I started out on Burgundy and then hit the harder stuff.

abraham lincoln said that

Monday, June 9, 2014

Three Monday morning single malt rants

Good morning, I'm pissed off.

1.  Ardbeg Arrivederci (sp?) arrives and I don't give a sh*t -- But it's one of those I don't give a sh*ts that I'm curious to explore.

As recently as two years ago, Ardbeg was my favorite distillery.  I thought all three of their regular range whiskies were super duper.  Seriously, check out the top of my Whisky Rankings.  I went to Ardbeg Day event when they released "Ardbeg Day".  There was free food, I met cool people and drank free whisky.  The Day whisky itself was enjoyable, but I think I left with a bottle of Corry instead.  When Galileo came out, I thought "Hmm, that sounds a little weird. It's not for me, but I hope it's good!"  It was strange to see moderately negative reviews of an Ardbeg special release and it was stranger to see the stuff stay on the shelf for a long time (it's actually still at some stores).  The next Ardbeg Day event didn't actually come to the LA/OC area.  I thought that was kinda weird since that event visited much smaller locales.  But I forgot about the whole Ardbeg Day thing quickly because there were a lot of personal things going on at the time that were much more important.  I had a chance to try that year's limited release, Ardbeg Ardbog, a couple months later.  It wasn't bad but when it came to age and quality the price tag ($100) didn't make any sense to me.

After that I started noticing that the newer bottlings of the regular range, while still good, were no longer great.  Part of me wanted to believe that quality had fallen because Whisky Sorceress Rachel Barrie had left.  But another part of me suspected (as many others had) that Ardbeg was out of the older stocks that made Uigeadail great.  Ardbeg gradually dropped their denial of this, see (or hear) this interview with Bill Lumsden, and are now upfront about it on their distillery tours.  As of 2012, according to an interview with Lumsden in Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies book, the distillery was still primarily using 1998-1999 French Oak cask whisky mixed with "slightly younger classic" ex-Bourbon barrels for Corryvrecken, but if you check out the link to Jordan's distillery tour you'll see that Corry now uses 8 year old ex-French Oak whisky.  So, if I'm interpreting this correctly, the elements in Corryvrecken also have been getting younger.  I'm not necessarily saying that younger whisky is worse than older whisky, but Ardbeg did change those two whiskies' recipes to include only different and younger elements but then kept the names and prices the same.  The 10 year old is still 10 years old, but it tastes much oakier now than it used to.  And honestly, if I was to consider only the current product, I doubt Ardbeg would now make my Top Ten.

So when there was a lot of hubbub about bloggers (or other freebie receivers) selling their free gilded review samples of Auriverdes a month ago, I found myself not caring at all.  I've skipped all reviews of the stuff, I've deleted all of their marketing emails about the whisky's goofy ass name, and I avoided the Ardbeg Day event that actually came to the LA/OC area.  Auriverdes is another 10-12 year old whisky that's not a single cask and not actually cask strength but is selling for $100 or more.  And though the two kinds of toasted oak cask heads sounds like fun innovative stuff to some folks, I see it as Lumsden doing John Glaser-lite.  I do hope it tastes good, but that's the best thing I can say about it.  There are many more fascinating whiskies out there that come to us with no hype and lower prices.

2.  Talisker Storm hit my lips -- I finally had the opportunity to try Talisker Storm.  Talisker Storm makes for the perfect storm of issues I've had with the whisky industry: it has no age statement yet is priced more than the 10 year old, it only exists because the producer trying to push more new oak content into the whisky (possibly because the spirit itself is suffering), and it was made by Diageo.

I'll give you the bad news first.  There is indeed a lot of the same sort of new oak gunk/sweetness in it that you'll also find in the current Talisker 10, Laphroaig CS batch 005, and many US craft whiskies that are being rushed into the market.  At least Diageo was thoughtful enough to be upfront about its use of "rejuvenated" casks in the product description.

The good news is that there's a lot more iodine, salt, and pepper in it than in the current 10 year, especially in its expansive finish.  So at first, you'll be like ewwww and then a second later you're all hmmmm.  So it's not a total failure.

Had they set it up in the Bowmore Legend or Laphroaig Select-style starter malt category and gave it a price of $29.99 (maybe even $39.99), I'd almost recommend it.  But it's priced $60-$65 on the East Coast, and $70-$75 in the West.  And they really should tone down that sweet oak sh*t because there could be good young whisky hiding underneath.

3.  Losing the spirit of Laphroaig -- I'm learning that I'm not the only one concerned about officially bottled Laphroaig right now.  Though batch 005 of their 10yo Cask Strength wasn't bad, it was much oakier and aggressively sweeter than the four batches before it.  And to me, a "not bad" Laphroaig 10yo CS is far below the quality established by its predecessors.  But the issues don't stop at the CS.  I've now heard (hearsay!) complaints about then newest bottlings of the Quarter Cask and the 18 year old from both long time fans and newer geeks.  And, the aforementioned Laphroaig Select?  With a combo of Oloroso sherry butts, new oak, PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks, and first fill Bourbon Casks, it sounds like they're attempting to do their version of Longrow CV.  Except it's oak oak oak oak oak.  And after reading Serge's thorough and funny trashing of it (something I don't think he's ever done to an regular range OB Laphroaig, though he didn't like the recent duty free QA Cask either), I have started to think the Select is just a garbage can whisky -- made up of all these cask odds and ends that fell short on the quality control end of their regular releases, mushed together, and sold for a price not much less than the 10 year old.

Laphroaig used to pride itself on not having a Master Blender.  They claimed to just fill a bunch of ex-bourbon barrels up with their spirit and, after some maturation, that was their product.  And it kicked ass.  But under Beam's ownership, they now have at least 11 whiskies in their range and only three of them are solely from former bourbon casks.  It's clear that there has been an effort to create more products.  And by doing so with NAS or young stock the solution was more oak, both in quantity and type.  Whether or not the quality is slipping, there is A LOT of blending going on at Laphroaig.

Just to show I'm not a complete Luddite when it comes to Laphroaig, I loved my two bottles of QC bottled in 2010/2011, enjoyed last year's Port Wood Cairdeas one-off, found the Triple Wood to be decent, and the PX Cask to be mostly drinkable.

But here's the thing, Beam Suntory.  Every other distillery in Scotland (and beyond) can tinker with new oak, multiple maturations, and wine finishes.  But no one else can make Laphroaig.  Be careful not to lose track of what makes you unique in an attempt to mimic the rest of the market.

2 comments:

  1. Re #3 - I felt like that was the irony of Laphroaig's latest marketing campaign. Yes, their spirit isn't to everyone's liking. But most of their new releases seem to be trying to cover up that character to make it less offensive.

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    1. Exactly, that boggles my mind. They made an iconic product, iconic not for pop culture reasons or financial reasons, but due to its specific quality and character. Yet there is a deliberate effort to move away from it just when the world's whisky palate has expanded.

      It seems to have taken off when the boom started in 2011; Triple Wood moved into the regular range and PX cask was introduced. It expanded from there.

      Suntory's management eventually lifted Bowmore out of the McEwan valley. Laphroaig hasn't fallen off as badly as Bowmore, so though I hope Suntory will have a positive effect on the whisky, the brand is probably too financially successful for them to veer from the current direction.

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