Learning the weirding way

Posted 13 February 2019 by Matt / In Tobermory
The Dramble reviews Cadenhead's Ledaig 1997 15 year old

Bottle Name: Ledaig 1997 15 year old

ABV: 56%
Distillery: Tobermory
Bottler: Cadenhead's (Authentic Collection)
Region: Islands Age: 15

Despite the complexity of whisky, the average drinker has a descriptive vocabulary of around 25 words – in baby terms, the language development of an 18-24 month old.  Indeed, looking back some years at my initial reviews for The Dramble, I’m frankly dismayed at my lack of adroitness when it comes to describing both aroma and flavour. Fast-forward to the present, and I like to think that despite frequent reuse of my favourite descriptors, there’s much greater expansiveness and expressiveness when it comes to my whisky vocabulary. All entirely individual, but broader, more articulate and importantly, built on a bedrock of constant daily repetition. And then a whisky comes along that challenges this – and I sit, solemnly trying to find the right words.

Long-time readers will know of my fondness for Ledaig – and indeed for all things seemingly weird and left-field. Partly this stems from palate fatigue – 1000 honeyed Speysiders can bore the socks off anyone. But, partly it also stems from the aroma and flavour combination of the Tobermory produced spirit that I find so diverse, that rationalising them and describing them actually becomes a challenge in itself. I like a challenge.

Today’s Ledaig tested me – it dared me to attempt to unravel and clearly define its complex composition. And, for once, my own inabilities actually pleased me. As I sat noting the diverse and forthrightly aromas and flavours I realised that if I was able to pinpoint everything, to explicate the inexplicable that I’d actually enjoy this Ledaig much less than I do. The realisation dawned on me that sometimes the unexplained has as much appeal as the definable. Whisky’s mysteries and enigmaticness are there to be unpicked, but the moment it becomes second nature and easy is the moment that the enjoyment is lost. Challenges are good. I still like challenges.

The bottle in question is a Cadenheads Ledaig - distilled back in 1997. It was matured in an ex-bourbon cask for 15 years with 246 bottles produced at 56% ABV for the Authentic Collection series.  

Nose: All the expected Ledaig notes are here, but they’re expressed in a rather attention-grabbing manner. Meatiness yes, but roast chicken – with crispy skin. Pungent smoke yes, but tarmac and antiseptic cream combined with polystyrene. Running throughout is high level sweetness – refined sugar cane and beets. They’re played off against perceptible minerality – rock pools, sea breeze and steeliness. After a little time in the glass, a good waft of farmyard develops – hay barns and pig sties. All very Ledaig, but on fascinating tangent. Dilution ups the farm funkiness and gives some fruity definition – melon and gooseberries.

Taste: Ka-boom. The arrival is audacious – packed full of salt and heady white pepper that arrives in the mouth in an riotous explosion. As it fades, lemons dance with granite whilst meat juices go hand and hand with engine oils, axle grease and tar. Chicken is once again observable (surely the first time I’ve ever noted this in any spirit) and is sweetened with smoked toffee, and surprisingly saccharine TCP warped into some kind of sugary halogenated surface cleaner with a good dose of molten polythene along for the ride. As the liquid develops in the mouth it becomes increasingly drying, but progressively so, never quite tipping over the edge. Reduction is not required – and indeed reduces some of the particularly left-field flavours, centring around smoked stone fruits and burnt toffee.

Finish: Medium, still quite sweet with smoked limes and fading medicinalness.

I never approach a Ledaig expecting ‘normality’ – indeed, I’m disappointed when that’s what I find. No need for any of those fears here, this Cadenhead’s 15  year old Ledaig has taken my preconceptions around the common aromas and flavours found in Ledaig and twisted them just enough to genuinely surprise me. Intense, challenging, even more peculiar than usual -  but still entirely balanced, and to my tastes wonderfully delicious. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a bottle of this on the auctions sites. Hands off  - it’s all mine.

Score: 88/100

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