2018 marked the 10th anniversary of the London Whisky Show – a highlight on the calendar of many whisky enthusiasts, the event draws a growing crowd from across the word. This year’s event was held under the banner of ‘The Future of Whisky’ – a rather broad and nascent theme, but, one which organisers The Whisky Exchange ably managed to embed and emphasise across many of the talks, side events and exhibition stands throughout the weekend. Whilst I remain entirely unconvinced by either the present, or the future of non-alcoholic whisky, this years’ themed show bottlings impressed me on several levels.
Sounding either like a lesson in Latin verb conjugation, or a festive Dickens story, the ‘Past Future’, ‘Present Future’ and ‘The Future’ bottlings stood out from a crowd of show exclusives from distilleries both old and new. The labels for the three Future of Whisky bottlings are particularly eye-catching having been created using lenticular printing – in essence a multi-layered technique which (depending on the angle of viewing) feints a 3D or stereoscopic effect. Exchange’s Billy Abbot suggested to me before the show that the photos don’t do the labels justice – he’s right – in person, these are quite unlike anything I’ve seen on a whisky bottle to date. Striking, original and very neat indeed.
Fawning over pretty labels aside, more importantly, let’s talk about the liquid….
It seems the allure of highly limited Chichibu and fairly outrageously priced Ardbeg draws the attention of many festival attendees (you’ll no doubt find both of these at auction sites next month), so you might well find some/all of these Future of Whisky bottlings on sale on the Whisky Exchange website over the coming week – you’d do well to consider checking them out. The middle bottling of the series hails from Tobermory’s Ledaig – a personal favourite of mine. It’s bottled at a high strength of 58.4% having been matured in a sherry butt for 12 years. 636 bottles have been produced and the price point is £74.95.
Nose: Everything you’ve expect from a sherried Ledaig is here – but it’s parcelled up in a nose as luxuriant as the labelling. Maple syrup, smoked streaky bacon, chip pan and engine oils, espresso and a firm coastal breeze. Peating is as industrial as you’d expect, but, surprisingly sweet in this instance – rubbery, ashiness meeting chocolate cake, rum-soaked raisins and roasted chestnuts – rich and indulgent, but still wonderfully aberrant. Reduced, there’s hints of boot polish, liquorice and ozone – interesting, but not as compact and effective as straight out of the bottle.
Taste: The arrival is packed full of oily viscosity and reduced brown sugars – whilst sweet and luscious, it delivers an intense wave of ashy peat – part medicinal, part rubbery, part meaty (the Ledaig calling card). Underlying fruitiness and sherry influence temper and lift the smoke – Seville orange, tangerine and glace cherries. In the mid-palate, sugars coalesce around maple syrup, beef cooking jus and air-dried fruits whilst the cask starts to exert itself on the palate – cinnamon and tingling pepper. The addition of water softens some edges resulting in a lighter initial attack, with more wood and interesting more medicinal quality. Though to me it feels near perfect at 58.4% - no one every approached a Ledaig for its easy drinking qualities.
Finish: Long and medicinal with menthol, eucalyptus and spent coffee grounds.
Not just a pretty face, this 12 year old Ledaig backs up its eye-catching labelling with a wonderful demonstration of this unique style of whisky. Whilst punchy and uncompromising, the balance between sweet sherry cask and dirty, smoky distillate is excellent. Complexity levels are high with both a long development and a long finish. Quite probably a divisive dram – but for those of you who have already discovered the wonders of Ledaig, this expression is well-worth seeking out. Dreamers and futurists be damned, living in the present seems pretty good to me.