Ardbeg Ardbog

Released 1 June 2013, 52.1% ABV

In 2013, Ardbeg decided to (temporarily) rename their global day of celebration to help bring attention to the famed peat bogs of their island home and to celebrate the vital part they play in making Ardbeg the peaty pleasure that so many love.

For that reason, Saturday 1 June 2013 was coined Ardbog Day. And what should they name their limited release whisky for Ardbog Day?

Ardbog

There’s a bit of theme going on here guys!

Fans the world over eagerly awaited this release and just like Ardbeg Day the year before it, Ardbog was released globally on Ardbog Day, 1 June 2013.

Ardbog - Bottle and Box

Ardbog had more of a traditional presentation this time, with the hallmark Ardbeg green bottle, dark-coloured label and black presentation box. Not one to disappoint when it comes to quirky details, the matte presentation box was covered in gloss illustrations and gold lettering spelling out interesting peat bog tidbits.

Ardbog Box

The detail continues on the inside lid, with Ardbeg’s mascot, Shortie, making one of his many appearances throughout the packaging.

Ardbog Box Lid

There’s also a handy Ardbeg Committee booklet inside, detailing Ardbeg’s core range and all you need to know about becoming a committee member.

Ardbog Committee Booklet

And then we get to the whisky itself. While there’s no age statement as such, Ardbog is a vatting of ten year-old Ardbeg matured in traditional American Oak ex-bourbon barrels and European Oak ex-Manzanilla sherry casks.

Vatting vs. Finishing

Finishing generally describes the process of moving the contents of one cask (traditionally an American Oak barrel), into a second cask for a short period of time before bottling. The second cask is often fresher and/or treated with an alternate wine or spirit of some sort (think sherry, port, rum, various other wines etc.) which is done to impart some more flavour and complexity into the whisky before it’s bottled.

2012’s Ardbeg Day is an example of whisky that was ‘finished’ in ex-sherry casks (for a period of six months) before it was bottled.

Vatting on the other hand generally involves taking two or more different casks of whisky and mixing them together in a vat for a period of time, before they’re bottled. In this case, Ardbog is a vatting of ten year-old Ardbeg matured in American Oak ex-bourbon casks and ten year-old Ardbeg matured in European Oak ex-Manzanilla sherry casks.

Ardbog - Glass

Nose

Quite rich, full and deep. Sherry fruitiness, hints of plum, charred peaches, cinnamon, some bonfire smoke and salty coastal notes. Slightly syrupy in nature and full of rather round, soft aromas – quite refined and balanced.

Never thought I’d say this about an Ardbeg, but I almost want to describe the nose as subtle.

Palate

Medium body mouth feel, not too hot and big on flavour. I got currants, some berries, charred woody smoke flavours, some BBQ smokiness and fragrant peat. A salty saline peat tang hits in the sides of your tongue, but nowhere near as much as many other Ardbegs – sherry sweet and salty savoury at the same time.

Finish

A touch of smoke and some salty spicy saline notes start to emerge. These hang around nicely with the residual sweetness – all of which seems to remain to the end of the medium length, warming finish.

Comments

I really enjoyed this one. If I didn’t know, I would have guessed it to be slightly older than ten years and would also guess it to be a fair bit more mature than Ardbeg Day.

As someone who enjoys a nice balance of sherry and peat, I found this one to be really quite pleasing. The vatting (as opposed to finishing) has really done wonders for it in my opinion. All of the aromas and flavours were much softer, rounder and balanced, especially when compared to 2012’s Ardbeg Day.

That being said though, I can also imagine Ardbog being a bit of a let down for some diehard Ardbeg fans, as some of those big hallmark Ardbeg flavours weren’t quite there. I appreciate distilleries playing around with the stock they’ve got and releasing exciting expressions, so that didn’t bother me in the slightest.

If only I had a bottle of the all new Auriverdes to taste…

New Ardbeg Supernova

Could it be? A new Ardbeg Supernova? It’s certainly looking that way.

The original 2009 and 2010 Ardbeg Supernovas are noted down in the history books as the peatiest Ardbegs ever released, peated to more than 100 part per million. That could very well change though, as it appears that Ardbeg is getting ready to launch an all new SN2014 release in the not too distant future. Supernova frontSupernova rear

Details are scarce, but if the labels are anything to go by, it looks like we could have a new SN2014 Supernova on our hands which will be bottled at 55% ABV. If that’s the case, it’ll be slightly down on both the SN2010 release (60.1% ABV) and SN2009 release (58.9% ABV).

However, there’s something interesting to note on the rear label, as it looks like there’s some sherry-matured stock in the new release. A beefed-up, peat-laden Uigeadail on steroids perhaps? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

No further details at this point, but label approval appears to have been granted in the US on 8 April 2014. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this one in no time! I can’t wait!

Kilchoman tasting with Anthony Wills

Five expressions from Islay’s newest distillery

It doesn’t matter quite how busy my week gets, I always look forward to the whisky tastings held at the Oak Barrel in Sydney. The other week was no exception, so as soon as 6.30pm hit, into the tasting cave we ventured for a rather special Kilchoman masterclass.

Kilchoman brochure

The Oak Barrel’s whisky expert, Dave, normally runs the tastings. But occasionally he takes a seat with the rest of us and invites someone along to present instead. It’s fair to say that he keeps pretty good company, because the other week we were privileged to have someone pretty special presenting for us – the founder and owner of Kilchoman Distillery, Mr Anthony Wills.

Kilchoman: The story 

You may know of Kilchoman as the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 125 years, but here are a few things you may not be aware of.

Kilchoman (pronounced kil-ho-man) is the brainchild of former independent whisky bottler, Mr Anthony Wills. After finding that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to get his hands on quality single cask whiskies to bottle, Anthony came to the conclusion that there was only going to be one way for him to secure his own supply of whisky well into the future. How? To build his very own distillery of course!

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who’ve had similar dreams, but the number who’ve actually turned that dream into reality? My guess is that you can probably count them on one hand.

Kilchoman - Brochure Anthony

With the financial and moral support of his family, in 2005 Anthony & Co. sunk a million pounds into refurbishing and rebuilding the distillery’s buildings and purchasing the required equipment.

With no money left for production (and no actual distilling experience), Anthony managed to convince John Maclellan to leave his secure, long-term job as Master Distiller at Bunnahabhain and come and work for him. He was joined by Dr Jim Swan, whom Anthony brought on-board to help define and craft a specific spirit for Kilchoman, one Anthony describes as ‘clean, floral, sweet and peaty’. And so by the end of 2005, the stills were run for the first time and Kilchoman’s very first American Oak cask was filled on 14 December 2005.

Kilchoman managed to make a trading profit after just five years in business and last year they produced over 130,000 litres of spirit – coming a very long way from their first year of production where they produced 50,000 litres of spirit and filled just 12 casks a week!

Edit: I’ve been reliably informed that John Maclellan didn’t actually join Kilchoman until 2010, well after the stills started running. Thanks to Andrew for clearing that up for me!

Kilchoman: The whiskies

After Anthony delivered this interesting and informative intro, it was time to get down to business and taste some whisky.

Kilchoman tasting glasses

Before we get into each one though, here are some Kilchoman fast facts:

  • The barley for all of their expression (except 100% Islay) comes from Port Ellen Maltings (who also supply to the likes of Ardbeg and Lagavulin).
  • The barley from Port Ellen Maltings is malted to standard Ardbeg specs, which is around 50 PPM
  • Kilchoman fill their barrels at 63.5% ABV
  • All of Kilchoman’s first fill bourbon barrels are sourced from Buffalo Trace in Kentucky
  • Their sherry casks are all from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain (the same supplier Glenfarclas use for all of their casks)
  • All Kilchoman bottlings (which are bottled on-site mind you) are Non-Chill Filtered and natural colour.

Summer 2010 Release 

You may have guessed it from the name, but this expression was released in the Summer of 2010 (Winter, if you were in Australia at the time.. it was probably the same temperature as a Scottish summer!) This release was matured in first fill bourbon barrels and after three years was bottled at a respectable 46% ABV.

Kilchoman - Summer 2010 

Quite fresh and light on the nose with some floral notes, light sweetness, hints of citrus and maybe some pineapple. Quite crisp and not overly peaty. This translated to a medium oily palate, with some sweet creamy floral vanilla and a big wave of fresh peat that hung around for a good while. A light salty tang on the finish. Delicate, but not my favourite. 

Interestingly, this expression was bottled in their original generic style bottle, before they had their own bespoke bottle mould produced. Ever wondered what a bottle mould costs? Kilchoman paid a cool 20,000 pounds! 

100% Islay 2nd edition 

The second expression personified what Kilchoman was all about when Anthony originally envisaged it – making a whisky that was 100% Islay. And so from the barley grown at Rockside Farm next door to the distillery, to the in-house malting using local peat, to the distilling, maturation and eventual bottling – it’s all done on Islay.

Kilchoman - 100 Islay

Does that actually give it a different profile though? You bet it did. A vatting of three and four year old whiskies, bottled at 50% ABV, 100% Islay had a noticeably different nose.

I got some malty grassy notes, vanilla, crème caramel and bananas nicely balanced out by the peat. This carried through to a lovely creamy and oily palate, vanilla and floral with peat sitting at the back of the palate. It finished with waves of warmth and hints of spice.

In case you’re wondering, the Rockside Farm barley is peated on-site using local peat for around 20 hours. This results in a level of around 10-20 PPM (parts per million). The barley is malted in two tonne batches and the whole malting process takes around 12-14 days. 

Machir Bay 2012 edition 

The first of Kilchoman’s core expressions, Machir Bay was released in 2012 as a vatting of three and four year old whiskies, with ‘a splash of five year old’ as Anthony put it. All came from first fill American Oak ex-bourbon barrels, however the vatting was finished in 20 year old ex-Oloroso casks for a couple of months prior to bottling.

Kilchoman - Machir Bay 

This has a noticeably heavier nose to the two before it – I got some hints of kiwi, a pleasant sourness, some fruitiness, light peat and hints of spice (presumably from the sherry finishing). Slightly thinner on the palate, but still creamy and sweet followed by a pronounced wave of vibrant peat.

Still a remarkably fresh and bright whisky, with none of the tarry medicinal notes often associated with bolder peated whiskies. 

Loch Gorm 1st release 

First released in 2013, Loch Gorm is a five year old Kilchoman solely matured in ex-European Oak sherry casks. In case that wasn’t enough, it’s then finished for a few months in fresh, first fill Oloroso casks, imparting the lovely dark liquid amber colour seen here.

Kilchoman - Loch Gorm

Compared to the three before it, Loch Gorm has a much weightier, heavy, meatier nose. You can see some more of my notes here but I want to mention something that I couldn’t articulate last time I tried Loch Gorm.

On our previous encounter, Loch Gorm confused me slightly. On initial nosing, it wasn’t the peat monster I was expecting, nor was it a fruity sherry bomb. The more I concentrated, the more these flavour profiles played hide and seek with one another.

Whilst I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I now feel as though this was simply a hallmark of a rather well-balanced nose. Indeed, Anthony was quite proud of Loch Gorm and mentioned that he felt much the same.

Cask strength small batch release

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a single cask Kilchoman has been on taste in Australia. Another five year old, but this time matured in first fill bourbon barrels, then finished for around six weeks in Oloroso sherry casks. As for strength? A big and gutsy 58.2%…

Kilchoman - Small Batch

…but you wouldn’t have picked it from the nose! Certainly noticeable as a higher ABV whisky, but I wouldn’t have picked it being that high at all. Amazingly fresh, creamy nose with big waves of milk chocolate, mars bars and coffee beans, magically mixed with some grassy notes, pine trees, fresh peat and vanilla.

Much of this translated straight to the palate – lovely round, creamy flavours. More vanilla, milk chocolate, hints of salted caramel and a nice helping of peat looming in the background. Long, warming, creamy finish.

You should have seen the flurry of people filling in order forms for this one. It was seriously good!

Some final thoughts 

In many ways, the story of Kilchoman reminds me of some of Australia’s very own young distilleries. And like some of Australia’s young distilleries, Kilchoman’s output really is testament to the fact that young whisky can be bloody good whisky.

Anthony took the time to explain that he and Jim Swan set out to produce a spirit that would mature reasonably quickly and taste great when bottled young. With that in mind, I think he and his team have really hit the mark with their latest round of releases.

As for the evening – It’s always great to hear from brand ambassadors, especially those who are knowledgable and enthusiastic. But there’s something different about listening to someone who’s been there from day one, someone who had an idea and saw it become reality and someone who knows the ins and outs of every aspect of their distillery and is happy to share every little detail.

Anthony Wills

On that note, I’d like to say a sincere thanks to Mr Anthony Wills for flying half way across the world to share the story of Kilchoman with us. A special thank you is also in order for Dave and The Oak Barrel for hosting another fantastic tasting and to Island2Island for bringing Kilchoman and Anthony to our shores.

News for Australian Glenmorangie & Ardbeg fans

Glenmorangie Companta

If you’re a Glenmorangie fan, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of their annual ‘Private Edition’ release. It all started with the highly-praised Sonnalta PX back in 2009, followed by Finealta and Artein. Then there was last year’s release, Ealanta, which was awarded whisky of the year by the author of the Whisky Bible, Jim Murray. The 2014 Private Edition release – Companta – has just gone on sale in both the UK and USA and is fast selling out by the looks of it.

From what I understand, approx. 60% of the whisky in Companta has been matured in ex-Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart, with the remaining 40% coming from whisky that’s been matured in ex-Rasteau fortified wine casks from Cotes du Rhone.  These were then married together, producing the amazing crimson-amber hue seen in the photo below.

serlin_32729

Source: Kevin Mackintosh for Glenmorangie

The Australian market missed out on the first few releases, but the folks at Moet-Hennessy (the Australian importers of Glenmorangie & Ardbeg) did bring Ealanta to our shores last year. Will we see Companta arrive this year?

No official confirmation from Moet-Hennessy at this stage, but I’ve heard from someone in the industry that Companta will be reaching our shores around April. Let’s hope they’re right, as I for one am really looking forward to trying it.

Ardbeg Auriverdes

This next one hasn’t been officially announced just yet, but someone did a little digging around online and managed to find these very curious front and rear labels for the new Ardbeg Auriverdes. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more about this one in the coming months!

Auriverdes frontAuriverdes rear

Along with the name (which I believe translates to ‘Gold and Green’), the wording and imagery on the label has lead many to speculate that Ardbeg’s latest has some association with the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.  Here in Australia, we’d like to think the green and gold reference has something to do with us – I somehow don’t think that’s the case though.

As with Companta, there’s no official confirmation from Moet-Hennessy just yet, but rumour has it we will see this expression in Australia around June. In time for Ardbeg Day 2014 perhaps? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try both of these expressions!

ps. I always like to include my own photography in my posts, but until I’m able to get my hands on these gems, these stock images will just have to do! Isn’t Kevin Mackintosh’s photography magical!

Lagavulin 16 year old

16 years old, 43% ABV, Islay, Scotland

My first encounter with the Lagavulin 16 year old was at the end of a memorable meal at a great little Spanish restaurant called MoVida.

A week went by and I couldn’t shake the thought of that intriguingly smokey-sweet dram I’d had, so I soon found myself at a local bottle shop purchasing my first Islay whisky.

Lagavulin 16

Although the Lagavulin bottle shape is shared with a number of Diageo’s other single malts (such as Caol Ila, Talisker, Cragganmore and Royal Lochnager), the green tinted glass and two-piece parchment style label go a long way to making it stand out as unique.

Lagavulin 16 closure

After peeling back the foil there’s a seal over the top of the cork which is a nice touch – a hangover from the pre-foil days I suspect. I’ve contacted Lagavulin to try and find out the significance of this little lion character, but have had no luck as of yet.

Did you know… 

The barley used for Lagavulin is produced at Port Ellen Maltings.

A common misconception is that the germinating barley is dried over a peat fire. At Port Ellen Maltings the barley is dried using hot air produced by oil burners and the peat fire underneath the kiln is only there to impart the smokiness we associate with some of the great Islay whiskies.

If you’ve got 10 minutes to spare, this great video gives you a behind the scenes look at Port Ellen Maltings.

Nose 

Waves of organic peat smoke – Think salty smoke notes, with ash and some sweetness. There’s a really nice balance between the three S’s – smoke, sweetness and salt – with none of the three completely dominating the nose.

Friends and family have used terms like ‘industrial, old oil lamp and mechanics workshop’ to describe the nose on this! Probably not far off, but it’s much more refined and alluring than those terms suggest.

Palate 

Initially quite oily with some sweetness at the front of the tongue. This is followed by a wave of salty saline notes, peat or ash and some warm prickling, not necessarily from the alcohol though. I almost feel as though it’s the kind of tongue prickling burn you get from something heavily cured or brined.

Finish

Residual sweetness, really light menthol notes and waves of peat smoke every time you exhale. That wonderful peat smoke fades to lingering salty finish with some faint bitter notes.

Overall 

A newly opened Lagavulin 16 hits you with waves and waves of smoke, fresh out of the bottle. I found that pure smoky magic faded rather quickly once the bottle had been opened for a few months, but at the same time it has matured a fair amount and has a lovely balance to it.

Make no mistake, you can still smell this one from the coffee table once you’ve poured a dram and sat back in your chair!