KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

The world has ceased to be.  Welcome to oblivion.

That is some approximation of what I felt when I cracked tonight’s calendar door after this particular day and saw Ardbeg Corryvreckan staring me back in the face.  Between and early and constantly stressful workday and other obligations, I was ready for a friendly Labrador retriever of an Irish whiskey or something fun from some other new wacky whisky nation.  Instead I got the Mordor of Scotch whisky, from the producer most commonly associated with near-merciless peat levels in its bottlings.  Before levels of peating in whisky became something people tried to top each other at for no reason (looking at you, Octomore and Supernova, the latter of which is, to no one’s surprise, an Ardbeg), this distillery was probably known as THE foremost purveyor of peat, with most of its offerings featuring 55 ppm of peat phenols, the highest in the calendar to date.

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Nothing means anything.

This particular bottle of Ardbeg, the weirdly named (they’re all weirdly named) Corryvreckan, gets its moniker from a famous whirlpool located just north of the Scottish island of Islay from which this derives.  Even this whisky’s NAME is sliding off into the abyss on the label (welcome to oblivion), in honour of both the marine landmark and my current mood.  Before this gets too depressing, I should point out that the Corryvreckan is actually one seriously decorated whisky:  it was named World’s Best Single Malt (!!) at the World Whisky Awards in 2010 and has received a swath of other critical accolades.  A quick Google search results in much gushing about this French oak-matured monster, which retails for a relatively tame $120 given the buzz around it.

This is like drinking a junkyard:  my first aromatic notes were old rubber hoses, car tires, motor oil, shoe polish, kerosene and leather on fire, plus this weird melting-plastic offgas vibe at the start of every sniff that hammers home the whisky’s identity.  Ardbeg is rugged, fiercely peated, fiercely Islay whisky, and the Corryvreckan shies away from none of that.  There is a sweetness to the back of the palate, an apple cobbler and poached pear pleasantry, but that’s then almost immediately sacked and pillaged by industrial malaise and every conceivable sensory experience arising out of an old factory falling apart while still operating, with a finish like eating still-red fire pit ashes.  Welcome to oblivion.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 7

7 12 2016

Oh snap.  Let’s get greasy.  Ardbeg is in the house.  When a distillery can scarcely be described without the use of the word “notorious” (in this case, for its well-known bone-crushing use of peat, like most other Islay distilleries but times ten), you know you’re in for some fun.  And when you can’t pronounce the name of the whisky even before you down its cask-strength madness (54.2%, the first bottle out of the 40s to date), all the more so.  It turns out Ardbeg’s Uigeadail, named for the lake that acts as the distillery’s water source, is pronounced “OOG-a-dal”, a suitable caveman name for a pretty caveman whisky.  That’s not necessarily a put-down — this is a $110 bottle, and one that Ardbeg’s 120,000-person-strong fan club voted their favourite out of the distillery’s whole lineup — but more a recognition that this sherried expression of Islay’s most ferocious peat bomb gets to something primal.

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It starts before your nose even gets close to the glass.  The massive alcohol content is apparent from the glass-coating syrupy way the Oog comes out of the bottle, shining sullenly like burnished gold.  The aromas are unsurprisingly filled with nostril-tinging peat, which lingers in the sinuses with a slight alcoholic burn after the other smells fade away:  dirty rags, kerosene, mechanic shop floor, moss, burnt cinnamon and spice.  Even with a fair dollop of water, this is still rich and lush and radiating power, honeyed maple-bacon sweetness offering a beat of relief before the oily smoke and swampy peat flavours, charcoal briquettes and skidding tires, ashtrays and latex gloves, take over and run wild.  Oog is not a whisky that sounds good when reduced to flavour descriptors, but it does hit you on an emotional as well as an intellectual level, something I don’t always get with scotch, as much as I enjoy it.  There is some bass and some soul to this liquid fire and brimstone, an oozy gravitas that I can’t help but admire.





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 6

6 12 2015

OK, fair warning.  I was out until 4 in the morning at an office Christmas party last night.  There was wine involved.  If there was ever a night to question the integrity of my palate and the quality of my insights, this is it; however, I felt bound by advent duty to forge onward with my whisky calendar mission and not be steamrolled by circumstance in week 1.  I just hoped I would open the little cardboard door and find a nice, mild, demure whisky to let my system off easy.  I got Ardbeg Ten instead.  F***.

I believe this is the 2015 calendar’s first visit to the notorious island of Islay, world Mecca of peated whisky and home to many distilleries unafraid to unleash it.  Ardbeg may be the most brazen of the lot, a producer that does not lack for confidence (their website says they are “unquestionably the greatest distillery on earth”) and has been accelerating the recent arms race to develop peatier and peatier whiskies with their borderline absurd Supernova.  Even this base 10 Year bottling (which goes for $80 and which the label calls “The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky”, so again with the self-belief) is peated to between 55 and 65 parts per million, which is a whole hell of a lot; see here for a peat concentration scale for various distilleries, and you will note Ardbeg at the very top.

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You can smell the peat leaching out of the Ten Year as you’re pouring it into the glass.  It is a rather nondescript light straw colour but radiates powerful, greasy, non-nondescript (descript?) aromas of leather, moss, shoe polish, sesame oil and seaweed, with a hint of citrus peeking through underneath.  There is a surprisingly sweet honey-maple attack on every sip that lasts for a millisecond before the peat hammer drops and layers on iodine, liniment, campfire, tar and struck matches, one after another after another.  At the end of that crescendo you get some baked apple and lemon curd fruit and anise and cinnamon spice, but they’re in the chorus line and not fronting the cast.  I will say that this isn’t the total blunt instrument that I partly expected and feared, holding back a bit on the brute force in approach and demonstrating some level of dexterity with how the peat is presented.  That said, there’s basically no way that people who dislike this style of whisky will enjoy this scotch; there’s really no unwinding peat from Ardbeg.  Please have some pity on me tomorrow, calendar.





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 5

5 12 2014

I sort of thought so. I sort of suspected that, after 4 days of relatively innocuous and conservative whiskies, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market might pack a punch on day 5 of Whisky Advent.  I sort of expected that it was Islay’s time to shine.  And I was right, in a big way.  Islay (pronounced “eye-lah”) is a small island on the southwestern coast of Scotland that is known in the scotch world for peated whiskies, a distinctive style where drying the barley grain over a peat-fuelled fire leads to an eye- (and nose-) popping whirlwind of smoky, savoury, briny flavours.  I would say that peat has such a powerful and irrevocable influence over a whisky that you either love it or hate it, but I actually stand right in the middle:  I like both peated and unpeated whiskies and can certainly appreciate what peat brings to the table, but I don’t necessarily miss it if it’s not there.  As with wine, it’s all about balance.

Funny label.  Serious scotch.  Big peat!

Funny label. Serious scotch. Big peat!

You have probably suspected given all this talk about peat that peat plays a big role in tonight’s scotch.  You may not have suspected that it makes up most of its name.  Day 5’s whisky is the Douglas Laing blended bottling of Islay Malt Whiskies simply called Big Peat.

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