A new gateway to the western lands of Scotland on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, where new whisky experiences are currently being created.
This is the third time we've been here (and in my opinion it's far from over). The Ardnamurchan distillery is now at cruising speed and has even just released its second official version on AD 01.21.01 (already a victim of its own success), but today we are going to participate in cask release experiments.
To go to one of the three warehouses of the distillery where we have an appointment with Jenny K (for anonymity) who is already called the "Dancey girl"! She has to show us the extent of the know-how of the distillery's teams in terms of finish.
When we arrive in the building, she welcomes us with a smile and leads us to three barrels containing the day's tastings: a barrel of champagne, a barrel of bourbon and a large barrel of sherry oloroso. Next to it, in terms of reference, is also the first real production of the distillery on AD/09.20:01 (which we have already had the opportunity to taste together).
So today, we will taste raw whiskies from peated and not peated casks! Watch out for the eyes!
Knowing where I come from with my Brad Peat, Jenny starts the tasting with a cask that is not a whisky cask at all! By the time she uses the taffy bung to let out a few drops for the tasting, she explains the experience to me.
On the bottom of the cask, like many casks here, is noted ARDNAMURCHAN DISTILLERY, but also 364 and 2014. But another name appears: Paul LAUNOIS! I look at Jenny and say to her : " but this comes from my country ! Is that champagne? ».
She then tells me that like the distillery, these casks - there are several in a corner - were chosen by the cellar master because this champagne producer Du Mesnil sur Oger (between Châlons-en-Champagne and Epernay -NDLR-) has an approach to production that is quite similar to that of a distillery (i.e. the production of Champagne in a single cask).
Also, being at the end of 2020 (at the time of this adventure), the first whisky that she makes me taste has just spent 6 years (since it was distilled in November 2014 - year of creation of the distillery -NDLR-) in a champagne cask!
The liquid that comes out of the pipe and flows into the glass is of a beautiful, almost brown colour. Let us recall here that although champagne is a sparkling wine, it is still a wine, and as often happens in old wine casks, it tends to colour the distillate well.
And the distillate precisely! As we have already seen in previous tastings, the distillery produces a peated and a non-peated one. And it is the latter that has been chosen here to pass through this champagne cask (perhaps to avoid ending up with a peat that would perhaps mask the refining work). It is also with this one that we are going to start to avoid our palate being too "smoky".
So, then, we can't wait any longer, what does the magnificent work of the distillery in a champagne cask do!
It is always a real pleasure to taste a whisky that comes straight from its cask.
When the nose approaches the glass, it will detect the vinous character of the distillate (a bit like when you approach an empty wine barrel). However, it will be quite different when the nose is actually immersed in the glass.
Indeed, even if the whisky still has an alcohol content of 58,2% by volume, the first sensations will be sweet with a very pleasant pastry aspect. However, don't be mistaken, the pepper rises to the nose when one inhales a little too much! Come out before the nose catches fire!
At the second passage, the approach will be more the same as one could have with a "sherry" whisky with beautiful grape and red fruit smells (let's remember once again that champagne is a wine!).
The third passage remains on the fruit of the orchard (a white peach for example) but with a hint of smoke and earth. Curious when you know that you are on a peninsula and that you could expect sea air! But maybe that's the impact of ageing.
Time for Jenny to wish you a good tasting and here is the distillate in your mouth!
This whisky is a pastry cream. When it enters the mouth. The first sensation would make you forget its alcohol level. But let's not be mistaken here again, the power comes out quickly with a powerful hint of pepper that moves into harshness quite quickly. Then the trade winds of the west coast of Scotland calmed down to give way to a surprising strawberry tagada. As we go back to childhood with the candy, the spices come back and settle on the palate and then on the tongue. The overall sensation nevertheless remains thick and mellow, and finishes its journey on a honeyed note.
Once swallowed, the finish is quite long and will leave lemony and fresh notes, accompanied by a hint of smoke in the throat. In the mouth the remains of the passage will be more bitter (effect of the wine barrel).
What a start!
Let's quickly move on to the peat !unique).
Jenny presents us with the second barrel of the day. It is a 180 l bourbon cask. It bears the n° 371 and the whisky inside was distilled at the end of July 2015 (let us note or recall here the concern of precision and traceability wanted by the distillery). The distillate (peated this time) remained inside for 5 years. But beware, it has an alcohol content of 59,2 %.
The objective announced here is to show the peaty realisation of the distillery in its true nature and to compare it with its colleagues (let us recall that although there is currently a race for different types of ageing and finish, a large part of the whiskies produced are aged in bourbon casks).
The liquid that is poured into the glass by Jenny is much clearer than the previous one. It has nevertheless a slightly dark golden colour.
So Ardnamurchan peat?
When the nose approaches the glass, it will detect a sweetness of caramel but no peat.
The least we can say is that the strength and peat is under control!
When the nose plunges into the glass, the smells that come out are paradoxically sweet and lemony. One can attribute a farming character to this whisky. It smells of barley and earth. It is only when you stay in the glass that you will finally see the very discreet peat appear. It shows great freshness but not aggressiveness (despite its degree).
The second passage will be under the sign of biscuits with vanilla aromas, but as if it could no longer hold its strength, the distillate releases a big handful of spices.
However, in the third passage they disappear and its agricultural character is restored.
The peat is well controlled and discreet. You have to put a few drops of distillate in your hand to really feel it. I am telling you that the peat of Ardnamurchan will not be the peat of Islay or Skye, it will be the peat of Ardnamurchan (word of PEATDREAM).
And in the mouth?
The entry in the mouth is soft with notes of cake. Of course there is a hint of peat. Very gently, it opens up and burns the tongue with its spices, but almost 60% of the volume is controlled. Hardly the time to say it and the trade winds are unleashed in the mouth. As if strong waves had just hit an island, the tongue, which on the sweetness of honey is surrounded on all sides by iodine and spices that hit it and dry out the beaches. When the storm calms down an apple falls from a tree because of a peat fire!
When swallowed, the finish is quite long but remains soft and fresh. We will detect the peaty tip (that's what we're here for anyway) but also after a while a stick of liquorice.
We ask for more because as it ages it should reveal itself well.
What if we end up with peat and sherry?
The last barrel that Jenny presents to us is significantly larger than the previous one. We are now in Spain with a former Oloroso hogshead barrel (250 l).
Logically, the distillate in our glass has a beautiful terra cota colour because it has been in a sherry cask for 5 years (that would make more than one!). We have a sherry bomb in front of us!
Before plunging the nose completely into the glass one smells caramel and then one will be on a certain fruity warmth. After a few minutes one can even detect a very light peatiness.
By plunging it further in, the first sensation will be that of the barrel and not that of the distillate. This whisky needs to be opened. Precisely when it is more open, you will not make a mistake, you will be on a sherry bomb. Red fruits (cherries, strawberries, grapes) and spices after a while.
At the second passage, very far away the peat hides behind prunes and cloves.
The fruity side remains quite present on the third passage with a hint of seafood which comes in to refresh the atmosphere.
The peat is just detected by a passage in the palm of the hand.
On the palate, one clearly detects sherry ageing with ripe cherries but also and quickly harshness. The atmosphere is nevertheless warm and mellow. Spices prick the tongue before evaporating and leaving honey in the mouth. A clove stings the throat for a moment to disappear and give way to a hint of sea.
It is really necessary to know that we are dealing with a peated whisky. Only the air at the moment of entry into the mouth shows it and the finish shows it.
The finish is shorter than the previous one and leaves a soft and warm mouthfeel.
Contrary to the two previous barrels, this last ageing will be more usual, more marked sherry and less marked peat. We will have to see as we age, but we have the impression that the Ardnamurchan distillate is loaded with sherry. Personally, I prefer the 2019/AD version (which we have already tasted together) which "mixes peated and non-peat, sherry and bourbon...".
To finish this tasting, Jenny suggests that we take the AD 01.21.01 as a reference (but I'll leave you to discover here the tasting I was able to make of it).
It is with great regret that I have to leave the Ardnamurchan peninsula to fly to new adventures.