Rare bottlings

Rare Batch 4

by
Ardbeg distillery

This month’s threesome from the whisky vaults includes two from that epicentre of peaty whisky creation, Islay’s Kildalton coast: a much sought-after single cask Ardbeg and a Sherried Laphroaig with an elusive character. There’s also a benchmark blend of impeccable age and provenance from Whyte & Mackay.

First out of the vault comes a single cask of Ardbeg, which was bottled for dear old Oddbins back in 2004. It apparently sold out in 90 minutes. How many of those bottles are left is unknown. If, however, someone offers you a try – or you see it in a bar – then do not hesitate. This is a classic.

Bottled for La Maison du Whisky with a run of only 900 bottles, next we have a Sherried Laphroaig – a departure from the distillery’s more typical use of ex-Bourbon barrels, and a cask type mostly reserved for long-term maturation – as is the case here.

Lastly, Whyte & Mackay 40-year-old is a venerable blend made up of casks which were all filled on 16 June, 1966 – the sort of detail that only Whyte & Mackay master distiller Richard Paterson would dream up. It was bottled in tribute to John MacIlwraith, one of Whyte & Mackay’s former managing directors who, amazingly, worked for the firm for 70 years – almost as long as Richard’s been there!

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg 1972 (bottled 2004), single cask #866

    Score 9.2/10
    Scoring explained >
    Ardbeg 1972 (bottled 2004), single cask #866
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    48.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Classic old Ardbeg, with that mix of real honeyed sweetness and a peaty aspect, which seems to be sealed in halibut oil capsules alongside moss, kelp, engine oil and eucalypt. In other words it’s phenolic, rather than smoky, and all of this is fully assimilated into an elegant, oily mass. In time, a note that brings to mind smoked mozzarella. After it has breathed for an hour, you get the blast of wide, airy spaces next to the strand – and lanolin.

    Palate

    The sooty element is now more apparent, alongside Bay Rum and bog myrtle, but it fluxes around the sweet core. Slightly fragile, as you might expect. With a drop of water there’s some peppermint, angelica, almond oil and pineapple.

    Finish

    Long… endless. 

    Conclusion

    A superlative bottling.

    Right place, right time

    Listening to Martyn Bennett.

    Laphroaig 31 Years Old (distilled 1974)

    Score 9.4/10
    Scoring explained >
    Laphroaig 31 Years Old (distilled 1974)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    49.7%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    I find it strangely shy to begin with, especially since the ruby red colour suggests this has spent a long time in first fill Sherry. There’s a slightly singed, crusted note with whiffs of a tackroom: saddle soap, hoof glue, leather behind which you find gentle, soft orchard and tropical fruits, which are unusual in Laphroaig. Tight and closed, it needs time and a splash to open up its shutters, when out comes classic old church aromas. After an hour it becomes more tarry.

    Palate

    Amazingly, the palate is all tropical fruits to the fore, dominating the front palate. The smoke only starts to build from the mid-palate onwards, slowly increasing in power, while the Sherried element is always in check – it’s just the touches of treacle on the end that suggests it’s there at all.

    Finish

    Long, fruity. slightly tarry.

    Conclusion

    A counter-intuitive Laphroaig. It should be massive, and tannic, and medicinal. Instead, it is fruity and smoked. Extraordinary. 

    Right place, right time

    Try this with Aine O’Dwyer’s marvellous solo organ improvisations Music For Church Cleaners.

    Whyte & Mackay 40 Years Old

    Score 8.8/10
    Scoring explained >
    Whyte & Mackay 40 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40%
    Production type
    Blended Scotch whisky
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Initially, this has some of that wonderful cheesy quality which you can get from really old, high-quality Oloroso Sherry – and there have been plenty of Sherry casks used here. Somewhat akin to an old-style cobbler’s: boot polish, machine oil, but then comes dried apricot, black cherry and a hay loft in summer. More rancio now begins to emerge and the Sherry shifts into Palo Cortado.

    Palate

    Rich certainly, but the fruits have now been elevated into this purity. There’s raisin, roasted red pepper and acidic intensity, rancio and black autumn fruits.

    Finish

    Liquid chocolate.

    Conclusion

    A high malt content blend and a sumptuous one at that. 

    Right place, right time

    Sneaking round the back streets of Jerez in freshly polished boots. 

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