I turned 40 today but we don’t have to go into that, it’s just a regular Thursday…
Instead of digging up a few whiskies with the same age, I went for a couple of legendary peated drams distilled in my birth year.
We’ll start in the lower ABV’s with the first Ardbeg released after LVMH took over the distillery, and a follow-up release. There was one more in 1999 if I’m not mistaken. Then we have a rather mineral Brora and the last of the Port Ellen Rare Malt releases.
(43%, OB 1997)
Nose: not all that expressive, if I’m being honest. A bit of seaweed and a whiff of smoke. Cedar oak. Walnuts. Waxed papers and a fatty hint of paraffin. Hints of almonds after a while. Sweet grainy notes but only very delicate peat. Herbal notes.
Mouth: fairly sweet and herbal. Hints of hay and delicate wood smoke. Still some soot and peat but the dilution cut its feathers. Sweet lemons, a little honey again. Cough drops towards the end.
Finish: not too long, back on the briney notes now.
This one has a slightly lesser reputation, mostly because some of the other 1970s casks that were released around that time were stellar. On its own though, this is quite fine.
(43%, OB 1998)
Nose: slightly more aromatic, with a nice honey coated almond sweetness in the background right from the start. Maybe a sweet buttery touch as well. Paraffin and seaweed are still here, but generally slightly more fruity. That also means even less smoke, hardly any. Quite some leathery touches.
Mouth: waxy, honeyed and spicy. Pepper and herbs, a little resinous oak. The brilliance is more in the finesse than in the power. Slightly grassier towards the end.
Finish: fairly long, just a bit more herbal, with touches of burnt grass and almonds.
This one is even softer, but if you step away from the usual Ardbeg profile for a second, then this is even nicer in my opinion. Exceptional finesse for an Islay whisky.
Brora 25 yo 1978
(57%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society 2004, #61.2 ‘Marmalade on burnt toast’)
It’s actually a misprint, this is Brora 61.20.
Nose: the grassy, austere side of Brora at first. Wet limestone, wax candles à la Clynelish, hints of camphor. Also mint and rosemary. Hay. Wet dog, but a small one… It gets slightly fruitier after a while, marmalade maybe but also stewed apples.
Mouth: oiliness and sharpness hand in hand. Burnt herbs, liquorice and ginger. A little mustard. Hints of eucalyptus and peat, or rather oak char.
Finish: long, peppery and smoky.
Really, really good. This is the true Highlands character. That said, I like the farmy ones much better. I can say that, it’s my birthday.
Port Ellen 22 yo 1978
(60,5%, Rare Malts 2000)
Nose: more coastal than the Brora, but more oily and rounder as well. There’s seaweed and kippers, candied lemon peels, mixed with vanilla, a hint of almond paste and honey. Paraffin as well. Green garden herbs. Not necessarily more complex than the Brora but rather more balanced.
Mouth: unexpectedly intense now, entirely on brine, salmiak, pepper… but always with a chewy sweet texture to it. Deep smoke, lemoins and peat.
Finish: very long, with more brine, walnuts and kippers. Ends in a mineral note with a hint of bitter chocolate.
This is the type of casks that also made the official releases later on, only slightly sharper, more intense. Great contrast with the rounder nose though. Occasionally still on sale, but already € 1500 or more.