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New Whiskies

Batch 190

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Ardbeg Drum, Mortlach 1998 from Whisky Illuminati and 1987 from Gordon & MacPhail's Connoisseur's Choice, Clynelish 1989 from Gordon & MacPhail's Connoisseur's Choice, Ben Nevis 22-year-old from Thompson Brothers and Littlemill 40-year-old.

Islay, Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside… Dave Broom travels the length and breadth of Scotland this week, with luxury bottlings rubbing shoulders with hotly-anticipated limited releases.

Ardbeg Drum, the cult Islay distillery’s 2019 Committee bottling for Ardbeg Day (1 June), and its first stab at rum cask-finishing, is surprisingly quiet for such a rowdy distillery but Broom finds it a bit of ‘easy-drinking fun’. Good luck getting your hands on one, though.

A 22-year-old single cask Ben Nevis bottled by the Thompson brothers (the duo behind Dornoch distillery and neighbouring hotel) is found to be a typical Nevis offering with Weetabix, sour cream and oiliness, but a good one at that.

On to the first of two Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) Connoisseurs Choice bottlings. A 1989 Clynelish is ‘fragrant and rewarding’ although Broom reckons after 28 years it’s only just getting going.

Down to the Lowlands now, as a 40-year-old Littlemill is so full of wood on the nose it reminds Broom of a workshop – in a good way. One to seek out if you have £6,000 to spend.

Back to G&M for the first in a duo of Mortlachs, as a 31-year-old Sherry bomb detonates with notes of roasted meat and earthy, cask-forward elements.

The final expression, another Sherry-matured Mortlach bottled by Whisky Illuminati, is almost Port-like in its consistency. Water thins things out substantially, so best enjoy it as nature intended.

The soundtrack to this week’s batch is suitably eclectic, ranging from the beaches of the Caribbean to the concert halls of Germany. Hit the links in ‘Right Place, Right Time’ to hear more.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg Drum, Committee Edition

    Ardbeg Drum, Committee Edition
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Availability
    Ardbeg Committee Exclusive
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    A surprisingly intense resinous opening, which smells like a green pine tree thrown on to a bonfire, juniper, then some mirabelle plum skin and curry leaf. The smoke is there along with a slightly vegetal note, vetiver (not for the only time this week), bay rum-scented shaving soap and light tamarind. When water is added you get more eucalyptus, wintergreen, smoked tropical fruits and light chocolate.

    Palate

    Initially relatively quiet. Dry smoke (burning paper) then black pepper and more of the resin. It then starts to sweeten, with banana elements developing along with smoked cashew. That smokiness starts to assert itself more strongly. With water added you get anise-accented herbal elements mixing with a little menthol, but also a growing and balancing succulent sweetness coming through – probably that rum cask finish kicking in – but give it more time than you might have allocated.

    Finish

    Chocolate and smoke, with a hint of barbecued pineapple.

    Conclusion

    Slightly hard to get your head around, but once you get things sorted it’s a lot of easy-drinking fun.

    Right place, right time

    Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, but landing safely.

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    Ben Nevis 22 Years Old (Thompson Brothers)

    Ben Nevis 22 Years Old (Thompson Brothers)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    44.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    There’s a distinct oiliness to start with, that mixes together warm baby lotion and massage oil with a background of rendering pig fat and tallow candles. While this fatty element continues, in time you also pick up a juicier mix of sweet potato, soft fruits and then a whiff of soured cream. The fattiness continues with water alongside Crowdie cheese, plasticine and orchard fruit.

    Palate

    It’s surprising how, after that nose, things start quite dry with a previously hidden cereal crispness (think Weetabix) and firm oak. Then those fruits re-emerge, syrupy now before it deepens into an almost meaty quality. Though less densely concentrated than the nose, it is mouth-filling and juicy. Dilution makes the fat start to run again along with some fennel seed notes. Though it doesn’t carry fully to the finish, there’s a delicious fruity quality…

    Finish

    …before it crisps up once again.

    Conclusion

    Hey it’s Ben Nevis, it’s what you expect (and demand, in fact).

    Right place, right time

    Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Ben Nevis.

    Clynelish 28 Years Old, 1989, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Clynelish 28 Years Old, 1989, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    49.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Availability
    Asia, Oceania and Americas exclusive
    Flavour camp
    Fragrant & Floral
    Nose

    At work in a candlemaker’s shop, although wax is used here rather than the tallow seen in the Ben Nevis, but there’s also custard and apple, baked quince, pineapple chunks, a light spiciness and then a twist of sweet orange. Has a sweet, almost candied quality which reminds you of birthday cake. Water brings out even more of that fondant icing quality along with a light chalkiness, more wax and in time a very pure note of green banana, apple and Williams pear.

    Palate

    A very sweet and slightly powdery start, then comes an unctuous and classically waxy mid-palate, seeking out every crevice and cranny. There’s a very light touch on the oak. It’s all snuffed candle, tangerine and some inevitably waxy florals. Though the texture is unaffected when water is added, you get an increase in perfume, red tropical fruits and pink blancmange.

    Finish

    Ginger in syrup, apple, then floral and a little minty.

    Conclusion

    Fragrant and rewarding. The feeling that it’s only now getting going. Recommended, though you’ll have to go to Asia and Australia to find it.

    Right place, right time

    Today’s your Birthday? Celebrate!

    Littlemill 40 Years Old

    Littlemill 40 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Lowland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    A cabinet maker’s workshop, with added rosebud, sandalwood and amber, then bergamot, dried citrus, vetiver, then toffee. Whether you decide to drink it or wear it, this manages to be decidedly well oaked, yet not in a manner where the distillate is overwhelmed. Instead the effect is of something solidly hewn and assertive. Blooms with water with added layers of turmeric, silver polish, black fruits and tobacco.

    Palate

    Opens with cedary elements, but there’s dense (red and black) fruit as well, adding balance and a pleasant stickiness to the mid-palate. The back palate mixes some coffee-accented bitterness, walnut and fruit cake. Altogether intense and bold with real quality. Water doesn’t spoil things: now you get more of the berries and while there’s more of a grip, there’s also a previously obscured peachiness in the background.

    Finish

    Fruity and long.

    Conclusion

    Littlemill can be frustrating, but when it’s on form? Boy, is it good. This is one of those. Recommended.

    Right place, right time

    A sense of Remembrance for time passed.

    Mortlach 31 Years Old, 1987, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)

    Mortlach 31 Years Old, 1987, Connoisseurs Choice (G&M)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    54%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    There’s a whiff of cigar ash that pushes you towards a sense of dryness – rustling autumn leaves, old warehouse – before some Bovril emerges saying: ‘I’m Mortlach’. While things take a while to get going, you pick up deeper, earthier Sherried elements in time, prune especially. With water it recedes again into the woods. Slightly shy… for a Mortlach.

    Palate

    It’s saving itself for the palate. A similar dunnage note here, with more bung cloth, then some funky oxidised elements. There’s good distillery character, roasted meat, chocolate and hints of clove with that continuing dry earthiness. The tannins are supple. Water shakes it up a little but adds in dried fruits and more spice – ginger and sansho pepper, in fact.

    Finish

    Oaky, peppery and dry.

    Conclusion

    Dry and slightly restrained, but a rock solid Mortlach.

    Right place, right time

    Oscillations of distillery and woods.

    Mortlach 19 Years Old, 1998 (Whisky Illumninati)

    Mortlach 19 Years Old, 1998 (Whisky Illumninati)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    56%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Huge, sweet and fruity, all brandy-soaked Christmas cake with some burnt, deglazed roasting tin elements as the distillery sulphur continues to transform itself. Moves into thick treacle toffee, then liquorice, cedar and savoury sweetness which develops into stewing black fruits. Remarkably sweet given the clear impact of cask. Water brings out a mix of tamari, beef in oyster sauce, then Kola Kubes.

    Palate

    A lighter-bodied distillery character would have seen the whisky totally dominated by oak, but this is Mortlach we’re talking about so, neat, you get black cherry then gingerbread, followed by charred meat before a pick-up of sloe berry bitterness. Concentrated, meaty, yet sweet – all of which is somehow balanced. That all changes when water is added and a powerful astringency takes over, disturbing the balance though not obliterating the meatiness.

    Finish

    Almost Port-like when neat.

    Conclusion

    Significantly more substantial than the G&M – showy and resonant. Avoid water at all costs and rejoice in its neat delights.

    Right place, right time

    Positively Wagnerian in stature.

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