Ardbeg has done well in presenting well-designed No-Age-Statement (NAS) releases that have proven worthy of their (usually) high prices. Their Corryvreckan (“heady, intense and powerful”) and Uigeadail (“deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones”) are uniquely flavorful, well-finished drams, and they should be, being in the over-$90 club. An Oa was introduced recently (for a whisky)—in 2017. I actually purchased mine in 2020 but it’s been waiting for a review, as other events (pandemic, political chaos, moving house—you know, the usual stuff) have taken my attention.
The CorryVee and Uigeadail had stories, and so does An Oa. On their website, Ardbeg tell the tale that in their new oaken “Gathering Vat” (marrying tun in other parlance) “whiskies from several cask types – including; sweet Pedro Ximenez; spicy virgin charred oak; and intense ex-bourbon casks….” they marry their final product to produce “smoky power, mellowed by a delectable, smooth sweetness.” Sounds good. I’m especially interested in the ‘intense’ ex-bourbon casks, so I sent an email to inquire.
As mentioned in the review of their 10-year expression, Glengoyne is run by a family firm (Ian MacLeod Distillers). It’s interesting to review the smaller producers, who manage to compete with multibillion-dollar giants like LVMH ($54b revenues) and Diageo ($18b revenues). The smaller companies cannot achieve equivalent economies of scale as these multinationals who have attendant pricing power. For an example take Glenmorangie. A holding of LVMH, Glenmorangie offer an 18-year expression available for $121 locally, to Glengoyne’s 18-year at $196.
Glenmorangie can offer lower prices as, with 12 stills, they have six times the yearly output of Glengoyne and, with LVMH behind them, benefit from large firm economies in marketing. Yet smaller distillers do flourish; they focus on their niche, messaging and product quality. They can be nimble and selective. The Glenmorangie malt master(s) have a huge stable to manage (not only multiple vintages, but also variants such as Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, Nectar d’Or, a line of ‘prestige‘ releases, etc.). How much focus can the Glenmorangie malt masters put on any one expression? Are they able to replicate at scale the obsessive attention a smaller producer can apply to an expression? It must be a challenge. For what it’s worth, I reviewed the Glenmorangie 18, and it was pretty good, but unremarkable. At a small distiller like Glengoyne, you’re going to have more focus from the malt master on their smaller line of expressions. That’s the theory.
Glengoyne is a property of a private company (self-described family firm) Ian MacLeod Distillers, who have in addition to Glengoyne another 4 single malt brands (Tamdhu, Rosebank, MacLeod’s, Shieldaig) as well as six blends, a rum and a gin brand. You’ll see Lang Brothers on the label of Glengoyne, but that’s a brand owned by MacLeod.
Most distillery brands have a hook, and Glengoyne’s is patience: “UNHURRIED SINCE 1833”, and “The slowest stills in Scotland” declares the web page of Glengoyne. A highland producer (distilled in the highlands, aged across the road in the lowlands), they claim their whisky takes about 3 times as long to distill. With but three stills, they produce about one million liters per annum. Compare to Glenfarclas, another family firm, 6 stills (4 active) and four times the output, Glengoyne is truly an intimate operation.
McCarthy’s is a product of Hood River Distilleries. The spirit itself is distilled by Clear Creek Distillery which has provided since 1985 a source for Oregon-made fruit-based liquors and purchased in 2014 by Hood River Distillers. By any measure, Clear Creek is a ‘craft’ scale operation, and in fact the bottle is hand-lettered for the batch and bottling date, as you can see in the photo (click for a high-res image).
According to the Hood river website, the spirit is “distilled in a Holstein pot still using one pass distillation from a fermented mash of 100% peat malted barley from Scotland.” The Holstein still is made from copper, like a pot still, but is an odd combination of pot still and columnar stills, so that in a single run you can produce a very pure spirit such as vodka and get in essence a dozen or more distillations (hence the reference to ‘one pass’ in the note above). This is is a different approach than in Scotland where a pot still is used for the first distillation (the wash still) and a second pot still (the spirit still) is used for the final distillation. Clearly, Clear Creek is taking the final cut from their Holstein long before they’ve distilled the flavor out (as you would with vodka.) Considering the different distillation approach as well as an aging of only 3 years (the legal minimum for Scotch), and different climate, you would not expect this to taste like a single malt Scotch.
This bottle of Talisker 18 was a gift from my wife who knows I am a huge fan of Talisker’s 10-year-old, and knows I was blown away by the Talisker 25 I had in a New York restaurant. (That was Aureole, a great combination of superb food and service without pretension. A Michelin starred restaurant, and there were folks eating there in jeans and t-shirts…) But I digress. When I woke up Christmas morning and found this bottle stuffed in my stocking I broke out in a broad grin. Santa sure knows my taste.
This is a whisky with a serious price (about $165 around here) so I’m going to give it a detailed analysis. I’ll be comparing it to the Talisker 10 of course and the Caol Isla 18, which is comparable in some ways (age, Island flavor profile) though the Caol Isla is unpeated. (I have to find a peated Caol 18!)