Search This Blog

Monday, 28 March 2016

Heartwood 1 of 3 Whisky Review!

Another cracking whisky from the (mad?) alchemist Mr. Duckett (pictured below). This one has had a rather complicated upbringing, but it's turned out brilliantly in the end!

I've covered more of the story behind Heartwood here, but I'd like to cover one point again here, at the risk of coming across as a fan-boy (guilty!). As Tim says himself, there are no commercial drivers behind Heartwood. There are no shareholders to please, and no corporate headquarters to keep happy. So when / if a whisky isn't ready to be bottled, or they aren't happy with it, it isn't bottled. And as of now in March, Heartwood has no whisky to sell until May.

Which means no income from whisky sales for (approx.) two months. They're not going to rush anything, or release anything that isn't 100% ready. They're not running down to the warehouse and finding a cask or casks that are 'close enough' and pushing them through for the sake of sales, like bigger companies would certainly do (and in fairness, would need to do). Which I think is a testament to Tim's commitment to absolute quality, and proves beyond doubt that he's not in it for the money. But don't panic, while Heartwood do not have any stock to sell directly for the time being, there are a couple of re-sellers who still have some stock available for sale.

The story behind this '1 of 3' release starts with the first cask Heartwood purchased, which was back in 1999. It came from Sullivan's Cove distillery, which would have only been operating for a few years itself at that early stage. Fast forward to eight years later, and the whisky "tasted like shit", to quote the man himself! So Heartwood decanted that 300-litre cask into three 100-litre Port casks, and '1 of 3' was born, along with it's siblings '2 of 3' and '3 of 3', which are still maturing.

But the story doesn't end there. The following year the cask containing what would become 1 of 3 had been ravaged by some very thirsty angels, and was half full. It was topped up with peated new-make spirit from Lark distillery, and was left alone for the next seven years. Then, in early 2015, it was topped up again with a small amount of 5-year old sherry-matured peated Lark whisky, before finally being bottled in July of that year. Phew!

So what we have here is a vatted / blended malt, consisting of 50% 16-year old Sullivan's Cove whisky (which would be among the oldest Australian whisky around), 40% 7-year old peated Lark whisky, and 10% 5-year old peated Lark whisky. As it happens, this sort of complete (and brilliant) transparency is how Compass Box Whisky got in some trouble recently, and I think I can imagine how Tim Duckett would react to something like that! In typical / wonderful Heartwood style 1 of 3 was bottled at a cask strength of 65.6%, without any added colouring or chill filtration. Let's get to it!

Heartwood '1 of 3', NAS (but see below), 65.6%. Tasmania, Australia.
Vatted malt, 100L port cask consisting of 50% 16 yo Sullivan's Cove, 40% 7 yo peated Lark, and 10% 5 yo peated sherry-matured Lark. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 190 bottles.

Colour: Dark copper.

Nose: All the components are there, the port, the sherry, and the soft herbal peat, but they're all nicely balanced and getting along fine. Boozy sultanas, thick toffee sauce. Rich, ripe stone fruit, a good pinch of pepper and spice. Musty, sweet red grapes, and a hint of oak. The peat dissipates after a little time in the glass as well, leaves a faint hint of ashy smoke.

Texture: Boom! Masses of flavour and spice. Thick & voluptuous, but not overly heavy or oily.  

Taste: Warm, thick fruit syrup next to a dying camp fire. Some heat of course, but in a good way, not harsh or unpleasant. Smoked (bush-fire smoke) caramel sauce, chilli and a little hot ash. Very nice.  

Finish: Medium length. The chilli & ash are still there, then comes the fruit syrup, then some subtle smoke, and a little spirit-y 'zing' on the tongue. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Very good, as per usual from Mr. Duckett. Quite different to the Heartwoods I've tasted previously, but then that's also as per usual! This one has the most obvious peat influence I've encountered so far, and I really enjoyed that. It's important to remember that Tasmanian peat is different to what we'd expect from Islay, it's closer to Highland Park-style peat I would say. It's lighter and more floral / herbal and subtle, but it's still noticeable. 

I can't see newbies digging this one as much as I did, but again that could be the case with most Heartwoods, they're big dinosaur-sized whiskies. Just relax and take your time, take small sips, and add water if you wish. You'll be rewarded with gigantic amounts of flavour. Case in point, I recently gave a friend a nip of Convict Resurrection (reviewed here) to try, and he proceeded to shoot it immediately like a cheap tequila. And he really didn't enjoy it too much. What a surprise! It certainly went down slower (and better) the second time around, after a little suggestion from myself.   

I can't wait for Heartwood's 100% peated releases either, I'm thinking they're going to change the entire Australian whisky world. And I know they're going to rock mine! Let's just hope there's enough to go around.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Ardbeg Dark Cove (Committee Release) Whisky Review!

There will probably be a million reviews of this one on-line shortly, but I couldn't resist trying it!

Dark Cove is this year's release for Ardbeg Day, the annual celebration of Ardbeg whisky. And like there was last year with Perpetuum, there are two versions. One is not officially released until Ardbeg Day, which this year is on the 28th of May, and they've changed it to 'Ardbeg Night' to suit this year's theme. That version will be bottled at 46-47%, and will have the usual Ardbeg packaging. The other is the 'Committee Release' (for Ardbegs' mailing list/loyalty program) bottling, which is bottled at 55%, has a basic label, and much to my personal annoyance, has no box. These limited releases sell out very quickly, usually within hours of release, and are so popular that Ardbegs' website often crashes under the strain. Why am I using the word 'usually' so often? Because this year, with Dark Cove, things were a little different.

This year, out of the blue, Ardbegs' Australian distributor, Moet-Hennessy Australia, released the Dark Cove Committee Release for sale on their website. And there also seems to be a large amount of stock, because it's lasted a few days so far (long after the distillery's own shop ran out). But the best part is definitely the price: $150 AUD. Which is very, very good for a limited edition Ardbeg in Australia, particularly one bottled at 55%. In comparison, that's over $100 less than the 2015 Supernova (which I found disappointing, and it's still readily available), which was also bottled at 55%. So this was a seriously good deal, and let's hope we get more of them!

Ardbeg have been getting a lot of negative attention for their 'special releases' lately, mainly from the anti-NAS crowd, but also because they've been a little disappointing in recent years, and haven't fared well in comparison to the brilliant standard / core expressions (the 10 yo, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan). The Auriverdes release was the low point in my opinion, which received the lowest score I've ever given an Ardbeg. The following year's Perpetuum was a definite improvement, but I'm suspecting this new bottling will be the redeeming dram. Based on the reasonable pricing of the Committee Release, it's already looking good!

The name Dark Cove refers to the illegal distilling and smuggling which occurred in the past near the distillery. It's an NAS Ardbeg, mainly consisting of whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks, and partly consisting of whisky matured in 'dark sherry' casks, which could refer to either Oloroso or PX sherry. Although 'dark' would usually mean PX. So we don't know the type of sherry casks they used, or exactly how much of the whisky was matured / finished in those sherry casks (the packaging states "it's heart"), or for how long. This Committee Release version is bottled at a healthy 55%, and like all contemporary Ardbeg it's non-chill filtered.

There has been a lot of marketing emphasis from Ardbeg on the colour of this one; it's supposedly their 'darkest ever'. It is slightly darker than my beloved Uigeadail (approx 2011 bottling), which contains around 10% Oloroso sherry-matured whisky, but it would only be considered 'dark' by Ardbeg standards. But this is the 55% version of Dark Cove, so I have to wonder how dark the 46%-ish version is likely to be? More importantly, does anyone actually care that much about the colour? Even more importantly, if the colour is so important, how about declaring on the label that it's natural? I personally would rather know more about the whisky itself. Anyway, Dark Cove has been likened to 'Uigeadail on steroids' by some, which is very, very high praise. Let's see if it has any hope of filling those big, beautiful shoes...

Ardbeg Dark Cove, Committee Release, NAS, 55%. Islay, Scotland.
Mostly matured in ex-bourbon casks, and partly matured in 'dark' sherry casks. Non-chill filtered.

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Rich & well-balanced. Treacle, fresh tar & coffee grounds. New natural rope, and a big hit of chocolate. Chilli salt, smoked oily fish, and a slight hint of rich, fruity & nutty sherry. Hard to pick the style of sherry, but I'm not convinced it's PX. Or not only PX, at least. But I could be wrong.

Texture: Medium-heavy weight, very nice. Not particularly oily, a little spirit-y, but enjoyably so.

Taste: There's the peat! A spicy, dry peat, and a hint of wood fire & ash. More of that chilli salt, treacle and tar. Dark chocolate, some clove and fresh, hot (spicy) ginger.

Finish: Medium-long length, soft initially but resurges. Chilli chocolate, more dry & spicy peat, sea salt flakes. Some dark fruits and a good pinch of pepper.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Very good! This one's definitely a winner. Quite different from the Ardbeg core range, as these special releases should be. But, the question on everyone's lips is: how does it compare to Uigeadail? Well compared to my slightly older bottling of Uigeadail, the Dark Cove is not as sweet or as peaty, it's perhaps more dark & brooding, and for me it doesn't quite match the magic that is Uigeadail. But after all, there's very little that can!

I'll be very interested to see how this committee release compares to the 'standard' lower-strength version, when it's released on Ardbeg day. And I'll be interested to see the asking price for the little brother as well, considering what a bargain this 55% bottling was.

I feel the committee release Dark Cove smashes all the special release Ardbegs from the last few years, including the 2014 & definitely the 2015 Supernova bottlings. Considering it was also considerably cheaper than those, this is certainly a winner!

If you're in Australia and you haven't already done so, I strongly suggest heading over to Moet-Hennessy and grabbing at least one, while you can! I'd wager you won't regret it.

In other breaking Ardbeggian news, some very interesting photos have surfaced on-line, on the US governments' labelling database known as TTB. Check this out!

Yes, it looks like there's a 21 yo official bottling of Ardbeg coming! Which means it was distilled prior to the distillery's mothballing in 1995. Wowsers. But for now, we can only imagine how awesome this'll be!


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Glendronach Peated Whisky Review!

I've been curious about this one for quite some time, but never curious enough to buy a bottle. Thanks to a sample swap with a fellow whisky nerd, I can satisfy that curiosity!

On face value, this one sounded excellent when it was first announced. Peated Glendronach? Where do I sign? But it's not quite that simple. Firstly, Glendronach are famous for their incredible sherry-matured whiskies, and this expression is way down on the sherry influence. It's matured in ex-bourbon casks, followed by a second maturation (finishing) in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.

But we don't know how long it spent in any of those casks, or if they were first-, second- or third-fill etc., and there's no age statement overall. This is not to say it isn't good whisky, but it won't be quite what we normally expect from a Glendronach. And secondly, adding a little extra hesitation on my part, was the pricing, which, in Australia at least, is considerably higher than the excellent 15- (which is currently on a 2-year hiatus), 18-year old and even the brilliant NAS cask strength bottlings, all of which are fully matured in ex-sherry casks.

Prior to the distillery's mothballing in 1996, Glendronach would have used some peat in their floor-maltings, in combination with other fuel/heat sources, so in a way this expression is a return to that practice. But after the distillery re-opened in 2002, the malt used at Glendronach has been sourced elsewhere, and has been un-peated. Until now!

Thanks to the typically excellent presentation of Glendronachs' whiskies, it's non-chill filtered, and bottled at 46%, without any added colouring. I've long felt that I can easily do without an age statement, which is largely inevitable these days anyway, so long as those three 'conditions' are met (or exceeded). I can't find any information on where the peated malt used in this one came from, or exactly what level of peat influence was chosen. But sister distillery Benriach make some excellent heavily-peated whiskies, so while this one will certainly be lightly-peated in comparison, there's still some anticipation on my part. Let's give it a go!
Glendronach Peated, NAS, 46 %. Highlands, Scotland. 
Matured in ex-bourbon casks, before second maturation / finishing in Oloroso and PX sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Herbal, fresh and slightly grassy. Dry, herbal peat, quite soft though. Hint of ash, some stewed fruits. Spiced vanilla, and a little lemon zest. 

Texture: Very nice. Medium weight, no heat, nicely drinkable. Typical Glendronach. 

Taste: Nice dry, crumbly peat, and more of it than I expected. Some warming wood spices, and a little wood ash. Vanilla cream, and fresh malted barley.

Finish: Medium. Hint of soft smoke, some buttery oak and golden barley. Then some more of that dry, soft peat, and creamy vanilla.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Not bad at all. Not your typical Glendronach of course, I didn't get any clear sherry influence in this one. But that speaks to the quality of their spirit really, it can still hold it's own without the help of sherry casks. The peat helps as well though; this is certainly a young whisky, and the peat helps cover any harsh or strong spirit-y notes. 

So is it worth more than Glendronachs' 18 yo and NAS cask strength expressions? In my opinion (and I'm a peat-head), definitely not. But if it were priced slightly under the 15 yo (based on the original pricing), or not-too-far above the 12 yo, it would be a winner, I think. As it currently stands though, sister distillery Benriachs' 10 yo heavily-peated 'Curiositas' (review coming soon) has this peated Glendronach beaten for me, especially once pricing is factored in. 

Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed it, and I'm glad to have tried it. I'd like to see what Billy Walker & team do from here with peated Glendronach. Was this strictly a one-time thing? Or can we expect to see some older peated whisky in future single cask releases, or even some peated spirit integrated with a more-typical Glendronach sherry-cask whisky? Let's hope so.   


Sunday, 6 March 2016

Ardmore Traditional Whisky Review!

For quite some time, this was the only widely-available original bottling of Ardmore single malt. Unfortunately it's now 'travel exclusive', but it's still worth tracking down. I've only tasted it once previously, so let's refresh my memory!

Ardmore may be a little-known Highland distillery (it's closed to visitors, and doesn't yet have it's own website!), but it's actually quite a big one, with a production capacity of over 5,000,000 litres. Which is about double the capacity of Laphroaig, or four times that of Ardbeg. So where does all that whisky go? Mostly into Teacher's Highland Cream, one of the highest-selling blended whiskies in the UK, and there are also quite a few independent bottlings around. But Ardmores' own range of single malts is on the increase, and the 'Traditional' was the first of them.

The name 'Traditional' actually refers to the whisky being finished in smaller 125-litre 'quarter' casks, which were more commonly used in the 19th century, particularly for transporting whisky. As I understand it, the smaller casks are sent over from Laphroaig (both distilleries are owned by Beam Suntory) once they have worked their magic on Laphroaig's excellent Quarter Cask expression. If this is the case, we could probably assume a bit of that magic from those casks finds it's way into this Ardmore. But being a Highlander, and being relatively lightly-peated compared to the Islay greats, we're not going to find a Laphroaig-impersonator here (that's not even possible, there can be only one!).

It certainly looks promising from the outside, being bottled at 46% and without chill filtration, regardless of the lack of age statement. As we know, smaller casks equal faster maturation, so an age statement would be irrelevant anyway. And unlike it's replacement (except in travel retail) the 'Legacy', it's 'fully peated', to quote the label.
Ardmore Traditional, NAS, 46%. Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Matured in ex-bourbon casks, finished in quarter casks, possibly ex-Laphroaig. Non-chill filtered.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Soft earthy peat, boiled leather, stewed tropical fruit. Dark toffee, and sweet buttery oak. Hint of white wine, and a little used frying oil (in a good way!). 

Texture: Medium weight, certainly young, but balanced by the peat. 

Taste: Earthy peat again, but quite sharp and dry now, not soft like it was on the nose. More rich leather, and a little hot ash. A little chilli pepper, hint of salt, and some bourbon-like vanilla & caramel sweetness. 

Finish: Short-medium length. Chilli flakes, dry white wine, sweet barley. Caramel and a little toasted oak at the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: Decent, certainly good value for money, and easy drinking. It'd make for a good introductory peated whisky, with a little more edge to it than others which are aimed squarely at that market. A different take on a peated Highlander as well, those leathery notes in particular were rather unexpected, and very interesting.

The quarter casks have certainly done their job here, there's plenty of wood influence in what is definitely a young whisky, which of course is what they're designed to do. This one doesn't quite have the magic of Laphroaigs' Quarter Cask, but then, not many do! 

While I'm yet to taste Ardmore Legacy, which replaced the Traditional in most markets, it would have to be a big departure. Legacy is down in strength to 40%, which also means it's likely chill filtered, and it's a mix of peated and un-peated malt, it's NAS, and there's no quarter casks involved. There's also little-to-no difference in price between the old expression and it's lighter replacement. Maybe they're aiming for the introductory peated whisky buyer who doesn't want the extra edge? 

But on the upside, the traditional is now available in a few duty-free / travel retail outlets, for around $10-15 AUD less than it was in the usual stores. So it's well worth grabbing a bottle next time you're jet-setting.