Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gordon & MacPhail, Ledaig 16yr

stats: single malt scotch, Islands, 86 proof, $50

The Johnnie Walker post was a nice diversion, but it’s time to get back on track with the subject of independent bottlers. This time around I’ve gotten into a bottle of 16 yr Ledaig (pronounced led-chig) from Gordon & MacPhail.

As I’ve stated before, single malt scotch must be produced and aged in Scotland, with malted barley as the only grain component, and all of the whiskey in the bottle must come from one distillery. However, the whisky is not required to be named for its distillery of origin. Such is the case with Ledaig, which is produced at the Tobermory distillery on the isle of Mull. 

Located in the coastal village of Tobermory, the distillery has had a difficult 200 year history. Originally a brewery, distillation began there in 1823, but the stills went silent for the long periods of 1837-1878, 1928-1972, and 1975-1990, with many changes of ownership along the way. The village was once named Ledaig, as was the distillery for much of its past. Since 1990, the distillery has gone by the name Tobermory, and that is also the name used for their principal (unpeated) single malt. The name Ledaig is now used to differentiate their secondary (heavily peated) single malt.

This example illustrates some of the distinctions of independent bottlers that I talked about in the Glenturret post below. The only bottling of Ledaig currently furnished by the distillery is a 10 year old. But with most of the spirit produced there going into blends, and Ledaig being far less well known than Tobermory (which isn’t all that well known itself), the official bottling is quite rare. In this case the independent bottler is able to make an obscure single malt available in many more markets, and at a greater age than the distillery bottling, all while maintaining a very reasonable price (I paid $50, but I think it was on sale from $60. Looking online, the 10 yr seems to average around $45)

A pale-to-medium golden-amber in color, it has minimal peat on the nose, with more pronounced fruit notes (along the lines of raisins and fruit cake) and comes across slightly floral.

The whisky has modest levels of peat on the palate. It’s fairly weighty, with a rich, malty base lending a good bit of body. A perfumed floral quality takes over the latter part of the finish as the peat and malt components settle back.

Perhaps this is what a more heavily peated version of Balvenie Double Wood (which starts with lightly peated malt) might taste like.

I’ve seen Ledaig described as “extremely peaty” and “heavily peated”, but that is not the case with this example. I was expecting peat levels comparable to Ardbeg or Laphroaig, but this is really what I would consider moderately peated, similar to Highland Park or Springbank. Further research led me to a reference of Ledaig’s “peatiness gradually being increased” since the distillery’s latest re-opening. This bottle is comprised of spirit that was distilled in 1990, so it is possible that a current bottle of 10 yr that would have been distilled in 2001 or 2002 could have much higher peat levels.

And what do I think of it? I’ve come to the most challenging aspect of reviewing whisky – differentiating my personal preferences from the quality of the spirit (or lack there of). I’m really not a big fan of whiskies with a strong floral component in their flavor profile, especially when they go to the perfumed end of that range of flavors. That being said, and trying to remain objective, this really is a very well made whisky, with nice depth and complexity, and a solid, enduring finish.

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