...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Single Malt Report: Vegas 2012 edition (Part 4 of 4)

The triumphant conclusion of the Vegas 2012 edition of the Single Malt Report.

The Whisky Attic tasting in its entirety (links fixed!):

Part 1 - Dalmore Gran Reserva
Part 1 - Tyrconnell 10yr Irish Single Malt, Madeira Finish
Part 1 - Big Bottom Bourbon
Part 2 - Balvenie 14yr Caribbean Cask
Part 2 - Rowan's Creek Bourbon
Part 2 - Willett Straight Rye
Part 3 - Ledaig 15yr
Part 3 - Amrut Cask Strength Indian Single Malt
Part 3 - Laphroaig 10yr Cask Strength
Part 4 - Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Part 4 - Ballylarkin Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Part 4 - Tomintoul 27yr

In Part 3, I tried peaty, muscular, demanding whiskies.  In Part 4, my whisky walls tumble asunder.


The great black wave.

The Corryvreckan, just off the coast of Islay, is the third largest whirlpool in the world.  It's a powerful audible force, described as "very violent and dangerous" by sailing manuals.  It has drawn artists and mystics throughout the years.  It almost killed Orwell when he was in the midst of writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.  It is the washtub of the Gaelic goddess of winter.  It pulled an ancient Norse king to his death.

Per Arcade Fire:
"Nothing lasts forever that's the way it’s gotta be
There's a great black wave in the middle of the sea"

Distillery: Ardbeg
Age: millennia?
Maturation: the planet's molten core
Region: Islay (natch)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%

'Twas very pleasing to see this placed in front of me.  I am an Ardbeg 10 fan and deeply desire all of Ardbeg's drams.  I brought the Corryvreckan glass to my lips to begin The Method and the ride began.

Whatever involuntary expression crossed my face made Adam laugh.  "That's what we like to call a bouquet," he said.

I said, "I um."

The whisky had expanded inside of my mind and lit up my skull, like only great absinthes (The Grand Mistress) do when they've arrived at their mark.  I don't know where the nose, palate, and finish borders began or ended.

I was like David in Henry Roth's Call it Sleep.  I had touched the electric rail.

thick tar! bitter
tea and black coffee and
-ed seaweed
mentholated tire fires
the anise
& sugar
of black
all held together by the sweet bloom of some great unknown dark flower

"I don't even know what it is." "Fantastic, huh?" I answered him by staring at the glass for two minutes.

This one will sit in second place in the Rankings because I can't quite believe that it is real.  I require a second tasting to prove that I didn't dream it.  And maybe a comparison with its brother Uigeadail.  [Ed. note: Yes, it's bloody real.  Here's the followup report.]

Pricing - Bargain at $70-$80
Rating - 96


 I can't find a decent pic of the bottle, so here's a happy Wiki pic of lychees.
Distillery: Ballylarkin Abbey?
Age: minimum 3 years
Maturation: unknown
Region: Ireland (Kilkenny)
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

This dram proved that whisky tastings aren't totally devoid of humor.

After dropping me into the dark sun of Ardbeg Corryvreckan, what did Adam give me next?  Whisky candy!  He brought me back into the light with syrupy, rich, and fruity Ballylarkin Irish Whisky Liqueur.

I've searched far and wide (on the Intertubes) to find anything about Ballylarkin Liqueur.  The only place with statistics was a report from Washington State's Liquor Control Board.  Otherwise, not much in the way of facts.  It does appear that the liqueur was created by the monks at Ballylarkin Abbey.

Dang.  Monks are always onto the good sh**.

The Ballylarkin company (and abbey) are in County Kilkenny, a beautiful spot I visited almost nine years ago.  I highly recommend visiting the beautiful town of Kilkenny as well.

So, if whiskey is already a liquor, what is whiskey liqueur?  A liquor producer takes some already-matured whiskey stock (that's often not of single malt, pot still, or, even blend quality) then sweetens it with honey, fruit juices and extracts, spices, and sugars.  The result is something extra-desserty, like Drambuie, Irish Mist, Jeremiah Weed, and...

Ballylarkin Irish Whiskey Liqueur
Nose: mmm desserty, candied peaches, lychee juice, vanilla
Palate: thickly textured, lots of lychee fruit, canned peach and pear syrup, and a bourbony Irish whiskey
Finish: strong enough to clear away all previous whisky, but NOT sickly sweet

If you can find Ballylarkin at a bar or restaurant and those tasting notes appeal to you, I do recommend giving it a try.  It shouldn't be that expensive, probably cheaper than Drambuie.  But if those notes gross you out, then stick to a Glenfarclas-flavored dessert.

Pricing - Good at $30-$35
Rating - 77


Distillery: Tomintoul
Age: minimum 27 years old
Maturation: Bourbon casks
Region: Speyside
Alcohol by Volume: 40%

I reviewed the Tomintoul 33 year old last year after I'd sampled it on my 33rd birthday.  And found it to be so easy-going that its character was difficult to suss out.  I'd enjoyed the 16 year considerably more.

The 27-year is being phased out, with the 33-year replacing it on the official Tomintioul range.  Or so, I've been reading.  The thing is, the 27 year is easier to find than its replacement via online US whisky sellers.  And that's not a bad thing, since I enjoyed the 27 year much more.

Now, the Ballylarkin was supposed to be the closer on the tasting.  But Adam was incredibly generous and allowed me a bonus partial dram of this 27.

Tomintoul 27 year old
Nose: Light vanilla, fruit sugary but not sweetish, pears!
Palate: More pears, fresh ones though, not canned; a little nutty and malty with a peep of the vanilla
Finish: Medium, a little bit fruit, a little bit of malt

Quite good.  If it was a third of the price, I'd make this a regular in my whisky stash.  But it is 27 years old and priced very competitively with others in that age range.

Pricing - Acceptable at $180-$200
Rating - 87

I have now expended thousands of words on this tasting and still feel as if that hasn't done it justice.  It was a pivotal whisky experience for me.  Not just for learning a new tasting method.  Not just for getting a chance to view and drink so many great spirits.  Not just for having the opportunity to talk to a whisky expert like Adam Carmer.

Things have been a little rocky in my personal life, so having this chance to deeply explore the grand whisky world without judgement, without second thought, luxuriating in the moment, was valuable beyond price.

Thanks for giving this particular whisky voyage a read.  I look forward to reporting on the many voyages to come.

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