For every whisky lover, it’s the ultimate pilgrimage: After listening jealously to other people’s travels and dreaming of making it to the promised land, you’ve FINALLY saved up for and planned your first whisky trip to Scotland. Exciting times!
Of course, every first-timer always asks the same questions in the early stages of planning: Where’s the best place to stay? Which distilleries should I visit? Should I hire a car? Do I have time to get to Islay? How many days should I spend in Speyside? Is the trip up to Orkney worth it?
Naturally, the answers to these are highly subjective and individual. They’ll depend on your budget, the amount of time you can spare, which distilleries are your favourites, and what transport options are at your disposal. But there are a few things to appreciate about visiting distilleries that you won’t read in the guide books or find online. Here are ten things you ought to know before heading off to Scotland…
With so many different special releases of Ardbeg that catch everyone’s attention each year (i.e. the annual Ardbeg Day releases such as Kelpie, Dark Cove, Perpetuum, Auriverdes, etc, or the limited release of the 21yo), it’s easily to forget that Ardbeg’s actual core range consists of just three bottlings: Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, and the 10yo.
Of course, a decade or two ago, a distillery with multiple expressions in its portfolio usually showcased its core range via a diverse spread of different age statements, for example, a 12yo, an 18yo, and, say, a 25yo. However, as is widely reported and acknowledged these days (see here), distilleries today are increasingly turning to No Age Statement releases to manage their stocks and inventory. (Talisker is a classic example – arguably one that has gone too far – with core range NAS releases such as Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Neist Point, Port Ruighe, and 57o North). Given Ardbeg’s chequered history, with such small and sporadic production between 1983 and 1997, it’s no surprise that Ardbeg must also make a virtue of NAS releases. Fortunately, as anyone who’s tasted them can attest to, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are two very good whiskies. But what if you’re a huge Ardbeg fan and you still yearn for something more? Relief is now at hand…
Whisky has been paired with food for decades, although in more recent years we’ve seen whiskies paired and matched to cigars, watches, albums, bands, and even movies! If you’re going to sit down in your comfy sofa and pass away a few hours being entertained by 007, then having a good dram in your hand goes a long way to enhancing the experience.
Of course, Jimmy’s drink of choice may be a vodka martini, but we can shake and stir things up for the whisky drinkers out there who are James Bond fans: Here is our attempt to pair and match the perfect whisky to every (official) James Bond film.
With Ardbeg Day now an entrenched part of the whisky calendar, it seems unnecessary to go into great detail about the day itself and what it entails. Of course, whilst the day itself is a great hive of fun and activity, most people’s focus and attention is on the special release bottling. This year’s release, Kelpie, is a belter, and an Ardbeg to make the purists happy.
The Committee Edition release – bottled at a higher strength of 51.7% – was released earlier this year and found many friends. The commercial or retail bottling, bottled at 46%, will be released on June 3rd to coincide with Ardbeg Day.
Of course, many people make the mistake of simply dismissing the retail version as being a “watered down” version of the Committee Edition. Chemically speaking, they’re correct, but from a sensory perspective, there’s so much more to it than that. Yes, whilst the retail version simply has more water added to it to bring it down to a lower strength, the effect of this on the whisky is very pronounced. The influence of the ABV is huge when it comes to how our palates react to the whisky. Master blenders and independent bottlers often carry out multiple tastings or samplings to establish whether a special release should be bottled at, say, 46%, 48%, 50%, or 51.5%. The different ABV’s influence how the alcohols and flavour compounds are balanced, and thus a different bottling strength will pronounce (or, in contrast, diminish) certain aspects of the flavour spectrum. For example, a whisky bottled at 46% might seem saltier, or sweeter, or fruitier than the same spirit bottled at 48%.
With multi-tasking all the rage these days, this piece combines two distinct happenings involving Ardbeg. The second of these relates to Kelpie, this year’s new release to coincide with Ardbeg Day. But before we try and conquer that wee beastie, have you heard of Ardbeg Untamed?
The last three decades have seen the distilleries and the whisky brands take ever increasing and impressive steps to bring us into their sanctums. Once upon a time, importers and distributors simply held a tasting event and poured out their whiskies for the punters to taste. Then came the brand ambassadors, who did more-or-less the same thing, except with the assistance of slide shows, which then morphed into the “multi-media presentations”. With the advent of live webcams, distilleries took us into their production areas and you could get a sneak peek into the workings of a distillery without having to leave your own home.
So, short of hopping on a plane and making your way directly to Scotland, what was the next step and development for distilleries to bring us ever closer to their heart? The answer is Virtual Reality. Ardbeg Untamed is one such undertaking. Courtesy of VR, Ardbeg has launched a series of visual experiences that take you across the water to Ardbeg and through the distillery. As the fly-through whizzes through the warehouse, you’ll see and hear Mickey Heads, distillery manager, talking to the lads as they go about their daily routine.
Given that so much about a distillery is now available online in the form of pictures and virtual tours that you can enjoy whilst sitting at your desktop, the VR experience is pretty special and certainly adds both a layer of realism and a tangible feeling of being within the space. Surely this is as close as you can get to Islay without actually being there.
Ardbeg. That wonderful Islay distillery with a cult following so devoted, over 120,000 fans from over 130 countries have pledged their allegiance to ensure the distillery never closes its doors again. Again? Yes, Ardbeg has quite a tale to tell…
Ardbeg has a weight, a brand, a persona, that is bigger than itself. It has a reputation for huge, bold, peaty whiskies, and its name travels so far and with such reverence that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the biggest distillery on Islay. In truth, it’s actually the second smallest! With just one pair of stills churning away, its potential annual production capacity is just a trickle over 1.1 million litres.
Ardbeg Day is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to shake off the Autumn blues (or dust off your Spring hat if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and gear up for all the fun and excitement of Ardbeggian delights.
I’ve written much about Ardbeg’s history, the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day in the past. So rather than fill up space by repeating it all on this page, you can re-visit those pieces here (Ardbeg Day 2015 report), here (Perpetuum review) and here (Ardbeg Day 2014 & Auriverdes review) if you need to fill in any blanks. For the purposes of a concise read, let’s cut straight to the chase and get stuck into Ardbeg Day and the annual release for 2016. If you’re here just to read the review on the Dark Cove release, scroll further down.
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…
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!
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.