the unexpected ardbeg
I travelled into London on the train a few days ago to pay a visit to Albannach in Trafalgar Sqaure for a brief pilgrimage, pre-Twitter tasting. I rarely get public transport, as it is not seemingly designed for anyone with my length of legs, and I forgot how much I genuinely dislike it. As I took my seat, I noticed (as one could clearly not fail to) a large group of very noisy boys. I immediately felt my hackles go up, felt my irritation levels rising. I decided to focus on the window intently and just try to get through the journey. A mother with a toddler very quickly left the carriage and the tension was clearly rising.
However, not all was quite as it seemed. As I started to pay slightly more attention, I realised that, despite the noise levels, there was no swearing going on, they were being very polite and moving out of people’s way. They started talking to the rest of the carriage, asking who they were and where they were from. The boys, it quickly became clear, were from a London school (a uniform of grey blazers, and a teal and purple diagonal striped tie?) and had gone south on the train for a hockey match (which they had won, by all appearances). They were drinking cheap red wine from the bottles or cans or Stella for those less used to wine. They were pleasant, well brought up lads, who meant no one any harm, despite initial impressions. They were celebrating Leap Day by searching for uniqueness; anyone of note (which soon became anyone) was toasted, including John, who impressed them by announcing he had been both a plasterer of walls and legs (originally a decorator, now a nurse…).
The journey, in the way of nearly all journeys, eventually ended; I headed towards Nelson’s Column for Albannach. It was a real treat; a great selection of whiskies, the bar staff were very polite and seem to know their stuff. I got to meet the manager, Ivo Silva, also very charming. I got a chance while there to meet a complete whisky virgin and introduce him to the amber nectar, which was very good fun (a story for another day…). All in all, a definite recommendation if you’re in London; worth going to London for if you’re not there already.
Following on from the theme of false impressions from the train, I asked for a whisky that would surprise me from what I knew of it. The barman produced Ardbeg Blasda, explaining that it fitted my requirements. All I know of Ardbeg is peat, peat and more peat. I haven’t tried a huge amount since I started taking whisky seriously but I remember being given some as a far younger man and tasting nothing but fire and earth and smoke.
Blasda is, according to the bottle at least, Gaelic for sweet and delicious. It is a less peated Ardbeg and this shows in the colour – it is a pale straw, shown off in an untraditional (for Ardbeg at least) clear glass. There is no age statement, all my research turned up is that it is peated at 8ppm, rather than the usual 24ppm. There seems to have been some criticism of it as an Ardbeg yet praise as a whisky through my readings- I find this a tough idea to comprehend, although it backed up my feeling that I had been given exactly what I had asked for. A very comforting dram all in all, warming and soothing, with just a little of that younger memory of smokiness.
Colour- pale straw, surprisingly light
Nose – salty smoke- bonfires on loch Lomond at millerochy bay. Leather, meaty, rich, yet some sweetness- toasted marshmallows, creaminess.
Body- smooth and light
Palate- spicy, sweet and sour again- fascinating combinations.
Finish- smoke and leather, sea salt and pepper.