Arbdeg 1994 (Cadenhead’s)

Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottled: 2007, Distilled: 1994
Age: 13 years old
Bottler: Cadenhead’s
Bottles: 318
ABV: 58.4%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a little treat from Cadenhead’s… A peaty teenager from Islay. The 1994 vintage Ardbeg, aged for 13 years in a Bourbon barrel and bottled at cask strength.

Noteworthy because it was distilled while the distillery was owned by Hiram Walker. Glenmorangie bought Ardbeg in 1997, and their standard releases (except for Ardbeg 10) are typically now released without an age statement. Old Ardbeg tends to sell for a premium, so it’s nice to a) try spirit older than 10 years, and b) have a go with a bottling from the old regime.

Nose: Coal, rock dust, rubber, dense oily smoke, sticking plasters, dried salt, pine resin.

Palate: Oily malt biscuit, brine, swiftly evolves into dry smoke, tea, liquorice, grapefruit, cloves, and pepper. Little floral/herbal notes of violet and lavender.

Finish: Citrus, Brazil nuts, and dry smoke.

I do like the modern Ardbeg expressions, but this is different – very mineral-rich, and more savoury and drying than the 10 year old, with subtle nuances (I think cask strength probably helps here…). I also reckon the lack of wine-cask means more flavour’s drawn from the barley and the oak.

I’m not sure if the Bourbon cask was a first-fill or not but I don’t get the typical whiff of vanilla, or the sweet spice. So I’m tempted to suggest the flavour comes from good spirit, good distillation, and good oak.

“As it should,” the purists might say…

Just for contrast, here’s my notes for Ardbeg 10…

Nose: Barley grass, definitely vanilla, coal tar smoke in evidence, tarred-rope and maritime/fish notes.

Palate: Sweet vanilla, tangy smoke, citrus fruits, cloves. Not as drying as the older Ardbeg.

Finish: Peppery, with a charred oak flavour and salted cashews.

It’s good, of course – Ardbeg 10 is one of those Islay staple drams that’s consistently good quality. I think there’s a first-fill Bourbon influence  – I get less barley flavour and more vanilla sugar. Also, the smoke is still coal-tar in nature but it’s less pronounced, and not as drying and the mineral notes are more in evidence as maritime/coastal scents.

So, is older Ardbeg better than modern Ardbeg? I think “better” is the wrong word…

It’s probably more in keeping with an older style of whisky production, which definitely gives it a big appeal. Modern whisky is often accused of being too heavily groomed and doctored to fit certain profiles that keep the market researchers happy.

Either way, it’s a pleasure to drink both of them. And I’ll be keeping an eye out for more old Ardbeg, provided it isn’t attached to a daft price tag.

I got my Ardbeg 1994 sample on WhiskySample.nl, but they’re all gone now. Keep an eye out on auction sites for older Ardbeg – you might get lucky with a sane price.

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Talisker Special Vatting

Distillery: Talisker
Bottled: 2007
Age: NAS
ABV: 53.9%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Boot leather, sea water, crayons. Sweet malt, with a slight whiff of sulphur.

Palate: Boiled sweets, vanilla, apricot, acidic peat, lemon, and iodine.

Finish: Salt and pepper, and slightly drying mouthfeel of stewed tea leaves.

Quite a simple, but tasty dram. Sweet and peat, at a good cask strength. It’s more interesting than standard Talisker but I don’t think I’d buy a bottle at the distillery for £90.

There’s nothing outrageous going on with the flavour, but it’s a solid whisky. If someone was offering, I wouldn’t turn down a second measure.

Samples available on WhiskySample.nl for €14.50.

Bruichladdich Cuvee 407 PX

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2012
Age: 21 years old
Bottles: 18,000
ABV: 46%
Cask: American Oak with a finish in Pedro Ximénez sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Wood lacquer, chocolate, red wine, red liquorice, strawberry laces, sandalwood and cigar box.

Palate: Muscavado, rich malt sugar, salty toffee, cola syrup, caramelised apple, dark cherry, dates, and cinnamon spice.

Finish: Long and tingly with more cigar box.

Interesting. In many ways, it has a lot in common with a well-aged dark rum with sugar, spice and wood dominating the palate.

I think the PX finish definitely does the whisky a favour, because I get the impression this particular batch of spirit wasn’t cut particularly well. Even aged 21 it feels quite hot. Not unpleasantly so, but not as smooth and refined as I’d expect of a modern Bruichladdich that’d been in cask more than two decades.

Distilled in the neglected days of Whyte and Mackay ownership, it’s a respectable recovery by Jim and the current Laddie team that still yields some great dusty wood and aromatic sherry fruit flavour.

There are three Cuvée bottlings in this particular series: 640 Eroica (a brandy finish), 407 La Noche Bocca Arriba (PX), and 382 La Berenice (Sauternes/Barsac wine). All the same stock from American oak, and finished up to 21 years old. All are still available on the market (try Whisky Exchange) for around £90-£100.

Linkwood 30 (Rare Malts)

Distillery: Linkwood
Bottled: 2005, Distilled: 1974
Age: 30 years old
Bottles: 6,000
ABV: 54.9%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s one of those whiskies that makes you sit back, take in a breath, and sigh…

Some kind soul put a bottle out on the dram table at Dramboree 2014. Of the 200 bottles out on the table, I think I’m right in saying this one was the first to disappear*.

At an event like Dramboree, you can’t realistically take tasting notes. It’s more fun just to enjoy and chat to the other attendees about the whisky. So I’ve really looked forward to cracking open this sample and spending some quality time with it…

Nose: Lovely refined barley with sweet hay and a suggestion of tobacco. Underneath, there’s a host of fruity sweet shop aromas – stewed cooking apples, pear drops and candy with a cloud of sherbet in the air that tingles the nostrils.

Palate: Syrupy and sweet. Leads with barley candy and thick malty notes, like the core of a hearty stout ale. Gooseberry and pears, with a wonderful zesty sherbet edge. Cinnamon spices and milk chocolate.

Finish: Sweet oak and barley grass.

This is an elegant and graceful whisky that builds its character around simple but exquisitely well-balanced flavours of barley and oak.

Takes me right back to Loch Lomond.

Dramboree
Sublime…

You can get a 60ml sample of Linkwood 30 from WhiskySample.nl for €26.50.

* I have to say, they didn’t all get emptied! By the end of the three-day event most of the bottles people brought were at least half full. Only the really interesting ones disappeared.

Terroir: Tasting the Port Charlotte/Octomore Islay Barley

I was wandering around the local Booths the other day, and what should I see on the shelves but the Islay Barley releases of Port Charlotte and Octomore! In a bloody supermarket, no less. Well played, Booths, well-played.

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And, as if I need any more excuse to taste a pair of whiskies from those progressive folks on the shores of Loch Indaal…

Terroir

Bruichladdich have made a big deal of “terroir” for a number of years, and have already had several Islay barley releases of their unpeated spirit on the market for some time. There’s already a Scottish Barley release for Port Charlotte and Octomore, but now we finally have versions of each using only barley grown on Islay itself.

Terroir is a French word with no direct English translation. Essentially, it means “from the earth” and describes the unique character that a place imparts on a wine, a cheese, a whisky, or any other organic creation.

The now retired Duncan McGillivray “in the field”

The Port Charlotte is a vatting of spirit produced with barley from several farms on the island; the Octomore is the ultimate expression in terroir, having been grown in a single field (“Lorgba”, if you must know) on Farmer James Brown’s farm, Octomore (after which the whisky itself is named).

At this point, I have to mention that in-spite of being made with 100% Islay barley that was mashed, distilled, matured and bottled on Islay – the barley did make a brief trip to the mainland to be malted and smoked. I expected it to have been done at the Port Ellen maltings, but apparently not. So, the accolade for the whisky that’s 100% made (from seed to bottle) on Islay still sits with Kilchoman for their 100% Islay bottlings.

Oh well, as I’m sure NASA like to remind people: being first isn’t everything. I’m pretty sure nobody else has ever released a whisky that can trace its origins back to a single field!

Port Charlotte Islay Barley

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 2008
ABV: 50%
More Info: WhiskyBase

This is a 6-year-old Port Charlotte, though it’s not officially age-statemented on the bottle.

Like other distilleries of late, the marketing department seeks to make the packaging as attractive to new drinkers as possible so the age isn’t in evidence (perceived as a bit alienating and old-man-ish). Bruichladdich are usually very forthcoming on the details for their whiskies*, though, so there’s no secret about when it was distilled or when it was bottled – you just have to do the maths yourself.

Seems a fair compromise to me. And, let’s be honest, the tin and bottle do look fantastic. Time to drink!

Nose: A walk on the clifftops. Muddy boots, beeswax, lavender, wet flowers, with dusty icing sugar, barley sugar, salty sand, pear skin and a little tropical papaya.

Palate: Sweet and salty, with a rich and buttery maltiness. Grassy notes with honey and lemon throat sweets, ripe pears and a rising crisp dry peat smoke.

Finish: Toasted oak, black tea.

I really like this. This is a tasty PC bottling with enough going on with the nose and palate to contend with the flavour of bottlings that are twice its age. No fancy wine finishes, either, just straight-up ex-Bourbon barrels for that clean, maritime, peaty profile around a buttery, slightly-citrus core spirit.

Very well priced, this. £48 in Booths, Media City. Similar prices online from the usual suspects.

Octomore 06.3 Islay Barley

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 2009
Age: 5 years old
Bottles: 18,000
ABV: 64%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Quite dark in the glass for a five-year-old. Thick line of oil sticks on swirling. At 64%, this is serious stuff!

Octomore releases always push the limit when it comes to peating levels but this is a whopper even compared to others in the range. Typical peating levels are 167 parts of phenol per million – this release weighs in at 258PPPM!

Nose: Savoury, cooked meats, sweet Summer hay, sea spray, thyme and lavender. Quite grassy, and nowhere near as phenolic as you’d expect for such an intensely peated malt.

Palate: Very malty to start. Intense medicinal rush, calms down to reveal a little barbecued banana. Lots of deep, earthy, vegetal and herby notes among the peat. There are sweeter, raisiny, chocolatey, coffee notes in there too – odd since I don’t think the spirit’s seen the inside of a sherry barrel.

Finish: Salty butter on toast, liquorice root, smoked cheese. Long – very long. Lip-smacking ages after it’s gone.

Phwoar. This is going down beautifully… It’s comforting, but fierce. Earthy, but sweet too. So many outdoor notes of herbal vegetation – you can nose it for hours and still find more character appearing.

Love the frosted glass on the bottle, too. It harks back to Octomore 04.2, “Comus”, and looks… well, sexy as all hell.

Not cheap at £130 in Booths, though online retailers seem to be pitching it at £145-£155 so it’s a decent saving and not exactly an order of magnitude more expensive than the Scottish Barley Octomore.

In Closing

As usual, Laddie have made a a couple of honest, charming, thought-provoking drams that are a true snapshot of the place in which they’re created. I like the Port Charlotte more than the Scottish Barley release, and it’s definitely good value if you want an interesting peated dram.

The Octomore, though, is utterly glorious. So much going on in the glass, and devastatingly easy to drink even at full cask strength and with all that peat. Velvety, sweet, savoury, herbal, earthy and lip-smacking on the long finish.

I poured a glass for myself and my folks recently. My dad’s a huge peat freak so I knew he’d be intrigued, but my mother typically only goes for a nip of something mild and sweet. To my great surprise, she loved it, and asked for another dram! If that isn’t a rousing success, I don’t know what is…

I often wax lyrical about Bruichladdich but I have to say, hand on heart, the Islay Barley Octomore is the best Octomore I’ve ever tasted. Bravo!

 * Except perhaps when it comes to what Jim puts in the Black Art

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014

Distillery: Ardbeg
ABV: 46%
Cask: Bourbon and refill sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Back to Islay for my next dram, and that ever-popular of the Kildalton three: Ardbeg.

The Kildalton Cross is a special release bottling that’s got the collectors in fever pitch and the auction sites buzzing. Given the prices on the secondary market, and the huge furore surrounding purchase from primary sources, I usually give the Ardbeg special editions a miss (though I’m always ready to taste a sample, of course).

Popular opinion of the quality of Ardbeg special editions varies greatly, particularly with the tendency to release NAS whisky of late. The Feis Ile release this year, Auriverdes, had a lot of negative reactions (I think it was the only NAS whisky on offer during the festival, besides Laphroaig’s Cairdeas).

I can understand the disappointment when special editions don’t have age statements, though I have to say right now that I love the distillery’s standard NAS releases Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. I usually have a bottle of the former open on my whisky shelf and it makes me smile every time I pour a glass. For the price, it may actually get you the best value for money when it comes to Islay drams.

So in my eyes, when it comes to Ardbeg, it needn’t be an old specimen to be balanced, interesting, and tasty.

The 1980 and 1981 Kildalton releases at cask strength have great reputations among Ardbeg fans of old. But will this non-cask strength NAS release of the same name fire up a new generation and keep the die-hards from pining for the good old days…?

Having never been lucky enough to try those older vintages, I should be safe from pie-eyed nostalgia at least. Time to taste!

Nose: Surprisingly calm, with a clinical character. Gentle medicinal peat smoke, bandages, sea water and soft leather. Not a hint of fruit.

Palate: Vanilla toffee with ginger and almonds. A little cough mixture. The trademark Ardbeg peat is in there, but it’s not as robust as core expressions. Instead of starting on full-blast phenols and tailing off, the smoke builds in the mouth. Touch of seaweed in there.

Finish: A smidgeon of dried fruit, but quite tart – more like apricots than raisins. Some drying, nutty, oaky notes linger.

Frankly, this is a very bland expression for Ardbeg. I can see the attraction for them to produce a thought-provoking, subtle, refined whisky to contrast with the loud, intense, party-in-your-mouth profiles we know and love. But, this isn’t it.

It took quite a long time to open up and for distinct notes to present themselves. I daren’t add water at all, lest all flavour disappear entirely.

To be honest, it’s not unpleasant. It’s not a bad whisky. But my mouth misses the party. It’s like sipping a flat cola, the flavour is familiar but it doesn’t hit the spot like you’d hoped. Like going round to an old school friend’s place after years and finding they’ve become a bit… well… boring.

I could let them off given that this was a release to raise money for charity, and so much of it will sit unopened in a cabinet to be admired. But this isn’t what I love about whisky – I need flavour. If there’s poetry on the palate then you could serve me the liquid in a shoe – the bottle, box, and marketing-bollocks is all a discardable vessel to get the whisky to my face.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I tried 2014’s Supernova release and it was absolutely thrilling. A rocketship on the marketing material and a cosmic explosion on the palate. If that whisky was a spaceman then I think this one is an accountant – not an unpleasant person to be with, per se, but he’s no Buzz Lightyear.

Stick to what you’re good at, lads. Loud, mad, boisterous whisky at cask strength. It’s not the lack of age statement here that’s let you down – it’s more a lack of character and a lost sense of adventure.

There’s samples of this on Master of Malt for £10.57 if you fancy a go.

Littlemill 21 (Master of Malt)

Distillery: Littlemill
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 1991
Age: 21 years old
Bottles: 273
Bottler: Master of Malt
ABV: 52.4%
Cask: Refill Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

My gosh, this is out of character for me! Not only am I drinking a Scotch whisky from the mainland, but it’s one from the Lowlands region. And not just any Lowlands Scotch, either – one from a long-gone distillery.

You don’t often come across Littlemill whisky. The distillery was actually set up in the 1700’s so had a long history of producing spirit in Dumbartonshire. It went through various hands over the years, before it was mothballed in the 1990’s and eventually dismantled. Then, in 2005 it was gutted by a fire. As a result, the building’s remains were levelled, and I’m told a housing development is now where it used to be.

When in production it had a single wash still (and spirit still) with a 750 litre output. Pretty small by modern standards. Small, but perfectly formed?

Let’s find out…

Nose: Oooh! Definitely a whiff of new shoes, followed by lemon sponge, mown grass, biscuits, ripe pineapple and mango pulp.

Palate: Soft and creamy with lemon essential oil, lychee, runny honey, malt biscuits, olive oil, leading to lovely tingly sherbet.

Finish: Lip-smacking with a hint of hazelnuts.

This is absolutely lovely stuff. Light, floral, grassy, citrus-zesty, and malty with a gentle peat influence. Really goes down very well indeed. What a shame it’s gone 😦

If you ever get a chance to try Littlemill then go for it. Bottlings aren’t as outrageously priced as Port Ellen and Brora but I’d imagine they’ll get prohibitively expensive over the years as stocks dwindle…

This sample came from Master of Malt, but it looks like I bagged the last one. Sorry!