Yellow Submarine Edition 3, as well as a bottle of OBA (Octomore Black Art). Coveted drams as such do not come by easily, and what’s more, at an event such as this! There were also bottles of the Rare Casks and a couple of Valinch bottles that we were keen to try.

              Well, I digress. The event was not for the Yellow Submarine or the OBA, but for the long-awaited launch of the Port Charlotte (PC) 10. While some people stated that this is a relaunch for PC, I say that it is a launch. Port Charlotte gets a rebrand for the entry level bottle from the PC Scottish Barley to the PC10.

              Port Charlotte PC10 Launch

              The PC10 launch was a vastly different style from Bruichladdich usual launch party. Considering the bigger space at Cargo39, there was room for food, cocktails (with The Botanist) and games! It was also the first event hosted by Bruichladdich that mirrored the Islay Festival – Feis Ile! Music and malt always go well together, and the successful event on 21 Sep proved that it worked wonderfully in Singapore too!

              The best part of the event was the appearance of Adam Hannett, live from Islay!

              The event kicked off with Chloe Wood (Bruichladdich APAC Brand Ambassador) introducing the brand and announcing Adam’s role for the evening. After that, Adam took us through four different expressions during the tasting. The first on the line was, of course, the PC10. After that, we had the PC Islay Barley, MRC:01 and finally the MC:01.

              The Tasting Session

              For the record, I love the PC10 so much that I bought a bottle home to enjoy. However, I will not do any form of whisky review for the drams that we had that night, mainly because I hope that you will be encouraged to try it without knowing what to expect. Please try not to read any reviews before trying, because you will be pleasantly surprised at what you will get when you try it without expectations.

              The experience with Adam leading the tasting was exciting, but a little rushed. The key factor probably remained at the fact that the serving for the whisky was slow. Quite a fair number of people did not get the last dram (including us) until after the tasting was over. The crowd was also too excited and we couldn’t hear Adam clearly. Quite a number of “shhh!” needed to be given! Haha! Nonetheless, we enjoyed our drams and that was all that matter!

              Rare Dram Bar

              The tasting was not the only thing that excited us that night. We headed to the Rare Dram Bar straight after we enjoyed the four drams. The idea was to purchase rare dram coupons and exchange them for drams at the bar. We zero in on the drams we wanted…

              I must say that our favourites are the two bottles in the middle – The Bruichladdich Organic 2009 and The Distillery Valinch Bourbon Virgin Oak Cask 2004.

              Besides Whisky…

              The event was Whisky Festival style, so naturally, I should not linger on the whiskies only. The band of the night was fantastic! I heard that Chloe found the band and they are named Craic Horse! An interesting name with awesome music is what I would call the band!

              The band is based in Singapore and it is a group of talented musicians made up of Singapore’s established traditional Celtic musicians, rock and indie artists to create a “folk-rock-punk-funk hybrid”.

              There was also food from various partners such as the Cheese Ark, and game stations hosted by industry friends such as Brendan Pillai from The Single Cask and Sarah Thallon from the Vagabond Club!

              We had an amazing time at the party! Port Charlotte was reborn on 21 Sep in Singapore and it came with a loud bang! Congratulations to Bruichladdich Distillery and we look forward to the launch of Black Art 6.1 at Whisky Live Singapore 2018!

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                Whisky Review #93 – Dramfool Port Charlotte 15 Years Old

                 

                There isn’t much information that I could find online about Dramfool. What I do know is that Dramfool is the brand name of an independent bottler and that the owner’s name is Bruce Farquhar. According to Bruce’s LinkedIn Profile, he is an experienced engineer who is now the director of Dramfool.

                This review focuses on one of Dramfool’s recent releases for the Islay Whisky Festival Exclusive Bottling that happened to be Dramfool’s 13th release. It is a Port Charlotte, distilled in December 2001 and bottled in December 2016. Dramfool bottled the whisky at cask strength of 58.3%. There are only 195 bottles available.

                How does it taste like? Let’s find out.

                Tasting Notes:

                Colour: White wine
                ABV: 58.3%

                Nose: The first notes I got was coastal salt and peppery spice. There is light vanilla cream in the background. Sweet barley notes surface after a few minutes. Gentle peat (soot?) wafts into the nose after 10 minutes, and lemony notes appear underneath the peat. (17/20)

                Palate: Sweet barley comes quickly but peppery spice attacks right after the sweetness. After the spice mellows, coastal salt, vanilla cream and lemon notes appear all in succession. The gentle peat comes at the back of the throat. (16/20)

                Finish: Medium finish with sweet barley and hints of vanilla. (16/20)

                Body: It is a balanced dram with a typical Port Charlotte profile. It is decent, but not something that I would wow over. It is probably not something that I would want to spend money to buy a bottle. Nonetheless, Dramfool sounds like an interesting IB, and I would want to explore more of its releases. (33/40)

                Total Score: 82/100

                Comments:

                Geek Flora: “Well, it was a nice dram, but not something that gets me excited. A typical Port Charlotte profile is pleasurable but not fantastic. I guess I was looking for more as I had a great experience with the MoS Port Charlotte previously. You can find our review here

                Geek Choc: “Port Charlotte was not high on my list usually, and this is no surprise. I think it is a simple dram, balanced but not complex enough.”

                 

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                  Whisky Review #92 – Lagavulin 16 Years (White Horse Distillers)

                   

                  Whisky lovers know that there is a difference between old and new liquids. When I say old liquids, I do not mean whiskies that are aged 30 to 40 years old. I mean the liquids of old when times were different. A Lagavulin 16 years old made in the 1970s compared to one which is made now is different because the methods used in distilling, maturing and storing are all different.

                  The White Horse Distillers Story

                  The duo at WhiskyGeeks had the pleasure of trying a Lagavulin 16 Years Old made during the era of the White Horse Distillers. If you are aware of the history of Lagavulin, you will know that James Logan Mackie & Co bought the distillery in 1862 and refurbished it. When James Mackie passed away in 1889, his nephew, Peter Mackie took over and launched the White Horse range. When Peter Mackie died, the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers and controlled the distillery in that name from 1924 to 1927. The company sold the distillery to DCL in 1927.

                  Given the timeline, a bottle of Lagavulin 16 years old that holds the name “White Horse Distillers” in its label is likely to exist since their time? Not necessary. This bottle that we tried came from the 1990s. In 1988, Lagavulin 16 Years was selected as one of the six Classic Malts, and this bottle was one of the first few batches where Diageo still puts “White Horse Distillers” on the label. They phrased it out in the late 90s and also changed the crest on the label. We had the pleasure to try this because of our friend, Michael, whom we met for dinner during our trip to Taiwan. It is too special not to share the tasting note, isn’t it?

                  So let’s dive in!

                  Tasting Notes:

                  Colour: Gold
                  ABV: 43%

                  Nose: Lemon peels, orange peels, citrus, brine and green apples presented themselves at the forefront. Hints of vanilla linger in the background. There is no peat evident in the nose; neither are there sharp or biting notes of spice. We can nose this all day long. (17/20)

                  Palate: Oily mouthfeel with sweet orange peels, lemon peels and green apples in the palate. Gentle spice and peat mix with the citrus sweetness. Then vanilla cream appears in the palate. It is almost like eating vanilla cream puffs! (19/20)

                  Finish: Medium finish with very gentle and sweet vanilla lingering all the way to the end, while the citrus sweetness waft in and out. The gentle peat blows over the mouth like a smoke cloud, almost difficult to catch. (17/20)

                  Body: Wow! This is most unlike the modern Lagavulin 16! The gentle peat and the vanilla sweetness are so unlike the modern version that we are blown away! It is very balanced too. Out of this world, indeed! (36/40)

                  Total Score: 89/100

                  Comments:

                  Geek Flora: “Well, I did not know I was drinking a piece of history until I knew about the era of the bottle. After I know, I sipped the liquid more carefully than ever. Haha…very grateful to Michael and his friend at 常夜燈 for the chance to try this expression of the Lagavulin 16.”

                  Geek Choc: “I am flabbergasted. It tasted so different from the regular Lagavulin 16! Haha…amazing bottle with fantastic liquid!”

                   

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