Rare Ayrshire refers to the Ladyburn distillery, which was an expansion of the Girvan grain distillery built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons. The Ladyburn malt whisky distillery was created in 1966 by installing two pot stills, but nine years later (in 1975), they were already dismantled.
As Signatory is not allowed to use the name Ladyburn, they’ve bottled it under the name Ayrshire, after the council area of Scotland in which it was located. While no other independent bottler seems to have remaining stocks, Signatory released a handful of Labyburn casks since 2007.
Nose: apple and citrus aromas. Mixed with some slightly sour / musty oak, you get a very light and vibrant profile. Soft nutty notes. Mint. A hint of pepper. Mouth: starts spicy and slightly malty (fresh bread) before getting fresher and more vibrant with lemon and lemon balm. Quite sweet (pink grapefruit, a little pineapple). Nice development with clear oak which works nicely here. Again a soft nuttiness. Finish: half fruity, half grassy. Not too oaky.
A nice and fresh Lowlands dram from a legendary distillery. Nothing exceptional I would say, certainly not from a price / quality perspective, but indeed truly rare.
Around € 165.
Nose: Speyside style with extra mineral / flinty notes. Unripe pears, gooseberries, some mint and citrus. There’s also a vegetal side (fern, cooked vegetables). Hints of wet chalk and faint smoky notes hidden underneath. Mouth: quite oily and grainy, with mineral and herbal elements. Medium oak and spices. Lots of ginger. The fruits are in the background (crystallized oranges, melon). Citrus peel and ginger towards the end. Finish: pretty spicy with ginger, pepper and cloves.
A complex and slightly unsexy Speysider with a few unusual notes. Still available in some places. Around € 120.
Online retailer Master of Malt had a nice idea for creating a new whisky. They sent over a blending kit with samples of 10 different kinds of whiskies to ten whisky bloggers around the world. With these base whiskies they were asked to create a recipe for their ideal blend.
A couple of weeks ago, the blogger’s blends were available from Master of Malt for around € 35 (a set of 10x 3cl samples, but already sold out). We were supposed to judge them and vote for the best result. The winning blend will be released in full bottles.
A great idea, although I suggest to rethink their selection of bloggers next time… (just kidding)
By now I’ve tried all ten. It doesn’t make much sense to review them in depth, we wouldn’t know who to congratulate anyway. Therefore, I’ve used a three star ranking for nose and palate and not my usual scoring. The price mentioned will be the price of a full bottle, in case it wins the competition.
A – £ 48 (*****) N: fruit, spices, pleasant oak and subtle smoke T: spicy, round sweetness, vanilla
B – £ 36 (**) N: toast, raisins and slightly dirty sherry T: artificially sweet, toffee, dried fruits
I was surprised by the relatively small deviation. They’re pretty similar to other blends on the market and pretty similar to each other (only one of them has peat in the foreground for instance). The details that set them apart are fairly small, so I can imagine the sample comparison is pretty boring for inexperienced tasters. My girlfriend would probably say most of them are the same whisky. Because of this, I felt I had to exaggerate my scores a litte.
Also, it’s clear that the price isn’t always an indication of quality. The most expensive blend (C) comes out in the middle of the pack and some of the cheapest blends (especially D and F) are very well made. My favourites (A + I) are among the more expensive blends though.
For me, (A) stands out because of its punchy spices and fresh oak while maintaining a nice all-round character. And (I) stands out for nicely integrating peaty / smoky elements. (D) is the well-priced all-rounder (some sherry, some smoke) in my top-3.
Update: it turns out blend I won the contest. It comes as no surprise that the most typically Islay style won, but it has to be said it was a well-composed and enticing blend!
Well here it is, the long awaited Ardbeg Alligator. As you know, the name comes from the term “Alligator Charring” used in both bourbon and Scotch to describe the method of charring the inside of the (Virgin) oak casks before they are filled with spirit. The burnt wood staves are said to look like alligator’s scales.
Ardbeg Alligator (51,2%, OB 2011,
Committee release, around 10.000 btl.)
Nose: it shows all the power of Ardbeg 10, with charcoal, phenolic peat and smoke, but also added notes of cocoa, marzipan and sweet barbecue sauce. A little vanilla and burnt sugar. Herbs and liquorice. Nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. Definitely less lemon notes, this one is darker and warmer. I like it. With some water, the toffee / vanilla combo stands out, and some coastal notes show up. Mouth: medium weight and medium peat, more gentle than I’ve come to expect from Ardbeg lately. Lots of pepper and ginger. Some cardamom. Charcoal and vanilla. Brine. Liquorice again. Evolves around spices, but it remains a little youngish maybe. Finish: dry, tarry with coffee and chocolate, but shorter than expected.
A nice Ardbeg: darker, warmer and slightly sweeter than Ardbeg 10, with a “modern” wood influence. Not quite what I hoped for based on cask #1189 and #1190 but then again these casks had a different treatment. I like the result, but the complexity seems a little under par compared to some classic expressions.
Priced € 63 in the Ardbeg shop but sold out now. The public release is planned for September.
GlenDronach has a yearly tradition of releasing a single cask for Belgium, bottled straight from the van. In September 2010, they selected a bourbon cask with a virgin oak finish – not an obvious choice considering the GlenDronach tradition of sherry maturation.
While we’re tasting the 2010 release, be prepared for the 2011 edition next week (starting June 20 at TastToe and ending June 25). This time it will be a 2002 Pedro Ximenez finish.
GlenDronach 8 yo 2002 (58%, OB for
Cask in a Van 2010, cask #4521,
Virgin oak hogshead finish, 312 btl.)
Nose: spicy like a new oak cask can be. Vanilla, a little mint and pepper. Some green banana. Also a few toasted notes (burnt sugar, burnt plywood). With water, it becomes very lightly tropical although the spices are still in the lead. Mouth: hot and gingery. Buttered toast and nuts. Slightly too sweet, a bit artificial (like commercial vanilla & cinnamon sugar). Quite some wood again with nutmeg and pepper. Hints of cake. Burnt sugar again. Finish: rather long and sweet.
A bit peculiar and uncommon for this distillery (although GlenDronach 14yo Virgin Oak was similar). The usual qualities of GlenDronach are not really present here, so I’m expecting more of the sherry version this year. Around € 50.
This Glenallachie 1995 is part of the latest series of Malts of Scotland releases. A sister cask #1258 was bottled by Dewar Rattray in 2007.
Glenallachie 16 yo 1995
(53%, Malts of Scotland 2011,
bourbon hogshead #1257, 222 btl.)
Nose: a very neutral, malty start, full of youngish notes. Half grainy, half fruity, with an overlay of sawdust. Lots of oatmeal. Hints of pears, vanilla and some flowers. A little yeast as well. Uninspiring. Mouth: very grainy and slightly alcoholic. Starts sweet but quickly develops on more bitter notes. A little aspirin. Lemon and mint. Then a hot, peppery burst. Salty liquorice. Quite sharp overall. Finish: medium long, drying and still bitter (grapefruit and lemon peel).
A neutral, harmless nose with a palate that’s too grainy and rough for my taste. Not my favourite release of this round. Around € 60.
BNJ or Bailie Nicol Jarvie is said to have the highest malt content of any blended whisky (over 60%). It’s produced at Glenmorangie so Glenmorangie and Glen Moray are obviously the key components, together with 6 other malt whiskies and Girvan grain whisky. The name is taken from Walter Scott’s novel “Rob Roy”.
Bailie Nicol Jarvie was very popular at the beginning of the 20th Century. After that, it went downhill but nowadays it seems to gain popularity again.
Bailie Nicol Jarvie (40%, OB 2011)
Nose: fresh, sweet and balanced. Apples and pears, vanilla and lemon. Some Highlands heather as well. Soft hints of butter. Warm grassy notes (dried hay) with soft floral notes. Mouth: crisp barley sweetness, powder sugar and some citrus. Lemon icing on cake. Vanilla. Grains. Soft spices and nutty flavours (hazelnuts and almonds). Delicate hints of peat in the background. Finish: warm, quite nutty with lingering spices and a hint of smoke.
Bailie Nicol Jarvie is not a commonly found blend, but it’s worth looking out for if you want bang for your buck. Even though it’s fairly simple and a little on the sweet side, it can be found for less than € 20. Probably the best you can find for that amount of money.
Sometimes it’s good to revisit well known whiskies such as Ardbeg Ten. It comes in batches so its profile can change slightly over time. Recently I tried a new batch of Ardbeg 10yo and I thought it was peatier and more straightforward than the one I bought a couple of years ago. Less good than before, or so it seemed.
Let’s find out by comparing my (open) 2006 bottle and the new 2010 version head-to-head. The 2006 version is a little darker than the 2011 version, but the difference is hard to notice.
Ardbeg 10yo ‘Ten’ (46%, OB 2011)
Nose: the 2011 batch is more similar to the 2006 batch than I thought it would be. There’s still the same mixture of big medicinal peat, maritime notes and lemon. The new release seems a bit smokier / ashier while the old one is more camphory and maybe a tad more rounded. The walnut aroma is bigger in the 2006 version as well. Overall only subtle differences. Mouth: quite sweet. Not as smoky as I expected from the nose. There’s salty liquorice and a little ginger. Very dry and earthy, hardly any fruity notes (a hint of apple maybe). Roasted coffee. Very similar to the 2006 version, though it does seem a tad rougher in comparison. Finish: this is where the new batch seems to fade a little sooner. In the old batch there were more burnt grassy notes and ashes, softened by some vanilla, and now it’s mainly the salty liquorice that stands out.
Ardbeg 10 is still a cornerstone of the Islay profile. It’s a fairly simple whisky with a big emphasis on powerful peat and tar. When tasting the 2011 version on its own, I was a bit underwhelmed, but after a direct comparison I was surprised to see it didn’t change too much over the years. The fact that I appreciate it less, is probably because my prefences have changed, instead of the whisky itself.
Overall a nice result if you know the 2006 version must have contained quite some older casks (from the previous distillery owners) and the new 2011 is completely new production. Around € 35 but if you look a bit further, there are 1 litre bottles to be found for approximately € 40.