Ardbeg Almost There

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.1% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Palate: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24
Strength: 25 | Variety: 23 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 25
Final Score: 96.5

Review
Dear God! There was some real old school magic going on at Ardbeg when they re-opened in 1997. I don’t care how bad the economy how do you close down a distillery that produced spirit of this quality? Utter madness.

Well, thank you Glenmorangie for doing what you did.

Quick recap for the uninitiated. After Ardbeg opened it’s doors in 1997 they, on their way to the standard 10, decided to release four committee only bottlings of the spirit on it’s journey.

The first is called Very Young and is a six year old whisky. The second installment is called Still Young at eight years. The third Almost There at nine years. And finally the Renaissance which went on to become their standard 10 year old single malt.

The series is called Path to Peaty Maturity and you will seldom see the art of whisky making reaching such lofty heights. Almost flawlessly crafted these spirits are the reason people go bananas trying to get hold of each new Ardbeg.

It was a little over a year ago that I first tasted the Still Young and was suitably floored. And so last night I decided enough was enough and brought out my spare bottle of the Almost There to remind myself why this distillery is so close to my heart.

The spirit in my hand has been distilled in 1998 and bottled on February 27, 2007 at approximately nine years of age. The code on the bottle is L7 058 23:55 4ML and bottled at a cask strength of 54.1%

Nose: Tight citrus. Raw sugar. Tart lime. Black salt. Pineapple. A controlled peat. Milk chocolate. Cherries. Black licorice. Soot. Ash. All spice. It’s a touch more savory than it’s younger brother. That extra year of maturation shows. Such brilliantly balanced aromas. 24/25

Palate: Lemon tart. Spices. Vanilla. Oak. Bitter chocolate. All spice. Cumin. Lemon curd. Gets fruitier mid-palate. Cherries. Green apple. Pineapple. This one is gorgeously layered and the flavors keep swimming in and out of focus but stay within their family. 24/25

Finish: Insanely long. Oily. Lime. Lemon. Cumin powder. 24/25

Balance: 24/25

Strength: Crisp. On point. Strong. Bold. Cask strength. Perfect. 25/25

Quality: Almost incomparable. Crafted by hand. Almost artisan. 24/25

Variety: Good old fashioned flavors come at you one after another. 23/25

Harmony: An essay in perfection. 25/25

Based on my scores I award this whisky 96.5 points

Paul John Peated Select

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Distillery/Brand: Paul John | Region: India | ABV: 55.5% | Color: Gold
Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23
Strength: 25 | Variety: 20 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 22
Final Score: 91.5

Review
I recently hosted a Paul John evening for some close friends. Given the consistently high performing Amrut, the other Indian single malt, hopes were quite high for this too.
I’ve tasted the Paul John Brilliance before and thought it was a decent dram. Though, mind you, I liked it a touch less when I had it the second time around at the tasting. I think maybe the oxidization had intensified the vanilla too much.

Anyway, enough on the Brilliance. Let’s talk about the Peated Select. Given that we all (and by that I mean somewhat seasoned whisky drinkers) gravitate towards peat and cask strength spirits at some point in our journey there was understandable anticipation on what this bottle held.

Using the same base spirit as the other expressions the Peated Select includes spirit distilled from imported Scottish barley. It is also bottled at a reasonable cask strength of 55.5% (compared to the miserly 46% of the Brilliance and Edited – it’s locally available expressions). My sample was from a brand new bottle.

Nose: Peat. Quite sweet. Nuts. Lots of vanilla. Peaches. Oak. Cinnamon. Melon. Musk. Smells quite full bodied. Chocolate. Cherries. Fruit basket. I really like this nose. It doesn’t hold back. Captures, what I now feel is the distillery character, and layers an earthy peatiness on top. 23/25

Palate: Firing on all cylinders. Peat. Mango. Banana. Pineapple. Spices. Oak. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Licorice. Caramel. Quite full bodied. The spices spike and then mellow. The fruits remain consistent through out. It doesn’t give up flavors that easily but that just means you have to spend some time with it. 23/25

Finish: Long. Garam masala. Oak. Peat. 23/25

Balance: 23/25

Strength: Perfectly bottled at 55.5% – I really feel this is a good strength to truly appreciate this spirit. 25/25

Variety: Coaxing flavors from this one is a bit taxing. I would have liked more. And believe me, I tried. 20/25

Quality: Smells and feels top draw. 24/25

Harmony: No off-notes and performs quite consistently over time. 22/25

I would buy another bottle. For sure.

Based on my scores I give this whisky 91.5 points

BenRiach 25 Years Authenticus

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 46% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23
Strength: 22 | Variety: 23 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 24
Final Score: 92.5

Review
BenRiach and I did not have a very good first meeting. A Duty Free salesman decided to off-load a 20 year onto me back when I did not know my peat from my feet.

And let me tell you that was a vile drink. The oak had inflicted so much damage it was literally undrinkable. But this is not a BenRiach bash. Quite the opposite actually.

After a brief hiatus from this Speysider I decided to return and since then have had many a pleasant experience. The latest in this growing list of tastings is this 25 year old named Authenticus.

There’s literally no literature on the type of casks used to mature this spirit but I’m pretty sure it’s second-fill bourbon. Could be a vatting of sorts as well between first and re-fill. But I’m guessing at this point.

Regardless this is a very fine spirit which BenRiach claim to have peated ‘heavily’. After tasting so many Octomores and Port Charlottes heavy to me means something entirely different.

However, the peat is visibly there on the nose and palate so I’m going to guess between 18 – 25 ppm.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a chewy 46%

Nose: Peat. Fishnets. Citrus. Chocolate. Pink melon. Licorice. Hint of oak Wisp of smoke. Hardboiled sweets. Some type of flower. Could be lavender. Water chestnuts. The peat is sweet, fruity and mildly floral. I really like this nose. Reminds me of old school Ardbegs. Maybe not as heavily peated or as salty but walks a lovely line between sweet and peat. 23/25

Palate: Mild melons. Hardboiled sweets. Oak. Chocolate. Mint. Cinnamon. A hint of all spice. Nice controlled delivery and the texture is on point. No lethargy after spending 25 years cooped up in a barrel. Could easily pass off 10 years younger. In a good way. 23/25

Finish: Develops as you wait. Lots of big peaty smoke. 23/25

Balance: 23/25

Strength: This is me being greedy but I could have done with a four more percentage points. 22/25

Variety: A good variety of flavors across the spectrum. 23/25

Quality: Top stuff. Sophisticated oak. Sophisticated spirit. 24/25

Harmony: A lovely marriage of flavors with each one on point and working well with the others. 24/25

Rating: 92.5

Benrinnes 15 Years Darkness PX

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Distillery/Brand: Benrinnes | Region: Speyside | ABV: 53.3% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23
Strength: 25 | Variety: 23 | Quality: 23 | Harmony: 23
Final Score: 93

Review
Master of Malt, apart from being a fine whisky shop, are quite accomplished independent bottlers too. I’ve tried a number of their offerings and they seldom disappoint.

With Darkness! they’ve decided to do something quite bold. Taking existing spirit from different distilleries they subject it to 3 months in 50 liter casks previously filled with Oloroso or PX sherry. The smaller surface area created a far greater interaction between liquid and wood and out came sherry monsters.

This Benrinnes was 15 years old before being dropped in a PX cask and left to darken for 3 months. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a cask strength of 53.3%

Nose: Jam. Jam. Sticky jam. Caramel marchiatio. Brownies. Tamarind. Brown sugar. Black pepper. Becomes beautifully crisp over time. Even takes on some rose petals. It’s like literally sticking your nose into gooey, sticky jam. Definite sherry bomb. 23/25

Palate: Burst of cinnamon. Oak. Dates. Fudge. Chocolate. Hint of coconut oil. Black pepper. Gets savory mid-palate. Coffee beans. Burnt toast. Betel nut. This is very chewy and quite thick. Lovely. 23/25

Finish: Long. Oak. Cinnamon. Warm coffee. 23/25

Balance: 23/25

Strength: Yes, please. More cask strength the better. 25/25

Variety: Lots of flavors. Right across the spectrum. 23/25

Quality: Certainly no expense spared here. 23/25

Harmony: On point and consistently solid. 23/25

This is a lovely little experiment and given that every single bottle on MoM’s site is sold out can only mean they’ve done a fine job with this.

Rating: 93

BenRiach 17 Years Solstice Second Edition

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Distillery/Brand: BenRiach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 50% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Palate: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22
Strength: 22 | Variety: 21 | Quality: 22 | Harmony: 21
Final Score: 89

Review
I opened this one up about a year and a half ago after reading some good reviews about the First Edition and I wasn’t too impressed. It was decent enough, mind you. But I’m always looking for something spectacular. Maybe that’s my fault.

Of late I’ve got into the habit of re-visiting bottles I opened up a while ago and did not really fall in love. Kind of like giving a distant acquaintance a second chance to make a better impression. That’s just my kind side, I suppose.

And mind you, given the sheer number of unopened bottles in my bar re-tasting old whiskies means I’m foregoing something I haven’t tried before.

This one is quite heavily peated and finished off in Tawny Port Pipes after spending the majority of it’s maturation in ex-bourbon barrels. Bottled at 50% and my sample is from an open bottle with around 60ml gone from it.

Nose: Peat. Peaches. Warm coconut. Red licorice. Cherries. Sugar glaze. Salty. Berries. I feel it has improved over last time but maybe not drastically enough to warrant additional points. A lot more crisp that’s for sure. 22/25

Palate: There’s something a touch bitter first off. Not entirely bad. Spice. Orange. Oak. Coffee. Mint. Licorice. Banana. I like the palate a little better too. 22/25

Finish: Oily. Long. Oak. Some spice. 22/25

Balance: 22/25

Strength: Decent feel at 50%. Could it have been stronger? Why not? 22/25

Variety: Could be accused of being one dimensional by someone very picky. 21/25

Quality: No glaring lapses in standard here. 22/25

Harmony: Do all the elements come together perfectly? Not really but then again it’s no disaster, mind you. 21/25

I like this one a touch better than I did a year ago. Could be a couple of reasons. Oxidization has actually made it better. My tastes have changed. I’m a better judge now? Or poorer, perhaps.

Regardless, I like changing my opinion.

PS I gave it 86 points last time but for different reasons. This 87 feels very different. Not better or worse. Just different.

Rating: 87