Tobermory have never really subscribed to the NAS movement, preferring a combination of age statements and/or vintages for their whiskies. Their heavily peated whisky - Ledaig - reintroduced by the then owners Burn Stewart carried its most recent NAS badge way back in 2005. But, since then the brand has certainly gained traction, momentum and a steadily building number of fans. It’s not a whisky that everyone gets along with – indeed, it’s highly idiosyncratic – mixing up the aromas and flavours of BBQ meats, burnt rubber and sweet fruits. This doesn’t sound like it should work – but more often than not it does. Whilst whisky enthusiasts are currently spoilt for choice, there’s an abundance of very similar profiles out there - if you’re looking for something unique, look no further than Ledaig.
Current stock levels at the distillery seem in particularly rude health – production ceased in March 2017 for a planned two-year refurbishment process – and yet not only have the core bottlings continued to be widely available, but they have been bolstered by a raft of special editions over the past 12 months. With upgrade work also being undertaken at Bunnahabhain, it seems that owners Distell are taking the long term future of their three distilleries very seriously indeed. They’re also clearly focussed on consistency - core bottlings from Tobermory, Bunnahabhain and Deanston are all produced at 46.3% ABV.
The core Ledaig range is comprised of just two expressions – a 10 and an 18 year old. However, over the last few years, this compact offering has been bolstered by several limited editions and distillery exclusives. As of writing there’s a 13 year old Amontillado finish (if you can find it, it’s extremely well regarded and sold out in quite a number of places) and two bottlings available at the distillery visitor centre – a 16 year old American oak finish (read virgin cask) and a 20 year old moscatel sherry finish.
Today we’re starting at the beginning with the entry level Ledaig 10 year old. Bottled at 46.3% (but then you’ve read the pre-Dramble above and already knew that right?), and available for around £37 here in the UK.
Nose: Immediate smoke – part sweet, part industrial workshop. A mixture of stone and tropical fruits (though not individually defined – more a fruit salad) with pronounced tart lemon juice. This is combined with an unmissable Ledaig style peat – rubber, natural gas and engine oil. In the background, there’s honey sweetness which again plays off the acrid smoke, as well as some underlying coastal minerality. The addition of water reduces the prevalence of the rubbery characteristic, adding more emphasis to steely aromas – brine, rock pools and wet slate.
Taste: A soft and viscous arrival delivering juicy fruits to begin – overripe apples, apricots and sour grapefruit segments. Sweetness is driven be a combination of honey, golden syrup and a dusting of caster sugar. Just as it builds in the mouth, the explosion of pungent, quite dirty smoke arrives – rubber inner tubes, engine oils, and hints of petroleum. In the mid to back palate, the peat reveals its coastal nature – TCP, hints of iodine, granite and licks of salt. Water adds juiciness to the fruits, reducing the levels of perceptible smoke overall, but adding in slight touches of smoked ham and burnt pork ribs.
Finish: Short to medium with a combination of burning logs and medicinal peat, supported by zesty lime and minerality.
Ledaig 10 year old is an ideal starting place for discovering the wider range from this distillery – there’s plenty of independent bottlings out there – all different, all characterful. There’s less development and a shorter finish to this 10 year old compared to a lot of bottlings, however, the overall combination of aromas and flavours works well and are balanced. Sweetness is more pronounced here than in other younger Ledaigs (which can often be highly mineralistic and tart with citrus). As such, this is a relatively accessible and affordable expression to start your Ledaig journey.