Haven’t forgotten about ya. Fighting a ridiculous cold. Unless you want tasting notes for Buckleys cough syrup and hot toddies, I’m probably not much good to you right now. Back soon. Promise.
Long days we’ve waited for this. Not just this for this whisky, in particular, but for Alberta Distillers to finally shake the sleep from their heads and recognize the potential for their ultra pristine, clean and spicy, homegrown rye. I truly believe some of the world’s greatest rye whisky (and I mean real rye whisky, not simply Canadian whisky colloquially referred to as rye) is produced right here in the heart of Alberta’s most bustling metropolis. Even the standard Alberta Premium at 40% and non-age stated is knockout stuff. To finally have a cask strength version of this stuff is like Christmas come early.
But the real question, of course, is whether or not the whisky is actually good. And I’m tickled pink to report that it is much more than good. And every opinion I’ve heard from those who’ve tried it seems to fall in line as well. ADL has killed it with this release. Here’s hoping this isn’t simply a one-and-done sort of offering. It would be great to have this as a permanent addition to the core range. Especially now that Dark Horse is apparently on the way out.
It’s big, bold and brazen stuff. And we love it for all those reasons.
65.1% abv. In other words…hot, hot, hot.
Nose: Demerara sugar and maraschino. Eucalyptus. Maple syrup lollies. Coffee liqueur. Pine sap. Toasted wood. Lemon furniture polish. Apple streusel. Butter tarts. Cinnamon. Not as much vanilla as I would have expected.
Palate: Overripe banana. Crème brulee. Some nice fruity, boozy notes. A bit of raspberry and cherry. A bit of both orange and lemon zest. A thread of blueberry coulis. Beeswax. Sweet raisins. More cinnamon. And apple at the back end.
Finish: Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The aftertaste of mentholated cough syrup. Clean pine or spruce. British treacle toffee.
Thoughts: All I’d hoped for. And maybe a little bit more. The abv is near blinding, so don’t be shy with water (though I prefer it neat).
Another beauty from the Lowlands. And another drop of liquid history in the glass. St. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it has occasionally been known as) was a distillery founded on the site of a former leper colony. I may have mentioned that before. This is one of those lost distilleries that hasn’t quite caught the fancy of collectors to the same degree as a few others (whose names we’ve mentioned enough for now), but whose output unquestionably rivals some of those great legendary releases in terms of intrinsic quality. So the question, as always, is a frustrated ‘why?’ There are always answers, but none that are apt to satisfy the malt historian or closed distillery aficionado. Such is the nature of the game in an industry rife with peaks and troughs.
This uber scarce Mackillop’s Choice St. Maggie is a gem of a malt, though, so let’s simply enjoy the opportunity at hand, and not wax too nostalgic.
62.6% abv. Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2001, so…a 19 year old. From cask #1336. And sadly, long gone.
Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.
Nose: Beauty. Soft creamy, fruit notes. Well worn and oiled leather. Honey on crackers. Soft threads of smoke and melted wax. Good pastry. Stewed tropical fruits as it develops. Peach cobbler. Moist tobacco.
Palate: Velvety arrival. High quality melted chocolate. Beautifully smoky. The fruit flavours are everywhere here: threaded throughout, drizzled on top and deeply resonant at the back end. Slightly wine-y (but in a pleasant way). Apple, with some ‘almost tropical’ flavours. Toasty clean oak.
Finish: Apple skins. Pear skins. Peach pits. Clean cereals and firm oak. Loooooooooong, oh so long.
Thoughts: All I can say is…please may I have more?
Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.
We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.
Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.
I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.
All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.
I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.
So, how about some tasting notes then?
All notes; no scores.
Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.
Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.
Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.
Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.
Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.
Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.
Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.
Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.
Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.
Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.
Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.
Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.
Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.
Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.
Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.
Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.
Back about four and a half days now. And I can’t lie, I have never experienced such jet lag. I simply can’t seem to get back in the swing of things. Granted, I only took a single day of recovery before heading back to work, but still. I think I’m starting to wear my years with a little less grace than I once did. I ask no sympathy, though. How do you feel bad for someone who just spent the better part of two weeks drinking with his mates in some of the greatest warehouses in Scotland?
I have a quick malt malt feature tasting note coming later today, then we’ll start digging into trip updates, reviews and some editorializing. Bear with me. Much to come. In the meantime…it’s good to be back.
And yes…I am already planning 2020 trips.