The 1980’s Heavy Metal Guide to Single Malt Whisky

Michael Jackson once compared a particular single malt to a car (e.g. “the Rolls-Royce of whisky”).  Others have since compared certain single malts to particular Grand Cru wines.   More recently, people have started writing tasting notes for whiskies and suggested various songs or bands to match and pair with the whisky.  So, whisky and music is now a thing, right?  Okay then, let’s take it one step further…

No one likes to admit it, but there was once a time when heavy metal was actually commercially successful, and major record labels were falling over themselves trying to sign up hard rock acts.  The genre is lampooned today, and often labelled dismissively as hair metal.  But, like me, you might be from that era when heavy metal was actually on top of all the charts and hair metal bands ruled the airwaves.   But has anyone ever compared single malt to heavy metal artists?  Perhaps now is the time.  Get out the hair gel, put on your spandex, and take yourself back to the 1980’s.  Here are my comparisons…

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Ardbeg Day, 2015

Ardbeg Day continues to grow and build momentum each year, and on a truly global scale.  It is now one of the highlights of the whisky calendar, and the main events that get held around the planet are spectacular occasions.

Each Ardbeg Day has a theme, and this year’s was an entertaining mix of both retro and futuristic.  2015 marks Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary, and it was therefore fitting that we mark the past and acknowledge the distillery’s long and colourful history.  But the modern Ardbeg brand has never been one to look backwards, and so a glimpse of the future was also very much at the core of this year’s theme and this year’s festivities.

And so it was that the good folks at Ardbeg took over and transformed the International Cruise Terminal at White Bay on Sydney Harbour.   Walking in to the venue, one was instantly captivated by the set up – sharp, clean, sleek, and with some fantastic attractions and activities around the place to both amuse and entertain.  And, of course, to renew acquaintances with Shortie the Ardbeg dog!

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The Whisky Show, Sydney, 2015

Sydney is spoiled for choice with a number of whisky expo-style shows running through town each year and May 15-16 saw The Whisky Show return to the Stamford Plaza hotel at Mascot to strut its stuff.

The Whisky Show offered three sessions; one on the Friday evening, and then 12noon-4.00pm and 5.00pm-9.00pm on the Saturday.  Of course, the Saturday sessions coincided with World Whisky Day, so it was a fine opportunity to celebrate the occasion.

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Port Ellen and dram envy

All whisky drinkers are on a journey.  You may be just starting out and discovering the world of whisky via some casual drams of Johnnie Walker, or you may be an über-enthusiast who doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than a Macallan 50yo.

I’d been giving this some thought lately, as I’ve seen and read a bit of chatter on various whisky forums and discussion groups that hinted at there being some sort of series of conquests or achievements that you’re supposed to tick off as you continue your whisky journey.   It’s almost as though you’re expected to graduate from blends; transition across to mass-produced single malts; upgrade to limited edition releases; stop by Islay to collect your Peat Badge; gain a promotion to take on cask-strength whiskies; and then make the leap into the industry as either a brand ambassador, a blogger, or set up your own distillery!

Of course, I don’t support or endorse such an observation for a moment, but I can’t deny that there does seem to exist some unwritten, barely-whispered gates or “checkpoints” that some folks feel you need to pass through if you want to assert or display a heightened sense of creditability as a whisky drinker.  And by “checkpoints”, I mean drams.  In other words, there are some whiskies you probably need to have tasted and conquered if you want to demonstrate you’re taking this caper seriously.  And it seems like one of those whiskies is Port Ellen.

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Ardbeg Perpetuum

Ardbeg. The very name conjures up evocative images, flavours, and pre-conceived ideas. For many, it means a big, peaty, smoky, Islay whisky. For others, it represents complexity, refinement, sweetness, and quality. Some link the name to the decline and downturn of the Scotch industry in the 1980’s, resulting in distillery closures and cutbacks. Many of those same folks also link the name to a Phoenix-like resurrection, given the distillery came back from the dead in 1997 and now struts the roost with style and finesse.

For me, it is all of those things, plus one more: Fun.

Ardbeg is a fun brand. The distillery and its blending/creation team can produce some of the most refined, stylish, and unbelievably-good drams on the planet, but the brand has never become stuffy or weighed down under a Rolls Royce-like persona. Rather, Ardbeg presents itself as being fun, vibrant, innovative, inclusive, cheeky, and left-of-centre.  If Ardbeg was a style or a fashion genre, it would definitely be a hipster!  And its whiskies are all the more endearing as a result.

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Glendronach vs Glenfarclas vs Macallan

Of all the articles and opinion pieces that have appeared on Whisky & Wisdom to date, this one will be the most controversial. The following is merely one person’s opinion, and opinions are obviously subjective and will be scrutinised or shot down by others. But it’s also based strongly on perception and recollection. In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll be recalling and reflecting on aspects of the whisky industry that I remember and experienced in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Many readers will have different recollections of those times. Our accounts of the day will also vary according to our geography: I can only report on the industry as it presented itself and played out in Australia.   Readers in other whisky markets may have had access to different bottlings and expressions, which will have coloured and influenced their whisky journey differently to mine. So you may well disagree with the following perceptions. Nevertheless, let’s bunker down and get stuck into it…

Glendronach versus Glenfarclas versus Macallan. Immediately, you’ve already chosen your winner. You’ve no doubt got your own favourite, and you’re probably even wondering how this could possibly even be a close race worth discussing! It’s no secret that my allegiances lie with Glenfarclas, and such a bias will influence the words that follow.

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Glenmorangie Tusail – the latest Private Edition

The good folks at Glenmorangie continue to explore new flavours and forge new paths in their pursuit of interesting and tasty whiskies.  Well, I say “good folks”, but perhaps “the good doctor” would be more appropriate, as it is Dr Bill Lumsden who has once again pushed the boundaries and played around with the ingredients.

Whilst it would be easy to rest on their laurels and be satisfied with their core range aged expressions (The Original, 18yo, 25yo, etc) and the Extra-Matured set (Quinta Ruban, Lasanta, and Nectar d’Or), Glenmorangie continues to add to their portfolio with their Private Edition whiskies.  These include releases such as Ealanta, Companta, Taghta, etc, and you can read my previous pieces on these whiskies here and here.  But let’s get to the point:  Glenmorangie’s latest release and the new kid on the block is the Tusail.  (Gaelic for originary)

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