Dram Review 53.135 ‘Ambush by the sound of Islay’

I’ve had this sample from Tom Thomson (of Toms Whisky Reviews) for a while and only recently found it.

It’s SMWS and the code means the 135th cask bottled from Caol Ila Distillery on Islay. You can’t pick this one up any more, but SMWS get plenty of Caol Ila and the younger stuff can often be relatively inexpensive. Here are the dramstats:

  • ABV 66.0%
  • Age 9yo
  • Distillery Caol Ila

Nose: Peat and citrus. Sweet with honey and lavender but all the while the peat is dominant and huge. Lovely Islay nose for the peat heads!

Palate: Sweet smoke then a huge pepper/peat explosion. “Ambush”? More like “Punch in the face by the sound of Islay”, or “ABH in Port Askaig” This is a huge huge peat monster. Water makes this less of a violent dram and releases some fresh fruit salad and apple.

Finish: Huge peat, smoke, sweetness and some spice. Water leaves a mild fruit juice note in the finish.

Verdict: This is a really cool dram. 9 year old Caol Ila is worth checking out but be warned, it’s not for the faint hearted!


Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Islay 12 year old single malt whisky

This post is a full whisky review, but it is also part of our 12 drams of xmas series (see this post for more info).

I had been wondering what to choose as the whisky I would send to 10 other whisky bloggers. I decided that I wanted to get something that was right under everyone’s noses, good value that would surprise them. I started looking at Jim Murray reviews of commonly available blends and of drams you could buy in the supermarkets, when I noticed that Sainsbury’s TTD Islay got 94 in the bible and was raved about.

That fit the bill exactly. However, I wanted to be sure it was good enough before just sending it (It would have been embarrassing to send crap whisky), and if it was bad, at least I could review it on here).

I tasted it, it ticked all the right boxes, and it was duly sent to the 12 drams tasters. Here are the dramstats:


  • Price £20
  • ABV 40%
  • Age 12 years
  • Distillery: ?? (Somewhere on Islay)

Nose: Sweet smoke and vanilla with light fruity notes. Almost winey with malted milk biscuits.

Palate: Smokey arrival that turns sweet with vanilla and pear drops.

Finish: Custard cream, peat and aspartame (sweetener).

Verdict: Well this managed to fool everyone, though most guessed Islay and some went for a 12 year old. That, along with the fact that it really is very good, makes this a serious bargain at the price. It is not a peat monster, nor does the peat dominate, but it is there to deliver flavour, which it happens to do very well.

One question is, what’s actually in it? Well, some long searching on the internet led to rumours on whisky forums that this was actually 12 year old Lagavulin. I don’t think it is. Personally I think it’s 12 year old Caol Ila. The sweetness fits the distillery profile a little better, and Caol Ila has a very high production and has a great many indie bottling appearances. Lagavulin on the other hand has much lower production and is prized by whisky drinkers and therefore Diageo (the company that owns them). They often bring out a 12 year old Lagavulin as part of the annual special releases and it is expensive. It is not clear to me why they would also give a lot of very good 12 year old Laga stock to supermarket brands, with the high price it normally sells for and with Caol Ila down the road. Whatever it is, it’s a serious bargain. They sometimes sell it with money off!! I will be buying this again.

The 12 drams of xmas: Day 5

Continuing the series of reports on the 12 drams of xmas twitter tasting event:

Quick reminder: 11 online whisky enthusiasts poured half a bottle of whisky into 10 sample bottles and sent them to the other 10 taking part. The bottles were marked only with the number of the day we were due to start. On the given day, we all blind tasted the chosen dram and tried to guess what it was.

Though I did well on some of the drams and embarrassingly badly on some others, I’m posting my tasting notes, my unedited guesses and revealing the answers.

Dram #5 was from Rod Graham (@rodbodtoo on twitter), author of a nce blog here. Here are my notes:

Nose: Sherbet, icing sugar, vanilla, sugar puffs and a very faint whiff of peat.

Palate: Sweet vanilla and sherbet with a bourbon influence.

Finish: Drying pepper and oak, very faint smoke and malted milk biscuits.

My guess: A lot of the notes reminded me of Caol Ila, but the peat wasn’t as big. I therefore went for an older Caol Ila (because peat diminishes with age), but didn’t want to guess too old as nobody is going to give away 20+yr old whisky to 10 people! I plugged for a Caol Ila 15 at cask strength 56% abv.

The answer: Caol Ila 12 year old unpeated islay whisky, 2010, 57.6% ABV

Pretty pleased with this one to be honest. Distillery right, instinct on the peat not bad, and ABV pretty close. There was smoke, which I find confusing in an unpeated whisky. Still, it was really nice!