Jun 172017
 

Ardbeg Kelpie

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

It’s that time of year.  That May / June window when the fiercest of Islay distilleries releases its latest bit of spirit alchemy on the wider whisky world.  It’s a time that polarizes like almost no other in these circles.  On the one hand, the haters, who detest the gimmickry, marketing hype, youthfulness and lack of age statement.  And let’s not forget a price point that outstrips the core range.  On the other hand, the lovers, who are hooked long before the bottles ever hit the shelf.  These latter, acolytes for life, irrespective of all the aforementioned negatives, ready to lay out the bucks for the lore, the aesthetic, the tongue-in-cheek fun and let’s be honest with ourselves…an unbelievably uniform level of quality.

The simple fact remains, even the worst Ardbeg releases are still better than almost anything else in their weight class.  Price may be a little contestable (depending on where you live), but at least you know you’re not ending up with an bottle of swill at the end of the day.  Kelpie is no different.  This one did some slumbering in barrels constructed of oak harvested from somewhere near the Black Sea.  Apparently we have a mix of straight bourbon-matured Ardbeg and these rather unique Russian barrels.  Neato.

And a Kelpie?  Said apparition is some sort of water demon said to haunt the island’s rocky shores in the form of a nightmarish marine bull or stag sort of creature.  Ummm…’kay.  Let’s go with that.  I admit it, I love the angles Ardbeg seems to find time and again.  We keep talking about it, so it’s obviously working.

But ultimately, all that matters is quality.  Whisky served up this young is rarely going to break that 90 point mark for me nowadays (yass, yass, I’m a jaded old fuck, I know), but high 80s speaks volumes, I think.  May not be for everyone – and this will do little to placate the haters – but it is really good whisky.  In spite of that…can’t help but wish we were seeing older releases with age statements.  Oh…and at fair prices, I should add.

Either way…my Ardbeg love continues on unabated.

Nose:  Whoa.  This seems young.  Seven or eight maybe?  Warm rubber (like bicycle tires in the sun or newly-worn Welly boots), dark chocolate, black coffee, oily vanilla bean.  Licorice.  There’s a fleeting note of Cherry Cordials here.  A mix of olive brine and lime juice.  A little bit of orange.  Some medicinal notes.  There’s a neat savouriness too that hearkens back to Alligator.  Bucketloads of peat smoke and Islay-ness.

Palate:  Slightly rubbery here too.  Peat is sharp and on the attack.  Everything is cloaked in smoke.  Now some softer fruity notes emerge and the mouthfeel becomes surprisingly creamy.  Some orange and lime again.  Firm oak, without being vanilla-laden.  A bit of salted licorice.  The malt is sweet and brings cereal notes that are clean and rigid.  Nice.

Thoughts:  Make no mistake, this is huge whisky.  The 46% abv belies how massive it really is.  Incredible times when 46% seems anemic, no?

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:39 am
Jun 172017
 

Caol Ila 31 y.o. Cask #2930 (Silver Seal)

54.2% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Check out that bottle!  One of the coolest, most retro looking pieces of whisky-ware I’ve yet seen.  Not that we decide our whisky opinions on the aesthetics, but credit where credit is due, right?  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re sipping a 31 year old cask strength from one of Islay’s most consistently enjoyable distilleries.  Especially as regards older malts.

Caol Ila ages beautifully.  I think we’ve discussed this in other places.  In many ways it’s like the poor man’s Port Ellen.  The spirit is peated to about the same specs, would have been casked into wood procured under the same wood policy and, in cases such as this, matured to an age we see most Port Ellen releases at.  Let’s not forget that Diageo owned Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Port Ellen at the same time.  But at the heart of it all, the most important factor is that the oily spirit marries well with wood for extended periods of time.  In fact…I don’t believe I’ve ever met an over-oaked Caol Ila.

And as for this Silver Seal…gorgeous.  Rich and classic.  Elegant, to be sure, but with enough bombast to please the discerning.  The phenols in this malt fade to wispy tendrils of austere beauty, but that mature smoke brings a complexity I miss in modern malts.

Let’s face it…the Italian independent bottlers know their whisky.  Between these guys, Samaroli and Wilson & Morgan there are some spectacular casks on the market.

Nose:  Slightly doughy with a pepper note.  Some light peat and smoke.  Hints of candy and bubblegum.  Nice citrus backbone.  A hint of grassy, herbal tea notes.  A hint of savoury herb, maybe oregano.  Salt and pepper.

Palate:  Grassy arrival.  Very oily.  More smoke now.  Oak is assertive, but pleasant.  Neat fruity and sweet development.  Linseed oil.  Citrus peel.  Earthy, peaty notes sprinkled all over this one.  Nice tart closeout here.

Thoughts:  Very nice whisky.  Rich throughout.  Balanced and delicious.  This is the first Silver Seal malt I’ve tried.  Hope to get my hands on more.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:29 am
Jun 032017
 

Caol Ila Connoisseurs Choice 2003 (Gordon & MacPhail)

46% abv

Score:  90/100

 

It’s become a bit of a thing.  We go to Islay.  We buy a bottle (or two) for drinking around the hotel (or B&B) and in between times.  And consequently that bottle becomes an object of some sentimentality.  It helps, of course, when the whisky turns out to be brilliant.

This G&M 2003 was just such a case.  A dozen years old and a firecracker of a malt.  Five of us on Islay last September found this bottle intriguing enough to cough up a few quid for when we saw it at both the Co-op and the Whisky Shop.  We pooled our schillings, popped the cork and poured the first round and not a face in the room could help but light up in appreciation.  Brilliant dram, this.  Clean and pure and, while not exactly a classic Caol Ila, it is certainly a classic malt.  Gordon & MacPhail have some of the best barrels in the industry, and it’s a treat to see them starting to hit the shelves at 46% instead of the old 40% or 43%.  Appreciate it much.

One of our crew brought back a bottle with him, but I was butting up against my limits of what I could bring back (who am I kidding?  I demolished those limits).  Not to mention, my suitcases were bursting at the seams.  Fortunately a few bottles of this landed in Calgary not too much later and I was able to scoop one.  I think maybe we’ll save that one for a session of trip reminiscences with the boys at some point a little further down the line.

Nose:  Smoke, peat, ash and iodine.  All of which we’d likely expect.  None too delicate here.  Oil.  Earth.  Citrus.  Minerally notes.  High cacao dark chocolate.  Green rock candy.  More chocolate emerges with time in the glass, milk and white now.  Vanilla.  Some sort of fruity reduction.  A hint of bubblegum.

Palate:  Oh wow.  What an arrival.  Smoky and fruity.  The color belies how sweetly, juicy this is.  Usually this much mouthwatering juiciness comes in darker heavily sherried malts.  Some citrus again.  Smoked shellfish.  Lovely linger on all the right notes.  Smoke just builds.  Again…that touch of bubblegum.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous variant on a Caol Ila.  I think I’d guess Laphroaig blind.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:10 am