1 November 2016

Islay Trip: day two: Ardbeg Tour (part three)

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The next part of the "deconstructing the dram" tour is a warehouse tasting. Four samples of whisky are set out next to the three main drams of Ardbeg. The 10yo, uigeadail and corryvreckan.

The samples are all the cask strength versions of the main components that go into these drams.

The first is a bourbon matured one, the 10 yo. It is a blended malt of first and second fill bourbon matured spirits.

The first sample is a 2006 first fill bourbon matured dram at 58,3% abv. This dram is just over 10 years old and could have been part of the commercially sold 10 yo.

The second sample is a 2004 refill bourbon matured dram at 56,6% abv. This dram is over 12 years old. With all blended malts it's the youngest component in the dram that is the age statement you need to put in the label, if mentioned.

The idea behind these two drams is to allow the people on the tour to taste the difference between the component parts that makeup the 10 yo. The first sample had much more caramel/vanilla sweetness from the wood. the peat was a bit more profound compared to the more fruity nature of the second fill. Here there were orange citrus fruit influences. Some notes of banana. In the second sample the wood (oak) also was more noticeable. Not that the amount was more, just that the other components like caramel/vanilla were less pronounced allowing the wood influences to get noticed more.

What I learned firsthand (I had read and heard about it) from this tasting is that peat gets more subtle / subdued over a longer period of time. The strong wood influenced tastes of a first fill get less when the cask is used a second time. Ardbeg uses a system of painting the barrel ends to identify how many times the casks are used. No paint is first fill, white is second fill, dark is third fill.

I had a dilemma. I was driving and we were getting rather large servings of drams. What to do with the left over dram? We found a water bottle that was emptied and decided to use that as a container till we put it in a sample bottle. I had forgotten the sample bottles I had brought with me! So the first and second drams ended up being blended in unknown portions inside a water bottle. I know! Absolute blasphemy!

The tour guide and the people in the tour were looking at me like if I was totally bonkers by adding the left over dram to the blend in the water bottle. I felt for them, but I had no other option. Drive drunk or blend it. I choose blending it.

Dionne had brought crackers and flat water to clean our palettes. We used the time to get introduced and this was anecdote time for Dionne. Dionne told us about how the "boys" clean the wash backs by basically dangling in there. How the "boys" role the barrels. How the "boys" soak arriving bourbon, sherry etc casks in water to make sure they expand properly before being filled. How she herself dropped a very very expensive 1000 bottle exclusive bottling of a single cask, ending up with not 1000 numbered bottles but 999. Someone would not be getting the number they ordered. Apparently the manager had a good laugh at this. Dionne went on to explain what her favourite Ardbeg was. It was a dram named after the second smaller water source besides uigeadail.

The third sample is a 2005 sherry cask matured dram at 57,6% abv. I cannot remember if Dionne was able to inform us if it was an olorosso, px, fino or other kind of sherry. I had been hoping to learn this but either it wasn't told, or I forgot. What I do remember is the obvious influence of the "sherry". I asked if the notes of the sweetness were due to the sherry or to the wood. Unfortunately this was unknown. Maybe I'm too much a nerd in this issue, but I had hoped to learn this on this tour. Oh wait, Dionne said it was an olloroso cask. I remember because we asked how this could explain the sweetness since oloroso is as "dry" as it can get. I remember the guy from Sweden commenting this as well. So did the dude from the USA with the brewers background.

The left overs from this dram were added to my blend in the water bottle. Again frowns!

Dionne asked which one we liked best till now. The answers were different from person to person. My friend liked the more fruity refill bourbon over the more profound sherry and first fill ones. I must say I liked the second fill also over the other two, the first fill over the sherry. For me a first or second fill is more an every day dram over the more heavy sherry ones that fit less occasional times to drink it like Christmas or a birthday during the month with an r.

The final and forth dram was a 2005 French oak matured dram at 55,6 % abv. The group responded very well to the more spicy taste you get from French oak. This is the main component of corryvreckan. When asked what the combination of cask would be for any of the drams we tasted Dionne informed us she couldn't tell us.

Like before this one was added to the water bottle too.

We were done. The tour was over. Or so we thought. Dionne informed us that as an added bonus we could choose a final dram from one of the following drams:
- Ardbeg Galileo
- Ardbeg alligator
- Ardbeg something
- Ardbeg Ardbog
- Ardbeg supernova 2014
- Ardbeg dark cove
She explained what these drams were. What the occasion was when and why they were created. I did not make notes!! I'm an idiot.

My friend and I choose the supernova. I think. Could be the Ardbog. Can't remember! Lol. I think we choose the supernova because there was white in the label. I was getting to intoxicated to really enjoy this dram and still be back at the hotel before dark. There are no light beside the roads on Islay and I did not want to drive at night with any level of alcohol in me. So I did what I did with the other drams. Yes, I added it to my water bottle.

We now have about 10 cl of a totally unique Ardbeg cask strength blended malt! We will make time to nose, taste and enjoy the f#%k out of this delight! Will blog about it!

That done we went back to the shop. Asked for a coffee and sat there with a smile on our face. We took about half an hour for the coffee. Fitted some of the larger female sizes for Ardbeg polo shirts and discovered I'm to large/big/tall. Why did I fit the female polo? The men's were all sold! Bugger! Lol!

Well, that was that, we turned of the lights so to speak. Everyone was gone. Heading home. Oops! Forgot to pee! Lets stop at laphroaig and find a tree! So we did. We headed back to the hotel for dinner and what would turn out to be one very interesting and most enjoyable night at the bar! More on that in part two or the lochside hotel blogs!

Just before going on to the next blog I would like to mention the excellent charity started by Ben Bowers for a children's heart surgery Hospital. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adramaday

Action points: find out why peat gets more subdued over time. Do the chemicals that make up thepeat desolve, react or break down with time?

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