Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Whisky Review: Ardbeg Corryvreckan vs. Ardbeg Corryvreckan

Until the release of An Oa, Corryvrecken was the most recent addition to Ardbeg's core lineup of primarily NAS releases. It nominally replaced the vintage dated Airigh Nam Beist and was built on the model of Uigeadail, with a core of younger bourbon cask malt inflected with a speciality cask, in this case French oak rather than sherry.

This whisky is aged in a combination of American and French oak casks for an indeterminate amount of time, then bottled at 57.1% without coloring or chill filtration.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan L13

Nose: dry Ardbeg smoke, fresh malt, vanilla, thick American oak, fresh cedar, background French oak, a little floral. After adding a splash of water it becomes softer with more balanced peat and oak, plus a little tar and berries.

Taste: moderate malt and cask sweetness up front, quickly trumped by a thick layer of oak tannins with a raisin-y quality and sharp smoke in the background. After dilution it becomes much sweeter, with the oak and peat pushed towards the background, joined by berry overtones in the middle.

Finish: oak tannins, cedar, dry peat, woody sweetness

This reads like the Ardbeg take on Laphroaig Quarter Cask. There's smoke and oak and not much else. Quite a contrast to the more complex French oak cask that I tried at the distillery, this is mostly young American oak with the fresh lumber quality that I have found in so many other younger Islay whiskies lately. Proofed down a bit it reads fairly similarly to the standard Ardbeg 10 Year, albeit with more oak. That's not to say this is bad, but I don't see that it's worth the premium over Uigeadail. If I'm going to pay this kind of money for a young product it will be to support smaller players like Kilchoman.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Sample)

Nose: strong but not overwhelming mossy/smokey Ardbeg peat, smoked fish in the background,  creamy malt, lots of vanilla getting floral around the edges, American oak verging into sherry, berries. After adding a few drops of water the smoke and oak integrate and soften, edging out the other aromas.

Taste: lots of oak-y sweetness up front, berries and dried fruit appear in the middle with dried chilies without a lot of heat in the background, a very creamy mouthfeel without a lot of malt flavor, becoming more tannic and joined by dry Ardbeg peat at the back with fairly strong heat. After dilution it becomes softer and sweeter up front, but the oak tannins at the back are amplified and it loses much of its complexity.

Finish: lots of alcohol heat, juicy oak, cedar, creosote, savory peat residue, dried fruit

While there are some differences, this is fairly consistent with the L13 bottle I tried above, though the flavors are more dynamic and nuanced here. Much like the L18 Uigeadial, the nose is better than the palate, but they're a little closer to being in balance. There is significant oak influence, but it continues to read primarily as American rather than French oak. Overall I could see myself drinking more, but this doesn't change my feeling that its quality doesn't justify its cost. Unfortunately as long as enough consumers disagree, I don't think we'll see any change.

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