...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Single Malt Report: anCnoc 18 year old (2016)

There are a pair of Scottish distilleries called Knockando and Knockdhu. Both were built in the 1890s. Both have been owned by the companies that later became Diageo. Both have Gaelic names that refer to 'the dark hillock'. Though I've reviewed a number of Knockandos, today's review marks my first for a single malt from Knockdhu.

Knockdhu was built by DCL in 1893, a century before the company became part of Diageo. After 89 years of production, the distillery was amongst those closed in 1983. In 1988 the distillery became one of the very few to be sold off, rather than destroyed, by DCL. The new owners, Inver House Distillers restarted production in 1989. In 1990 they released a Knockdhu single malt that had been distilled by DCL. In 1993, they changed the name of their single malt brand to anCnoc "following a gentleman's agreement ... in order to avoid any possible confusion with Knockando," as per Charlie MacLean's Whiskypedia.

anCnoc ('a hill', pronounced a-nock) has been putting out well-received (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.) whiskies for a number of years now, but really hasn't garnered any sexy cachet amongst whisky fans in the process. And I can be counted amongst that number. As of four weeks ago, I had never tried one of their US bottlings.


[DISCLOSURE: Today's bottle was sent to me by Amy from Ten27 Communications, a PR firm for InterBev, AnCnoc's parent company. Thank you, Amy.]

Distillery: Knockdhu
Owner: Inver House Distillers (via Thai Beverages plc via International Beverage Holdings Ltd.)
Type: Single Malt
Region: border of Speyside and Western Highlands
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: "Spanish oak ex-sherry casks and American oak ex-bourbon barrels"
Bottling year: 2016
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
Review taken from just above mid-bottle.

NEAT
Its color is a medium gold. The nose begins with a toasty, spicy fruitiness that I imagine comes from the Spanish oak. There are orange peels and honeydew. Toffee and fudge. Candied ginger and cherry lollipops. A hint of vanilla gives it a little bit of shortbread note too. A dusty maltiness lingers in the back. More straight up sherry in the palate, though never prune-y or raisin-ed. Toffee, citrus peels and mint. It has a mineral edge to it and solid herbal presence that almost feels peaty. A spicy white pepper note mingles with some thick malt. It finishes sweetly and full of citrus. Woody spices, candy corn and Nutella.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Thought the liquid doesn't cloud, it does get very oily. The nose is minty and chocolatey. Cherry candy, caramel and some musty cask notes. The palate gets creamier, fragrant. It's simple, but sturdy and spicy. Citrus and nuts. The finish picks up some pepper and earth, and quite a bit of tannins.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This is a very solid, textured malt, with a more interesting European oak angle than most sherried (and much more expensive) 18 year olds. It won't knock (hee) you off your seat, but it's very reliable and tasty. As a totally random comparison, it reminds me more of Arran 14 than Arran 18, which is a good thing because the 14 is my favorite of Arran's range.

The first few pours from the bottle were a bit tight, as I've found with most whiskies. But right here at the bottle's midpoint, it has opened up well. The finish gets too sugary for me at times, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth. On the other hand the whisky swims pretty well, which may be partly due to its good presentation. And that good presentation (46%abv, no chill filtration nor added colorant) demonstrates a company's respect of its products and its customers. I'm glad InterBev understands that. It's too bad that most of the other conglomerates do not.

Availability - 
Many spirits specialists in the US and Europe

Pricing - $90-$120, can also be had for less than $100 in a European shipment
Rating - 87

Monday, January 30, 2017

This February: Taliskravaganza 2017 and the return of BARD Friday!

Taliskravaganza 2014 was a delight to write, so I've been threatening to do a sequel ever since. And like any proper sequel, Taliskravaganza 2017 is going to be bigger and louder and more bloated than the original. It's going on ALL MONTH LONG. That's right. You're just lucky February is the shortest month of the year.

"Will there be relevant Talisker reviews?" you ask. "Ha!" I reply.

If you could not care less about Taliskravaganza (for shame), be comforted knowing that Bourbon and Rye Day Friday returns for perpetuity (or until I run out of samples) starting this coming......Friday. There will be old stuff, new stuff. Red stuff, blue stuff. Odds and ends. Dusties and musties.

Technically tomorrow isn't February, so I'll begin the week with a review of a current(!) whisky. And not from a sample, but from my own bottle. Amazing!

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Brief History of Ardmore Distillery (Part 3), plus a review of Ardmore 16 year old 1996 Old Malt Cask, cask 8020

History


When Allied Distillers bought William Teacher & Sons in 1976, they shut down Ardmore's on site Saladin malting box, preferring to use sourced malted barley instead. In 2002, Ardmore was the second to last distillery to move away from coal-fueled direct fired stills, transitioning to modern steam coil heating.

Allied split up in 2005, with Jim Beam Brands picking up more than 20 Scotch whisky brands, including Teacher's and Ardmore. In 2014, Beam merged with Suntory to create the massive Beam Suntory conglomerate.

Despite all these changes, Ardmore continues to produce peated Highland whisky. As of several years ago, the sourced malt had peat specs of 12-14ppm, which is almost twice that of Springbank's current levels. The malt's peat comes from St. Fergus in the Northeast Highlands, so it produces different characteristics than Islay, Northern or Western peat.

Only within the past decade has the distillery put out a steady supply of official single malt, though enthusiasts are still better served by exploring Ardmore's potential through independent bottlings.

Sources:
MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2015.
Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.




Whisky


Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 16 years (February 1996 - February 2012)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask number: 8020
Bottle: 315
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(A purchased sample)

NEAT
Its color is almost the same as Wednesday's immature 6yo Ardmore. Perhaps un-oaked chardonnay rather than pinot grigio? The nose presents an amusing duality. First there are the industrial note: new carpet, new sneakers and glossy magazine print. Then there's the fruit: peaches and pears, raspberry jam and orange marmalade. After 20 minutes or so, a wet sand note arises. Its palate's challenging quality comes not from peat but from the raw ultra-young spirit. Very spicy cinnamon notes. Hay, dried basil, white fruits and vanilla. The finish is similar to the palate. Cinnamon Red Hots candies, bran flakes, dried herbs and hay.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has barely changed. If anything, the fruit has lessened and a bit of mossy peat has joined the rougher synthetic notes. There's a better bitterness to the now leaner palate. Less sweetness, less spice. It's herbal and mineral. Savory and salty with a tiny bit of sneaker peat. It finishes salty, savory and earthy.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Another raw Ardmore. I tried this one alongside the 6yo and by the time I finished my palate was wrecked. Like the 6, the 16 reads like less than half its age statement. The 16's good nose shows some level of maturation and puts it ahead of the 6 quality-wise. It's admirably naked stuff, but even as a fan of low-oak whisky, I don't mind if I never drink this again. Which means, as enjoyable as the nose may be, I can't grade the whisky over 80.

Though I've been singing this distillery's praises for years, I've reviewed only one Ardmore that approached excellence. I guess I'm going to have to start opening up more bottles from my stash.

Availability - Still around at a few European retailers, five years later
Pricing - around €75
Rating - 78

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Brief History of Ardmore Distillery (Part 2), plus a review of Ardmore 6 year old 2008 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 800067

History


William Teacher & Sons began construction on Ardmore Distillery in 1898. William I had passed away in 1876. His son, William II, died in 1880. And before the distillery's construction had completed, Adam Teacher passed on. William's son-in-law, Walter Carl Bergius, helped run things while the company received help from the nearby Glendronach distillery to get Ardmore up and running. Production began in 1899.

The distillery expanded from one pair of stills to two in 1955, then added an additional two in 1974. While there were a few special single malt bottlings of Ardmore during this time, almost all of the spirit was needed for Teacher's Highland Cream. Demand for Teacher's increased to the point that William Teacher & Sons bought Glendronach in 1960 to help secure more malt.

In 1976, Allied Distillers bought William Teacher & Sons, picking up Teacher's Highland Cream, Glendronach and Ardmore in the process.

...stay tuned for Part 3 on Friday.

Sources:
MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2015.
Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.

Whisky

Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: van Wees (The Ultimate)
Age: 6 years (June 24, 2008 - October 29, 2014)
Maturation: Bourbon Barrel
Cask number: 800067
Bottle: 263 of 340
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Sample taken from an OCSC event bottle)

NEAT
Its color is pinot grigio or lighter. At its best, the nose reads like baby Caol Ila infused with honey. But it's not often at its best. It's mostly new make. Barley, vanilla frosting, plastic toys, Red Vines candy and stinky cheese. The palate is hot and spirity. Barley meets rye white dog. Salt, char, caramel and a late bitterness. The peat trends towards farmy. The mouth-drying finish is pretty flat with chlorine and barley notes. A quiet chocolate note in the distance.


WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is aggressively farmy. Notes of pancake mix, yeast and pears follow. The palate goes harsh. Burnt hair. Bitter ashes. A strong tanginess overtakes the mild sweetness. The finish is very tangy, very burnt and very bitter with a weird caramel note in the middle.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The Ultimate has released at least 14 casks of five-to-eight-year-old 2008 Ardmore over the past couple of years. That comes out to more than 4000 bottles of immature Ardmore. Most of these casks can be easily found any many European whisky retailers. While the prices on these bottles are very reasonable, my concern is that The Ultimate has flooded the market with casks that sincerely needed more time to mature. Why did they do this? Did they really think there's a market for this stuff? I'm their target demo and I don't want to buy a bottle of this even if I can get it for less than $40.

It's not the worst single malt on the market, but it's the least exceptional Ardmore I've ever tried. I'm actually kind of sorry I selected this bottle for a whisky event.

If you try this whisky, DO NOT ADD WATER. It's drinkable neat. Or, at the very least, it's noseable. Young peated whisky is always fun to sniff, as it blasts off in all sorts of crazy directions, and this is no exception. The palate can be trying, though. While it's probably as close to Ardmore new make we plebeians are allowed to try, it's also probably not as good as actual full strength Ardmore spirit because some unformed barrel-related notes have slipped in. And it's also not strong enough to be amusingly crazy.

Jordan at Chemistry of the Cocktail wasn't the biggest fan of this whisky either had some issues with this whisky, though he did like it more than I. Did I mention, don't add water?

Availability - Many European retailers
Pricing - most of these casks can be found for less than €40
Rating - 70 (don't add water)

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Brief History of Ardmore Distillery (Part 1), plus a review of Ardmore 16 year old 1998 G&M for Binny's

History


At the ripe old age of 19, William Teacher secured a liquor license for the grocery store owned by his girlfriend's (and wife-to-be's) mother. Around the time of his 25th birthday, he'd opened his own store, a 'dram shop'. By the time William was 40, there were 20 Teacher's Dram Shops throughout Glasgow, and he had moved into the wholesale wine and spirits business. In his time away from liquor commerce, William became a frequent pen pal of Ralph Waldo Emerson and a number of Scottish socialist leaders.

At the time of his death in 1876, William Teacher was had the largest pub business in Glasgow. His sons, William II and Adam, joined the family company in 1875, forming William Teacher & Sons. Over the next several years the sons experimented with in-house blending until they honed their craft. William II passed away in 1880. In 1884, Adam and company registered Teacher's Highland Cream, a blended whisky, and began selling it widely.

Such was Teacher's Highland Cream's success, the company was soon in need of a larger source of malt whisky. William Teacher's & Sons broke ground on Ardmore Distillery in Aberdeenshire in 1898.

...stay tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday.

Sources:
MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2015.
Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.




Ardmore 16 year old 1998 G&M for Binny's


Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Age: 16 years (September 7, 1998 - August 2015)
Maturation: refill sherry hogshead
Cask number5587
Exclusively for: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 55.5%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
Sample obtained in a swap with My Annoying Opinions. Thank you!

NEAT
Its color is a reddish brown, another loaded "refill" sherry cask? The nose begins with orange peel, toffee and seawater. It's slightly raisiny, but otherwise the sherry is light and dry. It's nutty with an herbal edge. Citronella candles and roses. A hint of smoked salmon. The palate is full of hardy, tarry, green herbal peat. Intensely bitter at times. Earthy and mineral. Limes, cocoa powder and a chili oil bite. The peat grows more rugged in the long finish. Bitter herbs, burnt plastic. Sweetness eventually emerges.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The nose is a little meatier. More nuts and salt. Anise, tar, lemons, citronella candles (again) and a hint of canned peaches. There's bitter cocoa and bitter herbs with tarry peat in the palate. This meets the toffee, honey and tropical fruit notes well. The straightforward finish is of nuts, honey, salt and bitter smoke.

WITH MORE WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has more classic wood smoke, ash and vanilla. A few pears in the mix. No sherry. The palate is sweeter, but also briny. The bitterness has cooled down. Plenty of vanilla, ginger ale and limes. More vanilla in the sweet finish. Caramel, limes and a slight bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
A good whisky with a curious cask. Its nose first told of a peatless Ardmore, but the palate spun the opposite story. As water was added, the two grew closer. It's a brisk, sharp Ardmore that will appeal to fans of austere, earthy, bitter whiskies. I'm always a fan of this type, though at times its edge approached my limit. But I really like its meanness and I respect Binny's for selecting this unsexy single cask. There's really not much sherry to speak of, which isn't a bad thing. The more the whisky is diluted, the more American oak character appears. I prefer it neat.

Even as someone who chases nearly every new Ardmore release, I find its $120 price tag concerning. Then again, the younger Exclusive Malts Ardmore single casks are going for the same price. I won't be buying any of them. If Binny's ever puts this single cask on sale for less than $100, I may be able to recommend it then.

Availability - Binny's only, and still fully available as of the date of this post
Pricing - $120
Rating - 87

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?

NEAT
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.

WITH MORE WATER (~40%abv)
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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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?

Le-DAYG?
Lay-DIG?
Led-CHIG?
Led-CHIK?
Lay-CHIG?
Lay-CHIK?
LEH-chig?
LEH-chik?
LEH-djik?
Luh-PHROIG?

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 number900176
Bottles: 618
Alcohol by Volume: 61.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(Thank you to Florin, a prince, for this sample!)

NEAT
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.

CONCLUSION
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!

NEAT
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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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.

2017


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!)

NEAT
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.

COMMENTARY
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, 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!!!)

NEAT
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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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!!!)

NEAT
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.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Blasda

Yesterday was Ardbegish Serendipity. Today it's Ardbeg Blasda. Both appear, on the surface, to be Ardbeg Lite, less peat, more diluted and filtered.

I don't think Blasda sold particularly well. Though it was released between 2008 and 2010, I remember seeing bottles still selling at their original price in 2012. And it's still pretty easy to find in Europe, though at a premium price. Regarding the peat measurement, I've read two takes: the barley was peated at 8ppm; or the whisky in the bottle is peated at 8ppm. Those are very different things. 8ppm in the bottle isn't that low. As noted by Serge, that might be close to Bowmore's levels.

One final thought. Seven to ten years ago, whisky fans were openly grumpy about Serendipity and Blasda. Why isn't anyone, other than two or three dickish bloggers, publicly taking Dr. Bill to task for his crummy releases now?

This pic is even better than yesterday's.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Blasda
Age: NAS, natch
Maturation: Whiskybase says sherry hogsheads, but I have a difficult time believing that
Limited bottling: 18,000
Bottling years: 2008-2010
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Color added? ???
(Thanks to Whisky Brett P. for most of the samples this week!!!)

Its color is a very light amber. A good sign. It has a peaty perky nose, much brighter and friendlier than regular current-era Ardbeg. Lots of young stuff, like green grass, cinnamon and estery fruits (or is that fruity esters?). White gummi bears, honey and ash. Hints of farm and leather; thus the cow, before and after. The palate leads with vanilla, confectioner's sugar and milk chocolate. Sweet and malty. Lime juice and earthy peat. A good tartness and a slight plastic note. An easy drink that's a bit thin at times. It finishes with a touch of prickly ethyl heat. Vanilla, sugar, grains and lime. Hints of smoke and salt.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Blasda is better than its reputation. I mean it's REALLY young, but it's okay. There's plenty of peat but it's reserved enough so the rest of the spirit's characteristics don't have to fight for scraps. It's a shame this one got trampled on, while a number of lesser special releases (that were sold at higher prices) were celebrated.

There is room in Ardbeg's range for something like the Blasda, though maybe a little stronger and unfiltered. And probably older. I wonder if Lumsden totally gave up on this stuff. Or is he going to have the last laugh next decade when he drops the Blasda 21yo and it's genuinely gorgeous?

Availability - the secondary marketplace, and a few dozen European retailers
Pricing - $140-$240
Rating - 82

Monday, January 9, 2017

Single Malt Report: Serendipity (Ardbeg + Glen Moray) 12 year old Blended Malt

Okay, I have a week full of Ardbeg "special" edition things to review. In order to have the time to complete it all, I'm going to try to keep the posts shorter. That never works.

If you thought Wild Turkey Forgiven was the first of the "Oops, look at what we did. We're so stupid, we shouldn't be responsible for making widely sold commodities. But here, you should buy it for more than our purposely made products" type of whiskies, then you'd be wrong. Back in 2005, Ardbeg released Serendipity, their "Oops, you got your mayonnaise in my peanut butter" whisky.

Apparently they accidentally mixed old Ardbeg (stories range from 17yrs to 24yrs old) with 12 year old Glen Moray. 80% Ardbeg and 20% Glen Moray, is their story. And there was enough Oops for 16,000 bottles. Bottled at 40%abv.

Of course the same company accidentally did something similar with the exact same accidental ratio of 80:20, a few years earlier. Wondering why the hell they'd make Serendipity on purpose and thus dispose of so much old Ardbeg? It's not impossible that Ardbeg had a lot of underproof casks which needed to find a home. At its original price, the full Serendipity release grossed nearly one million dollars. So I'd say those Oops casks found a financially viable residence.

Crap. I said I'd keep it short.

Great picture, bro.
Thing: Serendipity
Company: Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy
Type: Blended Malt Whisky
Distilleries: 80% Ardbeg, 20% Glen Moray
Age: 17-24 year old Ardbeg and 12 year old Glen Moray, thus it's a 12 year old whisky
Maturation: ???
Limited bottling: 16,000
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Color added? ???
(Thanks to Whisky Brett P. for most of the samples this week!!!)

The color is light gold. The nose is somehow both wood pulpy and grainy. Citrus bathroom cleaner, burned sneakers and pears. Acidic oatmeal (not a thing). The weakness of the peat is fascinating, and not in a good way. There's a milky buttery thing in there. A wee wee wee hint of tropical fruit. More than a wee wee wee bit farty. VERY grassy. Smells like one of my own terrible blends. The palate starts of chocolatey and malty. Pipe tobacco and toffee, with a dark berry element underneath. Not bad, but it's thin and watery. Grows more one-dimensionally acidic with time. It finishes both creamy and acidic. Burnt stuff. Some pears. It has a decent length, but an icky chemical citrus aftertaste.

COMMENTARY
or rather
QUESTIONS?
--If this is a mix of 20-something year old whisky and 12 year old whisky, then why is it grassy like a single digit whisky?
--If it's 80% Ardbeg and 20% Glen Moray, then why isn't the Moray absolutely buried in this blend? Even if it was 80% Glen Moray and 20% Ardbeg, it wouldn't read as Moray-heavy as this. Is there something else in the mix here?
--If not, then how awful were those Ardbeg casks? Couldn't they have been sold to Murray McDavid to be salvaged with a nice Mogen David Blackberry finish?
--And where the hell was the SWA during this release? Ardbeg was leaking spraying out this recipe like an incontinent duck after his third espresso. If the SWA threatened to send John Glaser through the spanking machine for revealing less than this about his blends, then why didn't they take away all 38 of Bill Lumsden's cats?
--If Serendipity tasted like it smelled, would I have barfed?
--What the hell is going on here?

Availability - the secondary marketplace, and maybe a dozen European retailers
Pricing - $150-$250, though Winesearcher shows the average price is now where it was five years ago. I can't imagine that's a super sign in this market.
Rating - 72 (dat nose tho)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Seven Ardbeg Tens, 2000-2016 – The Taste Off


I know the PLOWED guys do more epic Ardbeg tastings for breakfast every morning. But this is a big freaking deal at Diving for Pearls.

If you missed the introduction to this seven-way comparison, click on over to Wednesday's post. Here are the stars of the show by bottle code:
  1. L0 072 4ML L1033 - bottled in 2000 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  2. L5 290 23:12 4ML - bottled in 2005 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  3. L7 323 21:19 4ML - bottled in 2007 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie Plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  4. L8 057 22:45 4ML - The first Black Mystery bottling, bottled in 2008 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie plc, bottled by Glenmorangie plc, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  5. L10 165 12:47 6ML - bottled in 2010 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "new" Ten label
  6. L13 003 11:13 6ML - bottled in 2013 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample donated by Brett P. (thanks!), "new" Ten label
  7. L65615 - bottled in 2016 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, from my own bottle, "new" Ten label

As mentioned on Wednesday, the going theory is that the Tens with bottle codes after L7 143 are from Glenmorangie plc's spirit, even when those codes precede that company's "first" Ardbeg 10yo called "Renaissance". I hope to gain some clarity about this situation with this tasting.

I will be comparing 15-20mL pours side-by-side, then interspersed, until the glasses are empty. That's a lot of alcohol for a lightweight like me, so I'll spread out the tasting over two hours, that way my senses won't become compromised.

Welcome to 2017. Hold on to your butts.

Whisky Notes
THE NOSES
L0 072 (2000)Medicinal with some musty dunnage funk. Mothballs, moss and dried grass. Nutty parmesan cheese, smoked butterscotch and a hint of lemon.
L5 290 (2005)Very potent. Mesquite, rubber, burnt tires and new car smell. Tablet and apples. Tequila + lime juice.
L7 323 (2007)Barbecue, specifically burnt ends. A bit sugary though, with a touch of vanilla. Elephant cage. A hint of ethyl prickle. With time, some peach slips in.
L8 057 (2008)Lots of char. Burnt moss. Sesame oil. Maple syrup and a little bit of lemon. Bleach.
L10 165 (2010)Not as sooty as I remember it being, instead it's an herbal rubbery bomb. Then salt, honey, whole wheat toast and lemon pastries. Slight farmy note.
L13 003 (2013)Lots of barley and a hint of bacon. Brown sugar, orange peel, vanilla cookies. Peat smoke, plastic toys and saline.
L65615 (2016)Varnish. Burnt plastic. Yeast in the foreground, ash in the background. Hints of cocoa, band aids and dirty hay.


Whisky Notes
THE PALATES
L0 072 (2000)Lovely. A great balance of soft sweetness, bitterness and pepperiness. Pastries, menthol, cayenne pepper and Ceylon cinnamon.
L5 290 (2005)A wormwood bitterness around the edges. A strong earthy note, and more moss than smoke. Sweet citrus and chili peppers in the background.
L7 323 (2007)Cinnamon, ethyl heat, salt and mild peat. Sugar, chlorine and jalapeños.
L8 057 (2008)Pleasantly fruity and salty. No smoke, just vegetal peat. A bit of alcohol warmth. More sweetness and bitterness with time.
L10 165 (2010)Toasty and sweet. Marshmallows and peat. Brown sugar and tart berries.
L13 003 (2013)Quite sweet. Mint candy. A little bit of tar and smoke. Mild white fruit note.
L65615 (2016)Peatiest, hottest and rawest of the group. Salt water, burnt grains and a big bitter bite.


Whisky Notes
THE FINISHES
L0 072 (2000)A cool mint and menthol tingle that expands and expands. Some lingering gentle smoke.
L5 290 (2005)The smoke shows up here with a horseradish bitterness and a big chili pepper bite. Nothing pretty about it.
L7 323 (2007)The lightest finish of the group. Pepper and chlorine. Mossy peat. Drying.
L8 057 (2008)Very warm. Burnt ends and a light smokiness. A good bitter bite appears after a while.
L10 165 (2010)Austere (I'm allowed to use that word once a month) and ashy. Tart and tingly.
L13 003 (2013)A light herbal bitterness, saline and ashy residue.
L65615 (2016)A drying ethyl tingle and a peat conflagration. Sour and salty.


Whisky Notes Rating
COMMENTARY AND RATINGS
L0 072 (2000)Codename: Beauty Queen. The most nuanced and balanced of the group, and the best drink to boot. It was the best in all three categories. The peating feels moderate, even lighter than modern Caol Ila.
90
L5 290 (2005)Codename: Margarita. Rougher around the edges and more chaotic than the 2000, but very appealing in its ruggedness. Once I found the tequila and lime in the nose, I couldn't stop smelling it. Yet it's better than tequila and lime. A lot better.
88
L7 323 (2007)Codename: Jimmy Durante. A thunderous nose, but a palate that's a little raw and misses more than it hits, especially in the finish. It's still a good drink, though. 
85
L8 057 (2008)Codename: Enigma. Another big crazy nose, but a mellow palate and finish. Almost like two different whiskies.
87
L10 165 (2010)Codename: Simple Simon. Straightforward modern Ardbeg, but nowhere near as sooty as I remembered it to be. Surprisingly sweet, actually.
87
L13 003 (2013)Codename: Kildalton Candy. Very rich sweet stuff. Had its finish not completely fizzled out, this may have been a 90-point whisky.
87
L65615 (2016)Codename: Petulant Toddler. You cannot convince me this is ten years old. Everything in Kilchoman's range, including the half-baked 100% Islays, register as longer-matured than this. This "10 year old" feels maybe five years at its oldest. It's not bad whisky, just very very raw. Truly the most divergent of the group. I do hope it improves because I have most of a bottle left over.
82

Okay enough with all this fancy HTML.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a result of this tasting, I'm going to agree with the PLOWED and Maniac fellows who say the post-L7 143 stuff is from the new ownership. There are clear differences between the Allied Lyons and Glenmorangie plc distillates. The new stuff is much sweeter. It's also more likely to be inconsistent, out of balance, schizophrenic. That doesn't always mean it's worse, but sometimes it does. And yet when it is worse, it's still much better than most peated whiskies on the market. I would be happy to drink any of these seven whiskies, though I'm a little concerned about the 2016 bottling. It's slightly more acceptable on its own, but it suffers deeply when compared to these other Tens. If my 2016 bottle doesn't improve it might be my last modern Ardbeg Ten. On the other hand, I would be happy to blindly buy a bottle of Allied-era Ardbeg.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fatherhood Report: Winter Gloves

It's 19 degrees outside. Mathilda has graduated from mini potholder-shaped mittens to five-finger gloves. She and I are in our coats and hats, miraculously on track for getting to school on time. I bend over to try to wiggle the first glove onto her tiny hand.

Seven minutes—at least four hundred and twenty seconds—later we are still working on the first glove.

Our coats and hats are off, lying around us on the kitchen floor. I've begun to sweat. My lower back is seizing up. A supplicant on his knees, I'm practicing controlled breathing as I continue to wiggle her fingers into their assigned places beneath the wool.

"Papa?" she says.

Despite my repeated demonstrations and variously phrased edifications, she's not grasping the intellectual theory or functional process of five digits into their five little warm houses. And I can't get angry at her. She's two-and-a-half years old.

"Papa?"

And it's not her fault, she's from Orange Country. Which means she's got a two-year handicap before she understands how winter things work. The only way we can get these gloves on is if I remain calm.

"Papa."

But these goddamn gloves have such ridiculously small finger holes. It's like threading a fucking needle, if the thread only wanted to pick a nostril or point at the squirrel outside or get some more milk please. For god sakes I'll just get her stupid goddamn mittens that are too fucking small for her hands.

"Papa."

"What?" I bite off in a fraction of a syllable, as I look up at her face.

"You look beautiful," she says, eyes glittering.

"Th--"

The universe suctions all the air from my lungs.

Don't don't cry in front of your daughter. When you're in the car later, alone, then you can sob, like a real man.

"Thank you, sweetheart." I squeeze her hand. "Can you wiggle your fingers inside the glove, please?"

She does and all five fingers move right into their spots for the first time.

"That's excellent, sweets!" I tell her to make a fist, the true way of finding out if all fingers are in the right places. Sure enough, they are.

"Fist bump." That she knows how to do. I receive an appropriately delivered small pink wool fist bump.

The second glove slips on perfectly on the third try.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Seven Ardbeg Tens, 2000-2016 – An Introduction

Ardbeg, the brand distillery I love to hate. I love their regular range of the Ten, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. I do not love their annual gimmicks "special" releases. I love the plain lean design of their regular releases. I do not love the lemming-like response to every new gadget they announce. And I LOVE TO HATE their marketing. Mmmmmm, the hate is delicious. Much like the Ardbeg Ten I'm drinking right now.

So, about Ardbeg Ten...

Example of the late "old" label

I have seven different samples of Ardbeg Ten right here in front of me. Here they are, listed by bottle code (for nerds!):
  1. L0 072 4ML L1033 - bottled in 2000 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  2. L5 290 23:12 4ML - bottled in 2005 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  3. L7 323 21:19 4ML - bottled in 2007 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie Plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  4. L8 057 22:45 4ML - The first Black Mystery bottling, bottled in 2008 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie plc, bottled by Glenmorangie plc, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  5. L10 165 12:47 6ML - bottled in 2010 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "new" Ten label
  6. L13 003 11:13 6ML - bottled in 2013 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample donated by Brett P. (thanks!), "new" Ten label
  7. L65615 - bottled in 2016 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, from my own bottle, "new" Ten label
The fate of the L7 bottle. Damn you, corks!

To recap:
2016
  • The sources: 4 from my bottles, 2 pours purchased on Islay, 1 sample from a friend
  • All were bottled by the current Glenmorangie Plc ownership
  • Two were definitely distilled by previous ownership Allied Lyon
  • Three were definitely distilled by Glenmorangie Plc
  • Two (the L7 and L8) have codes preceding Glenmorangie's Plc's first official 10 year old, "Renaissance", but wiser men than I think that everything after L7 143 is actually stuff from the current ownership. Could distillate from both companies be in the batches? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical question. I don't know the answer.
  • For more information on The Black Mystery bottling, see The Ardbeg Project's page on it. (Hint: marketing.)

So why am I doing this Taste Off?

Because I just had a bunch of samples lying around? Sounds good.

Or is it because I've found the quality of Ardbeg 10yo to be consistently high over the years, and I've been curious to find out if the nose and palate are actually changing while still remaining good? Sounds better.

Because history? Sure!

2005
I will indeed be trying these seven whiskies side-by-side. With water, not for the whiskies but for my mouth. There's no telling what I'll find. This may be fruitless. Or totally fruity. In any case, please return on Friday for the results......if I survive to tell the tale of the Seven Ardbeg Tens.