31 May 2017

28/05/2017 Supper at the Ardshiel Hotel

We tried coming here last night, but it was fully booked (and we ended up in a Bangladeshi restaurant, but that is another story). Tonight, however, is our night: JS, MS, Bishlouk and I have a table booked at 19:30. When we turn up at 19:10, the table is not ready. The bar, then.

To give some context, today was the Mull Of Kintyre Run (10km and half-marathon). JS ran the half. Mark Watt and his sister were running the 10km.

Choosing is the hard part
We have a look at the drinks menu. I spot a 35yo Caperdonich that I inquire about: it takes the waitress 15 minutes to find it... empty. I ask if I can have the remaining three drops (it is Caperdonich 35yo 1977/2013 (50.2%, Cadenhead Small Batch, ex-Sherry Butt, 384b)), but the head honcho makes it clear the answer is: 'no.' Strange. We choose something else.

Banff 36yo 1976/2013 (49.8%, Cadenhead Small Batch, Bourbon Hogshead, 192b): yup, sister cask to the one we had the other day. This was part of the first Small Batch release, back in 2013, Mark Watt's way of showing he had entered the building. Nose: noble furniture, slightly dusty and lichen-y, old copper coins, perhaps balsamic vinegar, then ground apricot stones and blue mandarins, as well as dunnage warehouse. Mouth: delicate tangerine, a hint of gentle pepper, tangerine pith. It has a thin-cream texture. Finish: a slight bitterness (citrus pith), then old metallic tools, mustard seeds, olive oil, dirty mayonnaise, Seville orange marmalade. The finish is acidic and, well, wonderful. An absolute winner. 10/10

Later on, when the (heavily-sun-burnt) Watt siblings sit down to celebrate their race, I give Mark a blind taste of the Banff and ask him whether he would bottle that, for a laugh. He says he would.

Our table is ready. It is 20:15. So much for our booked time slot.

Hazelburn 13yo 2003/2017 (47.1%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, 12000b, 17/139): JS's newest favourite distillery. Nose: hot game sauce, wine, then it becomes mildly vinegar-y and even has a soft sea feel. Mouth: milky and comforting, not too thick. Finish: syrup, burnt caramel and a hint of smoke (!?) It is warming and comforting, with thick, syrupy wine. 8/10

Starters are served. I have battered haggis balls with a pepper sauce.

Battered haggis balls

Mango chicken salad

Tormore 27yo 1988/2016 (51.5%, North Star Spirits Cask Series, Bourbon Hogshead & Madeira Cask, B#001, 200b): nose: mellow, with vanilla, custard and squashed banana. It quickly becomes rather hot on the nostrils. Mouth: warm, with thick, peppery sauce. It is creamy, but also quite spicy. Finish: a note of syrupy wine and a lot of pepper sauce. Or did I mistake my pot of sauce for a Glencairn glass? 7/10

Port Ellen 1980/2015 (46%, GMP Rare Old, B#RO/15/12, 236b): MS justly observes that if he does not shell out for this here, then, where? Nose: drying fishing nets, an emptied (but not cleaned) ashtray, refined peat smoke, peat-smoked mussels. The scent is powerful, at a mere 46%! Mouth: tangerine marmalade, fig relish on kippers. Finish: big, with more tangerine marmalade, then a huge, smokey kick in the teeth. Wonderful dram. 9/10

Mains are here. I have baked, smoked haddock with cheese sauce (and feel bad, because haddock is almost depleted).

Baked haddock


Another couple of drams, in the lounge, after dinner.

More choosing

Springbank 10yo (50.5%, OB Private Bottling to Commemorate The Decommissioning of HMS Campbeltown, Port Casks, b.2011): nose: heavy leather, saddles and a prominent smokiness (camp fire, peat furnace), cigar smoke, smoky cheese (MS). Mouth: acrid as cigar smoke, whilst also displaying some thick marmalade (made with smoked oranges). Finish: big and pungent, with more hot cigar leaves, smoke and ash. This feels like an old gentlemen's club after a big night out, when the smoke is still lukewarm in the smoking room. 8/10

Imperial 1996/2015 (43, GMP): nose: watery orange juice, a whiff of cork, chalk (MS) and hawthorn. Not the most welcoming nose, I suppose. Mouth: it is a bit similar, to tell the truth: watery orange juice, a touch of cork, or rather a cask bung. Finish: nice and easy, with drying oranges, bung cloth and bits of cork again. 6/10

Glen Scotia 12yo 2002/2015 (56.1%, OB Distillery Edition for Open Day 2015, Edition 001, C#196): nose: grated galangal, sawdust, ground fruit stone. It smells very woody. Water tames down the wood for a moment, but it comes back soon. Mouth: dark chocolate, sawdust. Behind that, apricot juice -- actually, very hot apricot compote. Water makes it more balanced, jammy. Finish: big and hairy, with smoke, burning hay, cigar smoke. Again, water allows citrus-y notes to shine through (marmalade). 7/10

Very good drams, great food, but I am disappointed with the experience, overall. The service was mostly average, for a start: with one notable exception, it felt like the staff was bothered by our presence, and in a hurry to not provide a pleasant experience. The worst aspect, though is the whisky selection. The bar is decently stocked up (Campbeltown and Cadenhead both well represented), there are many glass cabinets around the rooms, including a couple with bottles and paraphernalia for sale, yet the most interesting bottles are for display only, unavailable to order or purchase. Why rub them in the faces of willing customers, then?
It is not the first time I see that in Scotland, and I simply cannot regard a bar that does that as world class.

Looky, but no touchy
You can look, but you can't touch

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