Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ardbeg Auriverdes – round two!

Yes, I know Ardbeg Auriverdes is about the soccer/football. It is about the Brazil. It is about the gold and green. So naturally, I chose to take the photo at the tennis field with tennis rackets and a ball, that is yellow. It is about the sports. Finding the balance. Scoring the points. Competition. Exceeding your limits. Making it enjoyable and fun!
Just some thoughts of the second round. The first round article is here.
Nose: Strong dragon’s fiery breath is still present, but not as bad as about a week ago when the bottle was uncapped the first time. Comparing to the experience I had at the Angle Terra there is less mocha present. Letting the dram breath and nosing it carefully, avoiding the dragon, the mocha latte, smokiness and the toast can be found nicely. Peat with fresh herbs makes a random guest star appearance.
Palate: Soft at first, but gets strength, complexity and richness at a rapid pace. Oily, smoky and peaty world expands in the mouth. Spices and mocha do rise from the peat. A more difficult to get past the opponent’s guard than at the first time. Perhaps more time is needed, to tire them to the limits.
Some later sips produce oak, vanilla and toasted mocha out nicely. Oiliness remains in the mouth for a lengthy finish, with spices and smoke.
I will give this one more time and get back to this at the round three. At the moment, there is no clear winner, if that chances later – I’ll write about it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Esko’s Ardbeg 12YO 1994 Single Cask – the blog’s Summer Solstice Dram 2014

20140618-20140618103025-IMG_8780_small I got an interesting opportunity to catch in my net a rare bottle: single cask IB Ardbeg. I didn’t know much about the bottle, but that is was 12 years old, and it had a sherry cask maturation. The other whisky blogger, Mushimalt, wrote an article about this (in Finnish) and decided to call this one Esko’s Ardbeg. That article is found here. The story is, that “Esko” bought a barrel from the Ardbeg in 1994. He was to choose either a ex-bourbon or ex-sherry cask, and he chose the latter one: refill sherry cask. 12 years later it was the time to put the dram into bottles. For that, he chose Springbank distillery – who wanted to purchase the cask from him but he disagreed with that. They forged out the deal where Esko sold Springbank 60 bottles and kept the rest himself. So this is a really independent single cask Ardbeg, and most like a rarity in Finland.

20140618-20140618102222-IMG_8754_small The contents were bottled at the cask strength (59%). There are 120 bottles in total (I don’t know if that includes bottles Springbank purchased or not). I got a bottle without the label, which is kind of interesting and strange at the same time.

The Midsummer Night's Magic

Today is the Midsummer Eve. The Summer Solstice is near. And this is my choice for it’s dram. It is unique, strange and delicious. It honors the Ardbeg and the tradition. Also it is a tale to be told and heard. And since the summer is rather chilly in Finland (but it is still warmer than during average winter! There are no ice coverings on lakes!) the peatfire of Ardbeg adds to the mood of this mystical night nicely.

The clues

Oils form up after a graceful wait and start creating fantastic paintings on the surface. The nose breaths fire, smoke and oil to the air. It is strong, untamed and a bit sweet too. But the sheer power is very present and filling the surroundings with it’s promise.
The start of the palate is easy, but soon it roars through the mouth and mind. The power is overwhelming. At the first tries, this reminded me of the legendary Octomore Orpheus, but it is not there anymore. This stands on it’s own, once it got some air to breath. Smoke is different than what I’ve encountered usually, it is indeed more pure and burning clean. Peat is not that prominent and it feels less manufactured. There are sweetness and bubbling fruits that make randomly some appearance.

After a few sips, your mouth starts to get adjusted to this one’s power. There are more complexity than before, layers of rapidly changing tastes that I can’t catch in time. Sea, the salt, roars in large tidal waves. The Mediterranean peppers burn with delight.

Adding a bit of water makes this a lot easier to enjoy. However, the best parts fade too much from the experience. Some rubber and sherry fruits open up and expand their world to the taste. At this stage, this has lost a lot but it is still a wonderful dram with smoke. It really depends on the mood and the company, which I would recommend. Perhaps testing with both is occasionally a good option.
The finish is long and a really pleasant. Peatsmoke remains with fruits for a long time. The oil residues cover the mouth nicely, releasing the great particles for me to enjoy for ages. The long wait, before moving to the next dram, is recommended to be fully experience this magical uisge.
If you can, test this one out. This is a real rarity and a different, enjoyable, one. These days Ardbeg single casks are usually out of my price tag, so this was a really the surprise of this summer! 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Laphroaig 1996 17YO OMC single cask 10125

It is almost the Midsummer and the Summer Solstice. It is the time when in the old days people celebrated the light and performed many rituals to multiple gods and nature spirits to ensure the good fortune, crops and fertility for the summer and autumn. In Finland it also included lots of spirits of different nature, distilled at the moonlight usually. This is also the time, when you can relax and enjoy a good dram or few, to honor the ancient culture and habits. Some people are very pedant about this, but I would not recommend passing out to a summer night. This year you might freeze to the beyond, but at least you will serve your flying friends – mosquitoes - their best feeding plate for that night. Let’s take it easy and venture to the world of this OMC bottle.

20140618-20140618104645-IMG_8803_small Laphroaig, the iconic distillery at Islay, has been on and off for me. On, for the taste, smoke and experiences. Off, for being too popular. In a last few weeks I’ve been trying a few different Laphroaigs and they have reminded me about it’s diversities. What is the basic Laphroaig made of? Peat. Fire. Smoke. Salt. Iodine. Medical taste. It is the most often found smoky whisky in Finnish taverns. It is not a bad choice.

I got my hands onto this Old Malt Cask 17YO Laphroaig (distilled 1996 October , bottled 2013 October, Refill Hogshead ref 1025, 347 bottles, 50%) recently. On my first try, this was the most woody dram I’ve had for a long time. Oak. Oak. Wood. Oak. The box claims that there is oak in the finish, so at least I am on the same track here.

The nose is elegant, a bit sweet and contains peat and oak. Smoke is present, but I could not guess that his is Laphroaig. At least not immediately. The oils form up nicely in the glass. This has a lots of style and fun in it already!

20140618-20140618105411-IMG_8820_small-2 Palate opens up with the peatsmoke and soon turns into a big oak. A really big trunk of oak. It is like licking at the fresh barrel for me. Some vanilla, iodine and other Laphroaig characters are there but mostly cowering behind that oak. Iodine grows more present and identifies this more to this distillery.

The finish leaves lots of oak chips into the mouth. They are present, alive, with the peatsmoke and last for a long time. The result is really dry and different from many Laphroaigs. I don’t even remember Triple wood being this oak consumed.

So is this good or bad? I think I go on with the different-card here. I do like this, a lot, for being so extraordinary and yet containing that marvellous peat and smoke that fondle my taste receptors pleasantly. However, this is not a easy dram. This is not soft nor a yellow magazines winner. This is for the moments, when you ponder about the birth of the universe, discuss about Tolkien mythology or organize your stamp collection… Perhaps not the last one, for most of us anyway.

Even after writing the article, the oak still remains in my mouth. Oak and iodine. This is one quality dram, that is appreciated by those who enjoy this world!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Laphroaig Cask Strength 006 – double’oh rises again

20140608-20140608153231-IMG_4316_small The Laphroaig Cask Strength (the recent one) series has been a keen interest to me. For the first three batches. They had the jam and the bite, which I enjoyed very much. Especially 002 and 003 were the spot on, with their smoke and peatfire in balance. I skipped 004 and 005 mostly for availability reasons, but since the 006 came out I had to revisit the timeline and see how they are progressing. This one has been bottled on February 2014 and it actually has an age statement: 10YO. Matured in seasoned oak barrels. And it is cask strength (58%) - which I usually enjoy since it adds to the experience.

The nose is like a small, well burning, cooking fireplace. There is heat and then there is sometimes some smoke. The nose is surprisingly weak, until you try it out very carefully – to avoid the heat – you can find out something about Laphroaig in it.

The body is first very sweet and it is accompanied by oak, along came some spices and peatfire that expands from the kitchen cooking flame into a flaming fireball that rapidly fills the room. The smoke that follows is combined with peat and vanilla adding complexity to the taste. For a moment, this is almost a overwhelming situation – but the vast power fades very rapidly leaving a nice and long finish that contains the peatfire, smokiness and oak.

20140608-20140608153311-IMG_4320_small On the second sip, I find that ash and coal are more closely present. Fire is still hot, but oily sweetness covers the tongue in a pleasant manner. Oiliness remains and carries the finish out very nicely.

With this all strong drams, some suggest adding water into them while I usually suggest taking very small sips. I like to experience the power and the taste and I have found out that many times adding a few drops of water will make the dram feel .. well… watered down. Occasionally, it has expanded the taste, but it does not work for everybody. Small sips and nature’s own means will create the combination inside mouth that will give the best of both worlds.

20140608-20140608153707-IMG_4328_smallIf I were to compare, 002 and 003 would wipe the table with this one. They have more charred personality, more intimidation and much more smoke with salty peatfire. However, this one is more subtle, more hiding and a much more difficult personality. It would be a comparison that is not fair for either of these two. They are brothers, who are too not alike. And they both have their moments. But if I were to pick which one I’d pour onto my glass… I’d choose 002/003 much more often than this one – especially if I am after a smoky peatfire experience with strong ashes.

After writing that, I must note that the finish is  still present and thus it is a long and a very pleasant. It has the enjoyable oiliness running around my mouth, the sweet oak and some peatfire that smolders with a style. Not a bad experience, after all! In addentum: I heard that adding water might actually do very good for this dram. I must take that under the test during the summer!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The goddess of Love makes an appearance as Highland Park Freya

While I was traveling at the faraway land, I found a oracle who pointed me to visit the Angle Terre’s pilgrimage in a strange country, where stories tell of polar bears walking on city streets! I found the country but I didn’t find the ice and bears – instead it was the early summer and a hot day. Not all stories can be trusted! I am glad it turned out this way.

WP_20140602_18_51_24_Pro I was able to get my second – now a more proper – tasting of Freya when I was there. The first time I tried it out was not a optimal situation – just a single sip after a big number of tastings. I am glad I got the chance.. by a act of luck.

The nose is deafening. It simply calls forward the nymphs and dryads of the green forest. It alters the mind and sends you to the another place and time. It is sweet and like a sap, the plant’s juice. Oak is present, but it does not rule the show.

The taste is enchanting, soft and lures you into more deep into the forest than you would normally go. It entangles you into it’s promises and havocs your sense of direction. When you hit your forehead onto oak, you are already lost. The second mouthful finds the more sharp tongue, thorns and the wild nature of this being. Soon, after soothing words and promises, it will soften and whispers you of the night.

Freya is the meeting of a loved one under the crescent moon, by a waterfall which sparkles the mystical pond next to it, surrounded by rocky shores and ancient trees. This is was a journey I enjoyed very much!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Laphroaig Select – the NAS is out there..

No Age Statement. NAS. This the what we, the enjoyers of the dram, will see much more in the future. The times of old age stated whiskies are diminishing. There are some of those who will fight but it may be the long and final battle, unless days of the future past changes the timeline.

So said, I don’t think all NAS whiskies are bad. Most are actually quite ok and some are good – or even great and exceptional. There will be always “cheaper single malts” and of course those that are much more expensive. There may be lots of reasons why the whisky does not have the age statement, but ultimately I think it gets down to the fact that there are some 3 years old dram in it. Thus, for marketing reasons they don’t want to ruin the image by printing 3YO onto the label.

Why this? Because the world is not the same as it was 20..30 years ago. It is not even the same as it was a decade ago! The speed, the fast pace and the networked unity of drammers wants more selection, new makes, new bottles, special releases and so forth. We cause this, so we might as well welcome it. Perhaps a bit harshly said, but the supplier is responding to the market’s needs. And when those older age statement drams come out to sale, they are not inexpensive. To put mildly. But as a devoted hobbyist, I enjoy the selection and the variance. Perhaps in my time, I will see the tide change and get my lips around some extraordinary whisky with age statements.. at a reasonable price.

20140608-20140608153020-IMG_4312_small However, Laphroaig Select is representing the new era. It is a NAS with less price tag. So, the first setting and expectation is altered by that fact. What is Select then? It is the new Laphroaig NAS (40%) that has emerged in selected sections of the world. It is matured in five different woods: Oloroso Sherry butts, new American white oak, PX hogsheads, quarter casks and finally in first filled bourbon casks. That’s a lots of different wood around the dram.

The nose is softer than what I would expect on any Laphroaig. Spices, herbs and some smoke. Not a big hit, but promises something good. It is surprising, how unlike Laphroaig the nose is.

The body is strongly filled with oak. There are sherry-spices present too, pepper and then perhaps some lime. Some smokiness is there too. For someone, who has tasted a lots of smoke whiskies – this is like a starter for the tasting. It is not too strong, and thus it is a easy start.

I don’t think this is a big hit. If you compare this to the famous Quarter Cask, then this one is left far behind. If compared with QA, then there is less gap but later I’ve grown fond of QA as a tastings starter. For this Select, there is not just enough dong to justify the ching. It is nice, pleasant even, but it is still a weak representation. In case the intention is to lure in more drinkers to Laphroaig, especially from the blended world, it does it job. It is not bad – far from it – but it does not make an impression either. If the need arises, this would be a easy dram to drink but I think I’ll save this one to tastings for comparison. 

My first encounter with Ardbeg Auriverdes

After a long journey, I arrived at my pilgrimage. The ancient location, hidden in a corner of famous tale filled streets, was not visible until I was told directions and how I would find it. After steps, which I didn’t count, I arrived and opened the door with a eager rush. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was ready to bow in honor of the location and it’s people. What happened, I did not expect. It was a warm welcome and there was no need to explain the reason. They already knew, why I was there. This, at Angle Terre, is where I got my lips to taste the mystical Auriverdes the first time.

WP_20140602_18_32_09_Pro It took me a while, to get used to the nose and the body. Auriverdes was not just a average potion, you get from a common hold. No, instead it is a golden sickle, that silently cuts the ancient oaken branch. It is the sound that a few hundred years old oak makes, when it’s leaf filled extremist drops onto the earth and makes a crumble that echoes throughout the still forest. It is the ripple on the pond’s water that wakes the ancient fish of pray from it’s century long sleep. It is the hunt and not the pray.

The nose contains pleasantly smoke, sweetness and.. mocha. It is rare for me, to find out that this is a dram that really has the characteristics of a coffee. The nose is not strong at first, but if you move back and forth between different drams.. you notice it’s strength. Later the tar emerges real nicely.

The body is soft at first, but it gets more army behind it’s message than you would expect. There is smoke, spices, coffee again and the toasted wood. It is the chest of treasures, that was forgotten to the cave for eons and it is not presented to the sunlight the first time since. Dazzling gold, pearls and also some rusty blades.

The Auriverdes is a iconic whisky, I concur to this what many have said already. The nose, the body, the colour and the finish are all great and what you would expect, if you explained whisky to somebody new. Is this a good or bad thing? It is up to you. I do like Auriverdes – based on this tasting – a lot already. It is the not the last note, but it carries the song forward.

On the second sip the sweet coffee is much more strongly present. It is bold, fierce and at the same time it is tame and gentle. Smoke and burned fields follow the lead. This is a nice experience!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bunnahabhain Darach-Urs revisions 6,8,9 and 10 compared

Darach-Ur.The New Oak in Gaelic. Bottled at 46.3% and the distillery makes revisions once or twice a year – if not more. So far it seems that they are very busy with this one and I got, thanks to Viskisieppo, samples of batch 9 and 10. Since I already got the last drops of 6 and almost a bottle full of 8 I thought it might be a good to throw in some comparison. And unlike to myself, put in four glasses that have these different versions of the New Oak. I tried them with water between, and later without to find out what are the differences.
Of course, to avoid myself the utter and outmost confusion, I used differently branded Glencairns here. On the left is the 6 and on the right 10. You may guess the order of 6 and 8 there.
First, the color. There is of course the obvious: more light comes from the right. But it happens, that the batch 6 has darker hue than batched 9 and 10. Between 6 and 8 it is not that obvious, but more right you look the more obvious it is. Even changing their positions and figuring out the colors. The Six the like it’s been ex-sherry barreled.

The noses

“the model Six” : Vanilla, oakenshield, sweetness of Mediterranean gigolo, it is like the man has visited a sherry cask before making his move. Sweet as a prom queen.
“The lucky Eight”: Introvert. Closed personality who hates to be sweet. Less vanilla and oak in the scent. There is, however, a hint of more peppery character suggesting.. you will get much more than you asked for.
“The infamous Nine”: More elegant than the previous couple. Smells like it has visited a butter bar and had a lots of salted peanuts. Vanilla and oak happened yesterday, there isn’t much tell left.
“The Perfect Ten”: Just a hint of vanilla and oak, but it gets soon replaced by a cold weather, bitter mood and a quick character that spells spices if you cross any words with it. A diva.

Let’s take a sip and see what happens

6: A body that has seen the gym many times. Full. Sweet with vanilla, oak and spices. Lots of spices. The bottle has actually been open for almost two years (stopper of course in it’s rightful place) and there are only a bit of this dram left. That might have changed how it tastes. It stings, but it is not bitter. Works very well for me!
8: There is a much more sweetness here, than with 6. It is more broad and has a lots more flowers and herbs. This reminds me of those whiskies which has been finished in a sherry casks. In the end, there is a immersive amount of spices and vengeful character. This one has a soul, that scratches if you don’t look out!
9: Ok, now it is a visit to a grease-factory. This one is soft, but very greasy and butter tastes strong here. Like a butter-popcorn eaten with salt peanuts! After a while, once the butter squirms away, the long finish unmasks itself: spices and oak, vanilla and some sweetness. It has a bite, but it is not too stingy. What remains, the scent of the butter.
10: There is, again, some butter and salted peanuts. But much less, than with 9. The oak and the spice dare to come out much earlier than before, and they do control the experience from that on. I enjoy the long finish that has some bite and demeanor, but it lack the pure power of the beginning.
After tasting these a few times (emptying the glasses) there are also a few notes to add:
6: After the other ones, this one feels very oily and oaky. There is lots of spice with pure oakvanilla. Perhaps the most “pure” of these all.
8: Due to batches 9 and 10, this one is less wide and broad as those two. The finish fades away much faster than I remembered.
9: A very soft start.. But then there is the BUTTER! This one makes me two-faced. In a way I like this twisted taste and on the other hand.. there is the too much butter.
10: Later sips provide a nice experience with more pure spice, oak, oakbark and vanilla. The final taste in the mouth seems to be the oakspice. This is actually a very good, in case you are searching for a wooden dram that has other characteristics also! The finish is long and it will stay in your mouth for a while.