...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 16 year old 1997 Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange

Two intense Ledaigs so far this week and, yes, two very positive reviews. I'll finish up with a darker-colored Ledaig that has had a few more years in a cask. In fact it's from the '90s (ancient!). It's another Gordon & MacPhail bottling sold exclusively through a single retailer. This time it's from the big boys and girls at The Whisky Exchange, whom (I just learned) are no longer at the massive Vinopolis location, as of two years ago. So don't head over to Bank End looking for booze. Anyway, TWE usually picks good stuff. Let's see how this bottle of Tobermory's Farts fares...

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 16 years (October 23, 1997 - October 30, 2013)
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Cask number465
Exclusively for: The Whisky Exchange
Alcohol by Volume: 56.8%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Sample obtained in a swap with His Annoying Opinions. Thanks, HAO?

It has a dark gold color. The rich "refill" cask registers first in the nose: Raisins and vanilla. Dark chocolate merges with the vegetal peat. Lavender honey. Make that golden raisins and plums. Chocolate, toffee and tobacco in the palate. Pepper in the back, lime on the sides. Moderate peating. Fizzy ginger. Hints of anise and mint. The finish is its sweetest point. Then dark chocolate, soil and citrus.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The sherry gets even bolder in the nose. Buckets of dried fruit and honey. Vanilla. Less smoke than before. The palate has also mellowed, now more toasty than smoky. Ginger and bitter chocolate. A whole lotta limes. The finish is sweet and smoky. Limes and vanilla.

Oddly, the peat now returns to the nose, while the sherry fades. Simple but nice honeyed herbal peatin'. The palate is sweeter, lightly peated. Easy drinking. A little bit of pepper and minerals. A sugar-covered raisin or two. It finishes sweet and raisin-y. Peppery and lightly bitter.

This is, probably, the closest thing to a crowdpleaser amongst the three Ledaigs I reviewed this week. It's quite sweet with plenty of dried fruit and vanilla. Yet, the peat remains more Ledaig-style than Islayesque, which is much appreciated by this drinker. It's too bad I missed out on getting my own bottle, but TWE's shipping prices are forbidding.

Mr. Opinions, from whose bottle this sample was poured, found some different angles to it. He detected more smoke and ash than I did. But he did note the lime, raisins and sweets. Serge "liked it a lot", too; one or two more points than MAO and I, if such a thing can be so precisely quantified; which it can't.

Availability - The Whisky Exchange, but it's been sold out for some time.
Pricing - What kind of asshole reviews whiskies you can't buy? What kind of asshole doesn't?
Rating - 86

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Single Monster Report: Ledaig 10 year old 2004 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 900176

Are you tired of trying to figure out how to pronounce Ledaig?


Just keep it simple. Call it Tobermory Farts and you'll get to where you need to go.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Age: 10 years (November 24, 2004 - July 6, 2015)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Cask numbers900176
Bottles: 618
Alcohol by Volume: 61.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thank you to Florin, a prince, for this sample!)

Nose -
Seaweed, brine and chocolate. Yet it works. Peach, hints of grapefruit and plum. Maybe a little of the cereal Tobermory note in the background. Brash youthful peated spirit.
Palate - Massive vegetal herbal peat. Raging black smoke. Bits of toffee and butterscotch here and there. A bright ethyl zing. Hints of farmhouse, brown sugar, cinnamon and charred meat.
Finish - Embers, ashes, dark chocolate. Charred bell pepper. Some mint candy helps balance the heat.

WITH WATER (~50%abv)
Don't want to drop it lower. Mustn't weaken it.
Nose - Wow. Such ash. Very barbecue. Much amaze. So fruit.
Palate - Bitter, bitter smoke. Loads of salt and lemons. Still very herbal.
Finish - Monolithic smoke, horseradish and lemons.

A f***ing monster. A monster that f***s. Everyone.

Which is probably what our president-elect wants to be when he grows up.

Sorry, tangent.

It's been too long since I've tried a peatie beastie like this. Yeah, it's reads super young, but in this case, who cares. There's a place in the whisky world for creatures like this Ledaig. And, no, Ardbeg can't recreate this power with a future NAS special edition. And they clearly gave up on the recipe (or ran out of the casks) for their old-style Oogs and Corrys (Haim and Feldman, of course).

Where am I going with this? I don't know. It's been a tough day, people.

This whisky is big and silly. Forget adding water because that's not why you're drinking this whisky. Though the palate and finish are a little simple, the whisky on the whole can stand up to any experimental uber-peated whisky out there. And as discordant as those nose's notes look, they're fully in-tune though the energy of sheer violence.

Availability - Continental Europe, maybe
Pricing - €100+ (including VAT)
Rating - 88 (neat only, and not during summer)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ledaig 13 year old 2000 Gordon & MacPhail for Binny's

Ledaig won my heart when I first tried one of its older bottlings, five years ago. It was a peated whisky, yet so different than all the Islays. Very quirky, very weird. When I described it to people (including whisky fans), I witnessed a lot of scrunched up noses. It wasn't hip to like Ledaig five years ago. Now it's totally cool. Cask after cask of full strength young Ledaig has been winning over even the snootiest of whisky snoots. The sherry butts have drawn super duper reviews. And now young Ledaig costs as much as Kilchoman. I can't wait until Ledaig sucks again, so I can afford it. Maybe if I write three negative reviews about it this week, I can start the ball rolling on getting those prices down.

Gordon & MacPhail remains possibly the only major independent bottler that prices Ledaig reasonably. Meanwhile, Binny's exclusive casks are also often competitively priced. So when Binny's gets exclusive G&M casks and then puts them on sale, that's how a person can get a 13 year old single cask of Ledaig for $69.99. And that's probably the only way on this planet to do so right now.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: September 2000 - July 2014
Maturation: ex-sherry cask (allegedly?)
Cask number: 69
Exclusively for: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 56.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Sample obtained in a swap with MAO (Maneschewitz ACE'd Octomore). Thank you!

The nose has a remarkable lack of ethyl heat. So there's no hiding the toasted seaweed and the mossy, earthy, grungy peat. Got some funky stank on it, like someone smoke-infused some Jamaican rum dunder. Smaller notes of Meyer lemons and peaches. The palate leads off with a pure earthy peppery peat. Then a slice of parmesan cheese and maybe some extra extra sharp white cheddar. Brown sugar. Again, no heat. With time it picks up more lime juice and mineral notes. There's even a clean barley note in there. The finish has a sharp peppery edge, the seaweedy peat and the super dry cheese. Very earthy, with a citrus sweetness.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is much calmer, quieter. Fruitier. Less smoke and peat. A hint of anise. The palate remains pretty sharp, peppery and mineral. It's a little sweeter. It finishes more acidic and fruity. Mild peat. Mild bitterness.

Damn it. It's great.

Trending more along the Islay-side of Ledaig, this whisky shows absolutely no hint of its cask. So if you're looking for another richly sherried Ledaig, this isn't it. One word of warning, water nearly kills the whole thing. This might have been a 90+ whisky had it been able to swim at all. It doesn't show a whole lot of complexity, but, man, does it hit the right peat spot.

MAO, the source of this sample, found a sizable butyric pukey note in the nose which he understandably didn't find very appealing, though he still gave this Ledaig a very good rating. While I didn't nose any baby barf, there was a hell of a stank floating about it. To me it was smoked dunder. Perhaps on another day, it could have smelled like a infant had vomited up last night's cigarettes, Smith & Cross and breastmilk. A 95-point nose if there ever was one.

Availability - Binny's only, though they're running short so you may have to get it at one of their brick-and-mortar stores
Pricing - $90, though sometimes it's on sale for $70
Rating - 89 (neat only!) (please also note my disgusting Ledaig bias)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Diving for Pearls in 2017

Hi. I am the creator.

Of Diving for Pearls. I write the posts and attempt to keep The Big Whisk(e)y list up to date. Sometimes I add things to the right side of the page. Sadly, if you're reading this on a mobile device, you can't see the right side of the page, which is a shame because it's amazing.

I live in Ohio. I used to live in Los Angeles County. My wife supports this blog and represents 25% of my readership. My daughter just graduated into pull-up diapers and threenager-dom. I'm doing some freelance work that's keeping me very busy right now, but will likely dry up just when it's getting good. Is this the face of an optimist?

This Blog

When I started this blog in 2007, I wrote about film, music and my personal life. In 2011, I went from being a whisky enthusiast to a full-on fanatic. Gradually, whisky-themed posts took over the entire blog. By 2013, my natural cynical tendency, which had slipped into the occasional post, had spread like a little drop of ink in a glass of water until it tinted every whisky thing I wrote.

In January 2015, I posted a three-part series entitled What Was the Scotch Boom, using public data supplied by the Scotch Whisky Association to illustrate the industry's financial reality and expose some of the myths in their narratives. Those posts garnered more reads in five days than I usually get in two months. In January 2016, I wrote a three-part follow-up called Scotch Ain't Dead Yet, updating the previous year's stats and charts, and re-examining the narratives. Again, readers seem to have enjoyed it.

My plan was to continue these studies, but the Scotch Whisky Association still hasn't released the data for 2015. If they do, then I will happily write another set of posts studying scotch whisky sales, volumes and prices. If they don't, well, I'll figure out something.


So what about now? I spend an increasing percentage of my casual (read: note-free) alcoholic beverage indulgence sipping on drinks other than whisky. Taking beer and wine into consideration, non-whisk(e)y things make up almost half of my alcoholic drinks.

You will have noticed that an increasing contingent of excellent whisky bloggers have begun to mix in reviews of other aged spirits with their whisky posts. That's awesome, and I hope more whisky bloggers follow in their footsteps. As of this moment, I will not be joining them. I'm not prepared to pontificate on things I don't thoroughly know about. Yes, that puts me at odds with the raison d'être of the Internet.

But I'm having fun learning about non-whisky drinks and enjoying not having to consider their purpose in the cosmos. I also feel like I have a different palate than other whisky-bloggers-who-write-about-brandies-and-rums when it comes to other drinks. And I'm figuring out where to go with that.

My apologies for bombarding this site with Ardbeg reviews for the past two weeks. I had cleared my calendar space to write about the industry's financial condition. When the numbers didn't come out, I found inspiration in the Ardbeg Ten I'd just bought on sale. It was not particularly great whisky and my accumulation of Ardbeg samples had begun to get out of control. Thus all those reviews.

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday will start up again in a couple weeks. If I do choose to review non-whisky drinks, they will get their own day of the week as well so that you, the reader, will know which day to skip. I hope to do larger thinkpieces once a month (or two) about capital 'W' Whisky and small 'e' enthusiasts. And I look forward to visiting a number of American distilleries and then sharing with you what I've learned.

Not Booze

I have started and abandoned dozens of album reviews as if they were novels. Not so much with film reviews. In fact, I don't know how parents of young children get to watch any films at all. I don't watch television, and I think American politics is doing well enough publicly commenting on itself without the need for me to add to it.

My daughter and my work are the center of my life. The latter I complete anonymously, so I can't really get into it here, yet. I've chosen to tone down the frequency of posts about the former, for privacy purposes. When I do write about parenthood, it's a spur of the moment illustration of my failures (manifold!) and my successes (exiguous!). I've also reduced the amount of photos I've shared because she is her own person now (is she ever) and I'd like to protect her right to privacy. Parents who pummel social media with photos of their kids every day give me a weird feeling inside. I ponder the real purpose behind those posts, and I wonder who looks at those pictures outside of the intended audience.
Today, I'll just include this image of Emily Prime,
the star of The World of Tomorrow
Still, I will celebrate my daughter here on her birthday. And I should probably laud my young wife on hers. And goodness knows, this blog is a party on my birthday week.

To conclude

I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2017. If you're an American, please be careful about the quantity of alcohol you consume over the next four years. If you're from China, welcome! Drink single grain whisky! It's so much better than single malt whisky! If you're from another excellent country, thank you for reading my blog posts. How easy is it for a family of three to get citizenship?

As the kids in China say, 886.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Supernova (2015 release)

I've written about the 2008 and 2010 Supernovas. But this is my first time doing a proper tasting with a full sample. In the past, I've enjoyed the other Superpeater, Octomore, more. While Supernova presents its peat in a full frontal assault, Octomore feels more layered, more complex and (most importantly) more delicious. That's not to say the Supernovas are crap. I've found them to be solid B-grade stuff. Its wall of peat is difficult to scale, but once one does there's not much else to find. BUT lemme see what happens with this (alleged) final edition of the 100ppm-peated Supernova.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Supernova
Age: NAS
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels?
Limited bottling: ????
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thank you to Aaron of It's Just the Booze Dancing for this sample!)

The nose starts off with a massive note of smoked fish and vodka. It needs some time to air out... ... ... now there's coal, rubber and leather. Burnt peat. Seaweed. A little bit of pear in the background. The palate is all peat, heat and sweet. Brown sugar, marshmallows and vanilla simple syrup. Slight tanginess around the edges. More vanilla, heat, sweet and peat in the finish.

I think this stuff needs some help...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Less fish and vodka in the nose now, though otherwise similar to the neat version. The peat reads cleaner. A welcome arrival of anise and lemon. The palate grows sweeter, but with some chili oil in there to give it some dimension. Less smoky, more toasty. A mellow citrus note floats up. The finish is flat out cloying at first. With time, peat smoke and minerals join the lime candy.

Maybe some more water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Much different nose. Peated kirsch? Grainy. Slight cap gun sulphur note. Peppery peat in the palate. Limes, minerals, dried herbs and jalapeños. The finish is much less sweet. Lots of limes and peppercorns and herbs.

What an odd duck. I really don't like it in its neat form, though it's difficult to pinpoint what's technically wrong with it. I guess the palate is boring and the nose is flat (aside from the unwelcome vodka note). Things improve considerably as more and more water is added. Though the nose never does it for me, the palate shines at 40%abv. I guess there's never even a suggestion of the complexity that's found in Octomore. And, at the price the Supernova goes/went for, one should expect at least something unusual or unique.

I recognize I'm in the minority on this one. The Jug gave it an 88. This person, this person and this person love it, giving it scores from 88 to 95. Its whiskybase scores are super high. Whisky Advocate declared it the 2015 Islay of the year, though their declarations have a questionable history. Curiously, Drinkhacker, who generously dishes out A grades, gave it only a B. I'm just curious, did any of these folks tried it alongside other Ardbegs, as I did? Or how many of these people waited until the hype died down to give it a sniff? Or maybe I'm alone in hoping that the end of Supernova marks the beginning of something better.

Availability - a few dozen retailers worldwide, the secondary market
Pricing - $175-$450
Rating - 81 (with water, more lower score when neat)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Ardbog

After the Day special release, Ardbeg belched out Ardbeg Galileo. That's when the seeds of doubt started to slip in. The odd marketing manure was offputting, and the whisky was worse. Then Ardbeg Ardbog came out. By that point, I was ignoring their marketing emails and tales. I just wanted to try the whisky. But the company thought a Los Angeles-area visit was unnecessary for Ardbeg Day. There really aren't a lot of drinkers in LA, nor vacuous spendy showoffs, nor irresponsible fools. As Spinal Tap's manager said about Boston, it's not a big college town.

I can thank Andy Smith and Peatin' Meetin' 2013 for a chance to drink Ardbog. Later on, I had more opportunities to try again and again, as friends shared their bottles over time. My reaction remained the same as it was during the Meetin': Pretty good actually, just not $100 good.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Ardbog
Age: allegedly 10 years old
Maturation: 60% ex-bourbon casks and 40% ex-manzanilla sherry butts
Limited bottling: 13,000
Bottling year: 2013
Alcohol by Volume: 52.1%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thanks to Whisky Brett P. for most of the samples this week!!!)

It's the color of brass in a dark room. I don't know. It's gold-ish? There's a light tar note on the nose, along with prunes, black raisins and ginger beer. A sticky jammy note that rings more PX than manzanilla. Barbecue sauce and walnuts. Oddly, an old bourbon note sits right in the middle. Old American oak, maybe? The palate is sherried, inky and tarry. Some sweet berry compote and mint jelly. There's a little bit of dryness around the edges: oak tannins? Some of the compote remains through the finish, though it's less sweet than the palate. Zesty tart lemons and fresh ginger.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Black licorice, pruney sherry, wool, walnuts and faint wood smoke on the nose. The palate is smokier and more acidic, with a tingly bitterness. Almond paste and black raisins. The finish is bitterer, with mild peat, menthol and prunes.

I was expecting my opinion to have changed. I was expecting to like Ardbog more. It's still just fine, which is technically less than "pretty good actually".

The bourbon note threw me off. Was my sniffer out of whack? Luckily Mr. Whiskyfun found something similar: vanilla, sawdust and new active oak. I don't mind it. In fact it gives the nose an additional layer. But nothing else really stands out. I would have preferred drier manzanilla-esque sherry than the stuff that actually showed. Overall, the whisky is fine. I'd recommend the regular range over Ardbog.

Availability - several dozen retailers in the US and Europe; the secondary market
Pricing - $100-$300
Rating - 84

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Day

And this was right about when I got on the Ardbeg Train. I had experienced better-than-current-era Corryvreckan and Uigeadail about a half year before I attended my first Ardbeg Day event, in 2012, and was totally sold on the Ardbeg brand. At that Ardbeg Day event, the reps revealed the new Ardbeg limited release called......Ardbeg Day. I liked the whisky a lot, but when trying it next to Corry and Oogy, it landed in third place. The special releases were all downhill from there.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Day
Age: NAS
Maturation: two different vintage (or "styles") first aged in ex-bourbon casks, then married together in ex-Uigeadail casks for 6 months
Limited bottling: 12,000
Bottling year: 2012
Alcohol by Volume: 56.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thanks to Whisky Brett P. for most of the samples this week!!!)

The nose starts with loads of fruit and honey. Apricots and golden raisins. A floral peat (reminiscent of well-aged Longrow), then ocean-salty peat. Soil. Chocolate, dark berries, clay and baklava with honey. The palate holds dried apricots and roses. Very salty peat and smoked pork. Ethyl heat, a nice bitter bite and a slight industrial element. Its big warm finish is fruity sweet, with eucalyptus, salt and mothballs.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is more herbal and milk chocolatey. Hints of tar and floral peat. Lots of fresh plum and apricot. It gets smokier with time. There's bigger peat on the palate. Dark chocolate with dried raspberries. A mild honey sweetness and a hint of peppery mints leaves. It finishes with dark smoldering peat. Salt, sweet, soot and a great sharp edge.

This is getting fun. A little more water, perhaps?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose keeps getting smokier and smokier. Bye bye fruits. Hello bus exhaust. Big bitter herbal smoke on the palate. Salt, lemons and a tiny bit of sugar. The finish is a little sweeter, with some wood smoke.

Though I regularly tweak Lumsden and his blending teams, I must commend them on their good work here, because this is excellent whisky, a special release that's actually special. It's much fruitier and prettier than the regular range. The palate is straightforward, while the nose is complex. The whisky takes to water very well, gradually becoming more recognizable as modern Ardbeg as it's diluted. It didn't rock my world five years ago because I just wanted nuclear peat back then, and Day's subtlety was wasted on me. Man, I wish I bought a bottle then. I would have appreciated it more now.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $300-$500, holy craps
Rating - 89