Ardbeg An Oa Review

Recently I received a nice little care package from Ardbeg Australia; a bottle of the classic Ardbeg Ten year old and the brand new Ardbeg An Oa along with a simple request – ‘please host a gathering of five people to enjoy this new release’.

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Unsurprisingly, it was pretty easy to find a whole bunch of people who were more than happy to get together and drink whisky, so that’s exactly what we did. Before we get into that though, a little bit about the whisky itself.

A new addition to the core range

With their annual Ardbeg Day releases and other special bottlings (such as the Committee bottles and the recent Ardbeg Twenty One) you’d be forgiven for thinking Ardbeg’s core range is massive, but it’s actually not. Since the official release of Ardbeg Corryvrecken in 2009, the core range has consisted of just three bottles – the Ten year old, Uigeadail and Corryvrecken, which makes An Oa the first permanent addition to the Ardbeg range in over eight years.

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Named after the Mull of Oa, it joins the latter two in having no age statement and is made up of whisky matured in a range of different cask types including new charred oak, PX sherry and first fill bourbon. These casks are then married together in what Ardbeg are calling a ‘gathering vat’ (sometimes commonly known as a marrying vat or tun), before being bottled with no chill-filtration at a very respectable 46.6% ABV.

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Some will no doubt criticise the enthusiastic marketing and story-telling, whilst others will have a whinge that it carries no age statement, but the only thing I really care about is whether An Oa tastes any good! I’ve always looked forward to new Ardbeg releases and even though I’ve enjoyed some more than others, for me their strike rate is pretty high. I find it hard to fault the value for money equation of their core range offerings, especially when you consider that their prices have hardly changed over the last ten years.

Ardbeg An Oa – The gatherings

So with two fresh bottles in hand I had a great time in joining forces with a couple of good whisky friends including Whisky & Wisdom, Dramnation and Sydney Cocktail Club to really put the new Ardbeg An Oa through its paces.

The first gathering had a group of us tasting the new An Oa against the Ardbeg Ten, which really highlighted the contrast between the two.

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The Ten year old – especially a freshly opened bottle – is a big, fresh and zesty beast. It’s got loads of crisp dry bonfire smoke, almost as if someone has thrown a bunch of firm lemons and citrus onto a blazing hot grill and has charred the crap out of them. There’s nothing shy about it and that’s what makes a freshly opened Ardbeg Ten so much fun! When put up against the Ten, An Oa can best be described as a softer, more subdued, mature offering – but part of me feels as though it’s a bit hard to really get to know it when drinking it alongside the brash Ten year old..

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Still yet to make up my mind on An Oa a second gathering was in order and this time it rather extravagantly involved a harbour-side studio, some deliciously smoky Ardbeg cocktails and more seafood and late night shenanigans than you could poke a stick at!

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As we settled in for the evening – with the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic playing in the background – a round of An Oa was poured and as a group we heartily recited the oath:

“I swear this oathing stone to be true to my untamed spirit. To stand with peat beneath my feet; smoke on my lips; a dog by my side; and Ardbeg in my heart. Slainte!”

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Ardbeg An Oa review

Both nights were loads of fund, though perhaps not the best environments to really get to know the new An Oa, so I’ve since sat down with it a few more times and here’s what I reckon.

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On the nose it’s softer and subdued. Instead of big bonfire and citrus I get lots of oily maritime notes like charred oily fish, herring, prawn heads, caramelised salmon skin and liquorice. There’s smoky earthy weed in there (kelp/ seaweed?), cured meats, citrus and creamy vanilla custard.

On the palate it’s certainly softer on entry where that balance continues; smoked oily sea notes, saline, and pepper, but with a warming hidden sweetness of runny honey and vanilla. You definitely know it’s an Ardbeg on the finish when that dry smouldering ash note appears.

Some final thoughts

The new Ardbeg An Oa unmistakably carries the Ardbeg DNA. To me, it’s the most composed offering in their core range; it’s got the peat, maritime notes, citrus and ash, but it has been put together in a restrained way. I can imagine this appealing to a lot of people, including those who may have previously found some of the other Ardbeg offerings to be a bit too big and brash. It fills a gap that I didn’t know existed and does so in a very classy way.

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The Ardbeg An Oa is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range and can be found on shelves now for a recommended retail price of around $120.

A very special thanks to the team behind Ardbeg Australia for helping us host our own gatherings to celebrate the arrival of An Oa. Check out The Whisky Ledger on Facebook for a full gallery of images from the two gatherings.

The Glen Moray Mastery

Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they’ve released something pretty special. But I’ll get to that in just a sec.

My experience with Glen Moray

I was first introduced to Glen Moray in a slightly unconventional way after tasting their whisky bottled as a single cask for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). On paper, the whisky I tried sounded fairly pedestrian. It was from a refill bourbon cask and was mid-teens in age, but the spirit quality that came through on that particular cask really caught my attention. SMWS have gone on to release some pretty stellar casks from Glen Moray and I’ve bought many of them (especially those toasted oak releases).

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Trying big, punchy single casks is all well and good, but it dawned on me a little while ago that I haven’t really tasted that many of Glen Moray’s original bottlings, the ones you can easily find on the shelf at your favourite bottle shop. That’s been on my to do list for a little while now and thankfully I recently had the chance when Master Distiller, Graham Coull made the trek to Sydney to launch his latest creation.

Mastery launch time

I was generously invited to a long-lunch one Friday, held at The Roosevelt in Potts Point to taste through not only the core range, but also the range-topping, limited release known simply as the ‘Mastery’.

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On arrival we were treated to the flare that’s synonymous with The Roosevelt, enjoying a nitrogen Glen Moray ‘Triple Wood’ cocktail, garnished with a thistle and served alongside a moreish haggis oatcake. That would have done me just fine, but moving through to the dining space we were in for a treat as a five course meal followed, each dish paired with a whisky from the core range, including whiskies from the Classic range, along with their age-stated siblings.

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I didn’t take detailed notes on each, but it was great to be able to taste them all back-to-back and be able to form some general observations. I genuinely like the spirit character of Glen Moray and feel as though it lends itself well to ex-bourbon cask maturation. The young Glen Moray Elgin Classic was spritely and fresh, whilst the older age stated expressions like the 12 and 15 year old definitely showed more maturity and depth.

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The Chardonnay cask is really quite interesting, bringing an earthy oakiness to what’s normally quite a light fresh spirit, whilst the port cask finish is entirely moreish (to me, anyway). Graham let us in on some interesting info on this one, informing us that it starts life as a five year old ex-bourbon matured Glen Moray before being finished in a port pipe for a whole year. Why a year? Well, in Graham’s words “If you’re finishing something, you should always give it a full summer as that’s when the real wood interaction happens”. A super drinkable dram that comes in at only $50 a bottle! I’m struggling to think of another whisky at that price point with that level of flavour.

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Graham also let slip that there are a few other finishes being added to the Classic range in the near future, include whisky finished in Cab Sav, Rum and Sauternes casks, so keep an eye out for those!

The Glen Moray Mastery

Back to the main subject of this post though, Glen Moray’s 120th anniversary and the new Mastery! The whisky can best be described as a multi-vintage single malt, which combines Glen Moray distilled in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Graham wanted to include some of the oldest stocks in the warehouse when putting this together, so 20% of the make-up includes ex-Port cask whisky distilled in 1988, whilst 80% of the whisky in the Mastery was distilled in 1994 or earlier. The heart of the whisky was finished in Madeira casks and to really lift the sweetness even further Graham also blended in some ex-sherry casks from the 1990s. That’s about as much as I can tell you, as Graham insists on keeping the final recipe of The Mastery a closely guarded secret!

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On the nose it’s completely different to any other Glen Moray I’ve tried. It’s rich and deep, with notes of beeswax, dried fruits and chocolate. It’s jammy, with raisins, apricots, toasted nuts and even something a touch smoky, like dried tea leaves or coal ash. Super inviting stuff and a dram you could nose for hours.

On the palate it’s thick and oily, with a chewy sweetness of dried fruit and dark jammy flavours. There’s a touch of spice, some dark chocolate and oak, but not in an overwhelming way. The port casks used in this really shine through nicely.

It’s a properly tasty whisky, but then again, you’d hope it would be considering it comes in at a cool $1,400 a bottle. Just eight of the individually numbered decanters will be arriving in Australia, so if you’d like to get your hands on The Mastery, get in touch with your nearest Dan Murphy’s flagship store.

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A special thank you to the truly down to earth Graham Coull and his lovely wife Faye for making the trip down here to present this great experience. I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully at Glen Moray next time.

Glen Garioch 21 year old for Abbey Whisky

I buy a fair amount of whisky from different retailers all over the world, but one of my favourite online stores would have to be Abbey Whisky. They’ve got a slick website, great prices and above all, the service – from communication, to packaging and delivery times – is absolutely top-notch.

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I recently bought a Springbank from them and noticed a little something extra in the box when my delivery arrived and it turned out to be a sample of their latest bottle from their Rare Casks series, a 1994 21 year old Glen Garioch. Here’s what Abbey Whisky have to say about it:

“We continue The Rare Casks story with this magnificent Glen Garioch, the sixth release in the series. Distilled in 1994 and fully matured in a refill hogshead until 2016, only 126 bottles have been filled exclusively for Abbey Whisky. As with each previous release in The Rare Casks series, the whisky has been bottled in it’s natural form, at full cask strength, without chill filtration or colour additives.”

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What I’ve got to say

On the nose it’s bright and citrusy, with fresh cut pineapple, lemon and grapefruit zest, a touch of honey and a mossy herbal vegetal note. Is that some peat influence in there?

On the palate it’s oily and thick, with the spiky citrus and honey hitting you first. Pineapple, custard and more citrus follow, with chalk and a sooty, grassy vegetal note arriving toward the finish.

This isn’t what you’d call an ‘obvious’ whisky, as in it doesn’t leap out of the glass at you, hitting you with big vanilla, or peat, or sherry. Instead, I get the hallmarks of a quality spirit, rested in a cask that allows the spirit to shine through, without being dominated by oak. A really nice change of pace, if you have the patience for it. The smallest amount of water (or a good amount of air) doesn’t go astray with this one.

Abbey Whisky’s 21 year old Glen Garioch is still available on their site now for a smidgen under a hundred quid, so go check it out. Thanks to Mike and the team for kindly slipping this one in with my delivery, it was a lovely surprise and is a top little dram!

The Macallan 12 year old Double Cask

It’s Father’s Day here in Australia on Sunday 3 September and The Macallan reckon their new 12 year old Double Cask expression would make the perfect gift for any Dad. So, what better way to validate that then putting it to the test with my very own Dad!

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What Dad has to say

That’s a classy looking bottle! It’s got broad-shoulders and I like the colour and design on the box. It’s really eye-catching and the blue looks great with the gold accents on it. Very smart. What’s the ‘double cask’ thing mean?

What I have to say

Good question Dad! Not to be confused with the Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak (or the 12 year old Fine Oak); the Double Cask is an entirely new expression that has only just recently hit Australian shores. The Double Cask gets its name from the fact that two different cask types are used in the maturation process; a mixture of both American Oak and European Oak casks, seasoned with sherry.

Keen Macallan fans might be aware that the 12 year old Sherry Oak expression from Macallan is also made up of a combination of American Oak and European Oak casks, so what’s the difference? The Double Cask reportedly has a higher proportion of American Oak in the mix, so along with the dried fruit sweetness from the sherry, I’m expecting to find some big honey and vanilla notes in there too. Only one way to find out!

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Dad’s tasting notes

“This has got a nice soft brown sugar note to it, a nice sweet smell. It’s really pleasing and warm. It’s got a really smooth and silky taste to it as well, nice and warm with a hint of a spice to it, almost like cinnamon or an all spice fragrance to it. Really nice and easy drinking.”

And with that, Dad poured himself a second glass, No, seriously, he did..

“I tell you what, that second glass is really smooth and warming, it’s very much the kind of whisky that would make me want to go back for more.”

My tasting notes

Quite a rich nose with warming honey, oak and light spice. I get notes of poached or stewed fruits and nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts), with a dose of brown sugar and candied orange.

The palate is thin initially, but with a bit of a citrus burst. I get flavours of orange marmalade, vanilla custard and honey and runny toffee; fading to a slightly bitter finish of oak and light spice.

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So if you’re still struggling with ideas for Dad (or if you just feel like spoiling yourself), keep an eye out for the Macallan 12 year old Double Cask which can be found on shelves now. A special thanks to The Macallan for the bottle pictured here. I’m pleased to say that it well and truly passed the Dad test.

Glen Grant 1954 Rare Vintage

A tasting and review

It was the year Queen Elizabeth II visited my home country of Australia, the first time a reigning monarch had ever done so. It was also the year an unknown hipster by the name of Elvis recorded his first demo and the year Godzilla premiered in Tokyo. That year was 1954 and it also happens to have been the year this particular whisky was distilled by Glen Grant.

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A lot has changed in the years since this was distilled, including the way whisky is made at Glen Grant. Back in 1954 Glen Grant operated with four coal-fired stills, which you could argue would’ve produced something of a rich, heavy spirit. In 1973 two further stills were added, but this time they were gas heated. Impressed with their performance, the distillery added a further four gas-heated stills in 1977 bringing the total to ten. At some point in the future coal firing ceased altogether.

Aside from this being incredibly old whisky, the bare bones of it – the spirit – are fundamentally quite different to what is being produced at Glen Grant these days, which makes it even more a piece of liquid history in my mind. Thanks to a generous sample from the kind folk at Gordon & MacPhail, I recently had the chance to sit down, relax and a spend some quality time with liquid time capsule.

Glen Grant 1954 Rare Vintage

The first thing that struck me about the nose is how active it still is. It’s slow moving, but there’s a lot in there. Old oak, cedar boxes, melon (cantaloupe) with honey drizzled on it, leather, earthy dried tea with a hint of soft smoke, tobacco, some soft stone fruit notes (fleshy blood plums, peaches, apricots) and raisins. Really quite fruity for something of this age and very well integrated, as you might expect.

On the palate it’s slightly oily but light in weight. I found it had a rum-like sweetness to it with lots of integrated soft oak spice at the front. After a few seconds lots of juicy tropical fruit salad/ oak notes emerge (like green mango, papaya, paw paw). There’s some light acidic sourness to it (grapefruit and orange marmalade) and some menthol or eucalypt notes. Toward the finish sweet rum-soaked dried fruits emerge before the finish turns drying with fragrant wood, light spice and lots of oak tannins.

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The idea of whisky that’s been deep in slumber for more than half a century is always alluring, intriguing and attractive. However from the limited selection of old whisky I’ve tasted, the reality of it is not aways so grand and I’m sure there are plenty of hyper-aged whiskies out there that are simply an over-oaked mess. This is not one of them though.

It has a gorgeous nose, almost ‘Japanese’ in the way it manages to integrate fruit, smoke and a leathery-tobacco in a sophisticated way. It took me right back to the times I sat at The Mash Tun in Tokyo, drinking some incredible Japanese whiskies at the bar.

There are just 610 bottles in existence and this expression is available now globally. What’s more, it has recently been awarded a double gold medal – the highest award – at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as gold at the 2017 International Spirits Challenge. So I guess Im not the only one who thinks this whisky is pretty great? A very special thanks to Gordon & MacPhail for the sample tasted here.