The Unpronouncable Ardbegs
There are many things I have inherited from my father. There are the good – some aptitude for sports, my height my ability to grow facial hair and, according to him, my looks. Then there are the not so good – the receding hairline and grey edges which belie my youthful status and, perhaps most worryingly, my pyromaniac tendencies.
If you have seen my photo stream over at flickr, you may have seen some of my light painting pictures – achieved by leaving the shutter open for a long time while manipulating light sources to creative effect. Once I had grown tired of using torches and luminescent wire, I discovered that small garden fireworks could be relatively easily twirled, moved and generally manipulated to great effect. The ultimate culmination of this came about two years ago, when my father and I decided to set fire to a beach.
The Ardbeg Corryvreckan (named after a whirlpool south of Islay) is a cask strength expression and has been on general release for nearly three years now, following a committee only release previously, and it replaces a previous expression. It seems to have been widely accepted, despite its price point being significantly higher than its predecessor. The Ardbeg Uigeadail (named for the loch from which Ardbeg draw their water) has been around for nearly 10 years and again is a cask strength expression. They are both non age, statement whiskies, the primary difference between the two is the Uigeadial’s ageing in sherry casks.
This lends a more complex taste to the Uigeadail; it has a sweeter, fruitier side to it than the Corryvreckan. This isn’t to do the Corryvreckan down though; they are both superb whiskies, albeit neither feel like summer drams to me – they seem far more like winter warmers for me, to be drunk beside a fire, following a hearty New Year’s Day walk. However, the £20 difference between the two, depending on where you shop, is where the difficulty lies. If they were the same cost, i would say it’s impossible to say which bottle i’d buy on any given day, as they are both as good as each other, just essentially a sweet and a dry version of similar flavours. However, for £20 more, I do not see £20 benefit in the Corryvreckan and would definitely err on the side of the Uigeadail and put the money towards a bottle of something else entirely.
My father co-runs a holiday establishment in Deepest Darkest Lincolnshire (very lovely for a holiday, although there aren’t many whisky bars nearby…) and, as part of the general campaign of advertising, he takes part in a few local festivals in this area. One of these is a festival of light, where my father had decided to construct a fire labyrinth. In the end, it was decided that may be a little risky, a health and safety nightmare, but cue a night of setting fire to various substances, fireworks and such on the beach to find a solution. I don’t think there are as many times I’ve seen my father as happy as him running around on the sand with a roman candle in each hand, doing his best airport marshall’s impression.
The next morning, my clothes reeked of smoke, burnt turpentine fumes, cordite, wood shaving ash and melted steel wool. It was a bitter disappointment because one of my favourite smells is that “morning after a bonfire” smell, that fresh smoke, be it wood, peat or coal, in your clothes. I think that’s the memory that always comes to mind with almost any Ardbeg; the smoke is so fresh, so warming, that it always puts me in mind of bonfires on the beach, rather than setting fire to the sand.
colour: dark straw
nose: bitter chocolate, coal tar, chilli, blackberries, a background sweetness (molasses?) and the bonfire fresh smoke.
body: smooth and weighty
palate: Hit of phenols, chocolate still there, pepper, wood smoke, barbecued meaty savoury notes
finish: bonfires on the beach, long and lingering, peppery.
notes: very strong and punchy, fuller flavours without water, easier to determine individual notes with added water, but loses some of the original hit.
colour: cinder toffee
nose: sherry and bonfires, sultana and raisin, christmas pudding note, vanilla and ginger, creamy smooth cereal, spicy peat smoke
body: warming and smooth
palate: honey, pepper, molasses, cereal and spices first, then the warming smoke hits,
finish: very long, pipe smoke and leather with a cinder toffee note to smooth it out.
notes – more intriguing than the Corryvreckan, the sherry notes adding a superb wintry feel.