So far, most of my whisky tastings have been conducted at home, except for a few I’ve attended in person (for example, see this Port Askaig and Elements of Islay tasting). There’s a certain level of control around these as I set up my tray with the Glencarins and water. But there are also occasions when I’m out and dining, and, if the venue should happen to have an excellent selection of whiskies, which I would order with a meal regardless of this writeup, I may jot some notes and compare my choice. Such is the case on this night when I spot a good pairing of two Islay whiskies [which, if you care to know, will go well with my venison]. That being said, it is fair to acknowledge that the palate will alter as we eat different foods with their own scent and spice. But there’s time for taste, apéritif with hors d’oeuvre, and today shall be one… but it’s quiet in here! Now playing: LAAPS 2020-2021 mix for Headphone Commute.
The menu states “Bowmore Darkest“, but I ask the maître d’ to bring over the bottle, and it is just a Bowmore 15-Year-Old. Oh well… There was indeed a 2006 bottling of this “darkest” Islay single malt aged in the sherry casks from the “vaults”, and I guess the straight fifteen has replaced that expression. It’s a 43% bottling, which spent the last three of its years in the Spanish oloroso sherry casks, and from whence it picked up all those sweet rounded flavours. There is that cherried caramel with some chocolate and maybe even a touch of roast coffee in the round mouthful of dried fruit and spice. It is lightly peated, and the bonfire smoke plays so well with the sherry (and bourbon). Too bad there’s still colouring added in here – it really doesn’t need it, and then the “darkest” subtitle really makes zero sense. It’s incredibly “drinkable” and at £60 a bottle, I don’t think you’ll go wrong having one on your shelves. I can say so much more, but I spy that tomorrow, I may have it again, so I’ll save on some words. Bowmore has a rich and long history on the island, and its 15-Year-Old appears to reflect the distillery’s possibly best output so far (although there is, of course, the 18 and the 25-year-old, both sadly bottled at 43% ABV). The 15-year-old won awards, and even Jim Murray has given it a score of 94, granted on a very specific batch [good luck finding it]. But I’m not one for points, so let’s move on to the next dram.
The Ardbeg Corryvreckan is named after the famous whirlpool in the north of Islay, “where only the bravest souls dare to venture.” Since I mentioned Jim Murray above, let’s also mention that he has “awarded” this bottle the sought after title of Best No Age Statement Scotch in his 2009 edition of Whisky Bible. And there is no age statement indeed. It is bottled at 57.1% ABV, but I don’t taste that much burn. It is lighter and crispier and has a beautiful bite. The peat is indeed a lot more present, and the smokiness is heady, earthy, and exquisite. Its arrival is cleaner, like a freshly sharpened razor leaving skin smooth and silky, versus Bowmore’s soft blanket on the stubble and husk. It’s absolutely lovely with the meal [later] as it cuts through the textures and oils, with its delicate vapours and its rounded smoke. It is lighter in colour than the Bowmore [that makes sense since it’s non-sherried], but with added colouring [I’m pretty sure], once again, it really doesn’t matter because the distillery could make it look precisely like Bowmore if they wanted to. This is a £75 bottle that’s a must for peat lovers – it’s no wonder that it won numerous accolades (including The World’s Best Single Malt in 2010 by the World Whiskies Awards). I would also proclaim that it’s better than its younger 10-year-old sibling, but I think I will taste these again side by side.
The only thing I kept on hesitating about and even questioning after the meal if the Ardbeg I had was indeed Corryvreckan – I failed to ask to see the bottle and am now annoyed. I say this only because it did not taste as hot as I would have expected a 50+ ABV single malt – I usually like to add a bit of water into scotch at that strength, but I seemed to have no issues just sipping at this side by side with the Bowmore, which was indeed a lot lighter, and yet sweeter and warm. I have no reason to believe that there was a swap of the spirits behind the counter in a nice restaurant such as this [okay, I dined at Four Seasons], although there have been occasions where I’m positive that my whisky’s been tampered with (and diluted with water). And hence going back to my point about the control in your environment, if you’re serious about tastings. With that said, I’ll proclaim that Ardbeg wins this round.