Jun 022018
 

The stock of whisky distilled before the 1997 Glenmorangie purchase of Ardbeg was an indicator of what the distillery was going through. Besides some vintage releases, like this 1977 and a 1975, and the “core” 17 year old that took the distillery back from 1997 to 1980, the last full year of distillation, the distillery released some 60 single cask releases between 1999 and 2010, most of those were distilled between 1972 and 1976. What’s interesting is that many of those casks were distilled on certain dates or bunched ranges of dates, suggesting that the distillery was working only intermittently even when it was fully active. Thus, December 26th 1975 was an active day (seems almost like someone on vacation from another place of employment came to distill that day ūüėČ ), as was November 24th, 1976 as were June 14th and July 12th in 1974. You may think I’m reading too much into the dates on this list, but I’ll submit that with 365 days a year, such clumping has got to have statistical significance.

The Ardbeg Very Old 1977 Limited Edition was released between 2001 and 2004 in several batches, making the whisky 23 to 27 years old.

Today is also the festival day for Ardbeg Grooves (which has been actually on sale for over two months), named for the casks that are so heavily charred that they opened grooves in the wood. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really sure how this differs from the Alligator, but once I get some Grooves to taste, I’ll try to compare them.

Here is a stunning video of Ardbeg captured by Tiga Wong on Youtube:

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Ardbeg ‘Very Old’ 1977 (46% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Gold, tiny legs coming off a pretty sturdy necklace, leaving a lot of droplets behind.

Nose: When just poured, the peat is very subtle, and the initial nose is almost that of a white wine.
After a moment to settle, rich honey with a hint of peat and pine, with a lovely spiciness.¬† The nose has a dryness, without quite reaching the oakiness you can sometimes get at these ages. Sweet minerals with a touch of Golden Delicious apples, and a hint of a floral bouquet. Left to rest a bit, you’ll get a light sourness with a farmy peat reek, that dissipates into the sweet mineral dryness.

Palate: Very sweet on the initial attack, with honey and a somewhat waxy fruitiness, again with those Golden Delicious apples, and very gentle, yet fizzy, peat and pepper. The palate is perfectly balanced between sweet and peat.

Linger: Sweet at first, turning dry with spices and peat. Gently bitter. Around the gullet the peat and spices remain for a while. The upper part of the mouth, towards the back of the palate, holds on to the sweetness and the peat for a long time.

Conclusion

What a dignified Ardbeg, and it’s so different even from the modern 21 distilled sometime in the 1990s. There’s something very gentle, yet powerful, in this dram. The balance is extraordinary!

Apr 232018
 

I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant with this sample, reason being that after last year’s Ardbeg Kelpie, which was the first time I liked an Ardbeg release since 2012, I was afraid to go back to 2014, and the Kildalton. However, I’m working up to the sample of the Ardbeg 1977 I have, so here we go.

Image result for kildalton cross

Photo Credit: watcher.ro

The Kildalton is a mix of bourbon and sherry matured whisky (both first fill and refill). If that sounds much like the¬†Uigeadail to you, you’d be right, only it’s not at cask strength. So why, you must be wondering, would you pay double for it?¬† That’s a fabulous question, to which I have only one answer: It must be the pretty box….

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014 (46%)

Appearance: gold, thin legs peeling off slowly.

Nose: Very Ardbeggy, you wouldn’t mistake it for anything else. Creamy and sooty with hints of butter and pine, and a little bit of cranberry (which I assume is the sherry casks). With time, there’s a sweetness from the sherry casks that develops.

Palate: Dry and mineraly peat, with a sweet undertone. The peat is a little more gentle, but something just doesn’t come together.

Linger: Dry and spicy, with peat and soot sticking to the tongue and palate. The linger is rather long and warming, with the peat ingrained deep in the cheeks. This is possibility the best part of the dram.

Conclusion

Another Ardbeg NAS, not really sheeried, but not really classic Ardbeg. For me, I’ll stick with the Uigeadale for sherry or the 10 year old for non sherry. This expression, like so many Ardbegs of the first half of the 2010s, is neither fish nor fowl (what Jewish people call Pareve). I will say that I have high expectations from the Groove…

Apr 052017
 

I approached this expression with caution, after being quite underwhelmed with the Auriverdes, Perpetuum and the Dark Cove, and figured the NAS road chosen by Ardbeg will inevitably lead to  progressively uninspired festival bottlings.

But I’m always open to be surprised, and indeed, I have been.

The Kelpie is finished in virgin oak taken from Adygea. Now, I know geography pretty well, but have never heard of the place. Turns out, it’s a republic in Russia, nestled in the Caucuses, between the Black and Caspian Seas.

Photo Credit: abovyangroup.org

What are the specific characteristics of this wood? Is it closer to European, American or Mizunara oak? There really is no information on this. And how about the name “Kelpie”. Where does that come from? Kelpies are mythical shapeshifting creatures said to inhabit Scotland’s waters, the seas and the lochs. They have been immortalized in the iconic statues at The Helix in Falkirk.

Photo Credit: thehelix.co.uk

But there’s a greater conncection between Ardbeg and the Kelpie legend, as is evidenced in Charls Mackay’s poem “The Kelpie of¬†Corrievreckan” of which I bring the opening and closing stanzas:

He mounted his steed of the water clear,
And sat on his saddle of sea- weed sere;
He held his bridle of strings of pearl,
Dug out of the depths where the sea-snakes curl.


I warn you, maids, whoever you be,
Beware of pride and vanity;
And ere on change of love you reckon,
Beware the Kelpie of Corryvreckan.

 

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskybarrel.com

Ardbeg Kelpie – Committee Release (51.7% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Gold, with thin legs forming quickly.

Nose: First thought that comes to mind is “Was this sourced from Lagavulin?”. Smoked meat, smoked fish, seaweed and a very warm smell of a barbecue going at full strength. This is definitely not your everyday Ardbeg, and is, honestly, a nice surprise. After some time in the glass, some massive saltiness comes in, and mixes with the ongoing burning campfire. A few drops of water shifted the nose a bit toward the briny with some malt coming through.

Palate: Very peaty and salty, it’s actually quite aggressive on the palate. It has a pine-y quality. A few drops of water bring out a touch of the bourbon barrel with a hint of vanilla on the palate.
Linger: Salami and smoke ,with the peat remaining on the tongue and peppery spice on the top of the gullet.

Conclusion

Has Ardbeg stopped the slump they were in over the past couple of years with the Committee Releases?
This expression is interesting and intense, and while the nose is better than the palate, this is a bottle I’d be happy to have on a tasting table.

Oct 022016
 

Facebook is full of secret whisky associations, and the most secretive of those, with only¬†104 of the most discerning whisky nuts, is the WFFA. While I can’t say any more about the group, since one can’t ask to join it, and as two of the three rules the group has were taken out of¬†Chuck Palahniuk’s book, and I’m already toeing the line there: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”. The third rule relates to Fridays and is not important. I will say that there are some serious hitters on there, and people from all walks of life. These are people who own quite a few bottles, belong to whisky clubs, trade samples with each other, and meet at whisky events.

Photo Credit: hatchbyte.com

Photo Credit: hatchbyte.com

We hear many pundits talk about “best whisky” or “best distillery”, but what do real, serious, maltheads think about the distilleries? Who actually has the hearts of the hard core maltheads?

I can actually answer that, as one of the group’s highlights is the annual “Best Distillery” vote. Each member sends in their top five distilleries, and 30 points are distributed per member. About two thirds of the membership voted (67 out of 104), and the votes were spread over 56 distilleries. The survey was run by our admin, John McDougall. A distillery will score points according to rank among members. Thus, each member assigns 30 points, spread as follows:¬†10 for the first place vote, 8 for your second, 6 for the third, 4 points for the forth¬†and 2 points are assigned to your fifth place vote.

While Springbank ran away with the vote (it won first place last year too, but this year seems to have gathered many more first place points –¬†21 first place votes, while fourth¬†place Bruichladdich was next with¬†seven first place votes), the top of the list is very similar to last year’s with the top six distilleries remaining the same. To me, this confirms the status of these six distilleries as favorite malthead distilleries, all of whom got over 100 points, and all of whom kept their places in the top six for the second year:¬†Springbank, GlenDronach, Ardbeg,¬†Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and¬†Kilchoman.

What can be learned from these results? A few things

  1. Maltheads like boldly flavored whisky (GlenDronach is the only non peated distillery in the six, and they have bold sherry casks galore).
  2. No core range presented at 40% and chill filtered made the top of the list. Not even close. In fact, the first one we meet is Laphroaig, at number 10, with one such expression.
  3. Maltheads appreciate tradition, but also respond to personal marketing (and being part of a “Committee” will gather commitment).
  4. Even serious groups have buffoons¬†(one voted for Jura, Glenfiddich, Loch Lomond and Fetttircairn, with no fifth distillery given). So if you wondered, as I did, how Jura got into 22nd place, there’s your answer).
  5. Mild distillery character is a disadvantage with maltheads.
  6. Non Scotch whisky is noticed, but not in a significant enough way (this is true for both American and East Asian whisky). Could this be the primarily European composition of the group? Could be. I’d love to see what results an identical survey would bring in Malt Maniacs and Friends, Facebook’s primary whisky group.

So with no further ado, I’ll give you the full list, next to each distillery you’ll find the total number of points, as well as the total number of members that voted for it. It’s interesting to note that had there not been a weighted system to the voting, the top six would have remained the same, and Bunnahabhain would have come in at seventh place.

WFFA Member's Choice Award

WFFA Member’s Choice Award

 

Top 20 Places in the 2016 WFFA Favorite Distillery Poll

  1. Springbank 376 points (48 votes)
  2. Glendronach 178 points (28 votes)
  3. Ardbeg 148 points (23 votes)
  4. Bruichladdich 144 points (23 votes)
  5. Lagavulin 142 points (21 votes)
  6.  Kilchoman 108 points (19 votes)
  7. Kilkerran 76 points (11 votes)
  8. Arran 68 points (9 votes)
  9. Bunnahabhain 62 points (13 votes)
  10. Laphroaig 60 points (10 votes)
  11. Clynelish 54 points (7 votes)
  12. Caol Ila 48 points (10 votes)
  13. Benromach 38 points (8 votes)
    Highland Park 38 points (9 votes)
  14. Glenfarclas 34 points (7 votes)
  15. Aberlour 30 points (6 votes)
    Buffalo Trace 30 points (5 votes)
  16. Yoichi 26 points (5 votes)
  17. Kavalan 22 points (3 votes)
  18. Mackmyra 18 points (5 votes)
    Yamazaki 18 points (3 votes)
  19. BenRiach 16 points (2 votes)
    Jura* 16 points (2 votes, including buffoon vote)
  20. Balblair 14 points (3 votes)
    Balvenie 14 points (4 votes)
    Tobermory 14 points (3 votes)

Concluding Thoughts

What does this vote mean? Nothing. Just like any other award, prize, medal or honorable mention.
What it can tell us, though, is what the core of maltheads seek, which can serve as a guide to anybody looking to market to (or produce for) this segment of the market.

It also shows that there are still some gems of distilleries out there that even hardened maltheads don’t think of when they talk about their favorite distilleries, secrets perhaps best left untold ūüėČ

May 282016
 

With the 2016 F√®is √Ćle Festival drawing to a close, we celebrate Ardbeg’s open day with a tasting of the whisky which, to me, is close to the epitome of the beauty of Ardbeg’s spirit. The Galileo was released to celebrate some Ardbeg spirit being sent up into space to study the effect of zero gravity on maturation. This whisky has¬†since returned to terra firma, and I honestly expected to see a release with a teaspoon of that whisky in the vatting – hyped up and marketed like only Ardbeg can. Don’t rule that out yet….

Photo Credit: Ardbeg.com

Photo Credit: Ardbeg.com

Anyway, hyped up or not, this whisky is outstanding. Deep and complex, with quite a bit of bang in flavor. The Marsala really works well with the Ardbeg spirit, and being a vatting whisky that was fully matured in Marsala and bourbon, as opposed to just being a finish, adds a serious depth to the flavor of the whisky. Had this been part of the core range, it would have been a permanent resident in my whisky cabinet!

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Ardbeg Galileo 1999, 12 Year Old Matured in ex Bourbon and ex Marsala Casks (49% ABV)

Appearance: Dark Bronze, thin and long legs.

Nose: Ardbeg peat with a dry and fruity nose. Dried apricot, but more like the organic ones than like the yellow ones you get at the supermarket, grapes, baked apple, stewed peaches and canned pineapple. Hints of star anise and cinnamon and an intense winey sweetness round it out. The empty glass has milk chocolate and malt left over for some time.

Palate: Rich sweet mouthfeel with a lot of fruit – red grapes, fresh peach and some sweet red berries. Spice appears with white pepper and cinnamon, with hints of gentle clove and nutmeg, with a very warm and dessert like feel.

Linger: Peaty and sweet with a very dry feel, mostly on the tongue and palate. Not a typical finish, with the peat and spice staying on and on.

Conclusion

This is an excellent Ardbeg, in fact, to me, this is one of the best of the special editions and Committee releases – especially of those that followed the Ardbog in the¬†last three years (think Auriverdes, Prepetuum or Dark Cove). I’m not sure if it’s the Marsala or the few extra years in the cask, but this expression is, well, stellar (punny, I know….).

Thank you Torben, for the Ardbeggy delight.