Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ardbeg Auriverdes: Islay Festival 2014 Limited Edition

When I came across this one in a local bottle shop here in Tokyo, I knew nothing about it; though Ardbeg Ten was the whisky that hooked me and opened my mind to exploring the world of Islay whiskies, I hadn't paid much attention to their special bottlings up to that point. For awhile, I'd searched online for Supernova, but hadn't been able to track down any bottles in Japan. I'd not seen anything about Auriverdes, though.

The scoop on Ardbeg Auriverdes

A quick check on the old iPhone gave me all I needed to know to make the decision to purchase the shop's last bottle of Auriverdes for ¥9500 (~$85 US). I opened it at the bar a couple of nights later and tasted it. Now, I know this one has gotten a fair bit of negative feedback, but after trying it twice more on different nights, I have to say that Auriverdes is the tastiest Ardbeg I've had. My experience is relatively limited, so take that with a grain of salt; As my experience with different Ardbeg expressions grows, my opinion is likely to change.


Tasting Notes

Honey Gold

Peat (good development from soft to big), coastal notes (sea spray), wintergreen, medicinal notes (phenolic), briny, eucalyptus, enamel paint, antiseptic, eye-stinging citrus, cinnamon, smoked bacon, becomes a little buttery , toasted chocolate marshmallows

Forceful kiss 
Lip & tongue tingling, sweet mint, medium smoke, sweet phenolic (reminiscent of Laphroaig QC), vanilla, toasted marshmallows, mocha 

Long Instant warmth continuing, ashy (charred oak), 70% cacao chocolate, burnt-crispy bacon, coriander

Conclusion: Once you get near a price of $100 per bottle, you have to start being much more selective. As Ardbeg Auriverdes is a limited-edition whisky, it's definitely collectible. So, picking up a bottle and leaving it closed isn't a bad idea, if you're inclined to collect whiskies. For personal drinking, it's hard to make an absolute statement like, You should definitely give this one a go, but I can say, without reservation, that I'm at least as happy with this purchase as I am with any I've ever made. As a bonus, I keep this bottle at the bar and have sold a few glasses already with each customer having thoroughly enjoyed their drams. So, I've already come close to making my money back on the bottle purchase. In fact, seeing the whisky level in the bottle drop made me a little sad knowing that after it disappeared, I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy a glass of Auriverdes again.

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I found another lone bottle at another local shop (in Ginza) for only ¥9000 (~$7600 US)...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley is Bruichladdich's ultimate punch in the whisky world's face. It's a peat bomb of soon-to-be-legendary proportions. When I read the teaser at Bruichladdich's website, I knew that it would be on my list of whiskies to buy in 2015. I mean, check this out...
This is a single malt whisky distilled from the most heavily peated barley in the world. Always experimental and pushing the boundaries of the possible, a stratospheric 258ppm was coaxed into the grain by our skilful maltsters at Bairds in Inverness, a remarkable 89ppm more than the previous high of 169ppm they achieved prior to the distillation of the legendary Octomore 5.1. 
The trickle distillation was slow, almost painfully so. The spirit then matured for five years in Bourbon, slumbering peacefully in our warehouses on the shore of Loch Indaal before being bottled at the Harvey Hall in Bruichladdich distillery. This is natural whisky, un-chill filtered and colouring free, a tiny amount of water from the spring at Octomore Farm being used to give an abv of 64%.
So, I started hitting up my local bottle shops here in Tokyo worried that we might be slow in getting it, but being slow in getting it turned out to be in my favor; if it had arrived any earlier when I wasn't on the lookout for it, I would've missed it. I hadn't realized it was set for release in December. By the time I picked up my bottle, it was early February. Last week, in fact.

I bought it the day after it arrived at the shop, and by the next day, they were all gone. Being the peatiest whisky ever, and figuring that it might remain that way for a long time, I had wanted to have a bottle for the collection as well, but I only bought the one that day due to my having a limited amount of cash in my pocket at the time and that particular shop only accepting that form of payment, so you can imagine my disappointment when I returned the next day for my second bottle and was met with an empty shelf.

I put the bottle I did buy up on the counter at the bar and figured it would go unopened for awhile; the asking price for a single glass was high and customers that are willing to pay such a price for a single glass of whisky don't come by my place so often. I was exercising restraint as well, not wanting to open it for a taste until I'd secured a second bottle for the collection. But, as luck would have it, one of my more-generous customers decided he wanted to try the beast from Bruichladdich and wanted me to taste it with him. So, I set up two glasses, and we gave Octomore 6.3 a go...

The Facts

  • 64% abv
  • Peated to 258 ppm
  • Age: 5 years
  • Cost of bottle: ¥25000 ($210 US)

Tasting Notes

Honey gold

Almost violent
Mega melted butter baby vomit. peat, Peat, peaT, peAT, pEAT, and PEAT...
Bacon, salt, pepper, cinnamon, honey-glazed ham, some, hot-buttered popcorn, slightly grassy, pound cake

Big heat
Buttery sweetness turning to cinnamon fire, minty, dry, peppery, oak

Explosive, then long, steady burn, dry ashy mouthfeel
Like swallowing a tear-gas canister, the smoke permeates your entire upper body, and leaks out your eyes and ears. The mind disconnects from the body and you transcend the cosmos like Dave Bowman...

Conclusion: You won't be the same whisky drinker again after this one. The aftertaste stayed with me until the next morning and even my morning pee reeked of it.
This is one exhilarating dram that has the power to burn the spirit of Islay into the souls of everyone who's never been there leaving them in a zombie-like trance thinking only of a pilgrimage to that sacred place.

If you're interested in Bruichladdich Master Distiller Jim McEwan's tasting notes, here they are:

It opens with the call of the sea, the thundering west coast waves driving a gentle mist onto the moorland and tempting the wild plants to release their unique aromas. Notes of myrtle, meadowsweet, mint and heather flowers drift across the nose. Wild thyme and red clover dance in perfect harmony with the strong uplifting peatiness of the Islay grown barley. It’s exhilarating, and seriously dramatic.
When the heat of the peat fires cool there is a spontaneous detonation of soft red grapes, cherries, Russian toffee, bitter chocolate, maple syrup and mellow oak. It is a taste like no other, a whisky cut loose, unhindered, unchanged. This is sorcery.
Long and strong, it warms the soul and lifts the heart. It evokes memories of those early years when the sweat of men instilled the spirit with a unique character. Join us as we look to the past, celebrating our Islay DNA while journeying into the future in a never-ending quest for the rainbow’s end.

Credits: Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley home page

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Zoetrope Shot Bar

Lots of good whisky bars in Tokyo. I spend most of my time at my own little whisky pub for obvious reasons, but I do like to get out once in a while and visit the big places. Places not necessarily big in size, but big in terms of the number of quality bottles they keep on the shelves.

I finally got around to visiting Zoetrope Shot Bar in Shinjuku a couple of weeks ago. Knowing that Mr. Horigami keeps a very respectable selection of Japanese whiskies, I decided I was going to head over there one night after work at my other job and see if I couldn't try something from the Ichiro's Malt Card Series that I hadn't tried before.

I settled on the 9 of Spades.

Follow the link and look at the price it commanded when sold and you get an idea of how rare and valuable whiskies from this series are. The Nine of Spades was finished in a Cream Sherry butt and it really came through on the nose and on the palate. A very enjoyable, good-quality dram that only set me back ¥2400 (~$21 US). Of course, had Mr. Horigami opened the bottle that day at the current market value, a glass would have been priced well out of my comfort zone.

Being able to try a rare Japanese whisky at a reasonable cost should be enough to convince any lover of the single malt to give Zoetrope a try, but if that doesn't do it, maybe the combination of interesting whiskies and the quirkiness of being able to watch silent films projected onto the wall while sipping away will be enough...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength

I last gave tasting notes on Springbank 10 Year single malt whisky, and just wanted to follow up with notes for the bottle of Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength (54.3%) I currently have on the shelf at the bar.

Tasting Notes


Rich, pungent
Heated melted butter, toffee, butterscotch, cinnamon, peat, hints of sherry, dried fruits, salty coastal notes

Steady intensification
Sweet, sour, creamy turning to ashy mouthfeel, vanilla pudding, soft smoke, buttery

Long, intense
Chocolate, honey, ash, woody

One of my favorite cask-strength whiskies. I'm quite looking forward to trying a bottle from the next batch.