Back To Basics.

Taste Review #108 – Ardbeg 10

When you look at all the whiskies that are available on-line, there is a stunning array of bottles available. The mind boggles with all the different options when you consider age statements, cask finishes and different strengths. We’ve never had it so good. Often it is just a case of buying something that appeals to you based on flavours in the tasting notes, which incidentally may not be that accurate according to your palate. One such distillery with a large range of different bottlings over the years is Ardbeg. There is an annual release that generates a fuss as people flock to buy it in a feeding frenzy that would put a piraña shoal to shame. However there is a bottle that is cheap, easily available and reliable – the plain and simple 10 year old.

I used to be a fan of Ardbeg 10, though at one point I felt it became a bit inconsistent; far too medicinal and with this it put me off. I still loved peat but I’d become unfaithful to one of my peaty loves by deciding it was time to elope with Laphroig 10 instead. I would even abandon my first peaty crush, Talisker 10. All of a sudden my whisky morals had developed into that of a randy alley cat. These were the days well before I got totally into collecting and drinking whisky and hadn’t developed the inquisitive wunderlust that was to come in later years. Even once I had extensive dalliances with other whiskies, I wasn’t ready to return back to Ardbeg 10. I knew she would have me back, but I just wasn’t ready.


The siren…. I mean bottle!

My peat journey continued. I eventually discovered the young but mega peated Octomores. Eventually, the time came to pass that I was ready to return to Ardbeg, but I still couldn’t. Unfortunately for me (and this may seem weird) Ardbeg had just become too popular. I had been on the mailing list (aka known as The Committee) but the postings were coming less and less relevant to where I had been heading on my whisky journey. In my mind I’m one of these ‘cool kids’ who rejects mainstream, and the constant promotion of product to my inbox with more and more outlandish claims was getting to be a bit tiresome. But most likely in reality, I’m not so cool, but a cynical, bitter Scottish curmudgeon. When I decided to cull the membership of things that pushed their propaganda into my private online space, Ardbeg and Macallan were the first to go. There’s only so much you can take of seeing the bottles you fail to win in the ballots appear on the secondary markets within a week of release, putting them out of reach of those who really valued them for more than the financial benefits selling them could realise.

If you want to gauge my measure of disgust and disappointment, you only have to look on websites selling the Arrrrrrrdbeg release to commemorate the retirement of Mickey Head. Released at £150, days later appearing on re-sale sites for £250+. And that’s just a recent example. There are scores more if you care to look.

But then, surely the 10 deserves another look at? For years it has been a stoic soldier on the shelves of supermarkets and whisky shops. It is almost invisible in full sight as I look to make my choices. But I have a ten year old Ardbeg unopened at home, though with the number of open full sized bottles I already have, I wasn’t wanting to open another one just to remember that there was a reason why I left my peaty love behind in the first place. It was a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop on my way through to Aberdeen on work business that saw me buy a miniature to take away while in quarantine before heading offshore. It is in this environment that I decided to take my former peaty mistress away to a Buckinghamshire hotel and see if we could have a little fun together during my 10 days quarantine.

Details

Ardbeg 10

Region – Islay Age – 10 years old Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sweet, Phenolic, Brine, Lime, Honey, Lavender Palate – Honey, slightly oil mouth feel. TCP, Nutty, Walnuts, cherries, creamy, smoky, brine. Finish – wood smoke, iodine, buttered toast, drying in the end with a hint of cinnamon bun and brine.


The dram

Conclusions

The fact that I brought only a miniature with me didn’t really amount to a rekindling of the romance with Ardbeg. It was pretty much a one night stand (wham bam, thank you mam). But it was one of those dangerous ones where passions that have been suppressed for so long rapidly come back to the surface. Did we have fun? Well, seeing as I’m no Jim Murray and I realise that I have readers of both genders and do not want to incur the biblical wrath of a certain female whisky writer and her personal crusade, all I will say is that I have been foolish in ignoring this whisky for so long. And it brings me to a serious whisky topic – what has changed – me or the whisky?

Not all of my reviews are going to give you a twee tourist guide of the local area around the distillery, and as I have not been to Ardbeg or even Islay, it will be obvious that I’m not the best person to give this information. But I can give you food for thought, and today I hopefully present you with at least a midnight snack of cerebral sustenance. I don’t really think that the whisky has changed that much, as all the notes I remember are still there. I’m surprised that I remember any, as one of the reasons I tend not to attend any virtual tastings is my memory of flavours is pretty shocking. I can taste things, but often can’t place them in a decent time frame. One dram can take a whole evening to discover the flavours for me. The Ardbeg 10 had nowhere to hide in this instance.

However, this whisky leopard can’t change it’s spots. The spirit is highly peated to a specification of around 55 ppm from malted barley obtained from the Port Ellen Maltings. Kilchoman Machir Bay is peated to the same specification and I wasn’t fond of that at all. However there is something magical still about the Ardbeg that is beckoning you in. This supermarket whisky is the ‘Plain Jane’ that turns into the dominatrix in the bedroom once you taste it. I’m liking it, yet still not taking to the iodine tastes, yet the aroma from my glass is wafting across my nostrils and I know that I am going to have to take another sip and it tells me that “I WILL ENJOY IT!”. Pain for pleasure.

If this dram was a song, then it would without be a doubt be ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground. You need to listen to this song lying still in the dark to understand it – trust me. And the louder the better.

The whisky hasn’t changed. I have. Since I’d dumped Ardbeg in favour of other drinks, I have dallied with other much peatier whiskies. I had leapt onto the young Octomore spirit with reckless abandon; the different experiences maybe tuned my palate in new directions. No matter how long you have been in whisky, exposure to different whiskies will educate your palate, and when you return to things that you may have not been so keen on in the past, being a wiser, older dog you’ll know that you can learn new tricks to rekindle affection of your mistress or master. This will only benefit your whisky journey.

But coincidence has the last laugh. Only 3 days after I drafted this review, Matt Mckay published an interesting article which touches on how taste perception changes. Matt, for those of you who don’t know is the head of marketing and communications at Bimber Distillery in London. He’s also the main writer for The Dramble Blog that I often mention. Click here to take a read of his article which includes a great Glen Scotia review. Goes to show that my Peaty Mistress never changed and remained faithful until I returned.

Still prefer Laphroig though….

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A tale of 10 year old laddies.

Taste Review #87 – Bruichladdich 10 old Vs new

Mmmm, I really struggled with a title for this review. Nothing really seemed to be quite right, and in the end I settled something that to the more delicate of minds isn’t just ‘not quite right’ but more to the fact it’s ‘very wrong’. Initially I had thought of the Rolf Harris song ‘Two Little Boys’, but then given his history was probably an inappropriate choice. With the term ‘Laddie’ being an affectionate and non-predatory nickname for Bruichladdich whiskies, you can see I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever I put resulted in sounding like I had a lifetime membership of the Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville fan clubs, but I can assure you here that the 10 year olds we are speaking about are definitely whisky.


Two little boys…. I meant ‘laddies!

Bruichladdich isn’t a new distillery. Situated by the shores of Loch Indaal on the west coast of Islay, Bruichladdich has always been a bit of an oddball amongst the Islay distilleries, mainly because of the unpeated nature of its spirit. Peat is used in the distillery for the medium peat Port Charlotte and heavily peated Octomore bottlings, but not for the core Bruichladdich releases. The distillery was built in 1881 by it’s owners the Harvey Brothers. Their ownership came to an end in 1937, and by 1954 it came in to the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a forerunner of Diageo. However, their ownership was short, and it was offloaded to AB Grant, who also owned the Bladnoch Distillery.

Bruichladdich changed hands again in 1968 when it was bought by Invergordon Distillers, who in turn in 1993 became under Whyte and Mackay. By 1995 Bruichladdich was deemed surplus to requirements and was closed in 1996. In late 2000 it was bought by a private consortium who included Mark Reynier. Coming from a wine background, Mark had also founded the independent whisky bottler Murray McDavid along with 2 others, so perhaps buying a defunct distillery on Islay was the next logical step.

When it was set up, Bruichladdich was a modern distillery, having been purpose built rather than developed from farm steadings. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) the distillery had seen very little in modernisation throughout the years. It had been used as a blend fodder factory for much of its prior ownership. Much of the original equipment is still in place, including an open top mash tun, one of a few still in existence. When the distillery was bought, between Jan and May 2001, the distillery equipment was dismantled and given an overhaul then reassembled. It still seems to this day that Bruichladdich is like a working museum, but who can argue with the quality of the liquid?

With a background in wine, you can be sure that Mark was familiar with the concept of ‘terroir’, which is how the local environment, microclimate and soil can all influence the crop of grapes that make wine. Mark had decided to apply this to whisky at Bruichladdich, and has since gone on to apply this to the new distillery he is now involved in at Waterford, Ireland. We will be discussing this at a later date, as that is a minefield of opinions on its own!

The other thing that needed doing at Bruichladdich was an improvement of its wood policy. Much of the existing spirit was re-racked, and a bottling plant was also constructed. However it was in the days of when the distillery had little money that they bought equipment from the Inverleven distillery which was being demolished. Of course, it was also around the time of the Iraqi Supergun, weapons of mass destruction so sailing a barge of distillery equipment past the Holy Loch, where the UK nuclear deterrent was based was always going to result in attention being paid. This came in the form of the US Threat Reduction agency notifying the distillery that one of their webcams was out, so Big Brother was definitely watching! It gave rise to a 19 year old bottling called Whisky Of Mass Distinction (get it?) This was joined by WMD II with the discovery of a Royal Navy ROV, but you can read that story here in my previous review of this whisky.

Mark sold the distillery to Remy Cointreau in 2012, so what direction it will take now will remain to be seen, bearing in mind what gets distilled usually isn’t released for 8-10 years. It doesn’t seem to be much has changed.


Plenty of breathing time as I type my tale of Bruichladdich!

As much as I hate the term ‘fanboy’, I have to tell you that I own more Bruichladdich than any other distillery. This ranges from the first 10 year old whisky to be released by the distillery, my bottles being signed by the distiller Jim McEwan through to the latest release, Octomore 11. I like their whisky, especially the heavily peated stuff, which tends to be quite young though this still works. I’ve never come across miniatures of Bruichladdich very often, but a recent acquisition of around 50 miniatures, most of which went back to auction saw 4 Bruichladdich minis – 2x 10, 15 and 17 year olds. I sold all but one of the 10’s so I could taste it at some point. The older style Bruichladdich came from a bulk buy of miniatures so I could get the one I wanted; in this case it was a Glenury Royal. But with my project of comparing old with new, I have something that I can taste and review to see if older was better.

Details

Bruichladdich 10 (old)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 40% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – not known Colouring – possibly but on account of colour not likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Solvent. Honey, vanilla, malt, green orchard fruit like a peeled Granny Smith apple, grassy. Palate– quite pleasant and unassuming. Honey flavour continues from the nose and is quite dominating, but wood spices start to take over with a sparkling dryness. No brine note that I would have expected from a coastal distillery. A slight cardboard note though. Apple tart without the cinnamon Finish – Relatively short and uninspired. The palate continues with a mild toffee note which quickly fades. You have to hunt for a brine note but it’s there.


The older of the two

Bruichladdich 10 (modern)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – bit more solventy, can detect a brine note mixing with the honey. There is definitely a malty, almost readybrek background. Creamy fruit dessert. Palate – definitely more sweet on the arrival, with more presence of wood spices. Ginger, Apple, citrus (lime?) can taste a green Rowntree’s fruit pastille. Slightly floral as well. A strong brine character. Finish – the finish is much more expressive. There is a creamy exotic fruit to it – Pineapple tart.


The more recent (though still discontinued) Bruichladdich 10

Conclusions

The more modern bottling was a different kettle of fish. It had some similar characteristics in the nose, but was more forward – possibly the result of the higher ABV. The older sample did make me think that the wood policy at Bruichladdich wasn’t the best. There was just no excitement there at all. It turned out I was right in my assessment as I am writing the conclusions the day after the tasting. I purposely don’t do any or much research prior to tasting, as I don’t want my notes to be influenced by what I have read.

I have to say without a doubt that in this case, older was definitely not better, and the newer sample was much more drinkable, much more fresh and much more aromatic, even though it looked as though the newer bottling looked as though it was the one that had suffered from a small bit of evaporation.

Without a doubt, had the older sample been my first taste of Bruichladdich, I’d have probably not given the distillery much of a thought. While not a bad whisky, it lacked any punch. Of course I only have an idea of the age of the bottle, but the spirit definitely comes from the 90’s. The clue is in the label – the Bruichladdich Distillery Company was founded in July 2000, which would possibly mean this is spirit made from the previous owners. The fact it’s a little bit boring, yet with no major flaws indicates it is not from the new regime.

While writing these notes, I did think about what I could do with the leftovers. With one at 40% and the other at 46%, I decided to make my own Bruichladdich single malt at 43% by mixing the two together. It was still drinkable, but the older spirit definitely held the newer one back. You can now see that the policy of re-racking wasn’t desirable, it was probably necessary.

The older style dram in a full size bottle can still be picked up at auction relatively cheaply. The newer version is similar, with a hammer price of around £50. It was also discontinued a few years back, so perhaps in due course a newer 10 year old expression may re-emerge, though nowadays the Classic Laddie bottling is probably the closest you will get nowadays.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Run Silent, Run Deep

Taste Review #49 – Bruichladdich 1991 WMD II

If, like me you appreciate a good classic black and white war movie and a decent whisky, then what we are reviewing this week should become instantly apparent with this week’s title. I think I have to raise the bar after I wrote another taste review last week with a highly risqué title. As I write and taste long before publishing you will just have to wait and see what it is but it is loaded with schoolboy humour. The title for this week’s article is taken from the 1958 film of the same name which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, and is set on a submarine that is operational in the Pacific during World War II. Therefore by now hopefully you have guessed that this week’s review is ‘The Yellow Submarine’.

This is quite a well known whisky amongst collectors, and comes from some of the first whisky that was made at Bruichladdich when it first re-opened in 1991 under the charge of Mark Reynier. I have written a little bit about it in the past and the story behind the Yellow Submarine HERE . To summarise, WMD II is the second in line of special event bottlings that got a fair bit of publicity for the distillery. The first bottling was in connection with the distillery being spied on by the US Threat Reduction Agency, and this bottling was to do with the finding of a mine disposal ROV (remotely operated vehicle) off the coast of Islay. I’ll not go into the story here, as if you click the above link, you’ll get the whole story there.


A great find at auction one of the mis-labelled bottles

This is a bottling that I have had for quite some time and this review has been made using the very last dram in the 3rd bottle of this that I have drunk. It’s a whisky that I have had from the neck pour, to mid bottle, and finally in the last drops, so I would say this will be a very thorough review compared to what I can get from a miniature. I’m going to reserve most of my writing to after the review, so lets crack on with the tasting


Bottle and dram

Region

Islay

Age

14 years old

Strength

46% ABV

Colour

Deep Honeyed Gold

The final dram

Nose

Sweet, apricots, spicy wood, honey, a whiff of smoke, buttery.

Palate

Sweet on the arrival – a burst of spirit gives a sparkly and spicy wood based arrival. Quite fruity but I also got a hint of malt, apricots, and a mild herbal note appears at the end

Finish

Medium finish, spiced wood continues with fruit, but becomes slightly astringent with a note of smoke now starting to show its head though this is a very light note. Peppery and oily. Right at the end of the finish I did get a brine note.


Being a good Aberdonian and getting the last drops

Conclusions

This has to be one of my favourite whiskies. That makes me sad. The truth is that Yellow Submarine while it was released in relatively high numbers for a special release, still had only about 12,000 made. And these numbers are getting fewer. The only number going up is the price, and this is borne out by looking at online auctions. The bottles that I am drinking now were bought around the £140 mark, which is not that bad for a bottle that is limited, has a relevant story to me, and is highly enjoyable. Now it is almost impossible to find a bottle under £200, and auction prices are usually around the £250-£350 mark, with £400 being the highest I’ve seen but add another 12% on for fees. Retail, the cheapest I’ve seen is £500 including VAT, but does go as high as £750 on other sites.


Yellow Submarine at Bruichladdich Distillery (H.Leslie)

Is this whisky worth the price? Yes and no. If you can get it at auction under £250, then it is probably worth it, but any higher then it’s a collectors piece, unless you have a very deep pocket and don’t mind paying a bit for tasting a decent whisky. My first bottle was opened as a special occasion, that being my first-born’s christening, and I was hooked then but that was the time bottles could be bought even at retail for less than £300. My only bottle I bought at retail was £210, but that was in Jan 2016.

Taking the price and rarity out of it, is this a decent whisky? Yes it definitely is. I am sure the friends that I have let taste this whisky will agree. Sorry for you guys, I am probably not going to be sharing the rest. I’ll be honest and say I have drunk better whisky, but not often and this is one unicorn I can recommend trying to capture if you see one running about at a decent price.


Yellow Submarine at Bruichladdich Distillery (H.Leslie)

Getting back to a tasting perspective, I feel that the nose offers a much more pleasant proposition than the taste does, but it seems that the Rioja cask has done a good job in developing a light, fruity flavour, quite different and more subtle than the sherried whiskies that I have been enjoying of late. I wonder what this would taste at 25 year old, and fortunately enough this was released in 2018 as a 25 year old as a result of some forgotten stock being discovered. I have two bottles of this, but it is not likely to be opened any time soon.

Finally, before I go, I’d like to give a really big thank you to Heather Leslie who works at the Bruichladdich Distillery. She has been really helpful in supplying information about the Yellow Submarine bottlings, and was kind enough to send me some photos of the Yellow Submarine at the Bruichladdich distillery, seeing as I will not be able to get there any time soon. Cheers Heather, I am hoping I can get over there in the next couple of years so I can express my thanks in person. To see what they get up to at Bruichladdich you can visit their website at www.bruichladdich.com

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Whisky Photos – Author’s own

Submarine Photos – Heather Leslie / Bruichladdich