I view Ledaig a little like a rite of passage for whisky enthusiasts – it’s something to build up to – often having already sampled (and enjoyed) a variety of other peated drams. Ledaig is about as far from a starter whisky as you can get - it possesses a highly idiosyncratic character and flavour profile that I can fully understand some folks never quite understanding. But, there’s an uncanny number of die-hard malt heads who’ve graduated from the heathery peat of the mainland and iodine-licked smoke of Islay and then gravitate towards Tobermory’s heavily peated Ledaig – me included.
There are only two permanent expressions in the Ledaig core range, a 10 and an 18 year old – though in recent years a range of largely well-received cask finishes have been produced. The distillery is currently closed until 2019 as a process of refurbishment take places (though the visitor centre is still open providing tours during this period) with the stills being replaced rather than any plans to increase overall capacity.
We’ve already reviewed the 10 year old on the Dramble, so today we’ll take a look at its older stable-mate. Bottled similarly to all Distell (Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory) core expressions at 46.3% ABV, the Ledaig 18 year old is finished for an unspecified time in Spanish sherry (oloroso) casks. It’ll set you back a shy under £80 here in the UK.
Nose: Dirty, but sweet. Tar, viscous oily smoke, coal lumps and gruyere cheese are joined by the trademark Ledaig rubberiness – bicycle inner tubes. These are all wrapped in a sweet sherry blanket of reduced raspberries and blackberries, demerara sugar, orange segments and chocolate buttons. There’s both brine and a hint of struck match here – not quite sulphurous, but certainly akin to the fallout from a fireworks display. In the background, a hint of aromatised black cherry tobacco. The addition of water plays more to the underlying funky Ledaig flavours, reducing the sherry sweetness and adding aromas of oven cleaner and ozone.
Taste: The arrival has an oily texture, but it’s viscosity is reduced slightly by an array of juicy red fruits – redcurrants and raspberries – part fresh, part jammy. Rubber tyres, murky engine oils and a touch of medicinalness develop into a more ashy peat in the mid palate – gritty, coastal and tarred. The sherry influence provides flavours of chocolate orange, raisins and tobacco, as well as a hint of brimstone. In the back palate, more overtly maritime flavours – brine, salted peanuts and seaweed. Reduction heightens the typical Ledaig rubber into plastic bags and wellington boots as well as adding a slight pepperiness and smoked fish.
Finish: Medium to long, with liquorice, light pepper and dusty ashy smoke.
Ledaig 18 year old feels surprisingly ‘on the rails’ – almost as if an attempt has been made to homogenise its eccentric character. I find the sherry sweetness much more effective on the nose than on the palate, where is seems like it’s somewhat restraining the underlying wildness of the spirit too much. I’d much rather this roughness was completely let loose to roam as it wants. Nevertheless, this is nothing less than solid, and is certainly tasty with it. If you’ve not tried Ledaig before, you might find this sweeter version a more accessible way in.
But don't take our word for it..
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