Jun 262016
 

SMWS 33.130 “The Farmyard And The Chip Shop”IMG_2109

56.1% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Oh, man, do I like this one.  The last of four SMWS Ardbeg releases I stacked up head to head (to head to head) a couple weeks back.  Not only is it the closest to the true spirit of Ardbeg – falling squarely into that phenolic and tarry/ashy sort of profile I love – it was unquestionably the best of the range.

I’ve shared enough words on the SMWS 33’s of late, so let’s keep this one short and sweet.  Let me just say that releases like this are the very reason I have kept my SMWS membership up to date.  It will be interesting to see if the club still has access to these young barrels of Ardbeg going forward, now that the brand is no longer owned by the good folks at LVMH.  Sorta doubt it.  As we know, indie Ardbegs are becoming more and more just relics of a bygone era.

Nose:  Tar, ash and soot.  Menthol.  Very nasal-clearing.  Leather.  Lime.  Seared scallops.  The notes on the label suggest tomatoes, and I completely agree.  BBQ sauce and grilled meat.  Some dry smoke.

Palate:  Fiery, savoury arrival.  Very juicy though.  More vinegar-y BBQ notes.  Mint candy.  Like a mouthful of smoke.  Black ju-jubes.  Definite notes of grilled seafood.  Lime.  Black coffee.  Fennel that grows bigger and bigger at the back end.  Slightly herbal.  Loooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Quite in line with what Ardbeg tends to release nowadays.  And quite in the strike zone.  I like this one a lot.  Still a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of its charm.  Much like we love the Hanson Brothers for their scrappiness.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:14 am
Jun 212016
 

IMG_2105SMWS 33.113 “Sweet, Peaceful Dreams”

60.4% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Ok.  Back to these Ardbeg SMWS reviews we’ve not yet finished.  A little off the beaten path, but tons of fun.  With this ’33’ we’re moving into somewhat more familiar Ardbeg territory, but still only at the periphery in some ways.  Yes, it’s monstrous (and probably offensive to the sensitive) but it also bears a softer, sweetness that might surprise those looking for the signature whomp of Kildalton’s heavyweight champ.  The closest profile analogy I can give here is Serendipity meets Corryvreckan.  If you were fortunate enough to have landed a taste of Serendipity back in the day you’ll know the subtleties I’m hinting at.

Part of me thinks Ardbeg is actually a tough malt to screw up.  Such is the nature of a great distillate and talented stillmen who recognize the ideal cut points of the spirit run.  And nowhere is this more evident than when you see the flawless spirit hit a clean bourbon barrel and then be rocked to sleep for a few years.  The last part of the equation is plucking it from the cask at its true apex age for delivery to the bottling line.  In this instance it was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society who had final say in when it was bottled, and fortunately they chose a good time for it.  So as I said…with this one – an eight year old – we are indeed in familiar Ardbeg territory.

Now that’s not to say this is completely typical, but it does bear all the hallmarks.  Feisty, smoky as hell, earthy, citric, coastal.  You know the drill by now with Ardbeg.  Bigger than big.  The fact that LVMH owned both Ardbeg and the SMWS at the time this one was released may have something to do with the level of quality control.  Who know?

Nose:  Dough.  Sweet candy notes.  A hint of Play-Dough.  Surprisingly creamy.  Faint unlit pipe tobacco.  Sugar cookies.  Anise.  Seems almost mildly-peated for an Ardbeg.  Damp ash.  Orange.  Then orange and lemon zest.

Palate:  Soft arrival, surprisingly, then wham!!  Sharp peat kick to the meat and two veg.  (A touch of) Melon, with some lemon and orange.  Then an explosion of smoke and licorice.  Dark vanilla bean.  Coffee.  Meaty and plummy.  Gets barn-y.  Big earthy, peaty notes.  Wow…the smoke keeps expanding outward.  Very hot whisky.

Thoughts:  Creaminess takes us into thoughts of the vanillas imparted form the French Oak in some batches of Corryvreckan.  Must have been a very lively bourbon barrel.  Almost like an Ardbeg vatted with a Tormore (I know…weird, aye?).  I like the fruits, but this is definitely unbalanced.  Extra point for the singularity of this one.

*Kelly Carpenter, founder of the SMWS CA saved this  sample for me a couple of years ago.  Thanks, Kelly.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Jun 072016
 

SMWS 33.93 “Tarry Peppermint Tea”IMG_2099

55.9% abv

Score:  86/100

 

Another nifty little Ardbeg from the SMWS.  At ten years old this time, but not likely too comparable to the distillery’s flagship ‘Ten’, as this one is from a refill sherry butt that yielded up 626 bottles; not an ex-bourbon barrel.

Ardbeg SMWS releases are well-coveted nowadays.  When they do hit the market they tend to be quite young and still full of teeth.  I think the oldest I’ve yet seen hit the shores here is an 11 year old (but I should double check that before I swear to it).  What this means is that the Ardbeg we do get from the SMWS should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of the standard or limited releases the distillery puts out.  I can’t really say that’s the case though.  Only one or two of the eight or ten Ardbeg SMWS bottlings I’ve tried actually fit the distillery’s recognized profile.  Odd, in ways, but understandable when you acknowledge that a) the distillery isn’t likely to let its best casks go to anyone (despite the fact that the SMWS and Ardbeg were under the same ownership up until about a year ago) and b) every cask is a snowflake.  Additionally, as we know, the single cask path is often paved with some very wobbly stones, so any preconceptions that this would be truly ‘Ardbeggian’ may be mistaken.

As the score above should attest, though, this is a rather decent outing.  I like the singularity here, if maybe mourning the lack of true Kildalton capital ‘A’ might.  In short…I liked this one, but didn’t love it.  But Ardbeg is like pizza or sex, right?  Even when it’s bad, it’s still good.

Oh, and by the way…not so much on the tar (in my opinion), but definitely the mint.

Nose:  Mint jelly.  Cigarette (generic, I know).  Deeply phenolic, and bearing notes of clay or putty.  Deeply briny, and somewhat barnyard-ish.  The mint grows exponentially over time.  Very seaside-esque.  Smoked oyster.  Some ash.  Slightly citric and vinegar-y maybe.

Palate:  Big oaky notes redolent of bourbon.  Spice and eucalyptus.  A lot of smoke.  Sharp citrus.  Apple skins.  A Palate that reminds a tick of Corryvreckan, oddly enough.  With maybe drops of Oogie in there too.  Seafood on the shell.  Dry scones.  Tannic fruit skins at the back end.

Thoughts:  Quite aptly named dram.  Unique enough to keep me coming back for more, but quite jagged.  While this came from a refill butt, I would never guess sherry. I may be being a mite stingy with the marks, but it’s definitely an outlier for Ardbeg.  Cool to try though.

*A friend of mine, Kelly Carpenter, founder of the Canadian extension of the SMWS put this little sample away for me a few years back, knowing I was an Ardbeg junkie.  Just now tasting.  Thanks, Kelly.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am
May 292016
 

IMG_2086SMWS 33.70 “Keith Richards Meets Socrates”

57.3% abv

Score:  74/100

 

It’s 12:15 am.  May 29th, 2016.  It is now the day after Ardbeg Day.  Or perhaps I should say Ardbeg Night, as they’ve elected to brand it this year.  Over the past few days I’ve been fortunate enough to taste both the Committee and general releases of this year’s bottling, ‘Dark Cove’.  Unfortunately, however, I have no samples of either to review at this time, nor had I opportunity to set pen to paper and capture thoughts when I did try them.  Oh well.  I’m sure I’ll get another chance at some point.  In the meantime I figured I’d go one better this eve, and – sticking to the theme – tackle four indie Ardbegs from the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society, that is).

I’ll be posting tasting notes for all of them in very short order, but let’s kick it all off with the earliest of the bunch.  This 33.70 was a cask from several years back now.  1998 to be a little more precise.  It was born of a sherry gorda that yielded 848 bottles (I know!  Whopping outturn!), and bottled as a 10 year old.  And I must admit that the name alone had me excited to try this one.

Unfortunately, high expectations and distillery fanboyism has led to disappointment as devastating as a wee boat smashed to kindling on a rocky cape.  I came in expecting to sail high on this one (rich, dark natural colour, high strength, relatively mature age and from earlier (read: better) years) but my hopes were immediately tempered.  Reality is a harsh mistress sometimes.  This decader is heavy and cloying in thick caramel (which is bad enough) and nothing – not even herculean phenolic might – can completely temper the sulphuric undertones.  Put as simply as possible:  This was a real dud barrel.  Such is the nature of the single cask game, I suppose.  Disappointing nevertheless.

Nose:  Syrupy, heavily sherried nose.  Damp horse blanket.  Almost a vague hint of sulphur.  Too much caramel.  Ok…definitely sulphur.  Something reminds of young(ish) port here.  Savoury stewed fruits (even a little tomato).  Stale ashtrays.  Wax crayons.  Poor quality Roman Nougat.  Smoke.  Organic, mineral notes.

Palate:  Ash.  Smoke.  Immediately drying.  Bitter chocolate.  More ash and tar.  Salt licorice.  Cooked greens.  Oversteeped lapsang souchong tea.  Caramel apple.  Slightly syrupy.  Very dry finish.  And yeah…hints of burnt matchsticks.

Thoughts:  Not my kind of Ardbeg.  At all.  Granted I am grossly intolerant of sulphur, but still.  I had such high hopes too.  This is just…no.  Let’s move on.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:47 pm
Apr 112016
 

Ardbeg PerpetuumIMG_1428

47.4% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Ardbeg really takes a drubbing these days.  Seems to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy.  Now, I can hear the collective groans out there and know the immediate reaction will be something akin to ‘awwww…poor Ardbeg…fleecing us with NAS expressions and making a fortune once or twice a year with so-called limited releases’.  The sentiment seems to be along the lines of feeling sorry for the Kardashians for not having any privacy.

Here’s the thing: I hate – as much as, or more than, most whisky lovers – this constant barrage of shitty NAS malts that are flooding the market, but the simple fact of the matter is that Ardbeg consistently releases bloody great expressions.  Even those that don’t take the highest place on the platform are still miles better than most new whiskies hitting the shelves.  Additionally, the prices, while frustrating over the past few years, are suddenly not far out of line with most other new releases.  Not that that is justification, mind, but it is acknowledging that in this case at least the devil we know is consistent in terms of quality, while the others are suspect (at best).

The cynics out there will lambaste me for this one.  So be it.  I’m practically past the point of giving a f*ck.  Anything positive I say about NAS expressions is seen as treasonous to the campaign against this initiative.  I get it.  Unfortunately my own morality when it comes to being honest supercedes any sort of agenda.  Bloggers are constantly under scrutiny regarding their morality.  I’d like to think I still have mine in tact.  So let’s say it here and now, in hopes of deflecting some of the questions that will inevitably come afterwards:

This is an appeal to the folks at LVMH/Ardbeg:
Please start putting age statements on these expressions.
It is known and accepted that Ardbeg is generally served up fairly young.
That’s why we like it.  Peat works well in youth.
Wear that number proudly.
I’ll buy.  We’ll buy.

There.  PSA over.  Let’s get on with it.

Seems I may have liked this one more than some reviewers out there.  Granted while I have been fortunate enough to try it a few times through others and at tasting events and festivals, and was given a sample not long ago, I do not have a bottle kicking around to work through and note the evolution over time.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the distillery’s 200th anniversary.  I think most of us had our fingers crossed for a relaunch of the 17 to mark this special occasion (and unbelievable milestone!), but alas…it wasn’t meant to be (yet?).  We do know that Ardbeg is now able to warehouse more than they are releasing, so hopefully team green is building up to some sort of healthy surplus of mature malt.  Time will tell, I suppose, but my fingers remain crossed for a more advanced age-stated addition to the core range.  At the time of writing, word has trickled down of a new Ardbeg 21 on the horizon.  I can only imagine the cost and limited availability.

Perpetuum.  Infinity.  Or perpetuity, to be a little more precise.  Gotta hand it to the marketing team here.  There is always a clever spin at play.  My own slightly more cynical point of view falls a little closer to Sage Serge’s thoughts, though, if I’m to be honest.  But let’s let the whisky speak for itself.

BTW…I cannae recall the ages of malts that went into this vatting, but I think it was a marriage of 7 to 13 year old Ardbeg.

And did I mention how much I detest this being yet another NAS expression from Ardbeg?

Nose:  Soft candied fruits.  Lime.  Ash and smoke.  Soft doughy notes, indicative of a bit of aged malt in the mix.  A little bit of pear and a little bit of lime.  Maybe green melon.  Vanilla softens things here.  Still sooty, charry and all that.  Y’know…Ardbeggian.  But muted.

Palate:  Now some licorice.  Smoke.  Earthy peat, but also very approachable for a dram from Islay’s heaviest of heavyweights.  Wet charred wood.  Salty and tingly.  I love how soft and hard this is at the same time.  A yin and yang malt for certain.  Green apple skins.  Citrus, of course.  Charred scallop.

Thoughts:  Ardbeg back on top.  Nice to see some decently mature spirit in the mix softening things up.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:20 am
Jan 042016
 

Ardbeg Rollercoaster Committee Release097

57.3% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

Oh, man.  If only this were a legitimate road to travel.  Back in 2010 Ardbeg released what would become – for me, anyway – the poster child for what NAS whisky could be (if it has to exist at all, that is) without the interference of the SWA and the British government enforcers.

Ok, so the bottle doesn’t say 10 or 12 year old, as you can see, but it does have a curious band of dates dancing across the front label and an even curiouser little bar graph on the back label.  Hmmm.  What have we here?  Long and short of it is that before the folks at Ardbeg got their knuckles rapped for disclosure (well…not exactly), they printed up these labels and 15,000 bottles of Rollercoaster hit the open market.  And those aforementioned dates and graph?  A breakdown of the vintages that went into creating this careening gem of a malt, as well as the percentage of each that made it into the final vatting.  These component casks range from 3 to 12 years of age.  Now…if Ardbeg had played by the rules this one would have had to have been labeled a 3 year old.  Would that sell?  Maybe.  Probably, actually, but you’ll never convince Big Business of that.  Too much of a gamble.

Anyway, Ardbeg gave us the details, were subsequently given the ‘shame on you’ treatment’ and that was the last we saw of what is – in my mind – a brilliant way of selling a marriage of young and old.  Of course, the proof is in the puddin’, as they say, and fortunately this is a hell of a sexy malt, proving that there’s nothing wrong with bridging malt gaps; only with the concept of doing it without being held accountable to the consumer (read: the dreaded NAS).

For those of you interested in the actual barrel breakdown…voila!

1997 Cask: 2nd fill – 9.5%
1998 Cask: Refill Hogshead – 12.2%
1999 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 14.2%
2000 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 10.9%
2001 Cask: Refill Barrel – 6.2%
2002 Cask: Refill Barrel – 8.9%
2003 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 11.7%
2004 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 10.6%
2005 Cask: 2nd Fill Sherry Butt – 10.4%
2006 Cask: Refill Hogshead – 5.4%

Great whisky that is now a part of malt lore.  Much as Balvenie’s Tun series (early days anyway) and Glaser’s recent online info share will be for future generations.

There’s much more we could say about this one, but only so long I expect to be able to hold your interest, so how ’bout some tasting notes now?

Before we do, though, a big cheers to my mate Voytek for allowing the opportunity to try this one.  That was an unforgettable night!

Nose:  Ashy and redolent of beachside bonfire.  Very juicy and sweet, fruit-rich nose.  Ardbeggian through and through. Smoke and black licorice.  Chocolate.  Charred scallops and seared meat.  Warm rubber.  A sweet and savoury collision.  A slight leathery note in the background.  Iodine and apples.  Tangy…like a good BBQ sauce.

Palate:  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  What an arrival!  If only the stocks existed to make this recipe a staple in the core releases.  Big tart, green notes.  Black licorice meets blackberry jam.  A mouthful of strong, strong medicine.  Loads of syrupy dark fruits.  Loads of smoke.  Lime zest, bittersweet chocolate and a hint of coffee.

Thoughts:  I expected a bumpier ride, to be honest, but this is a freaking great build.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:23 pm
Dec 112015
 

Ardbeg Supernova 2014137

55% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Yes, I realize I’m gonna get lambasted by the righteous for this review, but I really don’t give a shit.  So be it.  Those that want me to negate any positivity toward all whiskies that are NAS will be chomping at the bit to have their say here, so let’s get it out of the way early, before I explain my reasonings (no, not justifications):  yes, I really like this whisky, and no, I do not support the philosophy or pricing behind it.

At one point Ardbeg was unquestionably my favorite distillery.  In terms of consistently producing solid releases they’re definitely still at the top of the heap, but unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile a love like this with my own moral standings regarding whisky.  Yes, I have such things as moral standings.  I do still love Ardbeg.  I love the island it is from (my home away from home); I love the people at the distillery (truly beautiful souls); I love the smells and tastes (celestial, in my humble opinion); and I do love the aesthetics and intangibles associated.  Sometimes the ones we love most, though, have the power to hurt us deepest.  Why Ardbeg insists on this path of non age-stated malts is beyond me.

But Supernova 2014 now…is it good?  Yes, it’s actually very good.  It was bound to be, wasn’t it?  A few dissenters’ opininons aside, Ardbeg seems to be one of the few distilleries that actually seems to unite malt lovers, despite what would seemingly be a polarizing profile.  It’s not hard to recognize the inherent quality in each subsequent release, irrespective of whether or not it’s to one’s personal tastes.  Sometimes quality is objective.  The fracture point comes between those who will swallow anything and everything Ardbeg markets (literally) irrespective of price, and those who recognize that the combined might of good malt + strong marketing and aesthetics = blank check pricing policies, and are turned off by that.  Reflect back now.  Can you recall a new Ardbeg release in the last 5 or 6 years that has hit the shelves at anything less than $120 or so?  Not around here anyway.  And that is with a fairly readily-acknowledged admission to ages of really not more than ±10 years.  So, I guess the real question with Supernova 2014 is not whether or not it is good, but whether or not it is $200 good?  And sadly, no.  No, it’s not.  Around $90 will get you a cask strength 15 year old Bowmore Laimrig, and that is a stunner in its own right.  The math speaks for itself.

Ultimately Ardbeg sells, though.  The market dictates prices.  And Ardbeg will not be getting cheaper anytime soon.  C’est la vie.

Nose:  Extreme iodine.  Lots of saltwater.  Smoke and pepper.  Green mint leaf candies.  A little bit of cinnamon coming through.  Ash and licorice.  Evergreen.  Coke and lime.  This is huge stuff.  The sherry influence makes this a lot mustier and damper than the razor sharp SN2010.

Palate:  Wood smoke.  A lot of salt licorice.  Smoke…and more smoke.  Citric tartness.  Granny smith apple skins and clean oak shavings.  Quite drying as it fades out.  There’s more, but you don’t need more.  Tangy, smoky, licorice-y.  Awesome, really.

Thoughts:  To be concise: a very good, very overpriced malt.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:40 am
Nov 172014
 

Ardbeg Kildalton (2014)043

46% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Some whiskies carry a story.  Not the marketing department fluff or the PR nonsense, mind you, but the personal tales we relate back to them.  They become sort of timeless and cherished through the memories we associate back to the opportunities we had to taste them.  Ardbeg’s Kildalton 2014 is one of those whiskies for me.

I first tried this Kildalton with a group of good friends before a great meal at a very special Ardbeg event.  Imagine an evening of brilliant peated malts, a setting sun, long limo rides, a Top Chef-catered multi-course dinner in an isolated setting and spectacular cigars to close it all out.  Fortunately, I don’t have to imagine; instead, simply remember.  I should acknowledge here that it’s truly interesting to note how many of my favorite malt memories are intertwined with drams from this incomparable Islay distillery.  Not a coincidence, I’d suggest.

This special limited one-off Ardbeg was released in order to raise money for something called The Kildalton Project.  This undertaking – sanctioned by Ardbeg (LVMH), the North Highland Initiative (NHI), and HRH Prince Charlie – is an effort to “support ‘fragile, rural communities’ across the North Highlands’.  In particular, a good portion of the funds are to be used to restore the St. Columba Village Hall in the distillery’s near-neighbouring village of Port Ellen.  Neat.  And rather admirable.

This 2014 Kildalton is not to be confused with the now-legendary 2004 release under the same appellation.  The earlier incarnation was a lightly peated dram, but at a higher bottling strength.  It is also very limited and zealously coveted by Ardbeg collectors.  While I’ve not yet tried that earlier version, I can attest that the 2014 is a stunner.  A tasteful vatting of ex-bourbon casks and new and refill sherry butts.  Simple and elegant.  I’m happy to see an Ardbeg that hasn’t been tinkered with too much.

And finally, the name of this expression – for those who may not be fully ‘in the know’ – is a tribute to the spectacular and monumental high cross of the same name at the site of the ruined Kildalton Parish Church on the Southeast end of the island.

Nose:  Smoky and briny, but soft for a contemporary Ardbeg.  Vaguely Laphroaig-ish (Hmmm…slightly more than ‘vaguely’, actually).  Lemon squeezed over oysters on the half shell.  A little bit of lime and chocolate too.  Quite coastal and oceanic.  Salty and peppery.  Fennel.  Green Jolly Ranchers.  All told, though…quite soft and creamy dessert-like (think Airigh Nam Beist vanilla notes).

Palate:  Gentle arrival.  Anise.  Wet rock.  Briny shellfish.  Smoke.  Poached pear.  Lemon pepper.  Grilled meat.  A little bit of coffee with good cream.  Good balance of peat and sweet.

Thoughts:  Great ‘pure’ Ardbeg.  This is Ardbeg the way it should be served up.  Austere and classy.  The only way I would have tweaked this one would have been to leave it at cask strength.  Sadly, not one a lot of Ardbeg fans will be able to try, as this release was (is?) a distillery-only exclusive release.

*Sincere thanks to our mate Andrew Ferguson for surrendering a good portion of valuable suitcase room in order to bring me back a bottle of this malt from the distillery earlier this year.  Slainte!

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:27 pm
Jun 232014
 

Ardbeg Auriverdes001

49.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

I doubt there’s a ‘buzzier’ whisky out there right now.  Even still…and much as usual…we’re a little late to the party.  I did get to try a couple drams of this on release day, but am only now getting ’round to sharing some proper tasting notes and personal thoughts.  Oh well.  I’m not even remotely worried about being first with these reviews; just the last one standing.  😉

Let’s take it back to square one for a moment or two.  Each year at the end of May/beginning of June Ardbeg takes the whisky world by storm, launching their latest novelty limited release.  A couple years back was the eponymous ‘Ardbeg Day’.  Last year’s release was given the appellation of ‘Ardbog’.  And this year we have ‘Auriverdes’.  The linguists out there (of which I am not one) may recognize the roots of this one in the Latin ‘auri’ for gold and ‘verdes’ for green.  Aside from the immediate and obvious connotations (gold liquid in the green bottle), there’s a deeper resonance with this choice of name.

2014 is the year of the World Cup (in fact, we’re smack dab in the middle of WC fever as I write this).  This year’s host nation is Brazil, whose team’s nom de guerre just happens to be…yep…’Auriverdes’.  Clever cheeky folks at Ardbeg, huh?  Ok, ok…the Ardbeg to football connection may be tenuous at best, but we’ll let it slide so long as the end product is a good ‘un.  But we’ll get to that momentarily.

Here in Calgary this year, our local Ardbeg Embassy and regional distillery representation pulled together a hell of an Ardbeg Day celebration.  This was a joint effort between local LVMH representation (Charton Hobbs) and Calgary’s Unquestionable whisky champion (Andrew Ferguson).  I won’t get into all details here, but before the day culminated in popping the cork on four and a half litres of ‘Auriverdes’, there was riot of an Ardbeg Day football (soccer) game, pitting team ‘Auri’ against team ‘Verdes’.  Sad to say I can’t report that the good guys won (i.e. the team captained by yours truly) but that’s ok…I’ve always been more of an antihero kinda guy, myself.  Either way…a very memorable occasion and launch for a very memorable dram.

Ok…media blitzing and marketing buzz aside…what makes this new evolution in the Ardbeg canon stand out?  A new ‘innovation’ in the handling of the cask heads this time.  Apparently one barrel end was lightly toasted to release more of a light vanilla influence, while the opposite was more heavily charred to elicit darker coffee-like notes.  The cynic in me would like to elicit a hearty and dismissive ‘pfffft‘, but the simple fact is…you can’t argue with results.  If that really was what was intended all along, it was a heartily realized experiment.  The whisky does indeed carry these very characteristics, and quite at the forefront too.

Auriverdes is a return to a more mature (though I don’t believe this is all that advanced in terms of actual years) and somewhat lighter style.  It takes me back to the Airigh Nam Beist from a few years ago.  And I have to say that I like it much.  VERY much.

Nose:  Sweet, sweet peat.  And smoke, of course.  Anise…fennel.  Salt, pepper and ginger.  A substantial lime note.  Touch of lemon too.  Honeydew melon and other soft, faint fruits.  Quite creamy.  Those coffee/mocha notes that are being advertised everywhere are indeed here.  With quite some vanilla as well.  Ice cream-ish.  Love the oak notes; those both fresh and burnt to ash.  Great nose all around.

Palate:  More lemon, with licorice, tar and damp ash.  Surprisingly sweet and soft.  Gentle smoke (well…gentle for someone accustomed to Ardbeg’s usual fare).  Lively wood notes.  Sharp coffee and dark chocolate (but not too heavy on these notes).  Much going on here.  Neat citric back end (is that grapefruit?!?).  Also…more medicinal than I generally find Ardbeg.

Thoughts:  Great balance on this one.  A softer Ardbeg than the last few releases.  And surprisingly…all the better for it.  The nose, in particular, is lovely.  Again…closer in style to the Airigh Nam Beist, I think.  Will have to try the two side-by-side.

 

– Reviewed by: Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Nov 282013
 

Ardbeg 1975 (Connoisseur’s Choice)002

43% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

Independent bottlings are notorious for their inconsistency.  This is observation, not criticism.  Inconsistency has led to some of the most unique and, in some cases, incredible whiskies I’ve ever tasted.  You are required, by nature, to take a bit of a flyer on ’em, but much like bucking the odds at the track, the payoff can be astronomical.

Now…let’s get down to brass tacks here…

Ardbeg is my favorite distillery.  I don’t even pretend to hide the bias.  Some bottlings are obviously better than others, but if I were to average and weight my scores by distillery, I can’t imagine anyone coming even close to this Islay mecca’s dominance.  Consistently high marks by a nearly unanimous field of writers, critics, reviewers etc indicate I’m far from alone in recognizing the high quality of spirit flowing off the stills at Ardbeg.

Now one of Ardbeg’s great strengths, I think, has always lain in its incredible vatting abilities.  It’s no small secret that early Uigeadails (and maybe later?), bottles of the 17, Lord Of The Isles etc were helped along immeasurably by the inclusion of some older casks in their respective vattings.  I have no idea to what degree that is still going on, but man…there are some nuances and shades in many of the Ardbeg releases that should only be found in mature whiskies, and not certainly not in the youthful peat beasts they keep unleashing of late.

Having said all of that…what happens when Ardbeg isn’t able to do large vattings?  Such as in a case like this one where G&M were responsible for bottling.  Being as there is no cask information on the packaging, I can only assume that this was a marriage of a few Ardbeg casks which this independent bottling giant had in its vast whisky warehouses.  Not certain, but either way…I’ll take it.

Right now we’re looking at a 1975 Gordon & MacPhail release from under the Connoisseurs Choice brand.  Unfortunately the decision was made to drop the abv down to a more palatable strength (ahem…read: watering it down = more bottles released = more profit), but that can be overlooked if the drink is still good.  I’m sure I don’t really need to say it, but with a whisky this old it’s well nigh blasphemy to hobble it.  Let it run.  Let it be big, bold and impetuous.

Getting beyond that initial disappointment though, the whisky itself is an absolute revelation.  Beautifully complex and bearing the fruits of a long period of coming of age.  Each year invested in maturation was time well spent.  This is great whisky, with a particularly fantastic in-sync dialogue between nose and palate.

Here’s to more old Ardbeg crossing our palates soon.

Nose:  Soft and crumbly iced sugar cookies.  Very mild peat and smoke.  Mild lime…mild melon.  Softly spicy.  Is that kiwi fruit?  Not sure, but my mind keeps coming back to it.  Cinnamon.  Faint old dunnage warehouse.  Some salty and peppery notes begin to emerge after a few minutes.  As do some greens.  There’s a savoury note too which I can’t quite put my finger on.

Palate:  So beautifully matured.  The peat is just an ethereal memory here, but the smoke is still there to a wee degree.  A little bit of anise meets mouth-watering sweet fruits white fruits.  Cinnamon cookies.  While I love fiery young peat, this is where my heart lies now.  Older Islay malts are like distilled angel tears.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:33 am