tiistai 2. toukokuuta 2017

Some mesmerizing Ardbegs tasted 29.4.2017

I figured out that I would write this posting in English, because this might have some international importance, or at least it will be nice to share it with some friends who helped to get some of these drams now tasted.

I started tasting whisky around 2010 and wrote my first blog posting at November 2011. Very soon after getting to know this wonderful product, I realized that I was late. The prices had started to rise and many great bottles that I had a chance to taste, were disappearing from the market. Still at that time there were great whiskys available at reasonable prices: Ardbeg Alligator all over the place, Airigh Nam Beist still widely available, some great Benriach and Glendronach single casks that didn't sell out in minutes and those great Laphroaig cask strengths with 50 € a bottle. But there were also other whiskies that seemed long gone: sherry Macallan from the 60s (I still haven't tasted any drinkable Macallan), same age Bowmores, any Port Ellen and Ardbegs from 60s and 70s. Thanks to some great whisky clubs in Finland, I've been able to taste some Port Ellens, which have been the greatest whisky moments for me so far.

But those mythic Ardbeg single casks. Even to know someone who has tasted them is rare. Also the prices nowadays are so high that even if someone owned a bottle, he would need to have some big and hairy balls to open it. Well guess what. I found a couple of guys with such balls from the beautiful city of Hämeenlinna and they invited me to taste of couple of their Ardbegs. Why? I would like to believe that it was because of my great jokes and good looks, but I also managed to gather together a couple of nice drams of some not so usual Ardbeg (thanks to the active Swedish whisky society!) that they haven't tasted so I packed my bag with some bottles and samples and headed to the sunny Hämeenlinna. And what I experienced will propably stay as a highlight of my whisky career for years to come. 29 Ardbegs of which most were stuff that are nowadays almost non existent.

We did the tasting in 3 sets and nosed everything before tasting. It took around 9 hours in total. The amounts tasted were very moderate but none was spat out either. Because one just doesn't spit Ardbeg from the 70s. 

So let's see how they tasted. We had the 17yo as an aperitif and then did the vintages and other non cask strength stuff to open out taste buds.

1. Ardbeg 17yo, 40 %

Nose: Very subtle and nice smokyness to start with. A feeling of some ripe lemon follows.

Mouth: Well balanced, the mouth feel is a bit watery though, but forgetting that the juicy smokyness with some light lemon tastes quite good indeed. This taste is fragile and light, but classy. A bit like Laura Lepistö at the early stage of her career. 90.

2. Ardbeg Ten L0, 46 %

This early Ten was used as the baseline for our first set. I once asked for the Ten of today, but the other guys looked at me in a way that I should shut up so I did. Apparently for the same reason the other recent Ardbegs like Perpetuum, Blasda, and Auriverdes were left out of this tasting (although I like Auriverdes). 

Nose: Very balanced Ardbeg smoke. Darker than 17yo.

Mouth: The bell curve that this does at your mouth is very nice: things start calmly but get stronger little by little and with beautiful balance. The same way it finishes with style. There's a clear black pepper profile in it, which was different from these other Ardbegs. This pepper is very clean and not the 'exotic indian' version that some (more sherried) whiskies deliver. Big taste, with that pepper a bit too loudly present to score higher. 90.

3. Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 2007, 46 %

Do all the Airigh Nam Beists taste the same? Let's make a small comparison.

Nose: A tad more tropical than 10yo. Some spearmint (this is the very typical aroma in many of these Ardbegs. Some call it coastalness, some refer to dentist chair. I use spearmint) freshness. Also some dirtyness, like motor oil.

Mouth: Ok, I said 10yo was big, but this is already another level. The mouthfeel is very juicy, it's like this is more dense liquid than the whiskies that you have today. The mouthfeel is definitely something it shares with the 2008 version. It takes you to the sea, with coastal smokyness and leaves that spearmint feeling to your mouth. A beautiful whisky again. 90.

4. Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 2008, 46 %

Nose: A darker, rounder leathery nose than the 07. Very nice peaceful nose.

Mouth: A little less spearmint but more some ripe yellow fruits. One might say that this is a bit more complex whisky than the 07, but then again the 07 is more fresh. That's a question of personal preference I think. What is nice here is the artisan feeling: this whisky has even some impury left, but with this quality it's only sympathetic. 91.
Sidenote: I wish the basic range whiskies of today were still like this. The ANBs have a such structure that you very seldomly see these days.

5. Ardbeg Twentyone 2016, 46 %

The new 21yo didn't have that many reviews on the Internet. I sure hope it's not because nobody's any more drinking these but only collecting.

Nose: Fresh, maritime, really clean nose. A little bit of juicy ripe yellow fruit, that reminded me of Lord of the Isles at first, but after comparison was way less exotic and less strong.

Mouth: Lingering taste, makes you wait for quite a while. Then when it comes, it's very clean, some fudge and candy feelings. Brings water to your mouth nicely. It's not the most complex whisky in the world but it has a beautiful profile. The finish is like a fading bonfire at 4am. 91.

6. Ardbeg 1977 Vintage L3, bottled 2003, 46 %

Nose: I'm sure anything would seem dirty after the new 21yo, which was ultraclean, but this feels quite dark and a bit dirty on the nose.

Mouth: Heavy stuff, as the nose suggested. The smoke is strongest so far, and is a good reminder that we're tasting an Islay distillery after all. But damn it's good! The beautiful ripe fruitiness comes a bit later on. This baby needs some time and privace to open up. 91.

7. Ardbeg 1977 vintage L2, bottled 2002, 46 %

Nose: More fresh and coastal than the L3. Like a rock after a heavy rain.

Mouth: A beautiful long taste of maritime notes, fresh spearmint and pine forest. It's so fresh, you don't have to take Mynthon after the tasting. 92.

8. Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, 46 %

Nose: Very strong exotic yellow fruits. This nose is completely different to any other whisky at this tasting. Beautiful.

Mouth: Very deep and clean, extremely fruity. The mouth isn't quite as exotic as the nose but the finish is out of this world. Enormous. 93.

9. Ardbeg 1978 vintage L8, bottled 1998, 43 %

Nose: A rounded coastalness is playing the main role here.

Mouth: A bit modest taste after LOTI. The best part is the beautiful mouthfeel but besides that, this vintage offers no spectacular notes for someone writing them. Still, it's a damn good whisky. 91.

Sidenote: Using a word modest and still scoring 91? Well, one has to remember the league we're playing in here. Any of these whiskies would propably win any kind of a tasting it would attend to. In fact, to truly appreciate these drams, it would've probably been better to taste them against some Ledaig (ok, not Ledaig, but some decent drams). But still, it was a hell of a ride.

10. Ardbeg 1975-1998, Spirit of Scotland, 40 %

Nose: A very deep dark nose. Strong medicinal notes. A very promising nose. 

Mouth: Makes you wait quite a while and then leaves the scene quite early. This taste is substantially shorter than the other drinks we have tasted. Also the mouth feel can't quite compete with these OBs. But still, with a big enough pour, it delivers very nicely. With that beautiful nose we are easily over ninety. 90

11. Ardbeg 1975 vintage, 43 %

Nose: Some whiskies are not meant for analyzing but just enjoying as they are. This is clearly on of them. Just some beautiful balance and wonderful Ardbeg nose!

Mouth: As the nose suggested: simply a beautiful baggage of all those great elements that Ardbeg is known of: maritime smokiness, steamship pipes, engine oil, all in perfect balance. No sharp edges but pure awesomeness all the way. Some crazy feelings of wasabi lemon at the end. Avot. 93.

After these whiskies it was time to take a break, have a coffee and be mentally ready for the stuff to come. The spirit was high and the jokes were getting better all the time. We continued with some single casks.

12. Ardbeg 28yo 1967, cask 575 Signatory, 548 bottles, 53,7 %

Nose: Well now we're at something that I have never experienced before. If at the beginning of my whisky 'career' I was looking for the perfect peat&sherry, I can stop the search now. A simply immense nose. This sherry is so balanced. It's a dry oloroso, but with such a texture and intensity that it feels like a some superdeep px. Deep dark dried fruits, leather couch. Never ever have I nosed anything like this. The nose gets 96-97 from me.

Mouth: The mouth is loyal to the nose. The dry sherryness coats your mouth. A true moment of beauty. This is probably the closest to enlightenment you can get without starting some serious meditation. It almost makes me cry when I know that I will never be able to taste this stuff again. Still the nose was a tad better than the taste. 95.

Sidenote: My ass is pretty tight so I would need to sell it only 40 times on a average profit of 100 € if I wanted a bottle of this. Let's hope nobody buys that bottle before I make it there because the next bottle will most likely cost 8000€...

13. Ardbeg 31yo 1972, cask 3038, 148 bottles, 44,2 %

Nose: Coastal delicious peat. Very deep and dense fruitiness. Antiseptic and clearly more herbal than these other fellows.

Mouth: Ah, what tranquility! What balance. The general nature is quite gray though: some gravestone, white wig. This is the first whisky on table that doesn't quite convince me. 89.

14. Ardbeg 32 yo 1972, cask 866, 239 bottles, 48,3 %

Nose: Darker more reserved than the last 1972. Then the same ripe deep fruits appear. Delicious ripe herbal notes in this one as well, but they are accompanied by exotic fruits and spearmint freshness.

Mouth: Well now we're talking. A big bag of oak, freshness, fruitiness, antiseptics, nice amount of tannins, wonderful juicyness. Every element is so beautifully balanced. The finish is full of medicinal candy. The is a huge whisky with a perfect structure and a beautiful combination of fruits and spearmint freshness. 93.

15. Ardbeg 31yo 1974, cask 2751, 141 bottles, 51,8 %

Nose: We take a step up from #866 at freshness and coastalness. Incredibly balanced and wonderfully fresh nose.

Taste: Mon dieu. a truly miraculous clean bourbon Ardbeg. Nothing to add to that. Just some wonderful deep fruitiness with perfect coastal smokyness. Nam! 94.

16. Ardbeg Provenance 1974-2000, 55,0 %

Nose: We go into a more complex darker feelings after these single casks. More at sidenotes. Very nice nose whatsoever.

Mouth: A bit metallic first taste. Then some buzzling fruitiness which this time dries the mouth. Herbal notes. The first impression wasn't that spectacular to be honest, maybe also because my expectations were the highest with this Provenance. It's very chewable whisky, and also very powerful. Still a slight dissapointment after all. 91.

Sidenote: You can feel that the Provenance contains a wider range of aromas, than the single casks we tasted. In fact, there were many pairs of whisky that had this similar phenomena: one is more clear and fresh, while the other is more complex and more fruity. This happened with the 70s SCs vs. Provenance, ANB 2007 vs. 2008 and SN2014 vs. SN2015. From more recent whiskies this could be found at least at Laphroaig 15yo vs. 18yo. So which one is better? Really difficult to say really. Depends on the moment or personal preference. I wasn't consistent here with my own reviews either, since I sometimes chose the fresher one (like the single casks or SN2014) and sometimes the more complex one (like ANB2008). All in all, this was one of the key founding from this tasting. 

17. Ardbeg 1975 Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum Selection, 274 bottles, 47,8 %

Nose: Smack in your face very sweet sherry. A really deep and big nose.

Mouth: And we keep on talking. Coffee, dark chocolate, deep ripe dark red berries, very easy to drink. The taste is relatively short but the toffee at the finish is simply wonderful. 92.

18. Ardbeg 16yo 1992-2008, cask 772, 184 bottles, 55,7 %

Nose: For me this is nothing but the stuff they put into your mouth at the dentist chair. Fresh as a sausage.

Mouth: Wow, really intensive and big! Tingly pepper, then big spearmint and antiseptic. Not a superlong taste. 90.

19. Ardbeg 1973-2004, cask 1143, 49,3 %

At this point of the evening the host of the evening desided that we had done a good job and got another single cask from 1973 from his stash. I tried to refuse but we were 3 against 1 and I was already a bit drunk so I gave up.

Nose: Wonderful fresh coastalness.

Mouth: Peaceful juicy coastal fruity totally balanced buddy. Damn good I gotta say. All the dark notes are missing, but still this is extremely balanced whisky that seems to have it all. 94.

20. At this point the host decided that we were still making progress and got the 1997 bottling of provenance to the table. But instead of pouring it to a new glass, he poured a little dram on top of the endings of the 2000 Prove. And damn that changed the profile of the Provenance! So much more coastalness, it was like drinking seashells. I scored this baby 94, but the score isn't scientifically valid. This time I kept my mouth shut before the operation.

Sidenote: Fooling around with some Provenances could be considered a sacrilege, but this 1cl + 1cl thing was suddenly an answer to the question I brougth up at the Provenance sidenote. Add a little bit of coastal clarity to that complex Prove and what a whisky you get!

After 20 whiskies we took another break to be ready for the last younger peaty monsters. Would they still taste good after all these drams we've been having?

21. Elements of Islay, Ar5, 57,8 %

Nose: Balanced. Sensitive. Lots of sherry influence.

Mouth: Woo, it's killing the mouth after the break! Really will need the water to restart here. But this is a nice juicy dram. 90

Sidenote: It's crazy how strong this stuff feels even after all these whiskies. It tells alot of today's line up, because the Ar5 has previously been very drinkable indeed.

22. Ardbeg Private Cask 1994-2006 "Esko", 59 %

This is a Finnish independent Ardbeg with a strange history. Mushimalt has gone through the story quite nicely, so check it out.

Nose: Clean car tyre, rubbery oilyness.

Mouth: As the nose suggests: an oil spill on top of the pile of tires. Kind of brutal comparing to the rest of these whiskies. 88.

23. Ardbeg Uigeadail 1st Release 2003, 54,2 %

Nose: Wonderful slightly red nose. Some berries and the pussy of that good looking auntie after smoke sauna. This nose scores 94 in my book.

Mouth: I really fills your mouth! It's like being in a berry shop that is held by that same auntie. And she gives you 20 percent off of everything. This is in fact better without water because that keeps the berries under control and let's the beautiful alcohol bite you the right way. 92.

24. Ardbeg Young Uigeadail "Oogling" 2006, 1392 bottles, 59,9 %

This rarity is made of 3 very young casks and one sherry butt. Read more here.

Nose: Tighter and harsher than the normal Uige. Alcoholic. Difficult to catch this nose.

Mouth: It sure tastes young and a bit sulphury after all we're tasted. And very stiff. Can't really get over this alcohol here. 87.

Sidenote: This was a whisky that I didn't find at the tasting. The bigger guys say it's really good but I guess I just wasn't ready for it. 

25. Ardbeg Very Young 1998-2004, 58,3 %

Nose: Like being at the dentist reception. Would've been nice to compare this to the 1992 SC.

Mouth: The same freshness is all over the place. But in a very nice way. This is the first time I really understand, why especially very young is very appreciated among these new Ardbegs. 91.

26. Ardbeg Supernova SN2015, 54,3 %

Nose: Very subtle and nice, the peat is even fragile here, which is amazing conzidering the ppms. Clearly more sherryed than the SN2014. 

Mouth: Simply a beautiful combination of fruitiness and smoke. Complexity and sherry are there more clearly than at the SN2014. 91.

27. Ardbeg Supernova SN2014, 55 %

Nose: Dryer than SN2015. I prefer this nose.

Mouth: Fantastic! This has the same spearmint that Very Young had but it's not so brutal. The smoke is neat and is accompanied by fresh coastalness. If you want less sherry but maybe a bit more raw feeling, you pick SN2014. Same points but this was a small favourite for me. 91.

28. Ardbeg Supernova 2009, 58,9 %

Nose: Raw and more brutal when compared to SN2014 and SN2015.
Taste: Much better than it's nose. Fills the mouth nicely. Those destisty notes are all over the place but they can't really compete with their colleague at Very young. 89.

Well that was it. One crazy night with some unforgettable drams. Was that amount too much? The other guys thought the last set was too much but then again they were older with less stamina. I have to admit that I was surprised with the force of the alcohol when starting the first set (normally cask strength whiskies are not a problem) and I guess that tells a lot of the quality of the drams we were having. But I still enjoyed especially those later Supernovas and the 1st release Uigeadail a lot. Can't say anything else but a huge thank you to the Hämeenlinna crew. There came only 15 cm snow while I was there so a beautiful summer weather. Over and out.