Adventures at sea in Africa. I’ve had a few, but one of the places I haven’t is South Africa, apart from sailing past Cape Town. It isn’t really a place you would tie into whisky production. This year and last I’ve worked with a couple of South Africans who could only name Bains as a a whisky coming from South Africa. They were surprised when I told them of another. They should hang their heads in shame as the distillery in question makes both the Bains brand and the Three Ships whisky I try today.
The James Sedgewick distillery was founded in 1886, and is now owned by Distell. The distillery was named after a former seafarer of the same name, who after hanging up his sea boots became a pioneer of the South African spirits industry. Their current master distiller, Andy Watts, should be well known to Scotch whisky geeks as they also own Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries.
This distillery as far as I can find out is the only commercial whisky distillery in Africa. Having seen some of the hooch proffered as I’ve travelled through many countries on the West Coast of Africa, I’d tend to believe this is true. There is whiskies made by Copper Republic and Qualito Craft Distilleries, although these are not solely whisky distilleries as they make other spirits too.
Due to my backlog of reviews and lack of any decent stories about this whisky, I’m going to do what I’ve done in the past and refer you to the brand websites so you can get the full picture there.
This dram was bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and is batch 1. The sample was bought from Master Of Malt.
Three Ships Batch 1 (TBWC)
Region – South Africa Age – 6 y.o Strength – 53.7% abv Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / PX Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No
Nose – Raisins, almond nougat, honey, vanilla, oak char, dark chocolate. Slight floral note.
Palate – creamy mouth feel. Luxurious. Quickly into oak spices. Honey and liquorice, aniseed. Dried fruits and dark chocolate
Finish – medium long finish with chocolate and raisins. I detect a leathery note too.
Nice enough. Nothing I’d abandon Scotch for, but a decent dram from overseas. The palate for me was the high point, and had I bought a full bottle I’d feel I was getting my moneys worth. However I have to factor in the fact that TBWC only release 50CL bottles, so would have to consider buying an original bottling should I wish to buy in the future
The dark side. We all probably have one, or perhaps I should stop judging others based on my own experiences. This is the one time that I wished that I did a little bit of research before sampling these drams, as if I had, I would have learnt that one dram in the tasting tonight was in its initial incarnation before it joined the dark side and peat was added to the mix.
I feel it is important not to research too much beforehand as this is likely to influence the review I am about to give. I may look at the distillery history, as I quite often type this bit out as the whisky I want to review settles and has a wee breather in the glass. However it is not so long ago I wrote an article about making sure of what you are bidding on at auction, which included a tale of what happened when you failed to check and yet again I’ve ended up scoring a spectacular own goal. The two whiskies I was to compare to see if either the later or more recent expression was better has failed at the first hurdle – the two whiskies are completely different and cannot be compared, due to one being peated and one not.
For my faux pas to be explained, Ledaig is a whisky that is produced at the Tobermory Distillery on Mull. I’ve already reviewed one of their whiskies and quite liked it. But the distillery hasn’t always been known as Tobermory and it was the failure to see this rock of knowledge that saw my ship grounded.
The distillery which is the only one on the island was founded by John Sinclair in 1798 and named Ledaig. It had a patchy history, often with long periods silent, two of which were around 40 years in length. It wasn’t until 1979 that a Yorkshire based company, Kirkleavington Properties bought the distillery that it was named Tobermory. They didn’t have much success with whisky production, closing 3 years later, but they converted some of the buildings into accommodation and leased other bits for cheese storage. It all looked a bit dismal until 1993 when Burn Stewart took over, continuing with the Tobermory name.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the whisky we know as Ledaig was produced. It is a peated Tobermory, and it was my mistake to assume that whisky with Ledaig on the label would be peated. Before the 1979 rename, in 1972, a company formed of a Liverpudlian shipping company, Pedro Domecq and some business interests from Central America reopened the distillery. They weren’t successful either and the distillery went bust in 1975. Perhaps this is why a change of name which was also more pronounceable was carried out in its next period of production. Thankfully this was not before one of the drams I will be trying in this review was distilled. Still, a massive disappointment was experienced when I found out that it didn’t seem to be peated and was probably quite close to what Tobermory would be now. Oh well, my bad.
It is kind of pointless to debate whether this is a better dram than the 10 year old, as it is a completely different style before we even consider the age of the bottle, the lower abv and the greater age of the spirit. Therefore in this case before we even taste the whisky, I’m going to have to call this match null and void. I can give comparisons I suppose, but it was then I remembered that I have another sample of Ledaig in the house – a quick furrow about, and I find a 2008 bottling from Robert Graham’s Dancing Stag range. Not enough of a difference for an old vs new comparison, but still a worthwhile exercise to examine these drams now I’ve got them out.
Ah well. Worse things happen at sea I suppose. At least I now have three drams in front of me so time to get cracking.
Ledaig 1974 (Bottled 1992)
Region -Highland Age – 18y.o Strength – 43%abv Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not known Chill Filtered – Possibly Nose – Quite Light, slight malt, fruity, heather, window putty, a whiff of smoke, wood varnish. Palate – Quite light. Honey, peaches, grassy, buttery, vanilla, sweet gingery wood spice, a hint of brine. However, overall insipid. Finish – short / medium, slightly astringent, more wood spice, a hint of lemon citrus and brine.
Ledaig 10 y.o (OB)
Region -Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 46.3% abv Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known, likely Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Smokey peat, ashes, earthy, vanilla, honey, seaweed. Palate – Smokey, pepper, lemon, ash, brine. Slightly nutty – walnut. A hint of nail polish remover. Finish – medium, not particularly spicy, citrus, oranges, fresh tarmacadam being laid – the sort of sensation you get when your nostrils and throat get saturated with the smell of a road surface being laid.
Ledaig 8 y.o 2008
Region -Highland Age – 8 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Peat, smoke, overheated electronics, fudge, lemon, vanilla Palate – quite light smoke, black cracked pepper and sea salt, fudge, earthy, slight citrus. Finish – Long. Spicy, peppery oak spices, smoke, brine, celery sticks.
It is not the first time that my failure to prepare has got me into trouble. I should take my own advice more often. Even this week when going for a morning shower, I had forgot to take a bath towel with me and only realised the omission by time my shower was complete and I was soaking wet. Fortunately there was a hand towel handy, but it was like trying to dry an elephant with a facecloth. Making errors though needn’t be a bad thing, especially when tasting whisky as it just drags you onto new avenues, and at least its not as bad as discovering by accident that disinfectant bathroom wipes are not good for wiping your bum with.
However, if the older dram had been peated, I would have had to say that it would not have been the victor. It did have slightly less strength at 43%, but it also had an extra 8 years in a barrel. Not years well spent I think. To be slightly more considerate in my approach, it had been bottled in 1992, had signs of slight evaporation, so while I could pick out one or two notes, it was definitely a dram that had gone flat. I got tired of drinking it and although it was not repulsive to my palate, I had lost interest, so down the sink it went.
The peated Ledaig we are all probably more familiar with was a different kettle of fish. The flavours and aromas were well balanced, quite bright and punchy, yet not a knockout blow. I’d put this dram somewhere between Laphroaig 10 and Talisker 10. I managed to finish the lot without a single drop of water. Delicious.
The independently bottled Ledaig was not too bad but lacked the same depth of flavours and punch as the original bottling, despite being only 2 years younger and only 0.3% less in abv. I cannot help but think that keeping it in the cask any longer would not have done it any favours and I’d argue that this has been over diluted. It might be a cracking dram at cask strength, but in this guise it was a bit of a let down. Pity, as I bought it while in Glasgow while picking my wife up from the airport a couple of years ago, and bought one for my former Dalwhinnie tour guide neighbour as a thank you for looking after my canine equivalent of Jimmy Saville while I was away for the day. He said that he liked it, but that may have been politeness. At least his dog wasn’t under much threat of attack as it is a Newfoundland, and even Maksimus isn’t going to manage to ravish that. But like us with whisky perhaps he may have thought it worth a try.
You can still find the 8 year old Ledaig for sale from Robert Graham, but while it was an ok dram, it wasn’t as good as the original bottling. The price of £87.50 for an 8 year old spirit at 46% is a bit adventurous for the quality on offer here.
While I have already declared this as a null and void review in terms of the old versus the new, I can’t help but feel that the newer dram would have been the better of the two. I don’t wish to cast aspersions though it could be because the older dram was made during one of the two periods where the distillery was only open for 3 years, and they might have needed someone who knew what they were doing. I’ve heard the 1972 or 1973 are better but I’ll pass.