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.

Ardbeg 1815 002A

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.

Bowmore SMWS Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 57.1% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

Review
The SMWS bottlings have held a certain level of mystique over me for some reason. The way they don’t put the name of the distillery on the bottle and ‘hide’ it behind numbers and fancy descriptions.

The minimalism of their packaging. The near brilliant consistency of their whiskies. Everything ticks the right boxes for me.

I remember my first SMWS. It was a seven year old Ardbeg and, my word, it was delicious. Since then I’ve been on a quest to get hold of as many as I can get my hands on.

Which is not always easy.

And this I found out the hard way during my trip to Islay last week for the Whisky Festival. Because this release was no where to be found. Of course, missing their open day didn’t help!

However, I did manage to snag a dram at the Ballygrant Inn.

The SMWS 3.243 is a 17 year old Bowmore matured in ex-Sherry butts served at a cask strength of 57.1%. My sample is from an open bottle.

Nose: Lots of toasted barley. Lots of it. Touch of peat. Hint of char. Like a toasted papadum. As the smoke clears the honey shines. A mild dark honey. Almost bitter savory. Jute bag. And a sprinkle of black salt. Complex nose this. Wonderfully layered.

Palate: Black pepper. That same dark honey. Banana. Rum toffee. Butterscotch. Berries. Hint of dark chocolate. Cinnamon. The spirit is quite full bodied and the oakiness settles in the open cracks of your mouth. Makes sense?

Finish: Long. Oak. Spices. Chocolate.

Overall Comments: A tasty whisky this. Quite chewy and nice. Another reason to drink SMWS.

Rating: 90

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Ardbeg AuriVerdes
Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 49.9% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review

It’s that time of the year again, folks! When emotions trump logic. When clear thinking is clouded. When, like crack addicts, we go insane for that one hit we have been waiting for since June 1 of last year.

I am, of course, talking about Ardbeg’s yearly Festival Release. This years’ must-have bottling is called the AuriVerdes.

‘Auri’ means gold and ‘Verdes’ means green. Which is basically to say there is gold liquid inside this green bottle. In Portugese. Not terribly creative I admit. It’s also the name of the Brazilian football team and, with the World Cup just around the corner, this is quite possibly a lawsuit in the making.

Let’s hope FIFA doesn’t bankrupt Ardbeg. How would we spend our hard earned cash on mediocre whiskies, otherwise?

This one has seen quite a different maturation process compared to other Ardbegs. The casks are American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels with normal Bourbon specification charring. Once in Scotland the heads were replaced with new American oak heads treated to a particular (and secret) toasting regime.

These re-worked barrels were then filled with spirit and ultimately blended together with Ardbeg from 1st and 2nd fill Bourbon barrels.

The idea was that the different wood elements would each lend their unique flavor profiles and create an entirely new flavor profile.

Did they succeed in a creating a unique flavored Ardbeg? Yes. Is it fantastic? Nope.

Nose: Very herbacious and heathery. Looking at the pale olive liquid in the glass one need not be surprised. The peat is subdued amid the vanilla butterscotch and stewed fruit. Some garam masala finds it’s way towards the end as well. The aromas are there but just not confident enough to create a lasting impression.

Palate: Quite thin and weak in my opinion. Very unlike an Ardbeg should be. Maybe they’re going for a newer audience that likes their whiskies unchallenging. Spicy spearmint with the same ashy greens as the nose. Maybe a chocolate pear in there too.

Finish: Medium with a touch of spice.

Had it at a tasting recently and a majority of Ardbeg fans in the room turned their noses up. As an avid anti-marketing whisky fan it pains me to see my favorite distillery riding on the back of it’s cult status and cool gimmicks instead of really focusing their blood and guts into making their whiskies the best in the world.

Which they were. And can still be.

Rating: 85