Ardbeg “An Oa” (46.6%, OB, L69049, 2017)

I bought, reviewed and finished Corryvreckan and Uigeadail quite recently and was amazed by the quality you get for the price. Especially since these two are very, very good yet aren’t overpriced special releases. Ardbeg caters to that as well, but that’s another story entirely. No, these two are readily available core range bottlings. When An Oa came on offer, it was a no-brainer to get that one as well, it’s an Ardbeg after all! When freshly opened, whilst I was killing off both aforementioned Ardbeg’s, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s hard to come out of the shadows of both stronger ABV, NAS Whiskies. This doesn’t say much about An Oa though, but more about how good Corryvreckan and Uigeadail actually are.

An Oa is the latest, widely available, addition to the core range, together with the 10yo and the two I already mentioned several times already. So how did they blend An Oa together, what is its unique selling point, what makes it stand out? For An Oa, Pedro-Ximénez casks, heavily charred virgin oak casks and first-fill Bourbon barrels were used, married, and here comes the unique selling point, wait for it, married in a French oak vat in The gathering room at the distillery. Yes the gathering room. I’ll run that by you again, The gathering room. By the way, some suggest, other casks might have been used as well, maybe there even will be some batch variation over the years because of using different types of casks in the marrying process?

Color: Light sparkly gold.

Nose: Softly peaty and softly smoky. All very restrained and held back. Green. Hints of dried fish, ground coffee and tar, but also a fresher and fruitier note, almost citrussy. Dusty and soft. Good job again. Salty, cigarette smoke, powdered vanilla. Hmmm some chlorine even after it had some time to breathe. Spicy and cold, sweet vanilla pudding. Lots of typical Islay markers. Virgin oak yes, Vanilla notes from American oak yes, PX, on the nose, barely, not right now, the virgin oak is much stronger. PX? not so much when looking at the color of this Whisky. I really wonder about the PX though. What did or should it do for this Whisky? An Oa, again like the other NAS Ardbegs, doesn’t smell young or unfinished. It’s not very complex though. Nevertheless it does smell good.

Taste: Wood, paper and cardboard, mixed in with sweet licorice, tar and some ashes. Ashy toffee and almonds, does that make any sense? That right there is what this Whisky is all about. (Slightly bitter) wood, (sweet) licorice and (burnt toast) ashes. These three are omnipresent in this Whisky at any time. Again, very accessible, due to its sweeter side. More licorice even, oily, and a nice warm feeling going down. It tastes familiar. Even when this is a new expression is feels a bit like coming home. Warm and cozy. 46.6% ABV is nothing to worry about. It is enough, and works well for this expression. More wood notes emerge. Sappy fresh oak, not old dry planks. Does carry some woody bitterness towards the finish. Quite green and lively. Some raspberry and citrus notes. Some sort of brooding hidden fruitiness on the back of my tongue. This is from the PX. The finish is of medium length and there isn’t all that much happening in the aftertaste apart from some woody bitterness reminding me of…earwax. Here it shows its apparent youth. Its all in your face right from the start but it lacks in depth and experience older guys, I mean, Whiskies have. Very drinkable. I fear, this won’t last long on my ledger too. I sticked it in the back for a while, but that hardly helped…

What can I say, I’m a sucker for green glass bottles and I like the look as if it was made in the thirties. I love Ardbeg, even these modern ones. They are of high quality and very accessible. Just read back and see how good the Uigeadial and the Corryvreckan are. Laphroaig makes one expression especially for Whisky ‘fans’, the 10yo Cask Strength, made in annual batches. Ardbeg even makes two! Both are way less expensive and even more readily available than the Laphroaig is. Yes they don’t carry and age statement.

Alas, both have been finished already, but boy, do I miss them. When I’m on Islay time, I start out with Lagavulin 10yo which, compared to all the Ardbegs mentioned in this review, seems milky, and unfinished, young, new make-y. They must have used some pretty tired casks for that one I guess. The unusually low ABV of 43% (these days) doesn’t help either. Where the Ardbegs are accessible and just ‘right’, crash tested and approved, the newest young Lagavulins just are not. I’m definitely not a fan of the 10yo nor the 8yo, (but I am of the 12yo and the 16yo core range offerings). Oops, the 12yo is a special annual release. I do welcome the age statements on the 8yo and the 10yo (as well as on the Game of Thrones 9yo, and the Nick Offerman 11yo), but in this case I prefer the NAS Ardbegs and the trusty old Lagavulin 16yo and the 12yo Cask Strength over the 8yo and the 10yo. I have yet to try the 9yo and the 11yo.

Word always was that it’s hard to meet up with the demand for the 16yo, so are all these new and younger editions ways to lure some of us away from the 16yo, to keep it more visible? Wait a minute, is there really some sort of shortage of the 16yo? I see it everywhere, it’s never sold out, and I see them often on offer somewhere. Maybe another ploy to scare the consumer. Making him or she believe, it may sell out and not come back? A rumour always surrounding Talisker 10yo because of al the NAS offerings from Talisker released in the past few years.

This An Oa, because that is where this review is actually about, is a nice one. Its fun stuff. As said above, for me both the Uigeadial and Corryvreckan are just better and very hard to top. I just like higher ABV’s, but I also understand many of you don’t. Should it stand aside them? Nope, it shouldn’t. An Oa is made for different people than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are, but I do feel it does have a place right by the side of the 10yo, to offer another take, with a different composition and being a NAS.

Points: 84

Wild Turkey “Rare Breed – Barrel Proof” (56.4%, OB, 2016, 112816A12029M)

I came across this no-batch Rare Breed in a hypermarket whilst on holiday in Poland. It sat there (two of them to be precise) on a sad little shelf made of metal wire, between some marked down totally anonymous cheap wines lit by cold light. So I just had to take these two golden orphans with me. These were also marked down considerably, so essentially a no brainer. I reviewed a Rare Breed before, one with batch number WT-03RB, and that was certainly not bad, since it scored 82 points, and I may have been a bit on the conservative side. I ended that review with the remark that Wild Turkey is axing the batch numbering and making it younger an lighter in the process. I read somewhere that Rare Breed was a blend of 12yo, 10yo and 8yo Whiskies, but more recent batches are said to be 12yo, 8yo and 6yo Whiskies, by word of WT themselves. Well, and finally here it is, one of those no-batch younger and lighter Rare Breeds.

WT-03RB was pretty good, and was almost there, (but not quite), so I’m hoping the next step will be forward in stead of backward. I might be getting ahead of myself assuming it probably got worse is also not very professional, now isn’t it? So I opened this bottle a while back, in a time when I actually was very much busy with Whisky from Scotland, so Bourbons were shifted towards the back burner, big time. After finishing a recent review, I parked myself on the couch, opened the doors of my stash, and my eye fell towards the bottom shelf, bar one, where the Bourbons are. Its just one of the bottom shelves, not “the bottom shelf” quality wise. I started with Evan Williams, decent, easy and reduced too much, so the next step was obviously to go ahead and move up with this no-batch, younger and lighter Rare Breed. Well this certainly hits the spot. I pressed repeat two times more before finishing off with Booker’s. And guess what, sometimes I like this Rare Breed better than Booker’s and almost all of the time I prefer it to the Evan Williams, which is most definitely not a dud in it’s own right. Where the previous Rare Breed had some soap, this one has none. This batch of Booker’s also has this very floral, soapy, floral perfume notes to it. It seems to me this “batchless” might be better than the WT-03RB. Lets find out for sure if its lighter and d-lighter or not.

Color: Light orange gold. (Much lighter than the WT-03RB batch)

Nose: Big on aroma, creamy and chewy. Cookie dough. Fresh spicy wood and gravy. Yes, this has a meaty note. Vanilla and sappy oak. It’s like you can discern several different ingredients in this. Toasted oak, grains and cereals and even the yeast. Next comes a more fruity note. Little forest strawberries and hints of red lemonade. This passes quickly and moves towards a more drying note. Warm desert wind, with lots of wood and showing the youngest Whiskey blended in. The more you smell it, the sharper and drier the wood note gets. Finally it smells like a wood shop altogether. Sawdust and all, turning into paper and cardboard over time. Also the yeasty bit stays around as well. The big creamy aroma, from the start, subsides quite a bit. Give it even more time, and after some sips, (the aroma I smell is also released from my mouth), the wood note itself starts to evolve into a more fragrant, perfumy note. A hint of honey even. Nice.

Taste: Hot, quite dry and woody. Not so creamy as expected, but the odd toffee and liquid caramel notes are there. Yes some vanilla and sweet corn notes as well. (Wild Turkey use 75% Corn in their mashbill, the rest is 13% rye and 12% malted barley). Sometimes a bit thin and definitely wood driven, sometimes I even pick up a licorice note in the woody bit. Still a good dose of corn and a little bit of rye. Only slightly bitter. Dry leaves. Wood seasoned by high temperatures. Nice thin layer of sweetness laughed away by the wood, but extra points to the sweetness for trying. If I remember correctly, somewhat simpler than the WT-03RB batch I tried earlier, much earlier. Hey almost 4 years ago, so give me a break! The sweetness keeps battling with the wood, and this makes it fun to drink. It just doesn’t know how to give up. Nope, even with 12yo Whiskey blended in, this still lacks a bit of complexity it should have had, but still, this is much better than many other Bourbon’s around. This is why this bottle is almost empty already. The finish is medium at best, hot and fun, but the aroma’s don’t have a lot of staying power.

This is a whisky made with a high corn mashbill, however it is also a wood driven Whiskey. It has quite a stiff backbone and enough alcohol to carry it well. Sometimes a bit simple, but nevertheless quite enjoyable.

Points: 84

P.S. rummaging around my stash I found a sample of the WT-03RB batch I reviewed 4 years ago! This older batch is definitely much darker in color, much softer in taste, but quite similar in complexity. The 2016 no-batch, easily overpowers it. Sharper and bolder, much more fresh sappy oak and more of the yeast notes as well. Seems much higher in alcohol too. WT-03RB even seems a bit less balanced with quite a lot of toasted and burned notes to it. Even though WT-03RB is older and darker, it isn’t better. I really thought I might be upping the original score of 82, but alas, after careful tasting, H2H, 82 is still the right score for that batch. Go figure.

Evan Williams 9yo 2000/2010 (43.3%, OB, Single Barrel #379)

Sometimes Master Quill tends to repeat himself, well, not really this time. Yes, In the fall of 2015, The Master did do a review of an Evan Williams Single Barrel bottling, and now here is yet another, but not a repetition, because luckily this “new” one is from a different vintage. The former review was this spicy 2003 vintage and this time we’ll have a go at a 2000 vintage. Is older better? I understand that the mash-bill for Evan Williams Single Barrel looks something like this: 78% corn, 12% barley and 10% rye. Lots of corn and not a lot of rye in this mash-bill. The “vintage” range already saw the light of day in 1986, so with this 2000 expression, Heaven Hill already had some 15 years of experience bottling this. So without further ado: take it away Evan, ehhh Master, ehhh Quill. Nevermind. Go, just take it away…

Color: Light orange brown.

Nose: Wood, lots of fresh cut oak. Perfumy. Sweetish and even more floral. Wood driven, but with lots going for it. Balanced and likeable. Greener notes come next, some hay and grass, oak and latex wall paint. More cuttings from the garden and after a while some more fruity notes appear. Slightly acidic and fresh, only adding to the balance. Hints of toffee and caramel. Excellent nose if you ask me. One moment fresh and lively and the next, deeper and more brooding. Definitely some Rye in here, but less so than expected, even though I didn’t expect a lot. After some more breathing, honey notes come forward. Smelling this after some sipping only enhance the honey notes that were almost absent from the start. Interesting.

Taste: On first entry, a bit thin to be honest. I prefer Bourbons at high strength, because especially Bourbons release their intricate aroma’s better at a higher proof. That said, this Single barrel smells very good and is definitely interesting (there is that word again), even when you like your Scotch Whiskies. Another sip. Well, this does the trick, beyond the low proof, some nice aroma’s emerge. Wood, latex paint again. Honey, hints of toasted oak and a tiny hint of leather. Definitely not as sweet as I would imagine, even though this Bourbon saw lots of corn. A slightly bitter note comes next, oak, tree sap, wax. The finish has less length than the nose and is also less complex. medium at best (and it has paper notes). Today the bitterness has some staying power which was less so on other days, so it depends on the taster (as always), time of day and the moment trying it. Aftertaste somewhat indistinct, so it definitely suffers from reduction to 43.3% ABV. Nope, in the taste department, this turns out to be much simpler than the nose promised.

For a nice evening with some Bourbons this is the starter. Well priced, and interesting, but I prefer other, (higher strength) Bourbons more. Compared to the earlier review, this 2000 example is softer (weaker is maybe a better word this time around) and less spicy, and also is lacking the licorice and cherry notes of the 2003. The 2003 is definitely a step up from the 2000. So yes, the date makes a difference. So choose your single cask vintage Evan Williams wisely!

Points: 81

Tamdhu 15yo 1991/2006 (60%, Adelphi, Bourbon Cask #1955, 257 bottles)

Well let’s continue with another oldie, shall we? Clear out some of the sample bottles to fill it up with something new. This is Tamdhu, and Tamdhu is not on Islay, nor will this Whisky be peated. I expect a lot of this Whisky. First of all it’s Tamdhu, which makes a lovely distillate. It’s bottled by Adelphi, a bottler so good, it almost seems as if they can pick any cask they like. This has 60% ABV and just look at the color. Yeah baby, bring it on!

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Wood and sometimes a hint of an aromatic White wine. Very spicy. This must have been a very active (toasted) cask. Although you might think this cask previously held some sort of Sherry, I hardly doubt it. Creamy vanilla. American oak, all the way. No Sherry notes whatsoever and yet pretty sweet-smelling, although the dryness of the oak, soon takes over, to never let go. Ehhhm, is this all? Hints of fresh air, but it’s mostly all aroma’s that have to do with oak. It’s definitely not overoaked, mind you, but it seems to be rather mono-dimensional. I’m actually a bit disappointed now, since this is Tamdhu, from Adelphi, which has a reputation, and it’s 60% ABV. I love cask strength. Still, nothing happens for me. Sawdust and hot oak. It smells a bit like a carpenters workshop. This definitely could have done with some blueberry notes, now it smells a bit, dull…

Taste: Initially quite sweet, and again, everything you’d expect from an ex-Bourbon cask. Vanilla, powdered vanilla, creamy pudding, instant pudding powder. Milk chocolate (powder) and a totally different green feel to it, as well. My heart skips a beat right now, because, this is more or less it. Lots of oaky notes, and a strange sweetness. Not a lot more is coming to me to be honest. Earlier I already thought my nose was failing me, but tastewise I don’t “see” a lot of evolution in my glass. WYSIWYG.

Although Adelphi claim, Tamdhu prefers ex- Bourbon casks, I always thought Tamdhu was one of those distillates that work wonders with ex-Sherry casks, in both American and European oak. This particular example has no flaws, it’s nice, but it almost has no  complexity, nor does it evolve a lot after pouring or whilst drinking. I’m pretty sure I will forget rather quickly, how this tasted like, and I hardly forget the taste of a Whisky. Go figure.

Points: 83

Longmorn 20yo 1992/2013 (52.3%, Kintra, Bourbon Hogshead #86624, 132 bottles)

Longmorn probably was one of the best Whiskies coming out of the sixties and seventies of the previous century. There are so many remarkable bottlings coming from that time, it’s nothing but amazing. Because of this, it also might be its curse. It is almost impossible to drink something like this (a Longmorn from the eighties and later), without having high expectations and looking back to the old stuff instead of comparing it to its contemporaries. Sure we all know stuff from “back then” is different from the stuff today, but still, Longmorn, has a special place with me…

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fruity, biscuity and malty. Fruity it is. Passion fruit and some pineapple, mixed with vanilla powder. Sugared and dried yellow fruits, but also a more waxy note. Meaty as well. Old warm dusty warehouse, more like a Kentucky warehouse than a cold and damp one in Scotland to be honest. So a lively, sunny, and dusty Whisky, from a dry warehouse with a summery feel to it. Nice fruity aromatics aided by a more creamy and vanilla note, backed by dust and oak. Character building. Nutty, with hot water. Overall laid back with a quiet disposition.

Taste: A sweet, nutty and spicy entry. Sometimes with a beer-like and hoppy note to it. The woody bit can taste this way when you try this early in the morning, when your palate is till fresh. In the evening its woody and spicy, nothing more. Typical Bourbon Hogshead Whisky. Funky green sweetness from the start, and even though not extremely high in alcohol, it does exert itself. Definitely fruity and nuttier than the nose. passion fruit again with old apricots next. Hints of toasted oak, this time more warming than sharp. Hints of clear glue and lots of fruits, apricot and to a lesser extent: peaches, even dried pineapple comes to mind. Nice touches of sweet vanilla and ice-cream, but never turning overly sweet and dessert-like by the backbone of spicy oak and toasted oak. Nice development though. It evolves over time.

Nice Longmorn, nice Whisky, but also almost anonymous. It could have been anything, apart from the amount of fruit in this one, which gives it away a bit. Keep in mind that this is from a Bourbon hogshead, so the distillate hasn’t been masked by Sherry or some kind of finish. This is pure Whisky. Its good, it does the job, however it’s almost not a ‘Longmorn” to me. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, maybe I’m a bit prejudiced and maybe I’m not truly objective as well. Am I capable to let the memories of old Longmorn go, for a review like this? I don’t know. This is a good one, but not a must buy for me, sorry. Come to think of it, this does have some similarities to the profile of the old Longmorn 15yo OB. That one is good as well, but also a bottling I don’t neccesseraly need to have. it doesn’t completely click with me. So If you really like the 15yo, by all means get this one as well when it pops up at an auction somewhere. For me, I’m glad I’m taking notes here, because after some time, I might forget how this tasted like, but thinking of the 15yo I’d probably remember.

Points: 85

Booker’s 6yo (62.45%, OB, Batch C01-A-18, 750 ml)

In 1987, Booker Noe, grandson of James “Jim” Beauregard Beam (you might have heard of Jim Beam), introduced Booker’s. Booker’s is uncut (so no added water) and thus bottled straight from the barrel. Booker’s friends and to no lesser extent, Booker himself, really liked the cask strength Whiskey, so Booker introduced it to the grand public in 1992, making it the first of Jim Beam’s “small batch series”. Already in 1984 Elmer T. Lee (you might have heard of him as well), from the Buffalo Trace distillery, introduced the first widely available cask strength Bourbon by releasing Blanton’s, so the people at Jim Beam already knew there was a market for these high strength Bourbons.

Other additions to the original Jim Beam small batch collection were: Baker’s, which is 7yo and bottled at 53.5% ABV and Knob Creek, 9yo and reduced to 50% ABV. Essentially all Bourbons made by Jim Beam come from the same recipe, and variations are only made by different ages, different ageing (hotter or cooler parts of the warehouse) and dilution with water. There is one exception though. Basil Hayden’s is a Bourbon made with the original recipe used for Old Grand-Dad which is the final addition to the original small batch series.

Color: Copper orange.

Nose: A short whiff of acetone. Very fragrant and spicy wood. Sawdust and altogether quite floral. Honey, paper and cardboard. Smells of an old barber shop (shaving cream, perfume, old furniture). Fresh almonds and more dusty wood. Cigar box and a minute amount of pencil shavings. Tiny, tiny hint of lavas. Cookie dough and leather. Not very creamy nor sweet, but there is some vanilla to it, however less than expected. Sometimes hot, lots of alcohol and it has a lot of aroma, but still you can’t call this really “big”. Sometimes its even soapy and highly drinkable. A sort of feminine counterpart to Old Grand-Dad. Definitely Jim Beam (Jug) yeast this time, with a minor role for rye. Wood driven, but all kept well in check, very balanced wood. More dust later on, and meaty notes after that. This keeps on giving. Excellent.

Taste: Starts hot, with lots of wood and woody bitterness. Next some wonderful tobacco and even more wood. Waxy, soapy and woody. More honey as well. I gather this came from the hot part of the warehouse. Nutty, fresh almonds and cotton. Slightly perfumy in the taste as well. Funky sensation. Grassy, and sometimes a bit green. Spicy old wood, like in an old attic of a wooden house, thus more perfumy notes. Indistinct hard fruit candy. Yellow fruits, not the reds. Big entry and a big body. Warming, not hot. Remarkably short finish with matching aftertaste (short), nothing mentioned above really stays behind apart from the soapy elements, which takes away a bit from this Bourbon. I can imagine other batches of this bottling have the potential to perform better than this particular expression. This is in a way a bit simple, although the nose showed a lot of complexity. At times it’s a bit to floral, so pick your moment wisely with this batch. Still, this is a very good Bourbon which I can easily recommend.

If I had to pick only a few bottles made by Jim Beam it would be this one and Old Grand Dad 114, these two sum it up for me. This the best they can do, and these two, if you can handle the high ABV. makes all the others a tiny bit obsolete. With these two yeast strains you get all Jim Beam has to offer.

Points: 83

Potter Distilling Company 15yo 1985/2000 (54.9%, Cadenhead, Indian Corn, Bourbon Barrel, 360 bottles)

For the first time on these pages we’ll have a look at a Canadian Whisky, sorry Davin, I hope you can forgive me. This is some sort of oddity considering the place this was distilled as well as the grain used. Let’s start with the latter. It’s easier. For this Whisky, Indian Corn was used. Indian Corn is better known as flint corn, with a hard (as flint) outer layer, making it also suitable for use as popcorn. It has a very low water content, so it is more resistant to freezing than other vegetables and thus pretty resilient under harsh conditions. This is actually one of the three types of corn cultivated by Native Americans hence the name Indian Corn. Most Indian Corn is multi-colored.

Information about The Potter Distilling Company was a bit harder to find. Potter’s Distillers was founded in 1958 by Ernie Potter in Langley B.C. The company first operated as a bottler of Liqueurs but after a few years expanded into spirits. Sometimes the distillery is also known as the Cascadia distillery. In 1962 Captain Harold John Cameron Terry (Born in Australia) bought Potter’s Distillers and headed the business for more than two decades. According to the website of the current owners Highwood Distillers, production was moved in 1990 from Langley B.C. to Kelowna B.C. where it remained until 2006, after which it moved to its roomier current location at High River, Alberta. Does this mean the label of all those Cadenhead’s bottlings are wrong? The Whisky in those bottles was distilled in 1985 (a 14yo, 15yo, 31yo and a 32yo) and 1989 (a 10yo, 11yo, 24yo and a 26yo), but state Kelowna B.C. and not Langley B.C. Oops!

The picture below is from the 11yo, 1989 bottle, but the 15yo I’m about to review, looks exactly the same. Both Whiskies were bottled in 2000. I tried both before buying and I ended up with the 15yo…

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Sweet and fatty, yet very fresh with a nice touch of wood and Bourbon Whiskey. Very big nose. It has two sides to it. One big on creamy notes with vanilla, fudge, caramel, toffee, butter and pudding, you know where this goes. The other side is sharper, like a breath of fresh, very cold air. Nice defined wood, sharp and spicy. Toasted oak and licorice. The alcohol is quite pronounced as well. Notes of mocha. This is a big strong Whisky, which has been open for a long time and these are literally the last few drops from the bottle. Time and air can’t hurt it. Well balanced and slightly dusty now. A wonderful nose, that you need to add to your library of Whisky smells.

Taste: Sweet and tasted blind I might have said Demerara Rum, or Rhum Agricole even. Somewhere in between both. Definitely closer to a Rum, than a Single Malt Whisky. Just like the nose the alcohol is pronounced in the taste as well. Yup, sweet vanilla, warm butter and notes of a liqueur. Hints of toasted oak, tar and caramel and some slightly burnt sugar. Beyond the sweetness, there is more. It does have a certain depth to it. In a way it has something of a Rum, a Bourbon Whisky and the added freshness of a Gin. This is a Chameleon of a drink. The finish is not as long as expected, and a nice warming creamy, buttery and toffee note stays behind for the aftertaste, which is of medium length.

Another bottle finished as I’m writing a review. I’ve had this a for long time (I opened it in 2006). You can’t drink this sweet stuff very quickly. This needs its moments, and if you pick them wisely, you’ll have this around for a while, but every time you’ll get it, it’s great. I’m actually sad its empty, and for old times sake I’ll try to get another one of those Potters by Cadenhead’s. I can be a very sentimental guy sometimes.

Points: 84