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Both of these single cask releases are American exclusives and the Single Cask Nation are making inroads into the UK and European markets. So, we can expect to see more at retail and with a better price point. Ledaig is also a style of distillate that I enjoy and acknowledge, we haven’t covered in nearly enough detail in recent times. After all, with most of the Islay brands off the table when it comes to worthwhile and affordable releases; where do you go? My answer always was north, to Tobermory and Ledaig.
If there are 2 distinctly different distillates coming from the same distillery, then I’ve yet to stumble across such a duo. Tobermory, often a cornerstone of any Axis of Whisky Evil, has its critics to put it politely. It exists, but that’s pretty much it for many enthusiasts. Inconsistent and chasing past glories, things have improved under the ownership of Distell, but not tremendously. Prior to this, Burn Stewart tried to do what it could on limited resources and a modest inventory of maturing stock. Purchasing the distillery in 1993 for £600,000, with an additional £200,000 for the inventory. It might seem like a bargain today, but it was a gateway to more expense. Additional costs such as removing the wild yeast spores from the Isle of Mull cheddar that resided in the warehouse, were troublesome enough.
Even the golden touch of former master distillery, Ian Macmillan, who transformed Deanston, had a gentler impact at Tobermory. In retrospect, the closure of the distillery for extensive refurbishment in recent times should draw a line under everything and give Tobermory a new opportunity to drive forward. Of course, America has been getting it’s fair share of Tobermory what with the Old Malt Cask 1996 exclusive. Given the low-level status of the distillery, it is cheap and affordable, offering well-aged releases for a reasoanble retail fee; especially abroad.
That Tobermory funk, as some describe it, was never a pleasant characteristic – was it soggy cardboard, or in some extreme cases, cannabis? These tasting notes came through on a very polarising whisky. In comparison, the Ledaig distillate was receiving more and more acclaim. With Islay outpricing itself and many of us forgetting what a young Ardbeg tastes like. The opportunity to try this pretender from Mull, that was peated to 35-40ppm, proved to be a welcome distraction. And then some. Widely available including across the independent ranks, Ledaig became popular and remains so.
All the building blocks are present to create a wonderful distillery and historical records suggest that Tobermory was a distinctive malt at one time. Just nowadays, its distinctive for the wrong reasons. A picturesque setting, a traditional presentation and the coastal influence form the sea and an abundance of smoke. It just takes the right owner and distiller to bring it all together. Someone strong enough to keep the marketing types out of the equation and let the whisky mature. Here’s hoping more good times are just around the corner.
The important bottle details then; we’re kicking off with the 2005, which was distilled in October of that year and has resided in a 2nd fill sherry butt for 13 years. Bottled in March 2019, cask #900165 produced 575 bottles at a strength of 57%. The comparison comes from a 15-year-old, distilled in February 2004 and bottled and March 2019. Cask #540 was a bourbon hogshead delivering 284 bottles at 55.7% strength.
Single Cask Nation Ledaig 2005 – review
Colour: cinder toffee.
On the nose: a pleasant presentation with fudge, varnish, worn conkers (look it up, a British kids game), soil, chocolate and dried seaweed. Liquorice, dirty carrot peelings (memories of doing this over the kitchen sink), a gentle cinnamon and sandpaper. Returning, reveals redberries, stewed tea, brass rubbing and a shaggy wet dog dynamic. Leathery and brown sugar. Adding water shakes things up revealing pine needles, figs, milk chocolate, nuts and a touch of smoke.
In the mouth: an unusual texture and arrival, frankly it’s all unusual. Some dark chocolate breaks out of the mugginess. This matches the earthiness, toffee and peat on the fringes albeit subdued. Water reveals some fruit, ash, cloves, liquorice, black pepper and wet rope.
Single Cask Nation Ledaig 2004 – review
Colour: lemon juice.
On the nose: fresh and spirity with peat and vanilla most prominent. Salty, chalky and a fishy coastal vibe with a dusting of flour. Some spearmint, caramel, sea salt, driftwood and fennel. Glucose, smoked apples and peanuts. Water reveals more salt, green mangoes and apples.
In the mouth: almost as if the Atlantic has washed up over you. Salty, unforgiving and robust peat. Brine, a dirty vanilla, bacon crisps and a pleasing charcoal element on the finish. Bark, a little ash and a pleasing oily texture. Water unlocks fruit sugars, a mellowness and a drying quality but still fun.
What is that 13-year-old cask all about? In some respects, funnily, it reminds me of the Chorlton Whisky 25-year-old Tobermory I tried recently. For a 2nd fill butt, you wouldn’t have expected it to swamp the Ledaig spirit like this, but it has. Yet it hasn’t become a sherry beast, or even a sherry theme. There’s a sense of neutrality, or even a metamorphosis.
I could sense that there was something about one of these samples when Beks and Stephen handed them over. A whisky that maybe surprised and disappointed them in equal measure. No indication was given but I felt a vibe. Not of transparent fear that descends when you’re invited to a Jura tasting, rather should we be doing this, or not that one…
The bourbon cask is more successful; it ticks the Ledaig box with a big fat permanent marker. If I ever needed a jolt to remind myself what Ledaig can do, then this is it. The end result is very enjoyable and well, tenacious in most respects. Good peat isn’t the modus operandi of Islay, or Campbeltown. Historically, it belongs to Scotland as a whole and when done right, any distillery can deliver.
My thanks to Beks of the Los Angeles Whisky Club for these samples and photographs.