Whisky Squad #8 – Movember

September flew by a bit for me and shortly after I finished writing up last month’s Whisky Squad another one appeared on the horizon. In honour of the fluffy top lips of a chunk of The Squad this session’s theme was Movember. Whisky Gandalf Darren, the man behind Whisky4Movember and random chap for Master of Malt, had done some looking around and brought us four moustache related whiskies to try.

IMG_0427First up was one half of Master of Malt’s special edition pair of Movember bottlings for 2010. Selected by Darren, bottled by Masgter of Malt and featuring five different labels per expression, each honouring one of the well known moustached chaps of the whisky industry – Richard Paterson, Dave Broom, Charlie MacLean, Serge Valentin and Marcin Miller. This first bottle was the Mo’land, a single cask lowland whisky, and our featured moustache was that of Richard Paterson who I’ve bumped into a few times over the summer. Richard is an especially appropriate candidate for honouring on the bottle as not only has he survived cancer but also removed his rather famous moustache for Movember. The whisky had a light nose with bees wax, butter, malt syrup and boiled sweets. To taste it started with a syrup sweetness which rolled through surprisingly rich polished wooden floors to a sweetly woody finish. Water brought out more butter and woody spice, with vanilla and a hint of fruit. A light and easy drinking dram that might entice whisky novices in as well as keeping me happy.

IMG_0433We moved on to another moustachioed bottle, this time last year’s Master of Malt Movember bottling – M’Orkney. As a spooned malt from Orkney, mainly consisting of the more well known of the distilleries on the islands, it’s not that much of a mystery where the spirit came from. ‘Spooning’ is a brand protection practise where a distiller will add a spoon of another distillery’s whisky to a cask when they sell it. This doesn’t affect the flavour of the whisky, a spoon is very small in comparison to a cask, but it makes the whisky legally a blended malt and prevents the buyer, and whoever the whisky is eventually sold on to, from bottling the whisky and selling it under the original distiller’s name. Certain distillers are well known for blocking bottlings in this fashion, with Glenfiddich and Balvenie (both owned by William Grant & Sons) being two of the more famous. The addition of a drop of Scapa to a cask of Highland Park (let’s just say…) hasn’t made much of a dent in the M’Orkney, with a nose of stony peat, sweet smoke, super sour candy balls and a pinch of salt coming through. To taste it’s sweet with a controlled dryness. There was wood ash, peppery spice, a citrus tang and a prickly finish. Water softened the prickle and brought out more lemon and vanilla. Annoyingly this one is sold out or I’d be grabbing one for my cupboard.

IMG_0437Next up was one of Richard Paterson’s whiskies – the Dalmore 15. A classic highland distillery, just down the road from Glenmorangie, Dalmore’s been in the news recently with the release of their newest whisky – The Trinitas. Named for the fact that there are just three bottles available it has taken the record for world’s most expensive whisky, at £100,000 for 70cl. Two of the three bottles are spoken for, one having gone to a private collector and one to Sukhinder Singh from The Whisky Exchange, but the other is still available from TWE, so If you’re interested you can give them a call. It looks to be a record that may not stand for long as Macallan’s ‘Cire Perdue’ decanter of 64 year old whisky has almost finished its trip around the world and will shortly be auctioned off in aid of Charity: Water – with 10cl samples going for over $40000 it looks like the whisky (with its rather special Lalique decanter) might break the Trinitas’s record. The rather more affordable Dalmore 15 is a rich deep red (although the colour is helped on its way with some added spirit caramel) with chocolate, cherry, shreddies and dry wood on the nose. To taste the cherries become glacé and are joined by almonds, ginger, orange and sweet spices – a bit like a rich cherry bakewell at Christmas. A bit of water, as it can’t take much before losing the richness, adds vanilla, more sweetness and some delicate dried fruit.

Smo'keyWe then moved back to Movember whiskies, picking up the second of this year’s MoM bottlings – Smo’key. This was one was adorned with the face of Dave Broom. Dave is a well known drinks writer, especially known for his writing about whisky, which has appeared in pretty much every whisky publication under the sun, and also in a number of books, including his latest – The World Atlas of Whisky (which may shortly appearing on my shelf next to my World Atlas of Wine from the same series). The Smo’key is a blended malt like the Mo’land, but this time going for the opposite end of the flavour scale, featuring whiskies from Islay. On the nose there wasn’t all that much, with sweet mulchy peat and a touch of stone dust. The taste had much more, with sweet grassy peat, butter, sweet and sour oranges, a hint of coal and a vegetal back palate leading to a prickly finish. Water brought out more of the nose’s stoniness with some coal smoke. There was also more fruitiness and the butter gained some fat, making the mouthfeel creamy. Darren doesn’t know what whiskies went into the bottle, but after some discussion around the room it was thought that there was definitely some Caol Ila in there, cut with some lighter Blasda-like Ardbeg as well as a whole lot more.

IMG_0440Our fifth whisky of the night, breaking the rule (as seems to have happen at most Whisky Squads) that we only taste four whiskies, was Smokehead Extra Black. Smokehead is a range of bottlings by Ian MacLeod of whisky from an unnamed Islay distillery (it’s [almost certainly] Ardbeg). Along with the regular bottling and this 18 year old Extra Black they also used to do an Extra Rare, which I have a cloth bag covered bottle of in my whisky cupboard. Smokehead has been a great supporter of Movember this year, supplying whisky to a variety of the events celebrating the month, hence a bottle appearing at our table. On the nose it was sweet and lightly smokey, with a thin and nicely astringent smoke rather than a choking cloud. To taste it had a sweet start with TCP, tar, damp peat and wet smoke in the middle, and a sweet smokey finish. A bit of water brought oranges and a hint of lemon as well as a thick vanilla caramel.

My Mo’ (I hate that term) continues to grow, as do those of the other Whisky4Movember team members. To support our ‘tachey efforts you can sponsor us over on the Movember site, throw Richard Paterson some cash instead/as well or buy one of the Movember bottlings from Master of Malt – £8 of the £34.95 selling price will go to charity.

Movember Smokey bottle set

Another whisky squad done and another one scheduled. At the time of writing there are still a couple of places left at the Squad Christmas dinner – a three course meal from The Gunmaker’s seasonal menu with some matched whiskies and the usual random banter. Book soon or be disappointed.

Master of Malt Mo’land
Blended lowland Scotch malt whisky. 40%. £34.95 at Master of Malt

Master of Malt M’Orkney
Spooned Orcadian malt whisky. 40%. Sold out

Dalmore 15
Highland single malt Scotch whisky. 40%. ~£40 at Master of Malt

Master of Malt Smo’key
Blended Islay Scotch malt whisky. 40%. £34.95 at Master of Malt

Smokehead 18 Year Old Extra Black
Islay single malt Scotch whisky. 46%. ~£85 at Master of Malt

Ardbeg and the Committee

Ardbeg is a bit of a strange distillery. They’re small but scarily well known, with fanatical fans (although I suspect that’s a tautology), scarily high prices for some of their bottlings and the backing of a big corporate. I’ve only recently started learning about them and haven’t really tried any of their whiskies since I first encountered the brand a few years back at a whisky evening around Adam‘s house – he’d gone on their website, joined their members club (The Committee) and accidentally ordered one of each of the whiskies they had available. An expensive accident, but one that kept us happy with a range of whiskies covering their entire production of the time.

Ardbeg’s had a spotty recent history but started officially started out in 1815, distilling on Ardbeg farm on the south coast of Islay. They produced whisky right through until the start of the 80s, when production started to slow until the distillery was mothballed in 1981. Allied Distillers, owners at the time, also owned Laphroaig and felt they had enough ongoing production from there, along with stored whisky from Ardbeg to meet their needs. It started producing small amounts of spirit again in 1989 but closed its doors seemingly finally in 1996, after several years of uncertainty. Allied put the distillery on the market, to great interest, with Glenmorangie buying it and reopening production in 1997. In 2004 Glenmorangie was acquired by the LVMH group (Moet Hennesy – Louis Vuitton) and Ardbeg went along as part of the package, giving it a big corporate backing. Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are generally left alone by the group, although they do get the backing money needed to push their increasingly well known brands. In addition they pool their technical resources, with Glenmorangie’s Bill Lumsden also acting as Ardbeg’s master distiller.

The whisky’s style is quite simple – very peaty. Using malt peated to 50ppm they are one of the peatier on the island and they relish in this distinction, pushing themselves as a peat lover’s dram.


Along with the reopening of the distillery Ardbeg also formed The Committee, a distillery ‘club’ with a bit more to it than many. Starting with the Very Young, their 6 year old bottling released in 2004, many of the releases have first been made available to the members of The Committee first, with their comments being solicited before general release. They go further than many distillery clubs with a members room at the distillery and all members receiving a book of Rules and Regulations, with special attention brought to paragraph 17:

17. The office of a member shall be vacated if:
He becomes of unsound mind to the extent that he develops a preference for a different spirit; or
He is directly or indirectly connected with the dilution of any dram of Ardbeg Islay Single Malt Whisky with any substance other than water.

I recently joined The Committee having heard that they were holding their 10th anniversary celebrations. I’d not tried any of their recent bottlings, but had a sample of one of their new releases and had been occasionally delving into SWMS bottlings when they appeared, so didn’t feel too bad about jumping on a free drink bandwagon a little late. The celebrations also showed me how they’ve upped their game online – the venue for both Edinburgh and London parties was revealed slowly via cryptic clues on twitter, with a goody bag going to the first person to guess –  annoyingly I didn’t have enough of a clue to even guess the London location and was about 2 minutes walk away with my guess as to the Edinburgh one.

In the end the London party was held at The Worx, on Heathman’s Road, near The White Horse in Parson’s Green (from the clues: ‘on the Ardbeg tube line’, ‘down south, however didn’t dare cross the river’, ‘Wretched Rector after a bumpy sail through Corryvreckan‘, ‘Poor Shortie [the Ardbeg dog and mascot] nearly got trampled by a fair stallion on the way’, ‘where the peat cutters of the heath reside’…obvious once you know the answer). The format of the evening was simple – turn up, have a cocktail and wander around the venue playing fairground games (I won a nice cashmere scarf on the hoop-la), eating food and drinking copious amounts of whisky.

IMG_0001The initial cocktail of the evening was simple and remarkably effective, especially as peaty whisky is a very difficult thing to mix effectively (and that act against paragraph 17, above). It was a combination of Ardbeg 10, crushed ice, simple syrup and bruised mint leaves. It was a bit like a sticky mojito with a slab of peat, but was also very refreshing and a great palate cleanser.

On the bar they had a selection of Ardbeg whiskies and I started off with the Ardbeg 10. On the nose there was a touch of acetone with the inevitable peat, along with a strong alcoholic sweetness,  a touch of woodsmoke and some butterscotch. To taste it was buttery with a sweet orangey peatiness and coal dust. Water dropped out a lot of the sweetness, compacted the coal dust into briquettes and brought out a woodsmoke finish. Not a subtle dram, but a good smoky, peaty whisky for those who like it quite sweet.

Next I tried the Rollercoaster, the most recent Committee bottling, bottled for the 10th anniversary, and one that won’t hit the general public because it’ll sell out before it has a chance. It’s a vatting of 10 casks, one from each year between 1997 and 2006 – Chris and Lucas have a complete list of the casks over on The Edinburgh Whisky blog. This was the one that I was most wanting to try, as I suspected it’d disappear before I got another chance. On the nose it had sulphur, sea salt, sea weed, oranges and a very hard edged peatiness, almost stony. To taste it had wood ash, eggs, more stony peat, coal smoke and a smokey sweetness. A bit of water toned everything down a bit and brought out more sweetness, with a hint of smoky bacon and sweet butter. I really rather liked it and have worryingly found that you can still buy it from the Ardbeg shop. I must resist.

IMG_0007_2Next I went for the Corryvreckan, another former Committee bottling that was brought in to replace Airgh name Beist, their previous top cask strength whisky. On the nose it had the BBQ chicken smell that I’m starting to think is my brain’s interpretation of woody wine/sherry influence, as well as white sherry, eggs and sea weed. To taste it was spicy with apples, burnt toffee, raisins and a lingering smoky peaty finish. Another good’un and one that deserved its win as best single malt whisky in this year’s World Whisky Awards, as well as numerous other gongs.

Finally, as I’d missed the last of the Supernova, Ardbeg’s super peaty whisky, that they had on the bar, I went for the Blasda. This one was described to me as “a lady’s dram”, with only 20ppm of phenols in the malt and a move to a lighter style. On the nose it was light and sweet with a hint of fruit that might have been cherry. To taste it was buttery and prickly, with sour peat and red berries. Most of all it was surprisingly light for a peaty whisky, especially an Ardbeg, even though this is the intention. Water brought out both cream and a bitterness from the wood as well as touch of cardboard and some struck matches. An interesting experiment, but not one that really grabbed my attention.

Overall it was rather a good night, although the free flowing whisky (there were tokens for some drinks, but by the end of the night the giant bottle of Rollercoaster they had on a smaller bar was being tipped into any glass that came near) meant that there was some drunkenness. If Jerry, the nice Glaswegian chap who tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me some Scottish toasts, is reading this then please drop me an email – I owe you a beer or two and I have the glasses you won, you left them in the pub. Yes, there was a pub after, which was probably a mistake.

Some gorillas. It was safer not to ask.

While I may have missed the previous release of Supernova, I added a sample of this year’s one to my most recent Master of Malt order and thought I’d add it on the end here. Supernova is intended to be the peatiest whisky that the distillery produces, using 100+ppm malt, and the last release had a hint of the Marmite effect to it – many people didn’t seem to rate it, but those who liked it really liked it. After the success of the last bottling they’ve rolled out a new one for this year – Supernova 2010. It’s pale gold and has no age statement, but with the intensity of flavour I would guess it has a good range of whisky in it. On the nose it has (as expected) lots of peat, along with salted butter, fresh mulch and some wet grass. To taste it’s spicy and every bit of its 60.1%. It starts with a big burst of sherried caramel sweetness and then moves through coal dust to a bitter burnt wood finish. In the middle there’s a bit of a fizzy citrus flavour which the chaps at Master of Malt describe as being like Starburst chews. I see what they mean but a) still reckon they should be called Opal Fruits and b) reckon that the flavour is more like fizzy orange and lemon Chewits. Water kills a lot of the bitterness as well as bringing out more of the fizzy fruit. This release has generally been considered inferior to the last one from what I’ve read, but as I didn’t get to taste the old one I can only assume it was really good (it does now change hands for about £125 a bottle) – I rather liked this one, with its peatiness being mellowed, but not too much, by some of the younger flavours and with a depth that I didn’t necessarily expect.

Ardbeg 10
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£35

Ardbeg Rollercoaster
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 57.4%. £50 from the Ardbeg shop

Ardbeg Corryvreckan
No age statement
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 57.1%. ~£60

Ardbeg Blasda
No age statement
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 40%. ~£45

Ardbeg Supernova 2010
No age statement
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 60.1%. ~£80