Review: Ardbeg 10 Years Old, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan

Ardbeg Trio Image (low- res)

At 200 years of age, Ardbeg is one of the most venerable of Scotch whisky distilleries, and it’s an icon of Islay, where peat has long been the currency of whiskymaking.

While we’ve reviewed many of Ardbeg’s annual, limited edition Committee releases, we’ve somehow never taken our pen to the core range, which spans three expressions. Finally, the time was ripe to review them all, and it just happened to coincide with Ardbeg’s release of a VR experience that lets fans who can’t get to Islay experience a virtual visit there, however brief. Three short but immersive experiences, delivered via VR headset, let you wander through the distillery, hike out to the Uigeadail loch, and even visit the Corryvreckan whirlpool north of Islay (the lattermost being the most disorienting of the trio). The Ardbeg VR experience will be available only at key events for now, but watch for a lighter, web-based version to arrive later this year — which may be all the better to experience, because you can do so with a glass of Ardbeg 10 in hand.

Thoughts on “the big three” follow.

Ardbeg 10 Years Old – The essential Ardbeg, and the only one of this bunch with an age statement, all 10 of those years having been spent in ex-bourbon casks. The classic Ardbeg bottling, and one of the most heavily peated entry-level whiskies from all of Scotland. Ten years are just about right for taming Ardbeg’s fire, though the nose is still moderately heavy with straight, smoky peat notes, though also lightly briny but distinctly maritime in its tone. The body follows in lockstep, adding to the burning embers of driftwood notes of iodine, orange peel, coriander, and ginger. Beautifully balanced despite the heavy peat influence, it remains one of the most essential Islay whiskies — and an essential whisky that is required drinking for anyone who wants to form a base understanding of single malts. 92 proof. A / $45  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Ardbeg Uigeadail – Named for Ardbeg’s own loch, Uigeadail — if you hike the 3 miles to get there from the distillery, you’ll find a lockbox containing whisky and glassware, gratis. Uigeadail is quite different from the 10 Year Old because it is blended from both bourbon and sherry casks, including some older stock. The sherry influence alone makes for a vastly different experience, starting with the nose, which dampens the smokiness with notes of roasted nuts, citrus, and an earthy, leathery character that simply feels like history. The palate offers a rather different experience, which adds to the curiosity and interest, melding smoke with notes of well-roasted meats, walnut shells, pipe tobacco, and cloves. The finish is lengthy and brooding — aided by the considerably higher alcohol level — a lingering reminder of how this Ardbeg may be an entirely different beast, yet just as good as the 10. 108.4 proof. A / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Corry is unusual in that it is a blend of whiskies aged in bourbon casks and in new French oak — the latter of which is rarely utilized in Scotch. While beloved by its fans, this is admittedly my least favorite of the trio, a bold and brooding Islay. For me, it simply takes things too far, the new oak damaging the seductive soul that’s inherent in the great Ardbeg expressions. The peat is doubled up here but it’s done in a rather brutish fashion, giving it a tarry, ashy character that finishes on salty licorice and heavy iodine notes. Peat freaks will absolutely love it — the finish lingering for what feels like hours — but a nuanced whisky it simply isn’t. 114.2 proof. B  / $80  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2007 Vintage


After a two year drought, we are finally back with another Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon review.

What happened to 2005 and 2006? Good question. At the time, rumors swirled that the Single Barrel line was being discontinued or was becoming a distillery-only product. The distillery went dark to questions about the line, but apparently neither of those scenarios happened, and you can still find a smattering of reviews of the 2005 and 2006 online, though both are mixed. Neither release is widely available today, but diligent hunters can track both of them down with a bit of effort. To this day, I still haven’t sampled either one.

Fast forward to this, the 2007 release, which is an 8 year old expression (bottled in November 2015), making it a bit younger than the last EWSB we reviewed, the 9 1/2 year old 2004.

Let’s taste it.

This is a bigger, bolder, more wood-forward whiskey than previous releases in this line. The nose offers ample honey, butterscotch, and caramel corn notes, with a big lumberyard character backing up the sweeter elements. Wood again dominates the palate, which offers an initial rush of brown sugar followed by some lightly winey notes, some cloves, and licorice. It’s tannic and brooding at times, the finish coating the mouth and lingering as it washes away the upfront sweetness.

It’s a bit at odds with some of the older Evan Williamses, which are better balanced, more citrusy, and more rounded, often showcasing pretty chocolate notes. The older vintages, which I spot-tasted in preparation for this review, are almost unilaterally both more mature and more interesting. That said, a bit of youth isn’t the end of the world, and the 2007 release isn’t without its share of charm.

Compare to: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004.

86.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #1.


Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate Whiskey


Seven Stills of San Francisco‘s next act in its distilled-from-beer whiskey line is Fluxuate, which is distilled from a coffee porter. To pump up the coffee flavor, the finished product is proofed down not just with water but also with a small amount of cold brewed coffee from a company called Flux (hence the name).

The nose is, surprisingly, not overwhelming with coffee but rather offers a dense Port wine note, enhanced with vanilla, dark chocolate, and spice. The coffee is far more intense on the palate, where it meets notes of licorice, dusty wood shavings, gingerbread, and fireplace ash. Additionally there is an ample grain character here, particularly on the finish, where it successfully challenges the coffee notes for dominance. That said, the balance of flavors here is really quite impressive, the coffee and more traditional whiskey elements coming together quite beautifully. Think a denser version of an Irish coffee and you’re on the right track.

94 proof.

A- / $36 (375ml) /  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Suntory Whisky Toki


Japan’s Suntory is well known for its single malts, but it also blends whisky from time to time. With Toki (“time” in Japanese), it’s trying something a little different. Specifically, Toki is a blend of a number of Suntory’s other whiskies, including spirits from Hakushu Distillery, Yamazaki Distillery, and Chita Distillery.

Some addition information from the distillery:

While Suntory Whisky Toki respects tradition, it also challenges whisky convention by rethinking the hierarchy of its components. Suntory blends often use Yamazaki malts as their key component. Inspired by the spirits of innovation, the House of Suntory’s fourth Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo took a fresh approach with Suntory Whisky Toki, selecting the singular Hakushu American white oak cask malt whisky — with its unique freshness, mellowness and spectacular green apple notes — as one of the blend’s two pillars. To complement that selection, Fukuyo chose Chita heavy-type grain whisky as the blend’s second pillar, adding a clean taste with notes of sweetness and vanilla. By pairing these seemingly dissimilar but deeply accordant whiskies, Fukuyo’s insight overturned the old relationship between malt and grain and created a blend that is both groundbreaking and timeless.

Traditionally in Suntory blends, grain whiskies have played merely a supporting role, acting as a broth or dashi to accentuate key malts. But the unrivalled sophistication and wide range of grain whiskies produced at Suntory’s Chita distillery led Shinji Fukuyo to rethink that role. He saw these whiskies, with their exquisite balance of complexity, subtlety and refinement, not as a scaffold for the heroic malt to ascend but as true heroes in their own right.

This unique encounter between Hakushu malt and Chita grain whiskies gives Suntory Whisky Toki its silky taste and vivid character. To give the blend greater depth and complexity, Fukuyo carefully selected two Yamazaki malts. Yamazaki American white oak cask malt whisky harmonizes the Hakushu and Chita components, while bringing roundness and reinforcing the sweetness of Chita heavy-type grain whisky with peach and custard aromas. Finally, Yamazaki Spanish oak cask malt whisky adds woody and bittersweet notes to the blend.

Well, color me curious. Let’s give Toki a try. Here’s how it comes across.

Toki is surprisingly light in hue, reflecting what must be significant youth at its core. The nose is also quite light and spry, fragrant with mixed grains, a bouquet of fresh flowers, and notes of incense and jasmine. It’s all very clean, a gentle counterpoint to some of the world’s more intense single malts.

The palate is equally light and fresh, offering sweetened cereal notes, green apple, brown sugar, and a touch of spearmint. On the finish, it’s more of the same, though the sweeter notes tend to dominate along with touches of ginger and cinnamon.

There’s nothing fancy about Toki, but Suntory has put a lot of care into blending a very light and gentle spirit that surprises with its level of success. This lightness reminds me quite a bit of the recently-reviewed Kikori, again proving that intricate and complex flavors need not come from heavy-handed production methods.

86 proof.


Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.


Review: Ron Zacapa 23 (2016)

zacapa 23

It’s been eight years since we formally reviewed Ron Zacapa’s “23” expression, a Guatemala-born rum made from the first pressing of sugar cane juice (not the more typical molasses) and aged in solera style. (Zacapa 23 is not 23 years old but is rather blended from various rums aged 6 years old and up.)

Recently the company put Zacapa 23 through some minor bottle changes, and, given the amount of time that has passed, we felt a fresh look was called for. Let’s look at Zacapa 23 as it stands as of 2016.

A beautiful shade of toffee in color, the rum presents itself as amply aged, and the nose bears that out. Notes of old wine, coffee, roasted nuts, and milk chocolate all make an appearance, giving this rum a beautiful complexion before you ever take that first sip. The body shines just as brightly, though, offering a mix of fruity sherry notes driven by some of the barrel aging, deeply roasted and spiced nuts, all backed up with the essence of a solid cafe mocha. The body is unctuous but not gooey, the finish lengthy and complex but not overwhelming. Everything there is to like about rum can be found in Zacapa 23. Or should I see, everything there is to like about rum can still be found here.

All told, it remains an essential bottling.

80 proof.


Review: Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Bourbon


Booker’s Rye isn’t the only special edition whiskey hitting from Beam this summer. Slightly under the radar is another limited edition, a 2001 vintage edition of Knob Creek.

Says Beam: “Started by Booker Noe and now finished by his son, Beam Family Master Distiller Fred Noe, Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Bourbon commemorates a significant year for the brand, when the tradition and responsibility of stewarding Knob Creek Bourbon was passed from father to son. This is the first limited release from Knob Creek Bourbon, as well as the oldest expression to-date from the brand.”

This is a 14 year old bourbon — pretty hefty for a brand that is only 24 years old altogether. There are three batches available, each said to be slightly different — batch 1 sweeter, batch 2 woodier, batch 3 somewhere in between. It’s unclear how this is denoted on the bottles, as well as what batch this review sample was drawn from. (As with many limited editions we cover, this is being reviewed from a small press sample, not a full bottle.)

As for this sample, it’s a very lush and lovely whiskey that evokes Knob Creek at its best. As a refresher, rack Knob Creek is 9 years old, but also 50% alcohol — like this 2001 edition. Comparing the two side by side, the 2001 offers a woody nose with hints of cloves, but on the palate it is notably sweeter, with prominent notes of butterscotch, vanilla ice cream, gingerbread, and Christmas cake. More cloves emerge on the finish, which is lightly bittersweet and flecked with cocoa notes.

In comparison, standard Knob is considerably heavier on the wood, with ample winey/Madeira notes. Here those more biting characteristics have mellowed out to let some intense vanilla character really shine through. It’s definitely a whiskey for someone with a sweet tooth (perhaps this is drawn from batch 1?) — but underneath the surface there’s a true depth of flavor to be discovered.

100 proof.