Oct 152017
 

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Here we go.  New Ardbeg time.  Always an exciting thing for this guy, as you know.  In this case it was quite a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to my tasting this one.  Just so happened An Oa was released on the very day I, and a few mates, visited the distillery a wee while back.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  But late at night…after a few drams of Ardbeg…deep in my semi-delusional mental meanderings…I like to pretend they released it when they did just to commemorate my visit.

Errr…right.  Anyway…

I should confess that we drank an awful lot of this stuff on the island, and I’ve been sitting on this sample for several weeks now, so it’s simply a matter of delinquency that we’ve not gotten this posted earlier.  Hey, life is busy.  What can I say?  Either way…what say we finally get to it, yeah?

So…obviously I had very early firsthand opinions about this one, and usually my first impressions are pretty spot on with what my end impressions are.  But it’s been rather interesting to read what the wider whisky world is shouting about An Oa.  If you’ve been following along you’ll likely know that most early word is quite positive.  That is somewhat surprising, in and of itself, cause let’s face it…everyone loves to hate on Ardbeg.  To be fair to An Oa, it actually is quite decent (as is all Ardbeg, if we’re actually being honest with ourselves), but I still can’t help but find myself slightly disappointed.

I like An Oa.  Really, I do.  It’s a decent entry level Ardbeg.  The flavours are decent (young, but decent) and the whole idea of balance that the release is predicated upon is commendable.  But wait…is this really an entry level malt?  Really?  In terms of flavour profile and undisguisable youth…absolutely.  In terms of price?  Well…locally, at least, this one seems to have been positioned between the Ten and Uigeadail.  I was under the impression that this was to be the new entry level Ardbeg.  Seeing as how I can still scoop up the Ten for well under $70 in some locations ’round here, and that An Oa will retail at ~$100, I’m obviously out of sync with things.  Would love to hear something official that speaks to this.  Anyway…tasting notes…

Nose:  Noses young.  Smoke and rubber.  Custard.  A hint of banana.  Lemon.  Salt licorice.  Warm rubber.  Lime and chilis.  Straw.  Ginger.  Eucalyptus.  Soft, creamy sherry notes.  Vanilla-rich oaky bottom line.  Pleasant, but lacking.  More creamy and custard-y than the Ten (and not really better for it).

Palate:  Yep…tastes young.  Oak, vanilla.  Peat.  Loads of licorice.  Sen Sens.  Citrus zest (oily and rich).  Some of the mid-palate fruits are nice.  Orange in particular.  A lot of Granny Smith apple at the back end.

Thoughts:  Yes, it’s good.  Of course it is.  But I think we’ll stick with the Ten, to be honest.  This is too soft for an Ardbeg.  Oh…and cute marketing campaign, I should add.  As always.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Oct 122017
 

So…Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank.  Wow.  I’m in shock.

I knew Port Ellen was coming at some point.  Brora and PE announced the same day?  And Rosebank right after?  This is the second coming of the holy trinity.  I’m stunned.  Almost speechless.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this, but I’m not quite ready to articulate.  Suffice it to say I am tickled pink and not sharing the cynicism others are.  How ’bout you skeptical buggers that keep me on my toes?  Thoughts?

 

– C

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Oct 122017
 

No. 1 Vaults of Bowmore

No trip to Islay could possibly be complete without a visit to Bowmore.  I’m not speaking about the village, though the distillery is nestled right along the coastline of the beautiful little settlement, but of the distillery that has perched on this hallowed ground since at least 1779.  It is Islay’s oldest distillery and one of the oldest in Scotland.  Of course, that all rests on the presumption that you buy into the marketing hype.  As we know, we only have to look as far as Bushmills a few dozen miles across the water to recognize that a claim of longevity does not necessarily make it so.  The records from these times are maddeningly vague.  Especially for a malt geek.

But let’s not spend too much time on the whos and wheres and whens of history.  The point here is simply to share a bit about a place that has become synonymous with the legendary malts from this iconic Islay distillery.  The birthplace of drams like the Gold, White and Black Bowmore (in each of its iterations) and several stunning examples of whiskies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  Y’know…before the low road led us to that bumpy stretch of time wherein the distillery was more renowned for its lavender and lilac influence than the deep, tropical fruits that helped define what the world’s greatest whiskies really were.

A visit to the No. 1 Vaults is only possible through the highest ended Bowmore tours.  You’ll pay for the privilege, but you’ll also experience something few others will.  The warehouse sits down at the water’s edge where the waves kiss the walls and share their oceanic influence with every ebb and flow and gust of sea-sprayed wind.  Inside the walls are moldy and spongy, dank with black growth fed by the fumes of aging barrels.  The ceilings are low…the aisles are narrow and the smells are…well…let’s just say you need to experience it for yourself.

There is an element of disillusion that comes into play though nowadays.  A stroll through the casks slumbering herein shows that the warehouse is home to malt not much older than its teen years.  Unless, of course, the best of the best is squirrelled away in the darkest and dankest of nooks and crannies.  Who knows?  I think we all like to imagine this mecca teeming with stunning casks stenciled with distillation dates from the ’60s and ’70s.  Alas…none that I saw.

I visited the distillery in September of both 2016 and 2017.  The 1998 bourbon barrel (Cask #514) below was there both times, and stunning in each of its tastings (at 18 and 19 years of age respectively).  The sherry butt that we contrasted with in 2016 was an absolute fireworks show.  Deep and rich, redolent of jammy fruit and just the right amount of smoke.  The kind of malt I could have seen developing into a new incarnation of the Black Bowmore in another 25 years or so.  Sadly, that butt was peeled out for bottling sometime between visits and has now been replaced by the one fro which I’m sharing notes here (Cask #2071).  This latter is a stunner too, but not in the same league.

To be honest, I was just fortunate to be there in back to back years.  If you can make the journey over, do so.  And if you get to taste these barrels as they evolve, please share your thoughts.

Slainte.

Bowmore 1998 19 y.o. Cask #514 (Bourbon Barrel)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  An absolute soft fruit bomb.  Peat as an afterthought here, really.  Pear.  Vanilla.  Creamy custard.  Soft sugar cookies.  Roman nougat.  Crème brulee.  Soft spices, moving on medium.  Apple.

Palate:  Easy white fruits again.  Soft threads of vanilla and syrupy fruit cocktail.  Orange and cherry notes are bold and forefront.  Soft oak.  White cake.  Scones.

Thoughts:  Stunning bourbon barrel.  Again…if left for a few more years…wow.  Of course, the price would have been reflective, but I shudder to imagine what this could have been, considering what it already is.

Bowmore 2002 15 y.o. Cask #2071 (Sherry Butt)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Big, bold sherry meets peat a la Laimrig or Devils Cask.  Hints of eucalyptus.  Licorice.  Rich jammy fruits.  Faint coffee notes.  Dark chocolate (and maybe milk chocolate too).  Cherry cordial.  Dunnage warehouses (of course).  Minerally.  Salty.

Palate:  Creamy fruit notes (jammy, but think fresh cream on top of it).  Compote or coulis.  Sweet smokiness and a very appealing oiliness.  Chocolate.  More jams.  Dried fruits.  A hint of tea.

Thoughts:  Brilliant barrel.  Not as brilliant as the last, but still exceptional.  This one plays to everything I love about Bowmore.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am