200 years of Ardbeg – Interview with Bill Lumsden

May around the world was full of official “Ardbeg Day” celebrations commemorating 200 years of Ardbeg.

Fans of peaty Islay whiskies at some point or the other find their way to Ardbeg. Many keep coming back. You can usually spot an Ardbeg poking around in my whisky cabinet – currently it is the Uigeadail.

Ardbeg 200

I thought what better timing to share a short extract from an interview with Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stock, The Glenmorangie Company in Delhi on 10 April 2015 for Man’s World India. While primarily the interview focused on Glenmorangie, we did chat briefly about its peatier cheekier cousin Ardbeg.

CH: May will be the 200th anniversary of Ardbeg and you have plans to launch a new whisky. Tell us more?

BL: Ahh.. the land of the badgers… The 1st product has already been launched – Perpetuum – with the committee release already out.

The idea is that the distillery has a very checkered history. It has been opened and closed and opened and neglected until LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) took it over. So the idea is that in addition to looking back on what has happened in the last 200 years we are looking ahead to the next 200 years. And we want the distillery to remain open and in production in perpetuity. So that is where the name has come from.

Basically I’ve put together a mélange of lots of different cask types, lots of different styles of Ardbeg that have been made over the years. I tasted it in Sydney on Wednesday and I thought, to be honest, I’m generally my own worst critic but I’m quite happy with how this one has worked out.

We are also going to do another bottling for Ardbeg – a higher end bottling. I’ve already put together a recipe for that. It will be very limited. It will not be a cheap and regret I can’t tell you any more details on that as there hasn’t been a pre-release yet.

CH: Let’s talk about the Committee with now over 100,000 members – its role and future?

BL: The committee has grown to such an extent now with these limited bottlings that inevitably there are people who are going to be disappointed.

I’m not 100% sure about the future direction of the committee. It was formed to make sure that the doors of the distillery never close again and its been very successful in that. So like I say, we are reviewing the committee to see how to take it to the next stage.

Bill Lumsden (Ardbeg Blogger Vault)

Bill Lumsden (Ardbeg Blogger Vault)

Pssstt…. Perpetuum is available at the distillery and also online (though apparently demand ‘broke‘ the website temporarily).

Those lucky enough to sample a bottle – slainthe! For the rest of us – raise a toast with your favourite available Ardbeg and celebrate continued access to this impish Islay distillery!

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Auchentoshan 12 year, Three Wood and 18 year

For those new to their whisky journey, miniatures are a great way to get introduced to popular brands with well-known expressions. However once you venture a bit beyond the standard fare, there aren’t too many miniatures screaming out “pick me!” Chances are you’ve already had the pleasure (or displeasure) of sampling already.
Auchentoshan Trio (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Trio (Whisky Lady)

As I’ve not really explored much Auchentoshan, when a trio of miniatures came with a bottle of Auchentoshan’s Cooper Reserve 14 year, decided this was a duty-free deal I had waited for.

I didn’t have super high expectations as I’ve had “hit and miss” experiences with Auchentoshan. I enjoyed a couple cask strength whiskies I tried years ago at a now defunct whisky bar in Singapore – guided by their ever helpful staff – and I honestly don’t recall any details. Anything I’ve tried since hasn’t measured up – the perils of starting with the ‘good’ stuff!

That said, I’m always game to challenge my opinion and ‘free’ miniatures are the right price-point. After dragging the dregs of the Auchentoshan Cooper Reserve 14 year out of the whisky cabinet last weekend, decided this weekend was high time to give the wee ones a go!

So invited a friend to pop by and we dove into our tasting journey… Being May in Mumbai meant, as my companion nailed it with her comment “Holy *@*! It is hot. May sweet whisky stop the sweat!!” We also had on hand a mini platter of pita, gouda cheese and olives. Turns out the best part of the whiskies was actually the pairing.

Auchentoshan 12 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan 12 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan 12 year 40%

  • Nose – Medicinal, then honey, vanilla, some subtle grass, with a little patience and persistence a bit of woodsiness, stronger vanilla when warmed
  • Taste – Woodsy and generally light, rather frivolous, bland. Think cucumber juice.
  • Finish – Dry, light and not particularly interesting
  • Comments“The kind of whisky people think women want to drink.” “It is like the wine cooler of whiskies.”
  • Overall & pairing – The old biddie of whiskies… like the Harvard Boston Club of whiskies… Works as an accompaniment not the focal point. Pairs quite well with cheese such a gouda.
Auchentoshan Three Wood (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Three Wood (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Three Wood 43%

  • Nose – Raisins, nuts, nutmeg and cloves, like a brandy soaked Christmas fruitcake. As it aired plums joined the mix. Treacle and honey. After sipping, the nose took on pine quality with a flash of mint.
  • Taste – Woody! I daresay yes… three woods? Cinnamon and bitterness on the palate.
  • Finish – Lightly spice, then a dash of bitter.
  • Overall & Pairing – Finally a speck of character! However it is a bit like having Christmas in May – interesting but not the real deal. Again much better paired with light nibbles – especially cheese.
Auchentoshan 18 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan 18 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan 18 year

  • Nose – Honey notes with heather and sage, as it breathes apples and pears join the mix, vanilla like the 12 year
  • Taste – Superficially woodsy, not fruity. After a nice break and some pita with cheese, faint walnut element
  • Finish – Slow to start with an odd spicy kick after a bit
  • Overall – While often 18 years is often a great ‘age’ for Scottish whiskies, in this case well… ok… nothing specifically wrong but also nothing distinctly right either

We found all of them went better with a little cheese. We also let all three air and found the 12 year simply became more sweetly bland with time, 18 year didn’t alter much and the Three Wood kept doing its little Christmas in summer routine.

So what’s the verdict on the trio? If you want an easy drinking whisky where the focus is on something else, heck one of these might do. If I had to pick, I found the Three Wood the most interesting whereas my friend thought the 12 year would do when your expectation was a ‘background’ whisky.

Would either of us be tempted to dash out and buy a bottle of these? Nope.

AUchentoshan Trio (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Trio (Whisky Lady)

In closing, we also polished off the last drops of the Cooper’s Reserve 14 year just to see how all four expressions compared. I don’t mean to sound uncharitable, but the Cooper’s Reserve decidedly had the most character. Which given my overall opinion of it solo, isn’t saying much.

Auchentoshan Collection (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Collection (Whisky Lady)

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Teeling Single Malt 46% (Bottled 10/2014)

Our May 2015 tasting session included three distinctly different whiskies from Scotland (Deanston), USA (Hudson) and this one from Ireland. As usual, we sampled it blind to reduce any influence of a particular brand or previous experience.
Teeling (Whisky Lady)

Teeling (Whisky Lady)

Teeling 46% Bottled 10/2014
  • Colour – Deep amber
  • Nose – Oh happiness and joy! Deep, strong character, while the first whiff has tar and leather, it soon mellows into a delicious spicy honey, a tart hint of lime, warm vanilla… after the first sip, strong cinnamon, plums, yum!!
  • Taste – Robust with a chewy depth, initially summer strawberries which later deepened into plums, envelops you with a delectable cocoa warmth, sooooo smooth and well balanced
  • Finish – Nice chewy finish that lingers
  • Water – Doesn’t overly dilute the character, however doesn’t reveal anything new either… can be added if you want to extend your sipping slightly…
  • Overall experience – An imminently SOCIABLE whisky.

It was uncanny how after just a few sips, the chatter rose, sparked animated banter with amusing faffery. As a practice, we never re-pour during our initial tasting, however at first one, then another and another reached for the bottle to have just a wee bit more…

In a way, it was hard to pinpoint down precisely why it is such a likeable whisky. It isn’t sweet, isn’t spicey or smoky. It’s simply a most enjoyable dram with a decided “feel good factor.” It also re-inforced our overall positive take on Irish whiskies.
After airing – still yum however wouldn’t pair with food. Instead, this is a whisky to kick back and enjoy with a bunch of mates. Don’t expect wonders but do expect to have a rollicking good time! One I would consider adding to my cabinet if the opportunity arises…
Teeling (Whisky Lady)

Teeling (Whisky Lady)

More about the whisky:
  • Teeling’s single malt contains whiskies aged for up to 23 years
  • Matured in a range of wine casks: sherry, port, Madeira, white Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Small batch production

May whiskies snapshot:

What others are saying:

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Deanston Virgin Oak NAS 46.3%

Our May 2015 tasting session featured whiskies from three countries – USA, Scotland and Ireland. We found the quality and appeal of this trio extreme from ‘disaster – do yourself a favour and don’t buy!’ (Hudson) to ‘decent but disappointing’ (Deanston) and utter ‘delight’ with “More! Please sir may I have some more!’ (Teeling)

The Scottish whisky was one sampled previously and earlier a favourite of our host. As always, we tasted blind so would not be influenced by anything other than the immediate whisky experience.

Deanston NAS 46.3% (Whisky Lady)

Deanston NAS 46.3% (Whisky Lady)

Deanston Virgin Oak NAS 46.3% 
  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Initially quite fruity with lime and vanilla, as it warms up, has a french lemony sweet aftershave kind of quality  – think Brut! The overall sense even before the 1st sip is that of a young, fresh, delicate whisky. After the 1st sip, whiff of crunchy green apples, nutmeg, strong honey
  • Taste – A fizzy tingly on the tongue, warm yet alas narry a hint of complexity, most found it a bit bland
  • Finish – Limited and sweet
  • Water – Nope! Don’t go there. Even diluting with only a few drops makes it simply too weak and waters down the light nose
  • Immediate reactions “OK but… maybe a good whisky for people who don’t drink whisky.” Ouch! Honestly, while there was nothing wrong with the whisky, it just somehow didn’t quite strike a strong chord. A few more descriptions bandied about were “bland” and “insipid.”
With more time to breath…
  • I used the lacklustre initial impression as an opportunity to see how it would fare after oxidating for 20 – 30 mins or so. Unlike the Nikka Takesturu 17 year or Chichibu French Oak Cask, I strongly suspected the Deanston would not improve with more time to breathe
  • Sure enough, a half hour later found the nose had dramatically changed to a pronounced sour curd – not in a pleasant way – with none of the initial fruity citrus sweet
  • On the palate? Remained decent but yes… bland

Our host shared:

“I first bought Deanston 10 years ago and it was excellent! Then my next bottle was about five years ago and it was so so. This one? (sigh)… Disappointing” 
I was curious about how this compared with our previous Deanston experiences, so I dug out our sampling records:
  • Deanston 46.3% in April 2012 – I missed this tasting session but another member noted how “We liked the bitter chocolate”
  • Deanston 12 year in June 2013 – For this one, we found “Nuanced nose with over ripe fruit, sweet and spicy on the palate, lovely finish with a hint of spice that slowly dissipated. Delightful!”

The label provides no indication of the year the whisky was bottled, so it is difficult to say whether the whisky or our tastes have changed so dramatically over the years. The only detail it does share is that it is finished in virgin oak casks and is un-chill filtered. I suspect the virgin oak element was what didn’t meet our collective palate.

Deanston up close... (Whisky Lady)

Deanston up close… (Whisky Lady)

In fairness, this isn’t such a bad dram… Unfortunately it just isn’t one that stands out. I’m a firm believer that whisky preferences are highly personal and it all depends on what appeals to your palate. Even though it clearly wasn’t the favourite of the evening, it was one whisky we could pinpoint as ‘Deanston’ even before the reveal. Which means something somewhere has registered as being distinctly ‘Deanston.’  Perhaps in a different mood, setting or a different set of expectations, it would shine more.
What others say:

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Hudson Single Malt Whiskey 46% (2014, Batch 1)

In our quest to sample interesting drams, members of our whisky tasting group sometime just gamble and grab when an unfamiliar bottle presents itself – without the chance for  advance research.

That is exactly how years ago, long before the rave reviews, Sullivans Cove found its way into one member’s collection. He was curious about what Tasmania produces… And lucky us… his curiosity lead to our sampling a great whisky at a time it was sold out in most markets.

The thing about a surprise is that while it can be a delight, it equally can be a disaster.

In the case of this Hudson, one member stumbled across the craft distillery while traveling in the US. Attractively encased in a squat 375 ml old style apothecary bottle, its bright ruby-red beckons, hand labeled with the year, batch and bottle… however… the proof is always in the blind sampling where packaging has no influence!

This is what we found in our May 2015 tasting session…

Hudson Singel Malt Whiskey

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey (Whisky Lady)

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey 46%
2014, Batch 1, Bottle 282
  • Colour – Ruby red
  • Nose – Cherries, pear, then a peculiar strong varnish, just too ‘woody’, musty
  • Taste – Flat and frankly yuck! Spat out by more than one… just too woody in the wrong way. In short – no one liked it. No one could even describe it on their palate because it was not even remotely close to what we seek in a whisky
  • Finish – Bitter in an annoying way but blessedly short
  • Water – Spicy and double yuck!
More info:
  • Tuthilltown Spirits from Gardiner, NY is a micro distillery opened in 2003 and acquired by William Grant and Sons in 2010
  • It produces the Hudson whiskey range – named for its location in the Hudson Valley – along with vodka, gin and other spirits
  • They pride themselves on being a ‘craft’ distillery and focus on using local grains – from farmers less than 10 miles away
  • In this case, it is 100% malted barley, pot-stilled and aged under 4 years in charred new oak ‘petite’ barrels (according to the label)
We speculated that high contact between new make spirit and wood in smaller barrels, in this case, simply does not produce the aromas and flavours we find appealing.
In reading further about this whiskey, I understand they have a two-step process:
  • Split the spirit then age part for approx 6 months in ‘petite’ casks (3 gallon barrels) and the balance for 18 – 24 months in 14 gallon barrels
  • Then blend the two together until make the whiskey profile
The results for us were very much in the ‘disappointing’ territory – for our host clearly the ‘disaster’ end of the spectrum as he had expectations of something distinctive in a positive way.

Hudson close-up (Whisky Lady)

While it is always interesting to try something unfamiliar, none would buy it and I wonder how our friend will dispose of the balance? Would it work in a reduction sauce over a red meat? (suggests the vegetarian). Perhaps a cocktail??

It is notable that the distiller suggests putting the single malt in a Manhattan variation with Pinot Noir, rosemary syrup, raspberry purée, lime and plum bitters… not an appealing sounding combination to me. However I’m decidedly against sweet ‘girly’ drinks. Give me a dirty martini over a Manhattan any day!

Truth be told, many months later our host generously donated this bottle to the Whisky Ladies for our American cocktail evening. Still nothing brilliant but either oxidation toned down the varnish or the ladies were in a more charitable mood that evening given it was contrasted with Jim Beam and JD!

As we venture beyond the average fare, we are bound to have a few misses with our hits. Which makes me all the more appreciative of options to buy whisky in smaller bottles – 375 ml like this one, 500 ml like my still un-opened KininVie or the whiskies I found in Tokyo with 180 ml (Chita & Nikka) and 200 ml (Ichiro’s Houou-uhi) bottles. These are a great way to share a sample with a few folks and then only splurge for the ‘full’ volume if the whisky achieves ‘full’ favour!

Normally, after I write our tasting notes, I like to see what others have to say. In this case I’m frankly puzzled… some folks seem to LIKE this whiskey which, to our collective palates, bordered on the undrinkable territory. This may partly be due to significant differences between what was produced in 2011 (most reviews seem to be from this year) and 2014 (our bottle).

Here are a few reviews I found interesting:

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MW Interview with Dr Bill Lumsden

It is finally out!! Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing for Man’s World the one and only Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stock for The Glenmorangie Company in Delhi. There is a certain delicious irony about a “Whisky Lady” invading a “Man’s World.”

We had a one-on-one and covered oodles of topics. The published interview touched on:

  • 30 year perspective on the industry
  • Taking risks with wood and inadvertently taking on the Scotch Whisky Association
  • Experiments with unexpected results such as the Elanta
  • Jim Murray‘s comments on Scottish whisky needing to ‘wake-up‘ to the threat of world whiskies
  • Trends in how whisky is consumed
  • Ardbeg’s 200th year celebration whisky Perpetuum

A rather unreadable scanned version is here…

2015-05-MW-Bill Lumsden interview Carissa Hickling

For those in India – go pick up a copy of the May 2015 Man’s World!

For those not in India – patience. Perhaps one of these days the interview will be released online

Man's World May 2015 Cover

For a glimpse of the whisky and food pairing at The Oberoi, Delhi check out Glenmorangie Evening.

I’m also planning blog versions of a few gems different from the MW interview. So stay tuned!!

Psst – Full interview now available here!

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Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14 year

I spotted this duty-free release a few years ago with its bonus of three miniature expressions and thought – why not!?

Auchentoshan is sometimes called a ‘breakfast’ whisky as it is light and sweet. They are also known for ‘triple distilling‘ which Auchentoshan claims is responsible for their ‘gentle complex flavours.’

Now… perhaps as a tasting group we lack the ability to discern such subtle quality… however the reason we’ve barely explored expressions from this Lowland distillery is generally individual samplings have been disappointing.

This particular one, the Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14 year was matured in American bourbon casks then Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.

Auchentoshan Cooper's Reserve 14 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14 year (Whisky Lady)

We first sampled it in September 2013, and given our lacklustre impression of the distillery, when the whisky was revealed, most were pleasantly surprised… Here’s what we had to say then:

Bright amber in colour, a delightful banana, caramel and pear on the nose. Dry yet still sweet on the palate, very smooth with a spicy finish that lingers with a hint of dried fruit. Add water and the peat peaks out both in the nose and palate. Pronounced quite lovely and definitely one to enjoy.

With the unveiling, more than one taster shared their mixed experience with Auchentoshan – having a few ‘duds’ and some ‘delights’ this one at least was in the positive category.

Post this, I must admit, I tried it a few times but wasn’t overly attracted to its character. It then was left  neglected at the back of the whisky cabinet, occasionally trotted out for social evenings.

When I was recently re-organising the whisky cabinet, decided it was time to re-sample – keeping in mind this particular bottle is in a far from optimal condition! I also saved just enough for one last dram to compare alongside the miniatures which have yet to be opened… (further indication haven’t been inspired!)

Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14 year 46%

  • Colour – Amber
  • Nose – Immediate stamp of both casks – bourbon and sherry, raisins, orange with something else swirling about – pear?, toffee sweet but also sharp. As it continued to breathe – chopped almost rancid nuts, dampening the citrus, shifting into a sour almost olive-like quality
  • Taste – Nutty, musty, citrus tart, with a chewy bitter oaky element
  • Finish – Bitter oak, old walnuts, warm
  • Water – Adding a dash brightens it up considerably – clean, crisp sweet nose with a wisp of woodiness, spice for a second that mellows into woodsy sparkly sweetness and finishes with a mildly bitter burn
Auchentoshan Cooper's Reserve 14 year (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan Cooper’s Reserve 14 year (Whisky Lady)

Do I like it?

Hmm… the very fact there isn’t an instant ‘yum’ tells you something. What I found is I couldn’t quite get past the slightly unpleasant nuttiness in this whisky. Perhaps entirely my fault as the bottle sat open too long, but old rancid walnuts isn’t my ‘nuttiness note’ of choice!

Overall it is a clean straight forward whisky without the depth and complexity that I find interesting.

Will this make me into an Auchentoshan convert? No… however will see if there is one gem in those cute little miniatures – the 12 year, three wood and 18 year. When I get around to trying…

PS – I did try the miniatures in May 2015… see the notes here.

Auchentoshan Collection (Whisky Lady)

Auchentoshan collection (Whisky Lady)

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