I’m delighted to have a preview bottle of the general release of Ardbeg Corryvreckan sitting on my desk, so I thought I’d dip in and share my thoughts in what has turned out to be the first blog post for a few weeks (due to me busting a gut on a separate project, about which more in the very near future).
Actually, I’ve had this bottle for over a week, but it’s been embargoed so I had to keep it under my hat. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you – for one thing, hats don’t suit me. Also, I have a very small head.
I hasten to add that the above bottle was half-full when I got it - I haven’t just necked all that while I’ve been writing this, honest.
Of course, it’s one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry that this Corryvreckan was imminent - stocks of the soon-to-be-departed 1990 Airigh Nam Beist were never going to last forever, and after the overwhelmingly positive response to the Committee release of Corryvreckan last year (and a general clamour amongst the nerderati on the message boards and forums), making more Corryvreckan and bumping it up into the standard range was a logical step. Not having a vintage or age statement will no doubt be a help in maintaining this in the range - it’s projected lifespan is three years.
By the way, you’ll get all the guff stuff about the whirlpool and the beautiful maidens and celtic warriors everywhere else so I won’t bother with it here.
Anyway, here goes:
Ardbeg Corryvreckan NAS 57.1%
Colour: A very appealing gold, no doubt in part due to the French wine casks (good-quality Burgundy) in which some of the spirit was matured. On the Colour Me Goodd scale, this is luteous or aurulent.
Nose: Over-ripe oranges, strong bitter marmalade and hot-buttered toast initially, then hints of some more exotic fruit (perhaps fresh pineapple or passionfruit? Wine cask-induced?). Tinned peach syrup. Turfy phenolics are smouldering in the background. Becomes more citrussy with a few minutes in the glass, running the gamut from the previously-mentioned oranges, through Cointreau, then lemon sherberts, grapefruit, and lemon cheescake. Continues to evolve over time, which is always a good sign. Eventually more savoury notes creep in – Frazzles, some pepper, woodspice and an appealing breadiness. In a word? Appetising.
Palate: Rich, luxuriant mouthfeel - definitely more weighty than most standard Ardbegs. Good concentration of most of the flavours mentioned above but, after an initial burst of sweetness, becomes more savoury than a cursory nosing would suggest. The exotic fruit comes through as peaches and passionfruit. Peppery at full strength, with faint notes of damson jam. Generous turfy peat, but also becomes quite coal-like mid-palate, with a suggestion of the wet cardboard character sometimes associated with youth. In a word? Oof-aaahh.
Finish: Good length. The peat and pepper hang in there, balanced with a return to the orangey citrus notes from the initial nose. Decent balance and a lovely briny note right at the death - the hand is already floating towards the bottle for a refill almost automatically. In a word? Moreish.
This is a very enjoyable dram at full strength and I’m not inclined to add any water at all. However, in the interests of science, I will – just a drop, mind.
Nose: A hint of the Caramac bar note that I get with young whiskies emerges. The exuberant fruitiness that I enjoyed on the neat nose seems somewhat subdued.
Palate: Yeah, definitely a bit sweeter – notes of fudge biscuits or home-made caramel slices.
Finish: Perfectly pleasant, but lacking the charming grunt of the full-strength.
Well, you can probably grasp my thoughts – this is a fine dram, and at its intended 57.1% strength, very satisfying. If I’d tried it watered down without having already had it at full strength, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it that way too. But there’s really no need to be meddling with what’s in the bottle with this one. No water required.
To summarise, this is a very good Ardbeg and a fitting addition to the range. The fact remains that, at an RRP of £70, it’s a full twenty quid more expensive than both the Committee bottling and the 18 year-old Beist it replaces – and no doubt there will be plenty of people queuing up to have a moan about that, so I won’t bother, except to say that it is the rampant hordes of Madbeggars (copyright Willie JJ) that have driven prices up, so they shouldn’t complain at a situation of their own making. Actually, it looks like I am going to bother after all:
The sad facts are that pricing a product below its market value is all very good and altruistic, but it’s also extremely bad business when demand is always outstripping supply, which is why nobody does it. Glenmorangie plc are no different – they will charge what they think the market can stand.
In short, what I’m saying is:
- It’s no use talking about the situation ten or twenty years ago – these are the times we live in.
- The late ’80s and early-to-mid ’90s were, in retrospect, the Golden Age for clued-up thrifty malt whisky aficionados. OK, we get that. Let’s move on.
- Those days are now gone and we will not see their like again. Get over it.
- Malt whisky is more popular than at any time before. This very popularity has created the market conditions for the incredible diversity of bottlings we see nowadays.
- Without the onrushing hordes of eager new malt fans, these whiskies would never see the light of day and would probably end up in Bell’s or Famous Grouse. Is that what you want? Really?
- Ardbeg is probably the most popular malt whisky with the aficionados. So it’s become more expensive and, in all likelihood, it’s going to get more expensive again. Deal with it, and buy up the ones you like when you see ‘em cheap, because in life the only things that don’t come down are your age and the price of stuff.
At any rate, in my opinion it’s a good thing that the Committee have got a new release both earlier and cheaper than the great unwashed – it means that being in the Committee is actually worthwhile, and more meaningful than most of these email address-gathering marketing schemes.
Right, sermon over.
Getting back to the subject in hand, as a Committee member myself, I feel even more of a fool for letting last year’s Corryvreckan slip through my grasp. I’ve only had that version a few times (all of them on social occasions rather than serious tastings), but my gut feeling is that I prefer this edition. I’ll have to coax another dram of the Committee release out of Joel Caskstrength for a proper head-to-head sometime.
Postscript: I’ve just looked at the official tasting notes for Corryvreckan and have decided to reproduce them below in the interests of disclosure: somewhat embarrassingly, they bear little or no relation to my own, which is, frankly, a touch disconcerting for someone in my position who’s supposed to know what they’re talking about:
Colour: Deepest amber
Aroma: Heady, intense, powerful
With the first sniff, encounter the deep and turbulent force of Corryvreckan as it pulls you inwards. Swirl the glass and dip your nose into the torrents of tarry ropes, creosote and linseed oil rising from deep within the vortex. As you succumb to its power, a collision of waxy dark chocolate, warm blackcurrants and muscovado sugar pulls you under its spell with a burst of plump cherries and earthy pine needles leaping from its depths.
Swirl water into the glass, and observe the magical collision of whisky and water. As the liquid warms up, the seething cauldron bubbles and bursts, as you edge closer to sniff a pot full of gutsy cayenne-peppered steak and oysters smothered in hot Tabasco sauce surfacing from a mix of tomatoey beef stock and shrimp jambalaya. Salty seasoning brings a briny character with tangy crisp seaweed and smoky bacon swirling on the surface with hints of sweet vanilla, spicy cloves and blueberries.
As the whirlpool narrows and quickens moving ever deeper, surrender to its dangerous depths with the heady force of menthol, treacle and chilli sauce.
Taste: Plunge into the whirlpool and taste the mysterious depths of Corryvreckan. Torrents of taste well up on the palate; deep, peppery and chewy, bombarding the tongue with its intense tastes and textures. The first plunge brings forth chewy peppered steak soaked in pepper sauce with the tang of crispy seaweed. As you descend deeper, encounter a mouthful of black tarry espresso coffee that coats the palate with rich melted dark fruits (blackcurrants, blueberries and cherries) and bitter almonds. As the taste soaks in deeper, star anise and hickory dry out the palate before a surprise of chalky effervescent violets fizz to the surface.
Finish: Long, deep and remaining powerful into the finish with black tarry coffee, chocolate coated cherries and hot pepper sauce, the lingering memories of your mysterious and daring journey into Corryvreckan.
Ah, well. Each to his own, eh? See you soon with more tastings of forthcoming stuff.