Four anCnocks, Edinburgh style.
This is one of the whiskies in our cupboard which has a (brief) story behind it. Like the Caol Ila 18, this one is a pick by the wife. While in Edinburgh a year ago, we stopped by the very same whisky shop where my single-malt obsession began many years ago. A friendly, energetic woman invited us for a taste of her wares and had on a little table a number of Balblair, anCnoc, Speyburn and Old Pulteney whiskies. These are all owned by the same conglomerate, ThaiBev.
We tried the anCnocs and my wife was quite taken by the one in black — the Rascan. I remember liking all three of the anCnoc whiskies, so when the anCnoc 12 appeared at our local shop, I was amenable when the wife suggested we give it a go.
Caol Ila 18..what has it to do with an old stompbox? Just the colors…eerie!
My wife and I each have a favorite island whisky, a whisky that has a twist. In both cases, the twist is a medicinal quality brought forward by the phenols imparted by the peat smoke used to dry the malt. The expressions and their unique flavors vary between distillers. For me, the peaty, weird island favorite is Talisker. For my wife, it is Caol Ila.
We came upon Caol Ila off-handed: a neighbor brought a bottle of the 12 to a tasting at my house and said, “Someone gave me this, I don’t like it. You can have it.” I am not one to turn down a single malt. I thought the flavor a bit odd; it had a hint of nineteenth century mouthwash. But the wife lit right up. “I like this stuff,” she proclaimed, and grabbed the bottle. We’ve had it on hand since as a peaty alternative to the usual ‘nice’ drams like Glenmorangie, which she favors as a daily driver. I’ve even got used to it.
This post will appeal best to those who read The Economist. If that’s not you, this entry will appear rather wonkish; you might want to skip to the bottom for the summary of tested expressions.
NAS as a concept has taken the industry by storm in the last five years. This trend is driven by two factors: a restriction in supply of aged whisky used in traditional expressions and increased demand in the Far East (backstopped by continuing popularity in the West). And unlike other products, the supply of suitably aged whisky is restrained in an insurmountable way: there is no way to go back in time and put more whisky in barrels.
The supply and demand interaction has two facets: if the distillers don’t react to higher demand with higher volume, the inevitable result is higher prices for their product and customer discontent; secondly, if the distillers fail to capture their share of the growing market, they risk losing market share to rivals.
I thought ‘Astar’ sounded Far Eastern, so paired this one up with Ganesha.
I have my wife to thank for the Astar. She had spotted an unpeated Caol Ila she wanted to try. We went to the local shop together and spotted Astar. We both like Glenmorangie’s offerings – they are reliably well done, balanced and focused. Their 10-year is a standard for us and what I serve guests who want to try a single malt for the first time. We have had tastings with the sherry, port and sauterne finished versions and they were well received. I also have a bottle of the ‘very rare’ 18-year old, which is some serious whisky. At $115 locally, it should be.
The Astar is nearly as expensive at $99.95 and caught the good wife’s eye. If regular Glenmorangie was good, she reasoned, this expression, aged in barrels crafted with select woods, must be better. I was a bit more skeptical, noting the absence of an age statement. But given the malt master at Glenmorangie has produced so many good offerings, I relented and we decided to give it a go.
Dunstaffnage Castle from the East
My wife and I blundered upon this lovely little castle pretty much by chance. This was our longest driving day of our trip, and we had to make a long haul and on time – from Fort William, just south of the Loch country, all the way down to Kennacraig to catch the six-o’clock ferry to Islay. Not so many miles, you say, but look at those roads! Single lane each way and sinuous as a hibernating ball of earthworms. So we were careful not to dally too much anywhere along the way. We got out of Ft. William at a decent time, planning to be in Oban for lunch. Dunstaffnage at that point was merely a note in my list of things to see in nearby Oban, and the photos we found online did not impress. Just a little pocket castle. Continue reading
The Paps of Jura. Click for hi-res.
I laid eyes on the Isle of Jura for the first time last year on my trip to Islay. From the Bunnahabhain distillery, our driver, Uncle Charlie, pointed out ‘the Paps of Jura,’ two mountains rearing up from the southern lobe of that island. (The shot at left is from Caol Isla distillery, just to the south of Bunnahabhain.) We did not make it to the island, nor try the whisky while we were there, but we bought a couple tasters in a whisky shop in Edinburgh. And they are what you see below.
Jura Superstition (NAS) left, and Origin 10
This review will be a microcosm of the NAS vs. ‘standard’ 10 or 12-year old debate — whether the Non-age-statement whiskies represent a good value and experience for the whisky taster. (Note, both of these whiskies are listed as limited release.)
A dram of the good stuff.
Oban distillery is a petite operation by Scottish standards. Comprising only two stills, their output is listed on Wikipedia at 670,000 barrels a year. That’s about half the rate of Ardbeg, itself a distillery of modest output. With such limited production, Oban concentrate on their 14-year old, though there is a Distiller’s edition and some older releases.
Oban distillery is located in the seaside town of Oban. That’s a good place to stop and spend some time if you are working your way to the islands. Oban is a port of call for Caledonian MacBrayne, the ferry service. (You can get to Jura and Islay from there, though it’s a much longer trip than from Kennacraig.) The town has a lively main street, with lots of shops, hotels, and restaurants. There’s even a really nice bookshop, Waterstones. The distillery, shop and visitor’s center are right off the main drag. The visitor’s center is nice and spiffy but not lavish like the LVMH joints like Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. The Oban distillery is owned by Diageo, which is foremost a spirits company, not a luxury brand like LVMH. It is interesting to note that the other Diageo facilities we visited — Caol Isla and Lagavulin — were similarly nice and modern, but not lavish and marketing-forward like LVMH.