Monday, June 29, 2015

Ardbeg Auriverdes

There have been some epic Ardbeg limited releases.

2006: Ardbeg Nam Beist - a vintage 1990 16-year beauty (and personal favorite)

2009: Ardbeg Rollercoaster - ten year's worth of different casks dating back to 1997 (not our personal fav, but many love this one)

2010: Ardbeg Supernova - at the time the most heavily peated scotch ever made

2011: Ardbeg Alligator - a super-charred monster (another awesome dram)

2012: Ardbeg Galileo - a 1999 12-year with the (somewhat dubious) distinction as the first malt that had been TO SPACE!

So each year Ardbeg could be counted on to deliver something decidedly unique, increasingly epic (and increasingly phallic), Obviously these special releases were an excuse for the marketing team to go a bit crazy, but each one was truly a unique bottle of whisky as well. The Supernova redefined peat the way microbreweries redefined hops, the Nam Beist was insanely delicious, the Galileo (space monkeys aside) was a seriously tasty dram. Smartly veering away from the idiosyncratic barreling trend (throwing up various wine finishes until the whisky tastes like bubble gum), Ardbeg found their distinctiveness in peat, age, char, and barrel selection.

In recent years, though, we seem to be getting more marketing and less actual uniqueness when it comes to the bottles.  Last year was "Ardbog Day" which seemed to be just a NAS (no-age-statement) bottle with a funny name. No maniac peat levels, no unique barreling, not even a few molecules of yeast orbiting a planet, Nada...

Last year it was "Auriverdes" named after the whisky's gold "auri" color and its green "verde" bottle. It's also a shout out to Brazilian football in honor of the 2014 world cup. The marketing reached new heights of insanity. We went to one whisky shows where they had solid gold bottles moored to the booth in chains (seriously), and another that had a three-wheeled "Ardbeg Trike" that looked like the bastard offspring of Harley Davidson and Mountain Dew.  (footnote: they didn't actually have Auriverdes at either of these shows, we had to get a sample separately.  Guess they spent too much on the gold bottles and couldn't afford the actual whisky...)

Anyway here we are with the actual goods, so before we write it off let's give it a fair shot and see what's up.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Soot, smoke, and tar, with a backdrop of overripe pineapple.

Palate:  Fruit oils come through in the body.  Citrus, apple, melon.  The sherry cask and the heavy peat carry through.

Finish:  Pretty hefty spirit burn. Nice long peaty drift through the nostrils. More overripe sweetness. Not very complex but still has the heart of an Ardbeg.


Ardbeg is good, and this bottle is no exception. It's a little on the sweeter side where we tend to prefer the more peat and char-focused expressions, but that's not necessarily a bad thing for everyone. It's definitely got the big ballzy smoke we love, and it's got a nice mix of sweetness, richness, and peat. Where we bump into trouble is the cost/value. It's 2.5 times the cost of the 10-year (and in all likelyhood younger), and it's almost double the price of the excellent Uigedail. Granted the "Oogy" sets the bar very high with a delicious cask-strength vat of bourbon and sherry casks at around $55. So listen if you're an Ardbeg collector and need this for your shelf, we give you permission (it doesn't come in the gold S&M outfit, that costs extra). For the general public, we have to be honest and say that we don't feel like you're getting anything wildly special by paying this hefty price tag. It's tasty, that's for sure, but Ardbeg set the bar so high with their other limited releases that it's tough to get super excited about this one.  Maybe if we got to ride on that redonkulous trike...


Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Smokehead 18 Extra Black

A few months ago we reviewed Smokehead Skull, a private label Islay single malt that we guessed to be a young Ardbeg or Laphroaig. Depending on your tolerance for marketing insanity, the preponderance of smoking skulls, custom designed Les Paul guitars, and packaging that looks like a Metallica album cover, the booze was pretty good.  The no age statement thing, along with the 43% ABV thing, along with the somewhat thin mouthfeel and finish put a bit of a damper on it, though we still enjoyed it.  But lo and behold we finally got our hands on the big brother, the Smokehead Extra Black 18-Year.  We're excited... in a Mad Max kind of way.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Yowza!  Peat explosion!  Giving it a few minutes (and singeing nasal hairs on the peat) it becomes a menthol circus of mint oil with smoky meats.  Like well-charred lamb chops slathered in mint jelly.  There are rich herbals of thyme and cardamon.  Underneath all that is a deep honeycomb sweetness.

Body:  Here we go.  It's like Caol Ila cubed.  Layer after layer of deep peat smoke.  Wild spice, now we're beyond herbals and into the exotic - Vindaloo, liquid smoke, cracked pepper.  Coming back to the nose, it has really opened up now after ten minues with citrus bombs, like grilling lemon with the peel on.  Some deep aloe vera and tropical greens.

Finish:  It pretty much says it all when wifey exclaims  "Yeeaaaaaahhh!  Whoa Nelly! THAT'S what we're looking for!"  The finish lasts about a week.  It's surprisingly well-balanced for this much peat.  It's a nice end result.  The peat is great, but like we've said time and again, it's not just the peat.  There has to be a balance of flavor so that the peat isn't raw and throaty.  This has that with big big flavor and also some nice nuance of sweet and rich layers.

Clearly this dude drinks Smokehead Extra Black

Well-named, a smokehead dream dram.  It's really fun for peat freaks like us.  We'd still like to see the ABV picked up a few points (this one is 46%), particularly given the cost/rarity of this bottle ($150 or so and good luck finding one).  The super black bottle is pretty awesome though.    Definitely a fun piece if you're a collector.

And by the way MM in 3D is a two-hour long dystopian car chase out of hell.  What did you expect???