10 July 2018

08/07/2018 Clearing the shelf #19

The heatwave is still on, but the whisky has not stopped piling up. Early sessions are such a good way to counter the heat; why not carry on?


No Pride, this year. It was yesterday, but I do not feel like reiterating last year's theme, this time. Perhaps another day. Today, it is three -Glenlivet drams from Cadenhead, in alphabetical and decreasing-age order.

Aberlour-Glenlivet 23yo 1989/2013 (54.9%, Cadenhead Small Batch, Bourbon Hogsheads, 522b, 13/345): this is from the early days of Mark Watts's cask selection, and at the time, independently-bottled Aberlour were a bit of a curiosity -- more so than five years later, at any rate. That is why I bought this, and it has never disappointed. It took a massive hit in Campbeltown, where it also was a massive hit. Time for a final run: it is now on its last leg. Nose: it seems much less wild than when the bottle was fuller. It has dead leaves, squashed brambles, a wood type that I cannot place (sandalwood is the closest I can guess, though it is not that), and Madeira wine. In the back of the nose, milk chocolate whispers, Brazil-nut body cream, a very faint whiff of smoke and a dollop of furniture polish. The Madeira morphs into Chardonnay and raspberry coulis. Mouth: relatively oily, with a nutty flavour -- hazelnut oil, walnut oil. It is a bit strong and definitely has a kick to it, but the whole is softly nutty. Touches of marzipan, ground pistachios, green-hazelnut shells and unripe-raspberry coulis. Finish: more pistachio goodness, marzipan, pralines, rapeseed oil, gun oil, Brazil-nut oil. The finish dies with a nice note of milk chocolate. Amazing how it has evolved, over the last five years. It is now much more accessible, and closer to the more recent 17yo than it used to be. I will miss this. 8/10

Glen Grant-Glenlivet 22yo 1995/2017 (57.2%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Refill Sherry Butt, 486b): nose: freshly-polished furniture and lots and lots of orange rinds. It also has dusty books, avocado skins, ink and blotting paper, green olives in brine, gerania (the correct plural form of 'geranium') and apples. A surprising combination, is it not? Further, dark chocolate, then gun oil comes through, maraschino cherries. The second dram sees wood dust join that nose. Mouth: oily and sharp, as in: chilli-infused oil. Sangria, booze-soaked orange rinds, blood oranges, overripe Chinese gooseberries, stewed apples, candied apples, actually, and a few herbs (freshly-cut grass? basil?) It is now soft and velvety, with the texture of peach skin. Remarkable, if not too complex a mouth. Finish: meow! All the fruits are still there, blood orange first, and they are covered in finely-ground white pepper. Mostly, though, it is high-octane orange juice. The finish is long, lingering, haunting, even, velvety, warm and comforting. It has the scented dryness and the peace of a dunnage warehouse. Excellent dram. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

Glen Moray-Glenlivet 19yo 1998/2017 (55.5%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection 175th Anniversary, Bourbon Hogshead, 240b): nose: wine-y and herbaceous, it has stone-dry Riesling, but also freshly-cut grass and aromatics (tarragon?) Soon, though, it is sponge cake, and then distinct Chinese jasmine tea -- very fragrant too! It has a discreet nutty side to it as well, very shy. Even later, it unexpectedly displays a few ashes. Mouth: dry white wine, here too. Ethyl alcohol, a note of smoke, (surprisingly), iodine (yes, it is a little medicinal), and quite a lot of fruits (apple slices and pineapple chunks soaked in heavy wine). Finish: dark fruit, squashed blueberries and elderberries, blueberry turnovers, then milk chocolate and croissant dough, chocolate parfait, brandy-soaked biscuits and dried apple peels. This one is more complex than the Glen Grant, but it gives me less immediate pleasure. Good dram, though! 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

6 July 2018

30/06/2018 Ardbeg tasting at the English School, Zürich

Once again in the land of raclette and mockolate. The weather (Switzerland is going through a heatwave, like everyone else) is not really adequate for either: the brown stuff melts in one's hands, while the Neutrals are perplexed, when I talk of a raclette and chips in thirty-degree weather. Fools.
In this weather, we do the only thing that makes sense: drink Ardbeg.

Ardbeg shirts all round

JS and I are back (once again, it's the incredibles) in lovely sweltering Switzerland for another night or two of debauchery. We arrived last night and were kindly invited to the after-party of the Fridqy tasting (same line-up, different people), where mucho whisky was shared and enjoyed. No notes, however.
The tasting we attend is tonight. The last of four sessions held by the Swissky Mafia with those very Ardbegs. CD assures us that it is the best, because he and PG had lots of time to perfect the sequence. I secretly bet we start with an Ardbeg, continue with an Ardbeg or four, and finish with an Ardbeg. Clever watchmakers.
Before the event, we have supper at Grain, which hits the spot.

Grilled-veg' flatbread for me

No time for dessert. We have work to do.


CD (referring to the latest Ardbeg release, called Grooves): "This is the Grooves we like to drink."

Ardbeg 25yo 1976/2001 First Bottling (50%, Silver Seal Special Reserve, Barrel, 276b, b#49): nose: a dirty one, with ash, ash, and more ash. Scorched earth, soot, charcoal dust. A few minutes in, ground-apricot-stone dust shows up, then cigarette ashes and cocoa shavings. This is very austere and peaty, very dry. Coming back to it later, it has become overly pickled. Mouth: soft enough, with extremely ashy apricot -- or rather: a drop of apricot juice on a bed of ashes. Tobacco juice, snus. Finish: nutty, ashy, with also ground apricot stones and black tar (says MRa). Pickled orange rinds appear, much later on. 8/10

Ardbeg 15yo 1974/1990 (57%, R.W. Duthie for Samaroli imported by Monnier, 240b, b#219): an extremely rare single-cask bottling by fabled Eye-tie bottler. Nose: stripping, it soon reveals apricot skins and bone-dry peat. Seconds later, it shouts tar, rubber, liquorice, burnt wood, tar, rubber, tar, rubber, PVC, rubber gloves, rubber boots, tar, tar (steak), rubber. Mouth: here too, it has ash and burnt wood. It is very dry, but then fruit ends up emerging -- unripe green melon, dried apricot, dried wood, hazel, wood dust. Finish: big, assertive, not boisterous, it has burnt wood, some ash, and quite a lot of fruit here as well -- not quite ripe, but good; pickled lemons, lemon marmalade. Wow. 9/10

Ardbeg 27yo 1975/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50°, 198b): when I see this, I fear I have had it before, but it turns out to be a different cask -- it is from that time when the number of bottles was the only way to distinguish two otherwise similar Laing bottlings. Nose: this one has pears and pickles, white peaches, a thin veil of peat. I find it the most interesting, so far. Shoe polish, old rags, the seats of a new car. Mouth: velvety, with peach skins, a little smoke, dried grapefruit skins. It is still fruity, after forty-five minutes; in fact, the smoke disappears altogether. Finish: elegant and delicate (!), it has some smoke, still, even fishing nets and smoked mussels, but what dominates are the dried grapefruit skins. Most tonight agree that this is the weakest of the lot, proving once and for all that the Swiss prefer their whisky as they do their chocolate: inferior. I find it the best of the lot, overall, and excellent, in any case. 9/10

CD: "This guy from Russia ordered samples of tonight's drams."
GT: "There is a chance I go soon..."
CD: "You want to be the Moscow Mule!"

Ardbeg 28yo 1972/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask 50°, C#DL 913, 222b): nose: very fresh, it has mint, mint chocolate, cough lozenges, mossy earth, forest floor in a pine forest. The nose is the strongest of the whole line-up, with, on top of the above, baking dough and a whiff of refined smoke. Mouth: soft at first, it quickly becomes spicy, with a pinch of chilli -- no! paprika. Smoked paprika, salty fishing nets, mussels and cockles. The seafood is tame: it barely obstructs a layer of gentle fruit. Finish: a peat furnace, here; burnt wood, a diesel engine, peat smoke. The fruit has now disappeared, which makes it less interesting to me. I find it pretty fierce and austere, actually. 8/10

JS: "You do push-ups?"
GT: "I did for him, apparently. At the Whisky Ships." (reference to Whiskyschiffs, a local whisky festival)
JS: "Why?"
GT: "I don't remember."

Ardbeg 29yo 1975/2005 (47.2%, OB Single Cask for Fèis Ìle 2005, ex-Oloroso Cask, C#4704, 270b, b#47): nose: another ashtray whisky, then caramel and treacle, sticky toffee pudding. Much later on, sambucca and Chartreuse show up. Mouth: fiery, peppery (green and pink peppercorns), it tingles, sparkles. It is also slightly drying, with some oaky tannins. Later, it seems much more civilised, with a creamy salad dessing. Finish: now, it is very fruity, with Ricola sweets, cough lozenges, blackberry drops, brambles. I find it very fresh... until burnt wood and dried peat remind me that I am not drinking fruit juice, after all. 8/10

tOMoH: "It is Italian market, is it?"
PG: "Italian make it!"

Ardbeg 31yo 1975/2006 (54.2%, OB Single Cask Committee X-mas Bottling, Sherry Butt, C#1375, 522b, b#79): nose: this last one is a sherry beast, gently sulphury, with lots of dark chocolate (obviously not the local travesty), toffee, burnt cake, wet cigar leaves and incineration (JS). Mouth: overbaked panettone, slightly smokey, fortified wine, Port. It is woody too, with liquorice and ginger, but not overly so. Finish: long, yet this is no steamroller; it is restrained, if assertive, with liquorice, slightly-bitter sherry, sweet and strong. I like this. 8/10

The last two are very nice whiskies, no doubt. All the same, I am comforted in my opinion from years ago that those eye-wateringly expensive, official single casks are usually not as good as the independent offerings, or the small batches (1975, 1977, 1978, 30yo, Lord of the Isles). Or less to my taste, at least.

PG (about the cask-induced character of the dram): "It's butt stuff, but it's good butt stuff!"
GT: "Who doesn't like good butt stuff?"

As usual, I am behind everyone else. Lots of bottles and samples are passed around at a ridiculous pace. I do not even try to keep up, too focused on my Ardbegs. Once I am done, I try a few bits and bobs without taking notes. I make a point in trying the following, however, because it is a bottler I have heard about, whose owner I have spoken to, yet I have never had one of their whiskies. Tough, though: I do not like it. Ben Nevis 10yo 2006/2016 Selection VI (51.3%, Le Gus't Selection, Oloroso Sherry Butt, C#3, 762b) 5/10

There is another Bunna, which they all call Bratensoße.
I do not try it, but I smell this one -- and do not like it

This, we know...

...but why not compare it to its sibling?

This, I do not try

This, we will get acquainted with later

This, I like a lot

I pass a few things around too.

Glen Garioch 21yo (43%, OB, L591, b#14980)
Port Charlotte 14yo 2003/2017 (60.1%, The Creative Whisky Company The Exclusive Malts, Sherry Hogshead, C#1140, 228b)
JS pours Strathclyde 13yo 2001/2014 (64.4%, OB Cask Strength Editions, B#ST 13 002)

All night long, CD teases that if I am going to complain about inferior chocolate, I should at least bring some proper stuff for comparison. I remind him that I travelled from the UK, and that Cadbury needs not apply.


Meanwhile, cake is served: a pistachio and ricotta chocolate cake, courtesy of GT's wife. It is un-flippin'-believable (and I want the recipe!)


GT (about his wife): "She likes Talisker 25 and Cohiba. Not cheap. So she doesn't like whisky or cigars."
JS: "She likes good things."
GT (pointing at himself): "Obviously!"

The following is in theme, so I do take notes.

Ardbeg An Oa (46.6%, OB, b. ca. 2018): nose: kelp, hay, dry and leathery, with fishing nets and sea shells. Mouth: sweet, bourbon-y, almost, with coconut and vanilla. The coastal character is not there, any more. Finish: lots of smoked kelp, here, burning hay, with caramelised honey on top. Decent. 7/10

GT: "Macedonians say they speak Slavic."
PG: "I prefer my slaves, really."

Amazing time, once again. Out of the three tastings I have attended here, this is certainly the one with the whiskies that convinced me the least (matter of profile preference, not quality), but the atmosphere, banter and general pleasantness are excellent. Not to mention the attendees are very welcoming and generous.
CD even gives me an idea for a future tasting theme: politicians and mistresses. :-D

25 June 2018

24/06/2018 Clearing the shelf #18

La maison ne recule devant aucun sacrifice. Two tastings in one day -- yeehaa!

Ord 12yo 2006/2018 (46%, Cadenhead Small Batch, 2 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 606b): nose: it smells like a strong white wine -- Chablis or Chardonnay. Very quickly, though, a cereal-y note appears; boiled corn and mashed potatoes, perhaps marsh water, too. Plastic tablecloths in a warm cupboard. Mouth: despite the modest ABV, it packs a punch with the acidity of a young white wine, crushed grapes, finely-ground hazelnuts (skin on). Finish: it is more approachable, here. It has milk chocolate, augmented with crushed raspberries, squashed grapes, toasted staves and freshly-printed newspaper. Very good drop, really. Hard to beat, for the introduction price. 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

Light Fruity Sherry 44yo 1973/2018 (43.4%, Cadenhead Creations, Fresh Sherry Hogshead Finish, B#1, 346b): nose: this could not be more different. It has all sorts of woody goodness, starting with teak cabinets, furniture polish, wax, juicy orange peels, butterscotch, but also cardboard and used blotting paper. Soon, the fruits join in (dried figs, mince pies, the darkest sultanas), a cake in the early stages of baking and lacquered shoes. Mouth: soft, velvety, almost weak, and woody. Not in a bad way -- it has treacle, sticky toffee pudding, Scottish tablet, Madeira wine and maraschino cherries. Finish: excellent balance of exotic wood (mahogany, teak, redwood) and fortified wine (Sherry, Port, Patras). Red-fruit jams pay a visit too (dark cherries, raspberries, blackberries). At second sip, it appears just a little too woody, for a second; bitter. It is mainly exquisite, though. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

Glenrothes-Glenlivet 21yo 1996/2018 (50.9%, Cadenhead Small Batch, 3 x Bourbon Hogsheads, 990b): nose: at cask strength, this is of course much stronger. It has Glenrothes's trademark butter, as well as clotted cream, warm white-chocolate mousse -- I can feel my arteries clogging up, already! Aside his fattiness, it has cedar-wood shavings, pecan nuts and candied ginger. Mouth: oily, it is initially soft, then grows in spiciness -- it is a karahi, more than a Madras, but the tingle is there. Carrot cake, melted milk chocolate, sunflower oil, and still quite a bit of butter. Baking chocolate-chip cookies, not yet solidified. A drop of fortified wine -- to improve the cookies, you know. :-) Finish: the chocolate turns darker, and it is accompanied by fruit, this time -- dried banana slices, dried pear cubes, banana rum, perhaps white Port. The finish is still fat, with a mild acidity. Nice little 'rothes. 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, SW)

Glen Marnoch 28yo (43.4%, OB Distiller's Reserve for Aldi UK, b.2016): nose: as the colour suggested, this is a much deeper sherry, with lots of wood influence. Also, despite the humble ABV, the nose is very powerful. Shoe polish, freshly-cut ebony, wood lacquer, overdone toast, flat cola, caffè macchiato, caffè corretto. Mouth: velvety and under control, in terms of alcohol -- though not tired in any way! The palate has a lot of spices -- cassiah bark, cloves, black cardamom, liquorice root. It is just on the right side of woody -- just! Finish: huge finish, with a couple of crushed mint leaves, dried, grated ginger, liquorice, kluwak nuts and aniseed. This is now a bit too much for me. The wood is overpowering. One can still find elderberry, or cranberry compote, fruity and acidic, if one tries hard. It is good, but one really has to like wood a lot. 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, CD)