Ardmore 2013-2018, 4yo, 57.2% – Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting

Last April I finally participated in a Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting. These tastings are legendary among whisky lovers and somehow I had never done one, until three months ago that is.

You might have read my shameful post about accidentally blending scraps of the Glen Scotia and Glenlossie I bought there, which sucked majorly. Luckily that wasn’t all I got, since there also was this wee Ardmore.

Mitch, who hosted the tasting and is also coming to Maltstock, wanted to surprise us with this, but chalk letters on the side of the cask stating ‘Ardmore’ kind of spoiled that surprise. After giving us a dram and asking for a guess to the age, I felt something was up. People were guessing 15 and 16 years old, but I figured he was tricking us and I went down a lot, to nine years old. I was still more than 100% off (if calculated from the actual age. If done the other way around, I was more than 50% off). A four year old Ardmore was in our glass.

Everybody loved it. All five of us on the tasting. Especially at a bottle coming in at 40 pounds, this was a steal.

20180703_212607.jpgSniff:
It’s sharp, but more like 52% than 57% sharp. There’s a whiff of vanilla and some good old Highland peat smoke coming through. Grass and hay, with custard for a bit of sweetness. Apple pie too, so I’m currently craving a proper apple crumble, or a strudel or something.

Sip:
It’s slightly sharp on the arrival, but it mellows quickly to a more warming glow. It’s still quite spirity but I think the oak has been very active to have imparted this amount of wood, sweetness and vanilla on it in four years. Even though vanilla is one of the main contributors, it’s doesn’t distract from the spirit and the gorgeous smokiness in it.

Swallow:
On the finish it gets a bit more sooty, and there are more hints of charcoal and peat than before. So, more the remains of smoke than actual smoke. Slightly bacon like, maybe? Still vanilla and apple sauce, and oak.

Well this isn’t the new best thing ever, it is a very, very good whisky for a very decent price at a ridiculously young age. For forty quid, you can’t really go wrong with a nice Ardmore at cask strength. Even if it is only four years old.

87/100

Ardmore 2013-2018, 4yo, Bourbon Hogshead, 57.2%, Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting.

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3 Arrans by Highland Titles

Highland Titles is a foundation selling tiny plots of land as a souvenir, a bit like the Friends of Laphroaig plots. However, where the Friends of Laphroaig are more a gimmick, the idea behind Highland Titles is to combine all those tiny plots into nature reserves and preserve Scottish forests this way.

A very good idea if you ask me, and I’m now getting rather enthusiastic about joining that. I am easy to enthuse…

Under his company’s flag Peter Bevis, who started the whole thing, released a triptych of Arran whiskies in 2012 and 2013. When dining at Wullie Macmorland’s last January we tried one of these Arrans and it turned out to be a very good one, at a very affordable price (as in, 60 bucks for a bottle of cask strength, sherry cask matured Arran at 15 years old).

When one of Peter Bevis’ Dutch friends started selling his bottles through Facebook I quickly did a bottle share with them and I got one of each of all three. One sherry puncheon and two bourbon hogsheads.

Sales through Facebook didn’t go very fast since information on these bottlings is very limited (not to say, there’s none at all) and the labels are riddled with typos. On the front it says ‘distilled in 1987’, almost a decade before Arran opened its doors. The back label has more random typographical errors (‘bottlred on…’, ‘colourd…’), and this made a lot of people mistrust the authenticity of the bottlings.

I (sort of) knew what I was getting into, so I bought them anyway. Especially since the guy who sold them is a known figure, as is Peter Bevis. And I doubt Wullie would allow fake whisky into his restaurant.

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Arran 1997-2013, Sherry Puncheon 235, 53% – Highland Titles

The nose of the sherry cask is fruity with a lot of barley in the background. Oak, with a more complex nose than I expected. Peach, apricot, and soft wood. The palate shows hints of crushed black pepper, dry oak and some chili heat. Apricot, peach and peach stones too. The finish is a bit lighter, with sweetness and bitterness nicely combined. Lots of oak ad peach stones.

88/100

Arran 1997-2012, Bourbon Hogshead 234, 53.9% – Highland Titles

The nose of this first Bourbon Hogshead is very classic. Slightly coastal with lots of barley and oak. Some oatmeal, straw and candied lemon. The palate is a bit on the sweet side with barley and vanilla custard. Slightly salty with hints of apple and iron. Ever so slightly bitter with apple seeds. Creamy with a sharp edge. The finish is more dry than expected, not very long but it ticks the boxes. Sweet and a hint of salt, with barley and oak.

88/100

Arran 1997-2013, Bourbon Hogshead 159, 55% – Highland Titles

This one is significantly sharper on the nose. Hints of straw with some vanilla and a lot of oak. Some putty, so there’s a weird note in there too. Not necessarily bad, but weird. Hazelnut, white almond, and baked apple. The palate is dry and sharper than I’d expect of 55%. Lots of fresh oak and nutty. Slightly bitter hints of apple, iron and brittle ears of barley. The finish brings back the sweet vanilla with some heat from the oak and alcohol. Dry oak, apple, iron.

85/100

As you’ve seen by the ‘Malt Marks’, I really liked the first two, and didn’t really care for the third one. I guess when tasted on its own, the third one might score a bit higher, but now it kind of falls flat against its brethren.

Still, at 60 euros a pop, all three are great deals and you get a lot of value for your money.

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Octomore 08.2/167ppm, 2008-2017, 8yo, 58.4%

20180627_091836.jpgSlowly but surely slightly older Octomore are being released. In the case of Octomore it’s a bit weird since the age on the label will not entirely reflect a decent price point. Mostly because producing the whisky is ridiculously expensive. Peating barley to this level is painstakingly slow and costs significantly more than a regular peating level like it’s sister Port Charlotte has. Therefore, there never has been an official Octomore under 100 euros, and they are sometimes way more than that.

This is peated to a level of 167 parts per million of phenols in the barley. This means the level of peat smoke in the whisky is lower than that, but the exact level is unknown (this is also why a 15ppm An’Cnoc tastes really peaty, since that’s measured in the spirit.

This batch is an 08.2 batch, and so far all the x.2 batches have been matured in wine casks. This one is no exception with a mix of “Mourvedre, Sauternes, Sweet Wine, Amarone” has been used. I’m not sure what ‘Sweet Wine’ means in this case.

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Sniff:
On the nose there’s a lot of dry peat with sweet red fruits. Typical scents for a wine cask matured whisky, with old wood and wet dirt. It’s very strong, but also quite predictable if you’ve had x.2’s before.

Sip:
Even though the ABV is high but not *that* high, it tastes a lot stronger on arrival. Razor sharp at first and it takes a while to mellow. Earthy with peat smoke and peat. Lots of oak and red fruits. Grapes, cherries. And very dry.

Swallow:
The finish isn’t much different than the palate. Of course it mellows a bit, but the flavors fade rather swiftly.

Well, Octomore is getting better with the years. It improves with a little bit more age to it. However, that also means that the peat in the spirit mellows, and it makes me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better as a ‘Port Charlotte’. It feels a bit strange to pay extra for the insane level of peat, and then again for prolongued aging.

Anyway, a rather good whisky, but not one that will change my opinion on Octomore (which is: too strong, too peaty). Having said that, the wine casks do add a nice layer of flavors to the whisky, and so far these wine casks have been my favorite Octomores.

86/100

Octomore 08.2/167ppm, 2008-2017, 8yo, Mourvedre, Sauternes, Sweet Wine, Amarone casks, 58.4%. Available from 110 euros and up

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My accidental blend…

Last week I blogged about Ardbeg and spontaneously comparing it to my ‘accidental blend’. This blending happening deserves a post of its own, which also is a bit of a ‘look at me fucking up’ post… I’ve embarrassed myself in a new way, so to say.

In the run up to our recent Scotland trip I got a lot of requests from people asking me to bring them bottles. For a lot of them I said no, since I was planning on doing some buying myself. Also, my friends wanted stuff for their collections and I had some requests from family members already.

Also, I’m not overly comfortable bringing bottles for random people that I don’t know very well, or in which case I’ve not covered the risks properly (breakage, customs, you know). Lastly “bring me a bottle of something good from Bowmore” is a bit too arbitrary an order for my liking.

However, after all was said and done, I brought bottles for some people, and quite some bottles for bottle sharing. There was overlap in this, and that’s where things went wrong.

One specific case with bottles from Cadenhead’s AND a loose order resulted in:

  • Half a bottle of 1993 Glenlossie for FV, who I was at Cadenhead’s with
  • Half a bottle of 1993 Glenlossie for my father in law
  • 20cl for myself
  • 50cl of this for bottle sharing

In that bottle share was a bottle of 2001 Glen Scotia from a rather ‘dirty’ sherry cask, but with the exact same colour as the 1994 Glenlossie.

After splitting the bottle and doing the share everything was actually fine. Everything was divided, everything was poured. I could sit back and relax. However, my sense of warped customer service kicked in, because the half bottle I had taken out of the original bottle was sitting in a random empty bottle of something I had emptied the week before (and cleaned, obviously).

 

I thought it would be nice for my father in law to have the original bottle, which I had sitting with 20cl in it.

What happened next was that I grabbed what *I thought* was the 20cl of Glenlossie, but turned out to be the 20cl of Glen Scotia. I poured 30cl of the Glenlossie into the Glen Scotia.

I then continued to start drinking the remaining 20cl of Glenlossie, because that was my share.

It wasn’t until a week later, with the bottles still sitting ready for dispatch, I suddenly glimpsed the label saying ‘Glen Scotia’. I did a double take, and panicked a bit, because it hit me right away what I had done. By this time, the remaining 20cl of Glenlossie had almost gone, and I had only some random blend left.

A blend of 20cl of Glen Scotia and 30cl of Glenlossie. My evil side popped up with thoughts like “since nobody tasted it before, I could get away with it”, which I probably could, but I didn’t want to be such a dick.

The drawback was, obviously, that this blended variant of what I actually purchased was less good than both the original parts. The fun fact was that it still was quite a ways better than the Ardbeg Grooves Committee Release.

It is actually quite interesting to taste something like this, because it turned out okay-ish. Neither of the whiskies really overpowered the other, although the dirtiness of the Glen Scotia (which I really liked) was toned down a bit. Maybe that was a good thing?

Edit: As it turns out, I’m still confused since I got Glenlossie/Glen Scotia wrong. That’s fixed now.

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Two Clynelishes from the mid-nineties

Ah, Clynelish. Another one of these Diageo distilleries that doesn’t release a lot under their own name (except for the great 14 year old and Distiller’s Edition). Of course, there is the occasional Select Reserve from 2014 and 2015, but those… well… those were received well on flavor, but less good on price.

Then there is the nigh infinite supply of independent Clynelish releases. Almost every bottler seems able to get their hands on some casks. Most of these are bourbon casks, but sometimes there’s a sherry one too. Today, both are from a sherry cask.

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Image from Whiskybase

The first is a 1996, 20 year old Clynelish from Signatory. A 46% bottling drawn from Sherry Butt 11376.

It starts with the thick, syrupy scent of raisins. Rather sweet with almost PX like sherry. Plums too, but also something savory, in an aged balsamic vinegar style. Some honey and candle wax.

The palate is smooth, rich and rounded. Creamy with some raisins and a slightly bitter twist. There’s a thick fruity sweetness with oak and honey.

On the finish it gets a bit lighter, maybe even a little bit thin. It’s not very long but has a nice balance between sweet and bitter, fruit and oak. And then it goes back to the honey and candle wax.

So, a rather traditional Clynelish with lots of familiar notes. The finish wasn’t bad, but not something to write home about either, and that more or less goes for the entire whisky. Keep in mind that this bottle only cost 60 euros when it came out, so it is still tremendous value for money!

86/100

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Image from Whiskybase

The second Clynelish is a 21 year old, also from 1996 and bottled at 46% from Sherry Butt 8793.

On the nose it starts with raisins and dates, even rum like with a lot of sweetness. Slightly spicy with almonds and slightly bitter cherry stones. A gentle whiff of oak and waxiness. The waxiness is more like the waxy scent of dates and raisins.

The palate continues down the smooth and rich track. It’s not as rich as the nose but the raisins and dates are back for sweetness, as are the cherry stones and almonds for a bitter note. It’s oaky and sweet and ever so slightly waxy. There’s a hint of barley every now and then.

The finish has a surprisingly sharp note, and the almond, cherry stone and oaky bitterness is more pronounced than it was before.

Even though this second Clynelish was a bit less typically waxy, it does have a bit more complexity and is, maybe, a bit less overpowered by the cask. It feels like there’s more to discover and the increased notes of oak and almonds, together with the speck of barley on the palate make this one a bit more likeable for me.

89/100

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Some Ardbeg and some realizations

The best way to describe this here blog is ‘whisky ramblings’. I don’t consider myself to be a very capable whisky taster, with inconsistencies over the years at best. Every now and then my preferences change and with it, my scores. Not in the least, I prove this annually in the Blind Tasting Competition

Also, sometimes I get the feeling I only taste varieties of malty/bready notes, sometimes it’s all about fruit and there are other options too. Whether this is due to the simple fact that my palate changes, I have different preferences or I happen to randomly taste a lot of similar whiskies in a row, I don’t know.

More professional tasters have a benchmark whisky they use to clean and set their palate so they always have the same vantage point for each dram they try. I never do that, because

  • I don’t like to spend money on a benchmark whisky
  • I try to not drink too much
  • I think, with my changing palate, it doesn’t matter anyway.
  • This only compares the whisky you’re tasting to the benchmark, and not necessarily its peers.

Recently, however, I found out there might something to say for a different approach to tasting my whiskies after all. This is not about tasting them in the morning, because that’s simply not going to happen unless you’re tasting professionaly.

20180602_232231This was when I was tasting the recently purchased Ardbeg Grooves Committee Release, which I bought at the distillery in April. When trying this I thought they had finally bottled a good ‘Distillery Only’ whisky again.

On the nose I got leather and fruit with a hint of Allstar-rubber (the shoes, that is). Some winegums and a lot of soft oakiness. Old barley with overripe tropical fruits like mango and papaya. Then the palate continued down the same route but was a bit more sharp than I expected for a 51.6% whisky. The finish was rather long with ‘old spirit’, and old barley.

There was a certain heavy smokiness to the dram, but it was more gentle than I am used to from Ardbeg.

Also, I’m not going into the marketing nonsense around it being called Grooves, it being a mellow dram, and all the jibber-jabber about Ardbeg in the 1960s. It’s all just too ridiculous.

I was positively surprised by the whisky, and I finished my 10cl (it was a bottle share) right then and there. After that, I picked up something else from my shelf (an accidental blend of 1994 Glenlossie and 2001 Glen Scotia, both Cadenhead’s. More about that in another post) and poured myself a glass of that.

Suddenly, the Ardbeg was shit, compared to this whisky. Well, maybe not shit, but far, far less impressive. The whiskies in that home-blend cost less or the exact same as the Ardbeg, and the blend was worse than both the individual parts. And yet, this was a far more impressive dram than the Ardbeg.

What I’m trying to say is that when comparing a whisky to another, you get far different results than when you taste something individually. Whether that is a good thing depends on what you’re looking for.

Mostly, because I was rather chuffed with that Ardbeg being a lot better than I expected, until I tried the other dram. Then I didn’t really care about the Ardbeg anymore and didn’t really now how to score it, or where to put it in the picking order.

It does remind me of the Islay tastings I go to each November. Somehow, we often start with that year’s Ardbeg Day release, and always we’re positively surprised. However, after the tasting, no one talks about the Ardbeg anymore. I guess, apart from the very old ones and some rare exceptions, it’s just not a very impressive distillery anymore…

87/100 (scored before comparing…)

Ardbeg Grooves, Committee Release, 51.6%

 

 

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A dram in the morning

Over the last decade I have read a lot about whisky. About the production process, the background and history of distilleries and (semi)scientific writings about which molecules have which influence during fermentation and maturation. In many whisky books and magazines you can read interviews with distillery managers and blenders and such. Always someone with a good nose and palate who can wax lyrically about their whisky. What they always say is that your palate is best at the end of the morning, right before lunch.

highland-park-valkyrie-whiskyI always taken for granted that this is true, because their experience vastly trumps mine, and because it makes sense. Generally, apart from a cup of coffee, it’s been hours since you ate something, and you’re not too tired from the day’s doings. Good arguments, but (apart from at Maltstock) who drinks whisky in the morning?

Last summer I visited De Whiskykoning in Den Bosch during a morning I spent on my former home turf. I walked in right after he opened the front door. It was about a quarter past eleven when the owner of the shop, Rob Stevens, offered me a dram of something new that he really liked. The Highland Park Valkyrie, in this case.

I was a bit skeptical because it was rather early still, with a full day ahaed of me. Also, official and affordable Highland Parks haven’t been something to write home about over the last couple of years. Worse, even the quite a bit more expensive ones aren’t that good either (cough, enter random nordic sounding thing here). It felt a bit weird to have a whisky before lunch. On the other hand, I’m Dutch, so I am not wont to decline a free drink like that.

It turned out to be a rather light whisky, but with quite some scents and flavors to be discovered. I realized that a whisky like this would not work as a digestive or later at night, it’s a bit too light for that. This whisky will not be strong enough to overcome the barrage of flavors that linger after dinner. Also, during a tasting or something like that, it should be the start of the line up.

20170914_152721After coming to grips with enjoying a whisky on a ‘work day’ like that, I started to understand why, right before lunch like that, is a great moment for tasting certain whiskies. The arguments from blenders and distillers are correct. Not that I doubted them, but I prefer to get empyrical proof of these things myself.

A few days later, I had an old Dalwhinnie in the AM. Old as in, it was the regular 15 year old but a bottling from the early nineties. I experienced the same thing again. A very light dram that is a lot better without any ‘palate pollution’.

Obviously I’m not trying to tell you to change your routine by swapping coffee for hard liquor, but I did think this was a very interesting experience. It’s a very different approach of drinking a whisky, which a very different result of doing it ‘normally’.

A counter argument for this is, obviously, that a whisky that won’t stand up to an influenced palate at the end of the day is not a whisky that you should buy to drink in the evening. However, that Highland Park was flavorful enough to be enjoyed at the campfire during a recent camping trip. Not a whisky that demands attention, but one that’s just ‘quite good’ and very tasty.

At some 70 euros, it is a bit expensive for ‘quite good’, but I bought it anyway, after trying it before lunch. The bottle design helps. I didn’t read the nonsensical backstory that has nothing to do with the whisky, but first impressions count, and it looks gorgeous.

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