Five years is sufficient to age a good bourbon in the American South’s hot, humid summers and mild winters. While Scottish law requires no less than three years maturation, the colder weather of Scotland means that most single malts are aged 10 years before release. There are a few 8-year single malts out there but that is not common.
One wonders why Ardbeg, known for a superb 10-year and a collection of standout NAS whiskies, would release a young whisky like the Beastie, and as a permanent selection at that. Other whiskies are made with spirit as little as 5 years old, but more typically, distillers hide the spirit’s youth behind an NAS label. The Wee Beastie label proudly proclaims 5 years of maturation. I expect economics plays a part. If Ardbeg can figure a way to market their younger spirit in a way that does not sully their reputation, they can increase output and thus market share.
I gave Laphroaig’s Triple Wood a positive review a couple weeks back. Essentially their Quarter Cask whisky using Oloroso butts for a third stage, the ‘3Wood’ brought a punchy midrange of fruit and spice notes to the classic Laphroaig style. According to the carton notes, the Lore reads like a super 3Wood, as the spirit is “drawn from a selection of aged casks including first-fill sherry casks, smaller quarter casks and our most precious stock,” presumably of ex-Bourbon casks. The carton notes tell us the intent was to crate the “richest ever Laphroaig.” Like the 3Wood, the Lore is not chill filtered and is also bottled at 48% ABV. Frankly, using the Triple Wood as a starting point sounds like a good strategy to me. I assume they are taking the same recipe, but being more selective with casks. So I’ll use the 3Wood as a comparison for this review.
On the UK website, they state they use five different casks, aged 7 to 21 years. They also state Jim Murray listed Lore as the best NAS whisky in his 2019 bible. Promising! We won’t get much more info from Laphroaig’s website as they have terrible coverage of their range, just a shopfront. And their ‘contacts us’ page will not load if you have even the minimum protections on with your browser. Sorry Laphroaig, I’m not pulling my knickers down for you. Get with modern security! Anyway, the five types would be first-and-second fill Bourbon, same for Sherry, plus the quarter casks, there’s your five.
Laphroaig embraced the use of different types of casks with the Quarter Cask release of 2004. A NAS spirit, the Quarter Cask starts aging in the typical ex-bourbon barrels, then transferred to smaller “19th century-style quarter casks” as described on the the carton. The theory is that, with more surface-to-volume area of the smaller cask, the flavors from the oak are more quickly absorbed into the spirit. While that may be so, there is a noticeable mellowness seen only in older whiskies, so I would hold that aging has more to it than surface area. Who knows, maybe you could get a good whisky by dumping the spirit into a vat full of toothpicks for a couple months, but Scotland has that 3-year aging rule for whisky.
In my previous post I covered the technical part of the Caol Isla tour. For the cask Experience, it was only my wife, myself and our witty and vivacious guide, Hazel. Oh, and four casks, from sprightly and newish to seriously grungy and old. The star of the show was the whisky of course but I have to preface this entry to say our host made the day. Hazel is a genuine Islay girl (her dad works at Bunnahabhain, so her Scotch chops are genuine) and unlike the charming Kirstin at Glenfarclas, Hazel actually likes Scotch. We shared the drams with her and had a rollicking time.
We sat in a large, bright room (the sun does come out on Islay) lined on one side with stools along a workbench, while on another wall were a series of bins for barrel staves with a sign admonishing to ‘wear gloves’ just above. The casks were in the center, beyond which two picnic tables had been covered with black cloth. A cherry sideboard and various posters gave that side of the room a warmer feel. Overall, unpretentious and casual—a nice break from some of the more marketing-heavy locales.
We settled in with Hazel and a set of glasses while she chatted about each cask, valinched out a quantity and poured. We had water handy as these were some powerful spirits..
This is the final post in the NAS series for now. I’ll write up a wrap-up article in a week or two.
I read about Ardbeg long before I had a chance to taste it. A distillery raised from the dead, so to speak, it had been shuttered for eight years in the 1980s. Production resumed slowly under a caretaker administration by Hiram Walker in the early 1990s. Glenmorangie bought it in ’97 and resurrected Ardbeg to full production. Blessed with great stocks of old whisky aging in the warehouse, they released notoriously good (and peaty) whiskies throughout the early 2000s. They presented Ardbeg in a craft style – no coloring, non-chill-filtered, higher ABV. Their 10-year is released at 46%, and it is a damn good whisky, as I reviewed here. Despite relatively low production, about 1.25 million liters a year, they have a number of expressions.