Ardbeg Drum “From Renaissance to Carnivalesque”

It is difficult to be critical of Ardbeg without attracting a fair amount of shade from its hardcore fan base, you know the kind of folks who will respond to every lacklustre review of a special release with “Yeah but have you tasted the Committee Release bro? Bro… If that committee release is that good, why wouldn’t they just bottle it “as is” and show the world how good their whisky is?

There are others who will say Ardbeg is one of the whipping boys of the whisky world, yes it can be all too easy to throw jabs their way since the marketing arm of the company seems to think so highly of itself. Yes even when they’re trying to be whimsical & “groovy” man.

At this point you’re probably wondering what makes me qualified to talk such, nothing other than I am coming from a place of love and respect for this distillery’s products. In a recent review of Ardbeg An Oa, I wondered what the point of that expression was, it was enjoyable and technically well-made but felt it was vatting the character out of Ardbeg. Shouldn’t it be time that LVMH/Glenmobeg start releasing other age stated versions in their line-up besides 23+year old casks they have purchased back from Indie bottlers to then release as ultra premium?

A return of the 17 or even a 15 yr old Ardbeg showcasing what happens to the spirit as it “naturally” softens up rather than blunting it with oak and PX? How about a cask strength version of the 10, I know I can’t be the only one who wonders what that could be like? Why would they do that when they can continue to serve young NAS malts at inflated prices and they still make a killing doing that, all the while perpetuating tired borderline racist tropes of a fun “Caribbean” theme? Yet I still always approach any whisky on the merits/faults of the products at hand not the hype.

Nose: Diesel fuel, nutmeg,It’s sprightly, a kind of fusel note, a very sweet nose that turns to a mineral/coconut oil vibe. A bit of ash and anise and a slight artificial banana note.

Palate: Sweet, ashy, licorice and vanilla. Pears, gum drops and then it gets bitter and earthy. Rough, leaves you with vinyl, new plastics, a creamy eggy feeling, a bit like an overcooked custard. Banana leaves, glycerin, anise, rotting grass.

Finish: Cashews, more of that plastic character, brown sugar. An unpleasant astringency, charred oak and camphor but everything starts to fade out not leaving any lasting impressions. The empty glass has a lot of petit grain, rice pudding and coconut tanning lotion.

Notes: Not great, but that’s just my opinion, there are notes I would find pleasant if they were meshed well with the more austere side of Arbdeg but this just flies in all directions. Stick with the superb standard line-up, at least they haven’t messed with those too much.

Ardbeg Drum

46%ABV

77/100

Highland Park Valknut “Sweet Home Valhalla”

Everyone loves to talk trash about Highland Park, more so than Macallan. I think it’s largely in part to how far they’ve leaned into this whole Viking mythos, coupled with the sheer volume of new releases.

I personally don’t mind the whole Viking thing that much. What’s at issue along with other Edrington properties is that one feels as though the marketing department has taken over all aspects of the product. Anyone who’s watched early episodes of Mad Men will be familiar with the kind of cynical marketing techniques that cares very little about the actual product itself.

With this series they’ve combined several tried and true marketing techniques. “limited” editions (15,000 to 20,000 bottles isn’t really that limited), creating a new series of 3-4 scheduled releases and finally a story or myth to bind them all together. With the promise of more “sherry” and more peat what could go wrong? Let’s lean into this one.

Nose: Burnt hay, peameal bacon, it’s a bit closed at first, then opens up with vanilla & seaweed. The sherry eventually shows up and takes over the proceedings. Lots of dried grape, and grape candy, yeast, a bit of ink and plasticine and sulfur.

Palate: Ashy, mineral very sweet like glycerin and honey. Further time brings, vynil, old books, wine gums, faint smoke a touch of BBQ pork. Sour oak, stir fried broccoli, then the return of a lot of sweetness.

Finish: yeasty, grape reduction, a touch of balsamic and seaside. The finish is medium in length but mouth drying.

Blab: Underdeveloped nose. Sharp and stuffy peat. There’s sulfur but no depth to the sherry. Plenty of that weird plum/grape sweetness that is almost cloying like PX. I never thought I’d say that I missed dark origins but I do.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006/2016 “Orchard Fire”

While Benromach has won over many with their old school style malt, it hasn’t quite stirred up the frenzy that each Springbank release has caused. It might seem unfair to compare them but I believe them to be related in many ways. Family owned, longer fermentation styles, less automation, good cask policy, both are the distilling arms of Independent bottlers. The 10yr old and it’s Imperial strengths counterpart are confirmed winners, let’s dive into the range.

This 2006 Peat Smoke is part of what they’ve dubbed their contrast range, peated malt in the 67ppm range (no source listed), first fill bourbon casks, 46%, no mention of chill filtration though.

Nose: Farmy, earthy peat when first poured, then abruptly a surprising note of pears, apricot paste, it’s very unusual. Underneath all of that the it’s very close to the grain, a touch of old lemons, glycerin & talcum powder.The smoke is there but not overwhelming once it subsides there is a bit of oak and vanilla but surprisingly isn’t dominant for a first-fill bourbon. A nice nose, very round, the peat doesn’t dominate.

Palate: Sweet, dark, jujubes, that instant peaches & cream oatmeal with smoke blown over the top. There is a bit of citrus, linseed oil & powdered sugar with loads of grain and a touch of oak, the texture is a bit thin.

Finish: It keeps bouncing between earthy tones, plantain, mezcal and a strange sweetness, almost artificial, like those swirled strawberry and yogurt candies. The oak is most present at the end.

The Blab: It’s a nice take on the genre (young heavily peated bourbon cask) its different than the Islay style in that it has no maritime influence but I think it’s much closer than peated whiskys by Glendronach or Balvenie for example. Yet it’s not distinct enough, it doesn’t really pull you in like the 10 yr old, perhaps if it was at higher proof like some of their single barrel releases it would be more effective. The 10 yr old is a tough act to follow, it’s a testament to how well it is vatted together.

Benromach Peat Smoke 2006-2016

46%ABV

83/100

Laphroaig – Triple Wood “Fewer calories, thrice the oak”

This is basically the quarter cask with an additional rest time in refill sherry casks. I know many reviews panned this for being less brash and in your face than other Laphroaigs, now that it’s discontinued, it might get more love?

Nose: Cough lozenges, black licorice, antiseptic, that note of germinating grain, vanilla, loads of sweet oak, salty, the nose feels a bit closed.

Palate: Oily, astringent grain, smoked fish, and carbolic give way to sweetness, currants, dried fruit & spices. The palate is soft, all in vanilla, menthol and earth.

Finish: Rich, oily, grassy, licorice & strawberry candy with sweet smoke.

The Blab: The medicinal elements seem to sit tight amidst the successive oak treatments, the ashy smoke is what is replaced by the sweeter elements. Not the one for those looking for that Laphroaig slap in the face but if you like the the distillers editions of Lagavulin and Talisker this is a winner.

Laphroaig Triple Wood

48%ABV

84/100

Ardbeg – An Oa “The baker’s eating Kippers”

This expression is the first to be added to Ardbeg’s regular line-up in many years. A vatting of different cask types (ex-bourbon, virgin oak, px), all finished in Ardbeg’s new European oak marrying tun.

It’s received a fair bit of flack, let’s see what the fuss is all about.

Nose: A hint of Ardbeg’s coal and diesel smoke, then sweeter, cookie dough?Jordan almonds, vanilla, candied fennel seeds, menthol a bit of ginger. It’s nice if a bit subdued.

Palate: Ashy right out of the gate,vanilla. prune sauce some cinnamon. It has some bite, soot, sweet dough, a tin of smoked herring being opened in a bakery. It’s got many of the hallmarks of what makes Ardbeg good but pushed down by the oak.

Finish: Green branches, the astringent lemons show up late to the party. lots of oak, char, vanilla, loads of ginger, a tiny bit or earth.

It’s not neutered like Laphroaig select but it is a more rounded version of the kildalton crusher. They’ve tamed the feisty young Ardbeg spirit, making it sweeter and smoothing over the mineral and maritime edge.

I don’t hate this, it’s well made and enjoyable but at a time when so much Scotch is being homogenized. I would prefer they embrace the challenging nature of their whisky rather than blunt it.

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% ABV

84/100

Smokehead “Kippers & Bits”

This is an NAS single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery. This brand comes from Ian Macleod’s company, who’s portfolio includes, Isle of Skye, Glengoyne & Thamdu among others.

Like most of these type of releases there’s much speculation on the origin of the casks for this whisky. Many speculate that this is a vatting of young casks of Ardbeg that don’t quite meet the company’s standards. Let’s see.

Nose: Smoked herring, damp cellar, creosote, it leans towards Ardbeg or Laphroaig heavy smoke. Salt, a smidge of vanilla, a little mercurochrome nothing else…maybe salt ham.

Palate: Acrid, earthy, sharp, kelp, oysters, beach bonfire, latex, milky, peat reek.

Finish is all on ashes, saltpetre, brine.

Good uncompromising stuff, all oily fish, milky/latex and ashy smoke. It ticks off all the peat freak boxes, don’t look for subtleties. I like this it’s very honest.

Smokehead Islay Single Malt

43% ABV

83/100

Lagavulin 8, 200th Anniversary Edition “A Mezcaleria in Port Ellen” 

Lagavulin 8 “200th anniversary Editon”

48%/ABV

86/100

 

This whisky was released to much fanfare in the whiskysphere, with reason. There is so little lagavulin variety on the market, the masses are starved.

It provides things fans of the 12yr old love, little to no cask play (the color is like Sauvignon), it’s served at a decent proof (48%ABV) and lastly that resounding 8 yrs age statement all bold and brash youth instead of an NAS with a fairytale name.

We know from many other contemporaries that young Islays can be superb and explosive (if a bit narrow in profile at times).

LAg8

Nose: Mineral, green, diesel fumes, burnt hay, almond oil. Its very mezcal like, génépi, bakelite, ashy smoke. With time freshly shucked oysters, a smidge of powdered sugar and pears

Palate: Dark, sharp,oily, acrid smoke. Bitter plants and artichokes, toasted and salted marcona almonds and lovage.

Finish: Bitter, inky, wet wool and grapefruit pith, it’s medium in length very drying. The quality of the distillate is without reproach.

Somedays this is really superb, firing on all cylinders. Other days it’s kind of hangs on to one note and goes with it. I wasn’t crazy about this bottle at first. I didn’t gas it and I find the final half much better although I don’t think it’s changed dramatically. A good young uncompromising whisky. I’m not convinced this was only a cash grab.

That said, as many feared (or wanted) this has become part of the regular line-up. At prices like I’ve seen in some states (45-65$) I would buy this again. Locally it’s a 100$ at that price point it competes with many other whiskys and the 16yr old is 129$, I am unlikely to buy a replacement soon.

 

Franck

Kings County Distillery Peated Bourbon

KCD Peated Bourbon

45% ABV

74/100

I’ve been meaning to post my review of this whisky but never got around to it. The genesis of this recipe is that having run out of malted barley one day, they decided to use a batch of peated malt that was on hand for experiments.

The result was to their liking and original enough as few American distillers use peat, especially in a bourbon mashbill.

Nose: sweet caramel corn, the youth is reflected in the varnish notes, they do relent after some time. Fresh oak, faint smoke like the embers and ash of a campfire, then dusty spices and herbs.

Palate: Chewy and astringent, wood sugars, lemon pith, herbal cough drops (Ricola?), slight violets and soapyness. The smoke is faint and seems to integrate with the charred oak flavour.

Finish: short, mild astringence from the oak and there is a faint feeling of sandalwood or incense.

The intel I gathered from my distillery visit, is that their bourbon recipe is basically 75% corn, 25% malted barley (peated in this case) so there is no flavouring grain like wheat or rye.

Also the peated malt used doesn’t seem to be very heavy therefore don’t expect a smoke bomb. It’s more like a slight accent. It’s less prononced as the bottle airs out. I liked this but it’s more for passing around a campfire or the flask than for easy sipping.

*Side note, I had about 10% of this bottle left and it got lost in the shuffle, I finally got around to it and it does not take well to oxidation. The nose is all cardboard, and the palate fell apart and got violent. A case for drink em’ if you got em’

Franck

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 Islay barley

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley

64% AB

88/100

Yet another Octomore review and I have been searching for the best way to introduce this review. This was the first .3 iteration of the series, the culmination of much of the terroir driven work at Bruichladdich, 100% Islay barley grown on the farm that gave this whisky it’s namesake, by a guy named James Brown no less and peated to the eye watering level of 258ppm, a process that apparently requires several days of careful monitoring.


I believe the work that the Laddie team has been doing is really unique and admirable. One could view it as just being their marketing “shtick” but somehow it resonates with me this idea of making a spirit that reflects the surroundings and climate. Their trials using less popular barley strains and growing grains in proximity to the distillery is in some ways a return to tradition.

capture-rockside-1

Let’s see if any of this is reflected in the final product.

Nose: Farmy and greasy at first, then a bit of melon, lime oil (like the aftershave), a feeling of dirty juicy fruit gum, dried cereal, hot cornbread. Then comes the Laddie split-milk notes, lamp oil, cold campfire. With time a growing minty/herbal side, salted licorice, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. The smoke is always present wrapping everything together.

Palate: Sharp, sooty, sweet, almost fizzy, diesel fumes and cantaloupe. A handful of black earth and lemon lozenge and citrus peels. It turns more mineral and bitter in the center before returning to a fun mix of  sweet, creamy and herbal, vanilla, corn pudding and gentian.

Finish: acrid smoke, earth and grains and a bit of sweetness, the lactic note is present but not overpowering. I found it much less sweet than other versions, the body is huge, just really oily and viscous.


It is fairly close to the standard versions of Octomore but somehow more earth and grain shine through, the herbal\mineral integrated with the sweetness, very well balanced

Lastly, you know you’ve made a good friend when after an evening out eating and indulging in a couple of drams, they end slip you two quite generous samples of Octomore for no other reason than the pure pleasure of getting your impressions of the stuff. I want to thank fellow Connosr member Robert99 for providing me the opportunity to dig myself deeper into Octo-obsession.

Franck

*photo credits:Octomore farm l’oeil sur le vin blog, Rockside farm Bruichladdich website. 

Amrut Fusion

Amrut Fusion

50% ABV.

72/100

amrut distillery

I believe at this point we are long past the era where the belief that good single malt whisky is the exclusive domain of the Scottish, the passion and craft of distilling this type of whisky has spread worldwide.

That said, there are still only a small number of distilleries who are producing malt of the caliber experienced consumers are expecting, thankfully those numbers are also growing.

One of the brands that was a catalyst for this movement is Amrut, while the company has a rich history of distilling spirits for their home market in India since 1948. Their jump to releasing their single malt whisky as a separate category was only done in 2004.

While the provenance of their whisky might once have been a barrier, imagine trying to convince hardcore Scotch drinkers to try Indian single malt, eventually it became their biggest asset. Since they have no SWA or equivalent governing body to deal with, they have been unrelenting in their experimentation.

The special releases came flooding in, Intermediate sherry, the Frankenstein cask experiment that is Spectrum, vatting malts from two different climates, adding oranges to sherry casks before refilling them with whisky, the list goes on.

Ashok
C’mon you can’t say these folks aren’t having fun. Here’s the brand ambassador Ashok announcing a new batch of Spectrum

This is without mentioning the effect of aging spirits in such a punishing climate. I dislike repeating the overused mantra of making the whisky age faster, as time is a factor unaffected by weather. It does indeed create an environnement with very active cask interaction and evaporation, which leads to young spirits with a profile and seeming maturity unlike that of their equivalent aged Scottish counterparts. You can compare the similar effect with island aged rum versus those matured on the mainland.

Most of whiskys I have tried from Amrut have left an imprint on me (I have vivid memories of a particular peated cask strength that balanced overripe tropical fruits and heavy smoke) it is why this particular bottle of Fusion has left me perplexed.

ess1507406228742.jpg
Is that the only photo of our bottle? You betcha

Fusion is the one Amrut whisky that seems easily available in most markets, it is a mix of whisky from unpeated Himalayan malted barley and peated Scottish barley, no info is available on the actual proportion or age.

Nose: Dried ginger, spices (all spice, cardamom), dark fruits and the ethyl notes are very sharp. I’m not getting much on the nose, even with water and time it remains very closed.

Palate: Shellac, sandalwood, blood orange, a kind of dark bass note, tinned fruits and the oak is rather prominent. Water does it no favours, that dark peat thing becomes acrid and the sweet oak takes over.

I get the sensation that this weird dark note is perhaps the peat, like a feeling of burnt jam, also the alcohol is rather strong on the tail end.

Even after months being opened, the nose remains very shy, the palate hot and fussy, especially with water. If I had no experience with the excellent whiskys of Amrut I might have wondered what the fuss was all about. Batch variation is most likely to blame but without another reference sample I can’t say how much it accounts for. I recently shared a bottle of the standard issue Amrut Single malt at 46% abv with a friend and preferred it’s singular nose to this bottle of Fusion.

Franck

*Distillery  building photo and Ashok as 007 are credited to Amrut Distillery