Fire Water from Planet Tar: Blackadders’s Raw Cask 15 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Ledaig 1998

LedaigSCRAW1999815y63_9PICTDear Warrior God of Ethanol – this is potent stuff! Really, this punctuates the evening’s previous sampling of one warming cognac and one lovely Speyside like the word “fuck” would punctuate a nursery rhyme. At 62.2% ABV, this isn’t the fiercest potion to ever scorch my tongue, but it tastes like it is. Fortunately, water tames and transforms this beast – somewhat – into something that can be sipped and savored without irreversible harm.

The last time I reviewed a Ledaig of around this age (the soul-smoldering cornucopia of Cadenhead’s Small Batch 16 year old Ledaig), I was immediately transported to a realm of power, poetry and mind-altering mists. The Blackadder I’m tasting here is not like that. It is powerful and there’s quite a bit going on, but it’s harder, less inviting, less organic, less yielding. Whereas Cadenhead’s luscious bottling seemed intended for peat smoke libertines, this one may be targeting masochists – which does not necessarily mean I won’t like it. Let’s see…

Appearance

Certainly more inviting than the Cadenhead, which was pale as a Chinese ghost. This is an amber-copper, almost like an older cognac but without the rufous hues, suggesting maturation in a first fill ex-bourbon cask for at least a few of it’s 15 years. And the legs are seductively viscid, treacly and oh-so-slow. At this very high ABV, I’m not surprised by any of this, but that doesn’t make its appearance any less inviting. (5/5)

Nose

Pine nuts – absolutely! In a dry old leather sack, perhaps. But the first thing one notices (before a liberal dash of water is added) is the stab of the untamed alcohol. This is certainly sharply brawny stuff, especially for a 15 year old, but even prior to a little dilution there are distinct aromas coming through. Above all else, the smell of burnt or toasted caramel. If there’s a fruit, it’s ripe banana. There is also whatever that tar-like, slightly acrid, burning-tug-boat-rope smoky peatiness from the Tobermory distillery on Mull is – and whatever it is, I love it! Both paving tar and tobacco tar aromas entwine around the scent of smoldering peanut shells. The pine nuts remain quite noticeable, even under this puissant potion’s barbed ethanol armor. Add a dropper or three or four of water (oh, the viscimitrical wonders of watching water added to such an oily demon!) and you get a bit more: Some sanded poplar comes through (yes, I was sanding poplar window trim this afternoon) and, weird to say, the smells of pewter and Vaseline. And just a hint of that singularly distinctive Springbank bloom. Is this as alluringly fulsome of wonders as the nose on the Cadenhead? No. Is this nonetheless an experience I would wish for my whisky-savoring friends? Well, despite the fact that it may burn out all of their nasal hairs – Yes, it is. (17/20)

Palate

The taste is predominantly honey, charred caramel, butter, crayons, pine sap and burnt toast. And maybe a bit of cowhide. Those are the only elements I can pull out of this thorny palate, six or seven of them, but that doesn’t make it simple or lacking in complexity. This is certainly a unique combination of taste elements, an appetizing soup of very angular sweets and savories. And the spice is like crushed black pepper inhaling a waft of ginger. And of course there’s the sting of the alcohol, like a red-hot-pepper infused clover honey. For once, I am a tad more intrigued by the palate than by the nose! (18/20)

Finish

This is where this whisky is most evidently lacking in sophistication. It is just too sharp and pungent – even with liberal squirts of filtered water added. It’s a very long finish because the burn of the alcohol won’t quit, but it is undeniably harsh. Add too much water and it lacks interest altogether – there doesn’t seem to be a happy balance point between fiery burn and insipidity (I tried diluting it with water, little by little, in three different glasses three different times, to no avail). There is honey and something bitter here, like a very overripe melon, perhaps, but this is not the long warming finish of a great whisky by any means. It scorches and dries the tongue, burns the throat like napalm, and any promise of heart-warming becomes heartburn much too soon. (14/20)

Balance/Structure

In one sense, this traces a perfect arc – from a harsh stabbing nose to less harshness on the palate to a ruinously harsh desert fire in the finish. So, yes, it is certainly in balance with itself, but is it the balance one would hope for? No. (14/20)

Quality of the Buzz

Okay, this is not the easy becalming mellow that some great whiskeys give; it just remains too harsh, even here in the realm of the mental-buzz. The unending harshness of the finish distracts the drinker from the thermal, affable place one hopes to arrive at in a long night of savoring good whisky; nor is this one of those bright-light intellectually keening experiences the highly refined cask strength Speysiders sometimes bestow upon a drinker. No, this is just too harsh – that’s the word for this one. And while the hope was certainly there at the start, to be carried to the land of the carefree by a compelling ethanolic beverage, this one is just too stingingly distracting to bring one peace or much pleasure at the end of the day. And if an expensive bottle of Scotch like this one can’t do that, what the hell is it good for? (9/15)

Total points for this whisky: 77

2 thoughts on “Fire Water from Planet Tar: Blackadders’s Raw Cask 15 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Ledaig 1998

  1. I’ll read this review shortly, but I just wanted to let you know in my continued search for some more Kilchomans, this time a single cask oloroso aged 5 years entirely in sherry butts, I had an email exchange with the Impex guys and complained about there being no batch 4 and 5 of the Exclusive Malts. I’ve heard nothing back from them and don’t expect to, but I noticed they forwarded my email along.

    Maybe we get lucky and get batch 5! It has the Ledaig 8 which I think you brought one the last time? Or at least already own?

  2. So, that Kilchoman would be something like the CS PX I bought after tasting yours – but was that aged entirely in PX buttes? The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 8 is the last EM I found (online) and purchased – but don’t jump at it just yet. I’ve only sampled it twice and it may mellow a bit with oxidation, but it’s pretty harsh – not as harsh as the Blackadder, but if it doesn’t mellow, it will be the worst EM in my collection. Seriously, everybody’s putting out all these Ledaigs now and I believe it is more to feed a fad or trend (which I am certainly part of – the Cadenhead Ledaig 16 remains in my top 5) than it is because all those Ledaig casks have been assessed to be at their peak. In fact, I must say, the second best Ledaig I’ve ever had is probably the distillery’s own 10 year old – that’s a great bargain! BTW, ImpEx is not the source of the problem in MA – it’s the distributor. Batch 6 is out: a 15 year old Ben Nevis matured in Port, a 25 year old Littlemill aged in Sherry, a 10 year old “Speyside” aged in Port barrels, the Ledaig 8 aged in ex-bourbon and a 10 year old Tomatin aged in Sherry casks.

    BTW #2 – I almost didn’t publish this Blackadder review. It’s the lowest score I’ve ever given and I really prefer telling folks about the good stuff, but at nearly $200/bottle people needed to be forewarned. Still, I took notes on three consecutive nights to be sure I got it right. When I brought it to the last Ethanolics meeting, it was the last thing we tasted and most of us liked it a great deal – would we have thought so highly of it if we’d had it earlier? You weren’t sure of it, I remember. And maybe it was the little bit of oxidation of a 3/4 full bottle that turned it so harsh, but I doubt it.

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