Originally, the term “cuvee” has been coined by the wine industry. It refers to a technique similar to blending or vatting: wines made from different grapes are being mingled to create a new product with a special flavor profile or balance. Kirsch Import, the German distributor of many top-class whisky and spirit brands, has now applied this procedure to single malt Scotch. While they are not the first ones to do so, the outcome of their experiment – the new Ledaig Cuvee Series – still marks a rarity on the whisky market. Just think about it: There’s not exactly heaps of whisky releases out there that have the word “cuvee” on the label. To get you up to speed, here’s the background information in a nutshell: Together with their partners from Signatory Vintage, the Kirsch crew has taken six Spanish refill butts containing Ledaig whisky (i.e. the peated expression from Isle of Mull-based Tobermory Distillery). Initially, these vessels were either filled in 2007 or 2011. Once the main maturation was done, one part of each cask got a lengthy finish in a wine cask while the other part remained in the original container. After 29 to 34 months, both parts were married again to form an exclusive Ledaig Cuvee Series bottling.
As a tie-in to the recent launch of the series here in Germany, there was a dedicated online tasting on Tuesday, September 29. For the one-and-a-half hour live stream, Maik and Patrick from Kirsch Import teamed up with Tim from Whisky-Helden (who is one of my favorite whisky bloggers and Instagramers at the moment). With a lot of knowledge and tastebuds of steel, the easy-going three piece worked their way through the complete selection: six drams of heavily peated, overproof Scotch with a distinct sherry and wine influence. Since Kirsch Import sent me a tasting kit in advance, I was perfectly prepared to sip along with Maik, Patrick and Tim that evening. Lucky me.
What I found most astonishing: On paper, the individual specimen of the Ledaig Cuvee Series seem to be quite similar. When drank, however, each bottling revealed a unique character of its own. Yet, the distillery character always shimmered through: in every dram I degusted, I made out ashy smoke, fresh ginger and slightly mushy apples. Figuratively speaking, these reappearing notes marked the canvas on which the differing types of wine casks have painted their pictures. And mighty fine pictures these are!
Dram number one was a 12 Years Old with a Port finish. It had a pretty classic flavor profile in which roasted bacon and red berry compote mingled with biting pepper and chimney’ed wood. Whisky number two was all sweetness. This 9 Years Old with a Bordeaux finish had a rich, creamy mouthfeel and a mid-long, oily aftertaste. When I sniffed it, it reminded me of a freshly opened bag of sweets. And when I drank it, I fantasized of roasted pork with a glaze of honey and a crust of salt. The next one was also 9 Years Old. It spent the remainder of its days in a Burgundy cask. If I did not know better, I might have taken it for an ex-bourbon maturation. The associations I brought to paper during the degustation included peaches, lemons, passion fruits and kiwis. Also marzipan, cream and a lotta vanilla. Plus a good amount of cold ash. At one point, Patrick also brought Kellog’s Frosties into play. As this sensation is spot on, I am stealing it for my description. But pssst …
After the halftime break, we continued with the edgiest dram in the line-up. Like number two, it was finished in a Bordeaux cask. But it was 11 Years Old. It smelled and tasted entirely different than the 9 Years Old. The aroma reminded me of baked plums, raisins and mirepoix wrapped in old cushions. The taste then placed maple sirup, cotton candy and diced bacon in front of my mind’s eye. The finale was long and good with a distinct ginger spiciness. Hot stuff! Our second-to-last whisky was a 9 Years Old that had received a special treatment in a Madeira barrel. It was round and delicate, almost dulcet. Here, I smelled and tasted fresh waffles, new furniture, burnt vanilla sauce, powdered cinnamon and sugared strawberries. A lot of sugared strawberries! Around all, there was a cloud of dense, wet smoke. I really liked all whiskies in the line-up, but if I had to name a fave, my vote would go to the Madeira one! The tasting ended with another 9 Years Old. The exotic Cote de Provence finish instilled all kinds of fruity and buttery notes in this voluminous pour. Among others, it provided pineapple chunks, walnut cookies, white chocolate and cooled-off barbecue coal. The smoke was more on the light side. All in all, I would classify this one as the most refined whisky of the evening.
As said before, no two whiskies in the line-up were the same. This is especially good news because it means that there is something for everybody in the Ledaig Cuvee Series – given that the person in question is a peathead, of course. Let’s test this: Based on my brief reviews or your own tasting experiences, which of the six Ledaigs in the Cuvee Series do you find most intriguing?
Ledaig 2007 Cuvee No. 1 (Single Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Port / 60.5% / EUR 120)
Ledaig 2011 Cuvee No. 2 (Single Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Bordeaux / 60.6% / EUR 90)
Ledaig 2011 Cuvee No. 3 (Single Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Burgundy / 60.8% / EUR 90)
Ledaig 2007 Cuvee No. 4 (Single Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Bordeaux / 60.6% / EUR 120)
Ledaig 2011 Cuvee No. 5 (Single Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Mardeira / 60.7% / EUR 90)
Ledaig 2011 Cuvee No. 6 (S. Malt Scotch Whisky / Islands/ Sherry & Cote de Prov. / 60.9% / EUR 90)
*** I got the samples for free from Kirsch Import. Thank you. ***