Not a lot of people know this, but as well as being a wine nerd, I am quite an epic whisky geek. My old employer specialised in single malts, and stocked over a thousand different bottlings, from the most basic Grouse right up to rare expressions worth tens of thousands of pounds. For well over a decade, I tasted, studied batch numbers, noted wood finishes and peat parts per million and noticed the sea-change that has run through the industry. Fewer whiskies are filtered these days, and younger expressions, barely over the legal age of three years a day, now crowd the shelves at specialists. First-fill bourbon casks are used extensively to tame with wild heat of young malt, and whiskies that ten years ago would have seen at least 7 or so more years of time in the cask are bottled. Thus distilleries see a faster return on their investment, not having to wait a decade or more for spirit to reach acceptable maturity. There are endless 'finishes' that see whisky go into various casks that once held Madeira, or Sauternes, or Rum, or Burgundy.
Quality, as with all things, varies. Wood finishes are marketed as adding something extra, but more often than not are used to hide faults, flaws or simply youth. If you aren't deeply cynical of whisky marketing, you should be. Don't listen to a word of it.
I rarely note whisky. Like beer, I was really into it before I worked in the business, and so for some reason never felt the need to interrupt my enjoyment with notation. I made an exception for this particular dram as it was so special to me. Ardbeg released two bottlings of 1975 after Glenmorangie PLC bought the distillery in 1997. One was bottled in 1998, the other in 2000. The recommended retail price was £44.99, or about £2 more than the RRP on their current 10 year old. It's one of my all time favourite whiskies. It was the sort of whisky that could make a whisky lover out of anyone. On a recent visit to Ardbeg, we were told that the only remaining pre-1997 stock left at the distillery was 3 barrels of 1975. I assume they will be bottled in three years time as a 40 year old, and priced at several thousand pounds. Times change, I guess.
This particular bottle was a gift to me from a former employer; a hoarder who knew its value to collectors. He gave it to me on the promise that I would drink it and enjoy it, and not 'collect' it. This note is from the very last dram poured from the bottle.
Very light caramel. Only just past gold.
Nose is hot one second, warm the next. All manner of brine, burnt honey, wood smoke. Sings somewhat.
Whisky like this doesn't really get bottled any more. Or if it does, it's thousands of pounds. Most importantly, there's structure. It starts, has a middle, then finishes. The fire and smoke start it all off, before it all tightens up and closes in, grabbing the palate before spreading like a brush fire. Then it tucks in again with white pepper, and all the caramel sweetness that the nose promised. You'll taste it for too long. And never again.
Tasted 8 July 2012 at Miller's Court