New Whiskies

Batch 146

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Batch 146: Ardbeg, Aultmore, Bunnahabhain, The Glenlivet, Islay Blended Malt, Islay single malt

Tasting duties are split this week between Dave Broom and Becky Paskin, with the former taking on a pale trio of peated Islay malts (both single and blended), while the latter tastes a more diverse trio of malts spanning Speyside and Islay.

Let’s start with Broom, because there’s a common thread connecting his threesome, beyond their Hebridean origins. From the two North Star Spirits bottlings – one from Ardbeg, the other from an unnamed Islay distillery – to the Islay blended malt from Berry Bros & Rudd, these are peated whiskies united by their relative lack of cask influence.

This is a trend that concerns Broom, even though he praises the balance and feel of the Berry Bros whisky. ‘You do wonder if anyone is using anything other than refill casks these days,’ he laments, adding: ‘I long for the impact of interaction.’

Paskin, meanwhile, has three releases from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), including another peated Islay malt matured in refill casks, this time from Bunnahabhain, which she finds intriguing in its youthful display of vegetal character, smoke and mint.

It’s sandwiched between two Speyside single malts, beginning with a 15-year-old Aultmore that marries spring fragrance with sugary sweetness, but is let down by a lack of cohesion.

Finally, the highest score of the week is reserved for the other SMWS bottling, a 10-year-old Glenlivet that displays luscious fruit, spice and a molasses-like stickiness that showcases the distillery’s ‘rummy alter-ego’.

Click on the links under ‘Right Place, Right Time’ to access a Spotify playlist to accompany this week’s drams.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg 12 Years Old, 2005 (North Star Spirits)

    Ardbeg 12 Years Old, 2005 (North Star Spirits)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    51.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Very pale, with the requisite rockpool-like salinity from whiskies of this ilk: a beach after a storm on a cold day. The smoke itself isn’t hugely apparent when neat; instead you get purely marine elements and, in time, some hot wok smell (oil, sesame, iron) and a hint of lavender. Water shows a little more smoke, but a bonfire made from green willow.

    Palate

    Oily and hot and, because there’s virtually no wood getting in the way, it fairly races across the tongue in tyre-burning attack and... then it’s gone. Ok, when you revisit there’s maybe a touch of cream, but there’s no pause in the centre for sweetness (and therefore balance) to develop. Instead, things are tense. Water does allow things to expand slightly, along with more smoke and a hot fire still crackling away.

    Finish

    Now you get slightly sooty smoke.

    Conclusion

    What is it with pale peaty whiskies? I know low wood means maximising smokiness, but how many more can the market take? This is simple and only beginning to pull its still disparate elements together. Completists only.

    Right place, right time

    On the beach, weeping Job’s Tears.

    Dave Broom

    Aultmore 15 Years Old, ‘Elevenses at the Furniture Emporium’ 73.101 (SMWS)

    Aultmore 15 Years Old, ‘Elevenses at the Furniture Emporium’ 73.101 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    Sweet yet prickly stem ginger interplays with a dominant floral element in the form of rose essence and elderflower cordial. But there’s a richer, deeper quality here too, as dark toffee, bitter chocolate and dried cranberries play out the bassline. Water intensifies the floral notes and coaxes a bitter, metallic quality forward, like well-oiled bike chains.

    Palate

    Thick and floral. Rosewater and jasmine before a sudden spicy heat develops in the middle (an effect lessened with water). A sugary sweetness develops and, as the heat subsides, we’re back to Turkish Delight and a buttery, waxy quality akin to polished oak furniture.

    Finish

    Dry, and just a touch bitter.

    Conclusion

    Matured primarily in a refill hogshead and finished in a PX Sherry cask for two years. A pleasant drop – I’d use it in a Highball with a dash of elderflower cordial and soda – yet it lacks cohesion.

    Right place, right time

    Cycling through Bluebell Forest in the Spring.  

    Becky Paskin

    Bunnahabhain 10 Years Old, ‘The Wonders of Refill Wood’ 10.143 (SMWS)

    Bunnahabhain 10 Years Old, ‘The Wonders of Refill Wood’ 10.143 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    61.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Vegetal and young, like a reposado Tequila. It’s green – both in terms of its youthfulness and aroma – with sweet touches of aloe vera and undercooked nopal. A soft, salty, ashy smokiness underpins the greenery as the nose moves into first aid kits and plasters.

    Palate

    Vegetal still, with the bitter sweetness of green beans, bell peppers and kiwi fruit. Grippy in the middle as the heat builds (it’s a high cask strength of 61.6% abv), heightening a salty, smoky quality and a more oaky sweetness – vanilla and muscovado sugar. Water brings out a bitter motor oil quality, smoked fish and lemon zest.

    Finish

    Minty, almost mentholic, and smoky.

    Conclusion

    Youthful and intriguing. The Baja Peninsula meets the Sound of Islay.

    Right place, right time

    Sailing on a Viking long boat with these folks: Los Vikings del Norte.

    Becky Paskin

    The Glenlivet 10 Years Old, ‘Deep as the Kraken’s Trench’ 2.105 (SMWS)

    The Glenlivet 10 Years Old, ‘Deep as the Kraken’s Trench’ 2.105 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.5%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Off the bat there are sweet, mouth-wateringly luscious fruits: lemon sherbets, juicy apples and Conference pears, though as it relaxes in the glass a more honeyed, caramelised sweetness develops – Jamaican ginger cake and sticky toffee pudding. A leafy greenness lifts the edges, almost cigar-like. Spiced oak adds dimension.

    Palate

    Dry at first – unexpectedly so, given the immediate, fruit-forward nose. The fruit here is drier – sultanas, baked apples and Califig syrup. A hint of tobacco leaf and milk chocolate as the wood spice builds toward the mid-palate, bringing notes of liquorice, black pepper and fresh ginger while retaining a dark, molasses-rich stickiness.

    Finish

    Sticky and sweet.

    Conclusion

    Glenlivet explores its rummy alter-ego.

    Right place, right time

    Kicking back on Craigellachie Beach ‘neath a tree. Stir it Up, says Bob Marley.

    Becky Paskin

    Islay Blended Malt (Berry Bros & Rudd)

    Islay Blended Malt (Berry Bros & Rudd)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    44.2%
    Production type
    Blended malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Like the Ardbeg, this too has a briny bracing aroma, this time a pile of drying oyster shells, but there’s an added sweet grassiness and discreet smoke, and hints of softer and slightly more mature elements in the background. Water pulls forward some lemon and a tiny hint of tar/soot, then burning fish boxes.

    Palate

    A pretty sweet and zesty start with some lime, then the smoke starts to grow in power, adding in hints of cigar, old bookshop and a soft, substantial sweetness (rather than wood) in the middle of the tongue. Water adds lightness and another level of sweetness, plus that squeeze of lemon. Like the other Berry Bros blended malts, it’s as much about feel. It’s balanced and does what it says on the tin (or label).

    Finish

    Drying, smoky, seaweed.

    Conclusion

    You do wonder if anyone is using anything other than refill casks these days. As a result, there’s a certain homogeneity between whiskies of this style. Still, this has balance and would work well in a Highball.

    Right place, right time

    Just as the Tide Was Flowing.

    Dave Broom

    Islay 10 Years Old, 2007 (North Star Spirits)

    Islay 10 Years Old, 2007 (North Star Spirits)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.6%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Pale (of course!), with a light onion skin (Provence rosé) colour from the finish in ‘Bordeaux’ casks. Things are still pretty penetrating in terms of alcohol (another downside of having lower wood influence) and a dry austerity. There’s some burning heather and a nodule of sweet fruits (wine gums), and steadily-building smoke. Water brings out a slightly foosty note of smouldering, damp peat.

    Palate

    More expansive. Here, the smoke and light red-berried fruit work well together on the tip of the tongue. By the middle, though, it is drying out and the edginess begins to show, along with some almond. Water again helps to round things out a bit in the middle, but there’s an insubstantiality to this which can’t be ignored.

    Finish

    Short, smoky.

    Conclusion

    I long for the impact of interaction.

    Right place, right time

    The delicacy and penetrating quality of the great Annie Briggs: Living By The Water.

    Dave Broom

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