Top of the Christmas list is, as always, whisky. As the BiG Award shows, there have been some fantastic bottlings released this year, but there are some that have fallen though the cracks.
As one of the main criteria for qualification is the availability of the whisky, there will be no festival bottles, distillery only bottles or club bottlings.
Sadly, this rules out a lot of amazing bottles that have passed out lips in the last 12 months. And hopefully a few more to come before the end of 2010.
Which bring us nicely on to two interesting, single cask Ardbegs. One, a recently released distillery only bottling. The other, a treat we had on our trip to the SMWS in Brighton.
As both of these offerings are 10 Years Old, it gives us a nice a opportunity to crack open a bottle of Ardbeg 10, to use a bench mark against these two “jewels in the crown”:
Ardbeg – Ten Years Old – 46%
Nose: Peat smoke wafts up backed by zesty notes of lemons and lime, a hint of milk chocolate and juicy fruit chewing gum and a touch of seaweed. This is a classic Ardbeg nose, as you would expect from their flagship whisky.
Palate: Peat, obviously but all those notes of zesty-citrus come flooding through; lemons, limes and a hint of ginger.
Finish: Peat (again!), dusty / sandy notes of old cigars and leather with some salty hints and that seaweed from the nose again (crispy seaweed, as you get at the Chinese Restaurant). Some BBQ beef tones as well.
Overview: A well balanced whisky that is more medicinal than I previously remember. Easy to drink, despite the huge tidal wave of peat and this is balanced well with the citrus notes. A solid whisky, even if the price does keep creeping up.
The next two whiskies are single cask, cask strength 10 Year Olds. They have both been matured in different types of casks; the SMWS in a refill, ex-sherry butt and the OB Ardbeg in a 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel:
Nose: Smoked Custard Creams. Over time dark red fruits appear (plums, blackcurrants and red currants) with some real liquorice. This nose is a lot more robust than I would have expected from an ex-bourbon cask. Dark chocolate finishes the nose off very nicely indeed.
Palate: Initial hit is of a real dryness, followed by smoked kippers and soot. Barbeque sauce hits big time and the palate develops into sticky toffee pudding and dark coffee with lots of sugar (without being overly sweet). Really, really unusual for a Bourbon Barrel. But very delicious.
Finish: Hot chillie sauce, dark wood notes, black tea and camomile. The official bottling notes says “sugared almonds” which is spot on, as is their “brine and cinnamon”. Awesome.
Overall: A really cracking bottle that delivers much more complexity than your average Bourbon Barrel. Greater poise, attitude and fruits than normal. I’d have guessed at a 2nd or 3rd fill Sherry Cask, if I hadn’t been told. Which brings me nicely on to...
Nose: a big hit of sooty smoke with elements of dark chocolate and blackberry / black cherry yoghurt. Strong and robust, sea salt and vinegar on hot chips.
Palate: Sweet, brown sugared tea is the first hit, driven through by smoke and that distinct BBQ sauce that we’ve seen above again. This is a very sweet whisky with excellent weight of spirit and good body.
Finish: Lots of smoke, but dry smoke, more like wood smoke than peat smoke, and once that dies, the sherry notes of rich red fruits, polished woods, ginger cake and figs comes through.
Overall: Deep, rich, sweet, salty and fruity. This is a very good example of a well matured Sherry Cask Ardbeg. Yum!
Of the three whiskies, the Single Casks highlight the zesty nature of the Ten Year Old, which weighs in with much more light-green tones (lemons, limes and ginger) than the two limited release bottling.
Of the two, you’ve got two extremes, with a Bourbon Cask and a Sherry Barrel. It has been a wonderful evening spending time with all three, but I was pushed to make a choice it would probably be the Own Bottling; it’s really unusual with the tea and camomile notes.
Having said that, day 5 of the second test of the Ashes is about to start and England need 6 wickets to win. It’s going to be a long night and the top of the SMWS Ardbeg is off. And I can’t seem to find it.