An Ardbeg Double-Shot: Corryvreckan (2013) vs. Uigeadail (2011)

Music: Queen, “Ogre Battle”

This might just be it. I might just have to except that Ardbeg is my dram. Depressing as it may be in Toronto (it is prohibitively expensive here). So much so that my stock of Ardbeg has come entirely from other provinces/countries, by the good graces of friends bringing me bottles. This Uigeadail is a follow up to the 2010 I enjoyed a year or so ago, and the Corryvreckan is a 2013. The rumours that the Corryvreckan has fallen in quality makes me a bit giddy with delight, if something this good could have been much better under the stress of less demand. It means we may see that day again, in the far off, distant future.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (2011)

Nose: More caramel and less sherry than it’s 2010 brethren. Very sweet, actually. The chocolatey bog is still here, though! Peaty goodness. Give it some time and we get a dusty sticky toffee pudding. Smoked mussels underneath it all.

Palate: Creamy, sherried and peated dark chocolate. It really has that elegance that so many other Islays fail to marry with the brute force of smoky peat.  Seaweed and a touch of salt.

Finish: Long, drying, cocoa, brine and charred wood.

Grade: A

Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2013)

Nose: This one is sweet, too, but immediately brighter. Like salted toffee. Of course, “toffee and caramel” are pretty much the same, but the key point is the brightness of hardened, crunchy, SKOR-like toffee, vs. your typically dark and chewy square caramels. The big note after the immediate sweetness is freshly-shucked oysters; that salty, briny, but bright shellfish smell. Peat and smoke hide in the background.

Palate: Peat, tar, iodine, smoke and ash. A real peat monster if there was one. The attack is somewhat sharp, but it’s more an onslaught of Islay than ethanol. As the Islay tidal wave subsides, there is this creamy, sweet and bright toffee from the nose, as well as some marmalade. How in the world does peat just wash away to leave something so delicate behind? Unbelievable.

Finish: Less drying than the Uigeadail, but just as sweet. Sponge toffee (think the filling of a Crunchie bar). Leather, peat and smoke.

Grade: A

What some would call “unbalanced”, I call magic. Ardbeg does this sort of sleight-of-hand so well with their NAS whiskies: it gives you one thing in the nose, but then completely turns the tables on the palate. Sure, there are common themes throughout, but what is bright and forefront in one, is understated in the other. Together, these two provide a complete experience: the power of Islay, with the elegance of more mainland whisky. The Uigeadail manages to marry their brand of peat and brine with what I can only describe as a Glenfarclas 15, whereas the Corryvreckan marries itself to an american oak Highland Park (something like the 10 at cask strength). Ardbeg shows again and again that “Age does not a great whisky make”. Arguably, without the age statement, a whisky has to work just that much harder to sell you, and I feel like the fine folks at Ardbeg take that to heart.

And with this, the Corryvreckan takes my #1 spot. A momentus occasion. Cue the horns!

“He gives a great big cry, and he can swallow up the ocean.”

Three Bland Casks: Balvenie 16 Triple Cask (Travel Exclusive)

Music: Fastball, “The Way”

I acquired two ounces of this travel exclusive edition of Balvenie from a colleague in a trade, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to get to trade whisky, because it lets you try things you might not otherwise be able to acquire, either by availability or cost. In this way, while the review is harsh, I offer nothing but thanks to the colleague who swapped me for the Glendronach 15. With hope, he found something he enjoyed (he should, the Glendronach 15 is brilliant… review soon, I promise!), and I was able to show the whisky community that yes, there are some expensive drams I don’t like. Winners, all.

Nose: Sweet, malty, brown sugar and indiscernable berries. Peppery. Some alcoholic tinge (How???). The nose is the best part, and that doesn’t really say much.

Palate: Thin. The 40% really hits here… it’s just so watery. Warming. It tastes more like alcohol than my a’Bunadh, and that always perplexes me. Malty, vanilla (bourbon cask, I guess) and somewhat tart (Oloroso?). Floral. There isn’t really much here, and I don’t really care to strain my senses to find notes in this one. First-fill casks, my ass. $110 duty-free, so I’ve heard. Yikes.

Finish: Short.White granulated sugar. Black pepper.

Grade: C+

Could be good at 43%, but then again, Auchentoshan 12 is also 40%, and is considerably better. Not much to say, unfortunately–except perhaps, “save your money.”

“An exit to eternal summer’s slacking, but where were they going without ever knowing the way?

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
Bronze:
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
Silver
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Bronze:
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
Silver
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
Silver
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
Silver
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
Silver
: Macallan Cask Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.

Tall, Dark and Handsome: Highland Park 18

Music: The Tragically Hip, “The Darkest One”

This is an example of why you should have whisky friends (of course, aside from the fact that whisky is best enjoyed with friends): trading samples. As a boy, I traded hockey cards. Now that I’m older, I trade whisky. Perhaps the best way to expand one’s whisky knowledge without spending a bunch of money.

A sample of the Highland Park 18yo came to me via a trade for a sample of the 2012 Lagavulin 12yo cask strength, and a sample of the Highland Park 10yo (40%).

Nose: Rich. Bready. Floral, Fruit salad, apples, malt and sherry in the back ground. Molasses and peat smoke.
Opens up with 3 drops of water.

Palate: Plent viscous. Sponge toffee. Oatmeal and brown sugar. Smoke and molasses. Cherries, chocolate, peat and spearmint.

Finish: Medium-long, warming. Pepper, cherry stones, sponge toffee and smoke.

Grade: A-

The reviews are right in that this dram is the most balanced one flavour-wise. It has a little bit of everything, and in that way its remarkable. It’s also balanced between nose and palate. At 46%, this dram would likely be an A. For all the nitpicking, I’ll join in the chorus to say that the Highland Park 18yo is one damn fine dram.

“Where the wild are strong, and the strong are the darkest ones… and you’re the darkest one.”