Ardbeg 1815

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 50.1% | Colour: Dirty Gold

Review
It’s been exactly one day since I’ve been back after spending almost ten days on Islay for the 2016 Feis Ile. It’s a massive re-adjustment, I tell you. I was there last year as well but for half the amount of time and it took me almost six months to recover. Lord only knows how long I’m going to take this time around.

Add to the fact that I went with six other friends is only going to make the memories better and harder to get over. So here’s a tip of my hat to a very special boys trip!

Our last day on the island started off cold and windy. It was 8AM and we were stood in line outside the Ardbeg gates hoping to be one of the first to pick out one of many mystery tastings that were happening during the day.

Seems like Lady Luck was shining down on me as I ended up picking a Golden Ticket to one of the mystery tastings. The only thing they told us was that the tasting would be with Micky Heads, the distillery manager.

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After solving the (rather easy) cryptic message on the paper we discovered the tasting was due to happen at midday, with Micky & Philco at the Not So Dark Cove.

We first collected at a gate behind the Ardbeg sea-view cottage and were promptly informed that due to unavoidable circumstances Micky would be unable to attend. In his place Philco would conduct the tasting. There was a collective groan by everyone but the promise of large drams brought out a big cheer proving once and for all that all whisky drinkers care about is whisky and nothing else.

As we made our way (around twenty of us) to a secluded rocky inlet by the water there sat Micky, dressed up as a funny looking smuggler complete with flowing black robes and a fake beard. Big cheers followed and we settled ourselves on the sharp rocks to saver some serious whiskies.
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The first out of the chest was the Ardbeg Dark Cove, the Festival Release. Lovely dram and I think one of the better Ardbeg Feis bottlings in recent years. Accompanying the whisky were lovely black Ardbeg Night glasses produced specially for the day.

This was followed by the Ardbeg Alligator Committee Release and then a lovely and delicate bourbon single cask from 1974 – Cask 3498.

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Beautifully constructed flavours on the all the whiskies and, so far, things were going swimmingly well.

However, this all paled in comparison when the last whisky of the tasting was pulled out for all to gasp and whoop in joy. Philco stood proudly displaying it to a cacophony of clicking cameras and the occasional wolf whistle. For he had in his hand the Ardbeg 1815.

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Released last year for the 200th Anniversary of the distillery the spirit inside this bottle is quite special. A mix of 1974 first-fill bourbon and 1975 first-fill sherry it was vatted together in a glass container for six months before making it into 400 bottles. The younger spirit is approximately 33 years old and is quite a throw back to the days when Ardbeg reigned supreme.

I thought of pulling out my notebook and taking down some notes right there. I even thought about decanting the spirit into a sample bottle and trying it later at home. But both options meant that I would be unable to enjoy the spirit and the place that I was in. So, with a little bit left in my glass, I chose, instead, to sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the ocean to enjoy this fine spirit.

Beautifully oily on the nose. Quite sweet. Hints of nuts. A rounded earthiness that showed it’s character. Something salty and mineral – maybe because I was sitting on sea drenched rocks. Sweet coffee beans and milk chocolate on the palate accompanied that same oiliness I found on the nose. Those nuts again.

Again, it’s not the most magnificent whisky I have drunk or ever will, but it is certainly one of the most special. Yes, it costs £3000 pounds a bottle and there’s only 400 bottles of it ever produced.

But the fact that I sat amongst fellow whisky nuts savouring this special spirit with the highly likeable Micky Heads at one of my favourite distilleries was the real treat. Add to that this was the way I was closing off one memorable trip made the moment even more special.

The rest of the day went by in a blur as we drank more and more Ardbeg, danced in the open courtyard, made new friendships and cemented existing ones.

As one of our friends so rightly said on the trip : I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but today is a good day.

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New Scoring System

Balvenie cover
I’ve been thinking long and hard about this for a while and have finally come to the conclusion that my current rating system of marking whiskies out of 100 has started to limit my scoring.

I have essentially a 20 point scale (largely) from 80 to 100 which I feel doesn’t accurately represent what I really want to mark. I began using my current system based on connosr.com who in turn, I believe, borrowed from Jim Murray. I have realized now that system is flawed.

I will, therefore, now adopt the scotchwhisky.com scoring scale preferred by Dave Broom which marks whiskies out of 10 and includes decimal points. However, that system does not individually account for scoring the nose, palate and finish instead awarding an over all score to the whisky. I feel it’s important to score each facet of a whisky.

Henceforth, I will now rate the Nose, Palate & Finish each on a scale of 1 – 10 (including decimal points) and award the whisky an average score out of 10 based on the total of the three scores.

This will allow me the luxury of having a greater spread of scores and a more distinct demarcation across my tastings.

Here’s the scale (taken from scotchwhisky.com)

0-3+ Appalling/Faulty = Are you kidding me?
4+ Poor = What’s the point?
5+ Average = Meh
6+ Good = Hmmmm, not bad
7+ Really good = Now we’re talking
8+ Great = I could get used to this
9+ Outstanding = You complete me

I think I’m going to like this system better. Here’s a link to my older system in case you’re looking.

King Car Whisky – Conductor

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Distillery/Brand:
King Car | Region: Taiwan | ABV: 46 | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
My first brush with this legendary distillery was through their insanely awesome Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry. I mean it literally grabbed me by the tenders and swung me through the air. There was no way I was prepared for that type of sensory onslaught. But one thing was certain, I was going to find out more.

I ran into a couple of more Kavalans in the next few months and was equally impressed. My curiosity grew. As did my appetite for whiskies from this Asian phenom and, given the slew of awards being won by them, I was obviously not alone in my opinion.

The brand Kavalan is owned by a Taiwanese group called King Car which, when you check their website, you realise is a massive industrial giant producing everything from root beer, processed foods, coffee, green tea, water to, of course, whisky. While the facade may seem monolithic there is certainly something wonderful happening behind those whisky doors to produce spirit of such brilliant quality.

While most of their expressions carry the name Kavalan they have also released one called the Conductor and is named after the distillery, King Car. There’s not a lot of literature to go around regarding this specific release except that it’s been composed of eight casks, two of which are bourbon and sherry and the rest only Ian Chang, the master distiller knows.

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

Nose: Rose water. Dark honey. Sherry oak. Red berries. Wild berries. Black salt. Chocolate. Betel nut lead. Tobacco lead. Cigar box. Quite herbaceous. Leafy greens. It’s quite crisp. It has more of a sherry attack than bourbon which might shed some light on the remaining casks in play. Overall I like it. 22/25

Palate: Dark honey again. Bitter chocolate – the kind I like. Sweet molasses. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Rock salt. Tobacco. Red berries. Once again I feel the sherry is the dominant force here. Probably some type of Oloroso cask. It’s quite a lovely crisp palate. There’s a certain tanginess to it too which I quite like. 23/25

Finish: Nice and long. Spicy. Touch of oak. Oily. Pomegranate. 22/25

Overall Comments: I wish there was more info to be had so that I could really see how the various components had been put together. It’s not as good as the Solist series but certainly better than the core range. Solid whisky with absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Rating: 89

Laphroaig 11

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48% | Colour: Bronze
Nose: 20 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 83

Review
Those who know me know that I have the softest spot in the world for Laphroaig. It was the first distillery that I had ever visited. I have had some of my best drinking experiences with whiskies from this iconic giant. Sure, like any other love affair, there have been low points in our relationship but those have largely been off set by some stunning spirits.

And since there’s very few recent Laphroaigs that I’ve not tasted I’m always jumping at the opportunity to sink my teeth into any latest offering from them and offer my unsolicited two cents. As was the case with this eleven year old travel retail launched exclusively for Amsterdam Airport.

I was at my friends’ house just ploughing through one independent after another when he put this on the table much to my glee. I had been meaning to get my hands on this but trips to Amsterdam are very few and extremely far between so it turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise.

Now I didn’t know much about this particular offering other than it was exclusive to Amsterdam but I swear as soon as I nosed it I blurted out the words ‘Triple Wood’ ! Upon further examination it was revealed that the maturation process of this and the Triple Wood is exactly the same. First-fill bourbon, followed by Quarter Casks and finally in European Oloroso Sherry, thereby, rendering both spirits almost identical.

This forces me to speculate that maybe my favourite distillery is simply coming up with creative ways of flogging the same spirit to different markets simply by using different labels. I can’t say I’ve not heard that before and, to be honest, it’s being done so much nowadays that it’s almost the norm. But it’s a little frustrating when you pay 150 Euros for an eleven year old whisky who’s taste profile is exactly the same as another NAS from the same portfolio and available at less than 40% of the retail price.

I expect something more and something unique if you’re going to name it and package it differently. Bit of a rip off if you ask me.

Oh well.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48%

Nose: That extremely typical Laphroaig peat. Iodine. Liquorice. Red fruits. Pomegranate. There’s a certain thick sherry sweetness to it as well -like molasses. Nuts. Almonds, actually. Touch of milk chocolate. Malted milk (that’s the Oloroso sherry before it settles down) – like Horlicks. Oaky. Red berries. Black rock salt. Something mineral about it too. Sea washed pebbles. Kelp. And a coastal saltiness. Do I like it? Not really. It’s just so mainstream. 20/25

Palate: The same. Exactly as I imagined it would be. Red fruits. Berries. Tobacco leaf. Quite spicy. Very spicy infact. A red chilie spice – quite sharp. But mixed with milk chocolate. Touch of mint. And a really sharp betel leaf quality to it as well. Again, so expected. 21/25

Finish: Strange finish. Can’t quite put my finger on it. A bit out of balance. Oak. Quite oily. Cinnamon. And that sharp red chilie again. 21/15

Overall Comments: What am I supposed to say? It’s the Three Wood disguised as an eleven year old and sold at more than twice the price. Is that fair? Nope.

Rating: 83