MacKillop’s Choice Highland Park Single Cask 1981/2006 – Independent bottling

Islands – 56.3%ABV – 700ml bottle – Price ?? I could not find this bottle available at any of the shops I frequent – Thanks to “O.K.” for the sample! (Note: the picture shown is for the 1985 version, not the 1981 as I had tasted)

This will be sort of a shorter review today.  Or at least, the lead up to the actual tasting.  Truth be told, this one took a lot out of me.  The whisky (specifically, the nose) was quite demanding and I’m not sure I was up to the challenge.  Yes, I think I gave it a fair shake (or maybe I gave myself the shake) but it took a while for all to be revealed.

They say good things come to those who wait.  Maybe I was too impatient.  You can decide for yourself…

On the noseMan, this whisky needs some time to open up.  A few minutes and some nice cherry notes are revealed along with an overall saltiness to it – quite oceanic but at high tide, not a fishy low tide type ocean scent to it.

The nose is brisk and has just a mere hint of smoke (think pipe tobbaco – fragrant).  A few extra minutes and the nose opens more giving me some nice orange notes (Mineola to be exact, very tart).  With a few drops of water some buttery notes come out and it get ever so floral.  I love this nose but I had to dig and wait quite a bit for the scents to show themselves.

On the mouthHold on here, this is quite a departure from the nose.  The flavors are not subtle here, you don’t have to work quite as hard – fresh grassy notes and bitter fruits, a good amount of pepper (think cayenne with out the burn).

I think I need to add some water here (it did wonders for the nose) — the mouth feel gets chewy and some white pepper comes out as does something quite sweet thought I can’t put my finger on it.

Finish A long finish.  The orangey notes remain as does the pepper.

In sumPart of me felt like a paranormal investigator here.  I knew I had a “spirit” nearby but the nose made me want to scream “Show Yourself!!”  Thank G-d for the palate and finish though, it really came through.  In the end, a nice single cask whisky but I’m not sure it was worth all the trouble.

Tasting 7 Ardbegs (well, really 6 with one that is supposed to be an Ardbeg)

Ok, truth be told, I am no Superman.

Really, I’m just a guy who had some time on his hands and decided to taste seven, count them, seven Ardbegs in one sitting.  Just so you know, I am not one to get drunk.  In fact, I avoid it like the plague.  I’m a total control freak and loosing control in a drunken frenzy, is just not my bag.

So, how did I taste seven Ardbeg whiskies with out getting trashed?  Water, food and a nearly 3 hour tasting event.  I did it alone too which, for a tasting of this size and scope, I preferred.  I didn’t want anyone to influence what I was tasting.  Try it sometime. It’s like solitaire with booze.

Even though I posted tasting notes on some of these whiskies prior to this event, the notes below are new notes.  Why would I post new notes on whiskies I’ve already posted about, you ask??  Well, things change, moods change, etc…  Also, and more importantly, I tasted these whiskies one after another and my guess is that there was influence from one whisky to the next.

Oh, one last thing, Gal of Whisky Israel and I did a joint tasting of the Ardbeg Rollerocaster via Twitter and that posting will go up within the next week or two.  I did notice that my individual tasting of the Rollercoaster and this tasting with the other six Ardbeg whiskies was a different experience.  Watch out for that posting!

Alright folks, I’m done with the preamble and I’m ready to taste:

Ardbeg Ten Years Old – Islay region – 46%ABV – 750ml bottle$45 | £33 | €38

On the noseBright lemons right up front, sand-in-your-toes – a jog on the beach with the spray of ocean in your face (Awesome!), peat smoke (quite sweet), celery salt, rubber boots.

On the mouth Chewy peat, there’s such a beautiful element here, lemons, fruit, something a bit synthetic, warming, oak and boat tar.

FinishBright and quite pleasing, tingly – what a great entry level whisky.

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist – Islay region – 46%ABV – 750ml bottle – $79 and up | £64 | €71

On the nose Peat (quite warm at that), grassy but increasingly fruity, some sour milk notes (baby vomit?), oak a bitter fruits (genepa?).

On the mouth Pure sex, dried fruits, raisins, prunes, nutty, oily, warms my body, delicate peat smoke.

Finish Still as short as I remember but, that’s Ok.  It’s all in the palate for me anyway.  Wait, those oaky notes I remember are back as is that warming feeling on the sides of my tongue.

Ardbeg – Indy Bottling – Cheiftain’s 1998 11yr – Islay region – 46%ABV – 70cl bottle – Not sure of the cost – sold out at all locations I frequent…

On the nose Oh, you’re an odd little Ardbeg aren’t you?? — Dirty peat, earthy, lemons (but not a bright lemon scent, more meringue and actually, a bit more like grapefruit than lemons the more I sniff), wood chips (almost a cedar-type quality to it), grassy.  There’s something else here too that I just can’t place. I can’t think of the scent but I’m getting images of an autumn state fair in my head every time I sniff and think about it…  Man, this is going to bug the crap out of me.

On the mouthA strange entry here, fruits all up front (citrus ones and they’re running the gamut), the peat arrives here kicking all of the fruits out of the way.  This is quite dirty and earthy (me like!).

Finish A nice warming peatiness here, some nuttiness I did not pick up anywhere else, long.

A Special thanks to DH for the sample of the Chieftain’s Ardbeg.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Islay region – 57.1%ABV – 750ml bottle – $79 and up | £60 | €70

On the nose Ah the brine!  Love it.  Love this Corryvreckan nose.  Big ABV but again (as in my previous post about it), I can keep my nose in the glass until I pass out from lack of oxygen, oak, tar, sweet peat smoke, nori seaweed, low tide, bursting with citrus notes!

On the mouth(Let the cask strength begin!)  Big peat attack but quite sweet, very oceanic (low tide), salty, tarry ropes, after the first three whiskies I’m not getting the dried fruits in the palate that I got the first time around (palate fatigue? I don’t think so.  Am I drunk?  I hope not.)  Let’s try again – there it is – pruney, some root veggies here now (parsnip): awesome.

FinishLong, they say diamond last forever.  This must be the diamond of the whisky world. Peat stays in your mouth for sure.

Ardbeg Supernova 2009 – Islay region – 58.9%ABV – 750ml bottle – $130-200+ | £200 | €233

On the nose Big, sweet and lemony.  More so than the 10yr (to my nose). Large peat, charred lemons (I imagine), rubber notes, beach ball leaves beach to have a swim in the ocean, lovely.  This nose would scare the living shit out of most people, me thinks – it attacks you!

On the mouth Here we go y’all – this is the most peated Ardbeg there is at 100ppm.  Let’s see what happens.  Ok, being that you’re reading this now means I didn’t burst into flames.  Here’s what actual happened – Ooof, it’s like the Ardbeg 10yr on steroids.  Bursting with lemony sweetness, brine and, of course, peat but it’s not the burnt piece of toast I expected.  Theres a purity here that’s quite remarkable.  Thin mouth feel but, hey, that’s Ok with me, the flavors are great.

Finish like the sides of my tongue are being tattooed with peat and using a lemon rind to get under my skin, some nice oak notes too.

A special thanks to JJY for the sample of the Ardbeg Supernova.

Ardbeg Rollercoaster – Islay region – 46%ABV – 750ml bottle – $79 and up | £50 | €58

On the nose I know that there are some younger whiskies in the make up of this expression but the nose (to me) doesn’t feel as young as I expected.  Peat for sure but it’s sort of a sexy nose (not biting or brash which I usually associate with younger peat), strawberry jam, citrus (of course!  this is Ardbeg people!), heavily salted stuff.

On the mouth Quite savory compared to the sweetness of the other Ardbegs I’ve tried.  Salted pie crust (if there were such a thing), peat, lots of peat, some fruits rear their heads here (strawberry, pomelo), charred wood, cherries now and some tobacco.  I am loving the Rollercoaster more & more!

Finish Medium long, this is at the perfect strength if you ask me.

Ellenstown 10yr Cask Strength – Islay region – 46%ABV – 750ml bottle – $45-$75 (could not find a UK/EU source)

On the nose Soapy, peaty nose, sugary (almost candied), some boggy notes come through (trout fishing at the local pond with my dad circa 1982), not as briny as some of the others I nosed, a bit grassy – not as nice a nose as the others but you brought me back in time and I like that.

On the mouth A light brisk walk on the beach, quite citrusy and purely delicious.  I’ve had this as a stand alone an “liked it” but next to some of the others whiskies I’ve been having, I now “love this”.  Quite a nice expression we have here.  Back to the flavors: Some sour notes pop up but overall there’s nothing but sweetness and peatness, a few **very** light rubbery notes but mostly a more natural feel to this one.

Finish A great length here, some grassiness on the finish alongside oaky notes and lemon grass.

Vatting of all seven expressions – this is like the Voltron of whisky here!! – Cost: Priceless

On the nose Very briny, much like the Corryvreckan!  Some tannic – almost winey notes here (like a really dry cabernet, dry & fruity), quite the salty nasal attack here.  Big, big peat!  something almost candy like (think the sugar from Pez Candy with out all of the artificial fruits), stinky shoes.

On the mouth Big punch of peat!  Awesome mouth feel – more oily than any of the individual Ardbegs.  The taste of the smell of an outside grill, woody (oak), vanilla bean ice cream (clear out of the blue some creamy notes came through), freshly-washed-and-hanging-to-dry-clothes.

Finish Oily, just like the mouth feel, big peat!  A cornucopia of citrus fruits.  Heaven.

In sum This was an amazing experience.  I was quite happy to taste the Ellenstown alongside the other whiskies.  Doing so improved that expression like you wouldn’t believe.  With regards to the Airigh Nam Beist, I was told by a few people not to taste it along side the younger Ardbegs as it’s magic would be lost.  To this statement I say: Bullshit.  If anything, tasting the beast alongside the younger Ardbeg whiskies made the Airigh Nam Beist stand out in a very positive way.

So, which whisky won?  I have to say that my own personal vatting was my favorite expression (Woo Hoo, I win!).  This being said, you will never have a chance to taste the JSMWS Ardbeg so I will now have to suggest another winner.

Drum roll please….

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – even though I prefer older, sexier peat, the Corry is so well balanced and complex.

Extra Extra, Read all about it – Ardbeg Supernova 2010 is coming your way!

Some very exciting news from the good folks at Ardbeg – Supernova 2010 is being released on May 31st, 2010!  Plus, the ABV is even higher this time around — 60.1% – Yowza!  Below the image you will see the tasting notes as provided by Ardbeg.  Enjoy the rest of your day!


Deep gold


Big and powerful with peaty, earthy and deep herbal notes.

With the first sniff, encounter deep earthy peat oils and crushed black pepper embedded in the darkest chocolate. Swirl the glass and dip your nose into herbal infusions of juniper, elderflower and agave. Tarry ropes and creosote-soaked elm follow with flowering currants, olives and hot chilli peppers.

Swirl water into the glass, and voyage into the unknown with smoky coal tar, an open box of rolling tobacco, peat moss and roasted malt. A barbeque of smoky charcoal rises above the peat moss, softened by camomile, cedar and heather bloom. A blast of brine, white pepper and smoky asparagus escapes into the atmosphere with a spritely display of gooseberries and greengages.


Ardbeg challenges the palate with a smoke and salt explosion – hot, sizzling and gristy sensations effervesce and explode on the tongue with a powerful peaty punch. Black and white crushed pepper pop with chilli and chocolate. Chewy sweet rolling tobacco, linseed oil and newly tanned leather roll backwards on a wave of brininess and burst of juicy lime marmalade. Cigar smoke builds up to a crescendo before drying out to bring dark roast earthy coffee, toasted almonds and liquorice root.


Long, deep and powerful, refusing to fade away – remaining warm and drying with tarry peat, cocoa and chilli.

A bourbon break – Elijah Craig 18yr single barrel

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 45%ABV – 750ml bottle – $40-45 | £46 | €54

Man-o-Maneschewitz do I LOVE scotch whisky!  I do, I really do.  In case you couldn’t tell, I’m quite passionate about it.  But even things you have a passion for, you need to take a break from, right?  So, I decided to take a little break from Scotch whisky and go for some American whiskey.

Note: notice the addition of the “e” in American whiskey?  Ever wonder what that was all about?  Check out John Hansell’s, of Malt Advocate & WhiskyFest fame, explanation right here – it’s toward the center of the article which, overall, is a great read.

The good folks over at Master of Malt also have an explanation as to the differences between “Whisky” and “Whiskey” – this is a fine read.

Elijah Craig boasts their having the oldest single barrel bourbon in the whole world.  Well now!  That is saying something.  Come to find out, many bourbons don’t stay in a barrel for more than 10yrs and few at all are single barrel like this one.

Actually, here is exactly what the folks at Heaven Hill have to say about the Elijah Craig 18yr Single Barrel bourbon:

“Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon is bottled solely from one barrel hand-selected by Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam, not from the mingling of many barrels, which is the practice for standard and Small Batch Bourbons.

Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon is the oldest Single Barrel Bourbon available in the world. Only a handful of the millions of barrels of Bourbon aging in Kentucky have been allowed to mature this long.

The brand carries the name of Rev. Elijah Craig, the man who discovered the method of making true Kentucky Bourbon when he stored his wares in barrels that had been charred in a fire.”

Alright, are you ready for the review?  I’m ready to taste.  Let’s do this.

On the noseOff the bat – #2 lead pencil & pencil shavings (get ready for a test later folks!), oak and buttered popcorn, fresh corn and caramel covered apples.

This is a no-holds-barred nose, in your face, great stuff!  Again, going back to bourbons, I am always a bit surprised (and not sure why I should be) as to how “in-your-face” everything is.  Nothing extremely subtle but yet, it all works.

On the mouthLike a bee, you sting me right on my tongue.  Creme brulee with extra burny parts, sweet and spicy (amazed as to how spicy it is being that it matured in a single cask for 18yrs!), chewy mouth feel,  caramel and vanilla ice cream – who needs desert, just drink this!

FinishLingering, like the perfect cuddle after “baby-makin'” sex.  This is a finely balanced whiskey and a well chosen barrel.  Thank you Mr. Beam!

In sumWhen I went to Whisky Live this past April, I had the good fortune to meet Craig Beam – Master Distiller at Heaven Hill who owns the Elijah Craig whiskey line.  I had such a good time talking with him and his brand ambassador Rob H.  It was VERY apparent that Mr. Beam is proud of his whiskeys and I can see why.  This is quite a nice bourbon and at the price — an 18yr single barrel/cask whiskey… can you go wrong?  No, me thinks.

Bruichladdich 19yr old Black Arts

Ok, before you begin to read my post on this dram, you may want to hit play on the youtube video below (so as to set the mood):

Is it playing?  Good.  Just keep it sort of quiet and in the background.  Umm, a little lower in the volume… there.  Good.

When I was young, about six years in age, my uncle started feeding me music from all sorts of great bands.  Bands he loved and wanted me to love in kind.  Two of the bands stuck out and I still love them to this day.  The Ramones and Black Sabbath.  In fact, the first album I ever owned was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album.

Let’s put the Ramones to the side for now and focus on Black Sabbath.  Here I was six years old, listening to Black Sabbath and… was I scared?  A bit (I mean, listen to this song for “Peat’s” sake – you do have the video playing, right?).  But mostly, I was entranced.  Even at six, I knew that these guys were on some level beyond any other band I’d ever heard.

As I got older, I became more obsessed with the music of Black Sabbath and (here comes a crazy geek moment) Dungeons and Dragons.  There, I said it.  I was into D&D big time.  D&D, Lord of the Rings, you name it, I was into it.

You must be thinking “Hey Hatton, where are you going with this?” or, “Dude, D&D… seriously!?”

The point I am coming to is that I saw something mystical and magical in this music and those role playing games and sipping on this whisky took me back there.

Yes, nearly 31 years later and I came across this interesting and new Bruichladdich expression called Black Arts and I’m taken back to those things that got me interested in the “strange”.  But, come to think of it, it was not just strange.  It was new, different, unique and artistic – something I think this expression is.

What is Bruichladdich’s Black Arts expression?  First, let’s take a look at their bottle:

You’ll notice a matte black finish on the bottle and cylinder.  This, as I understand it, is a follow up to Bruichladdich’s “Blacker Still” expression.  Just looking at it and I get a creepy-cool feeling.  It’s the type of feeling you get when you’re around a campfire telling ghost stories – the good creepy.  You want more.

And yes, I wanted more.  I wanted to open the bottle right away but, before I did, I took a closer look at the bottle and saw a Star of David on there.  Wait a sec.  Hold you’re horses.  What does this mean?  I don’t know any Jew that works in the Black Arts – What’s going on here!?!?

I did some reading up on what this star meant and found that Bruichladdich says the star is actually “two triangles that represent the reconciliation of the opposites of fire and water”.  In fact, here’s the full quote from Bruichladdich’s product sheet: “Alchemy, the black art, the eternal search for rejuvenation and immortality, gave us whisky.  Gebber the Arab is said to be the first distiller of al-iksir, the water of life, in Persia around 790 AD.” (or, CE and I prefer to say.  C.E. being the Common Era) “The spirits Eau de vie, Aqua Vitae, Vodka, Aquavit, Uisque Beatha all share that same original meaning.  Geber understood that precious metals were hidden in alloys and ores.  By the rearrangement of base metal’s qualities, via elixir, it could be transmutated into Gold.  Elixir also existed as a dry, red powder made from Philosophers’ stone.  If it could turn poor metal into gold – it could give eternal life.  The two triangles that represent the reconciliation of the opposites of fire and water.”

Cool stuff, right?

Speaking of “red powder”, after I poured a dram, I wondered if Bruichladdich found this Philosophers’ stone and put a wee bit into each cask.  The reason I wondered this….well, take a look at the color of this whisky (on your left – click on it for a larger image).

While it may be tough to see here in this picture.  I will tell you that, in person, this fluid is red.  Red whisky.  I’ve never seen anything like this before and, just like when I first heard Black Sabbath, I was entranced.  Just a note here: this is the natural color of the whisky; no color added.

How did they get this whisky red?  Is it the red powder from the Philosophers’ stone?  If you think the answer is “yes” then I suggest you check yourself into an insane asylum.  While you may think the good folks at Bruichladdich are alchemists with all of those great expressions they come out with, this is the real world and they’re using real science here, not alchemy.

So, how did they get it red?  A little birdy told me that this whisky was finished in three red wine casks, one right after the other.  Awesome.

OK, I think it’s about high time I get to the tasting:

Islay region – 51.1%ABV – 700ml bottle – £75 | €94 (this bottle is not available through US stores)

On the nose 51.1% alcohol be damned! I can sniff this all night with no issues.  Big red fruits!  Raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and some fruit of the more tropical variety — passion fruit & papaya (all of these berries makes me think of my daughter’s book called “Jamberry”).  Wow.  Some nail polish remover notes here, something a bit sour and some over steeped green tea…  I’m in love with this nose!  This is just the right influence of wine on the whisky.  Some spiciness on the nose and a bit of honey (which I did not expect here).  With a few drops of water the fruits get very juicy smelling – almost over ripe.

On the mouthGreat entry here and I’m a bit taken aback.  What a balance!  The fruits are big but dry – like a good & fruity cabernet.  Grassy, fresh hay.  Quite grapey, quite winey.  The mouth feel is nice nothing too special about it though.  Let’s add a few drops of water.  With water the mouth feel evolves into something completely different and beautiful.  I feel like an alchemist turning dried fruits into re-ripened fruits.  There’s something deep in the background that resembles the faintest whiff of smoke but, I dont think this was at all peated.

Finish Longer and slightly burning.  Wow, increasingly burning and getting stronger by the second.  Cool stuff.

In sum This is a true artisan’s whisky.  And while some folks thought this dram crossed the line a bit between wine finishes and whisky; to me, the extra finishing was something of pure genius.  What a great marriage between wine and whisky.  While the two whiskies are nothing alike, the mystery surrounding the Bruichladdich Black Arts reminds me of the mysteries around the Glenmorangie Signet.  Two very different whiskies; two very great whiskies.  My hat’s off to the folks at Bruichladdich.  They’ve created a magical dram here.