In this forum Ardbeg's commercial strategies have been discussed on different occasions recently.
I have another point for discussion that bothers me since a few months.
Just a short flash back to draw the context : in 1998, just after my daughter was born, I won a whisky weekend on Islay. During our stay there, we visited - together with the famous Lochside Hotel keeper Allistair - most distilleries. The visit of Ardbeg was my life-time whisky moment... Stuart Thomson, now leaving Ardbeg, braught us in the cellars and showed us the oldest casks, i.e. from 1974. There were only 3 left of those 1974's ! He didn't only show them, but also opened one and let us taste the nectar. We drunk at least one bottle (we were five I guess), all amazed by Stuarts generosity. This cask streng whisky straight from the cask was unbeleivably good, so good that I promised myself that if one day these three casks were bottled, I would try to get hold of one, no matter what it would cost.
Sorry this introduction was so long, but the memories are so good .
Now, for a few years I was looking on the internet for a bottle of one of these three casks (i was really only interested in these three casks, not in indy's or other years, cask numbers etc). Two months ago I finally found one on e-bay and bought it immediately (and paid a rediculously high price to my standards, but didn't mind at all this time ).
While looking for all these old Ardbegs (OB's), and I still watch e-bay for them, I wondered how it is possible that you still can find original bottlings of 1974, bottled for instance in 2003 with a cask number that is not one of these three last remaining casks at Arbeg distillery in 1998. Moreover, you can even find 1973's, 1972's, OB's, all bottled after the year 1998.
A logical answer could be that Ardbeg has different warehouses, with old casks waiting to be bottled, but Stuart clearly said these three 1974's were the last in stock !
So my guess is (but I can be wrong of course, and this is why I turn to you on this forum) that Ardbeg - recently ? - buys old casks back from indy's to bottle them as OB's, at high prices. In my opinion, this practice (is of course legal I suppose, but) is a cheat to the public. They had no control over the casks during all those years and most probably the casks didn't even mature on Islay.
What do you find of this commercial option, or do you have another explanation for these new old OB's ?
it is true that Ardbeg has been buying back casks from independent bottlers. Some months ago the Ardbeg 17 had vanished from the Ardbeg shop only to be back again after some time. The explanation was that unsold stock had been found in Italy so that for a short period Ardbeg sold Ardbeg 17 again. Some casks from 1975 were used for the first batch of Uigedail, bottled 2003 it is said.
What was or was not in the warehouses at Ardbeg when Glenmorangie took over we will never know. And why should they tell us?
Is it cheating to buy casks back that have not matured on Islay? Not more than maturing almost all Caol Ila on the mainland. Or Talisker or Speyside whiskies in central warehouse complexes in the Speyside but no longer on the grounds of the distillery that made them.
I agree with you that the distilleries shouldn't be telling us everything. But that doesn't mean that the location of the casks doesn't have an important influence on the taste ? I suppose an Ardbeg maturing on Islay for almost 30 years evolves differently from a cask in a wharehouse near Glasgow, or am I wrong and do I have a too romantic view on this ?
An independant CC 1974 costs about 170 euro, whereas an OB almost 500. Now I know that an OB 1974 with another cask number than the three casks I saw and photographed in 1998, can very well be the same as the CC, three times more expensive.
Would you see an Ardbeg as a true OB Ardbeg if the distilled whisky is immediately transported to - for instance - the Lowlands and is being OB bottled after 20 or more years ? I cannot hide my disappointment, can I
I didn't know Coal Ila is maturing all its whisky on the mainland. If the location of the maturing casks is unimportant for a distillery, I don't see on what basis it could be proud of its Islay origins, apart from its Port Ellen's peated malt.
I am with you and understand your sentiments perfectly well. We ha a thread about terroir and the influence on the maturing and/or ready whisky.
http://www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopi ... ht=terroir
There you can find what we think on the subject.
PS Here another interesting thread http://www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopi ... ht=terroir
(and last but not least I believe that IB are selling their 70's stocks at very high prices...For example if a cadenhead's 1991 costs around 43 pounds why a 1972 should not cost 250?)
So in my opinion the quality offered and the less avalaibility in a certain way justifies the price....
It's that when you buy an OB, you're not even sure it's an OB... because it can very well be an indy, bought back by the distillery.
I've read the thread about the "terroir" and must say I found it very intersting. Most distilleries underline their regional origins, but everyone seems to accept that the regional location of the distillery has no great influence (snice in fact only malting, fermentation and distilling is "regional" ?). Strange...
Xavier wrote:It's that when you buy an OB, you're not even sure it's an OB... because it can very well be an indy, bought back by the distillery.
Not particularly relevant--the designations OB and IB only tell you who is selling it to you. We can make inferences therefrom, for example about vatting, chillfiltering, coloring, etc. But the only other issue is where the whisky is matured, a contentious point we have discussed many times before, and which, I have a feeling, we are about to discuss again. We would all feel better if we knew that every drop in a bottle of Glen Googly was matured in Glen Googly's famous warehouse next to the wastewater treatment plant on the Googly Burn. But this is not always the case, and it it's hard to argue that it makes a difference that the cask was matured at Broxburn rather than Elgin.
Incidentally, it is my understanding that G&M has been one of the few independents, if not the only, to purchase new make and mature it in their own warehouses; in most cases, the IB's buy mature stock for bottling. As far as I know, a cask may be sold to an IB and then sold back, and never actually move at all. I invite correction or clarification.
Xavier wrote:I've read the thread about the "terroir" and must say I found it very intersting. Most distilleries underline their regional origins, but everyone seems to accept that the regional location of the distillery has no great influence (snice in fact only malting, fermentation and distilling is "regional" ?). Strange...
Very little malting is regional, unless you consider the Port Ellen maltings as such. Central maltings provide the bulk of it. Only five distilleries have their own maltings, and I believe they typically can only provide about 30% of their own malt. Sources for barley and peat are another matter. Maturation conditions are the one thing that we all agree can be influential, and that's the major issue at hand when we discuss terroir. I do think it is often overstated--eg, briny flavors from seaside warehouses--but it is the one thing worth arguing about, and, as I said above, we would all be happier to think that our malts had been matured on-site, whether it really made a difference or not.
I suppose that we could speak of real regional influence if every distillery would grow it's own barley(so weather, soil and water would influence the barley itself).
Nevertheless water still plays an important role(and I presume every distillery has its source).
As last thing I'm wondering if the spirit contained in a cask left undisturbed for a couple of years for example to 10 meters from the sea will taste the same with another containing the same spirit but stored in a completely different environment.(Of course excluding the fact thet the casks are different).In my opinion they would"sound" a bit different but I've never been able to try.
I live very near the sea and here you can smell the jodine and the salt in the air (expecially during certain days)so maybe the environment could still play a role.
In Peat Smoke & Spirit, someone--at Laphroaig, I believe--says he'd just as soon plug into the mains. It's a bit of a joke of course, as there are no mains.
As for salt and such, I recall Michael Jackson talking about salty flavors somewhere or other, and a chemist pooh-poohing the very idea, saying that chemical analysis shows there is no salt in whisky. Jackson quite rightly responded that he never said there was salt in whisky, only a salty taste. But it seems a big stretch to me to say that the taste comes from the environment, when analysis shows that the environment (or at least the salt in it) has not penetrated the cask in any way. That we find such "coastal" characterisitcs in coastal malts is, I think, part coincidence, and part suggestibility. If a seaside warehouse contributed to such flavors, surely Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich would be as briny as any, and Caol Ila would not.
MrTattieHeid wrote: If a seaside warehouse contributed to such flavors, surely Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich would be as briny as any, and Caol Ila would not.
Excellent point Mr T-H... I don't know how certian flavours get imparted to a whisk(e)y but for terrior to work all Islay would have to have certian characters that are very similar which does not seem to be the case.
I surmise that ingredients, potstills and casks are the major factors as they are the biggest variables that I could see to influence the taste.
My idea is the following:
salt is present in small quantity in every whisky because salt is NaCl ---> and Na is present in every water in at different concentration depending on the water itself.
Of course at low conc. we aren't aware of the salty taste.
I noticed that often the salty flavour is associated with peated whisky (thinks to Islay ones certain early 70's broras and if I'm not wrong during that period Brora was heavily peated because in 72-74 Caol ila was closed for refurbishment and the owner needed a islay-style spirit).So maybe the salty taste(and maybe the Na concentration) could depend from the peat itself?
I'm not aware of a very salty but not peated whisky but I'm not a connosseur so I could be completely wrong.
What I can say that It happened to me to taste a 13 y.o Port Ellen and a 1973 11 y.o ardbeg that tasted as someone had really poured salt in them,
so there must be a reason for that.
I'm really curious to know about "salty"but not peated whisky.
I have tasted an old Powers, and it was salty.
If there was salinated water droplets in the air in a warehouse, it would also affect the specific heat capacity of that air, which would affect how the temperature changes in different conditions.
When I read what is said above, the "Islay-character" is just a coincidence (the choice of using peat) and has nothing to do with Islay's terroir (by which I mean the location and the fact that it is an island) itself. I still find it difficult to beleive that this Islay character is only the result of the way they make their whisky and is nog influence by the Islay terroir. There goes my romantic view of Islay whiskies . The distinction between Lowlanders and Highlanders however, is in my view indeed more a result of different ways of production and less due to terrior influence.
Concering the salt - and this may be the most stupid question ever asked here - could it be that the saltiness is coming from the air instead of the water used. Ok, natrium chloride is found in water, but I'm almost certain you can't taste it in most waters and hence not in the whisky where that water was put in.
I'm thinking of the air. When walking around Bowmore, Laphroaigh, Ardbeg, you really can smell that iodine in the maritime air (more than on Sky for instance). Can there be an interaction during the oxidation in the casks ? I mean, I have never had a iodine speysider...
BTW i completely agree with the Superstition, Mr T, I had the same reaction.
if you read the marketing stories on the labels of the bottles or on the tubes you will find that most of the malts that claim to be coastal or salty or maritime explain that by stating that the casks mature not far from the coast and the sea and that the living and breathing cask takes in those aromas with its "breathing".
The physics and dynamics of a wooden barrel made from white oak make allowances for that. To what extend I can not say. I think it is quite possible that all those flavours come to some extend from maturing casks near the sea. Then there are experts who deny that there is salt in whisky and that coastal aromas come from maturing whisky near the sea.
On the other hand there are whiskies that taste coastal but have never been near the sea at all. I would think that coastal aromas can come from peat as well. And from umpteen other factors we do not even think of.
Xavier, of course we are talking about salt in the air; no one stores their barrels on the beach! As for romance, it's good to keep a level head about it, but don't let it stop you from enjoying the fancy of it. Having an understanding of hormonal activity in the human brain does not stop us from giving flowers to our sweethearts.
The practice of 'cask swapping' has resulted in an incredible inventory of casks from various distilleries being found all over Scotland. This inventory is often the source for IB's often to the irritation of the distillery owners, such as Laphroaig and Glenfarclas.
I find it hard to believe that the matuation location has ZERO effect on the final spirit. I think there is some effect but quite small. The cask has the biggest impact, up to 90% some distillers say but then again some distillers absolutely believe that location does have an effect.
As to salt, there are five primary tastes in whisky, sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami. Salt may not be there in a chemical sense but it's there in taste.
Here's a link that tries to explain it better:
Lawrence wrote:Don't forget Longmorn and Springbank to name a couple of the many that do on site maltings.
I thought the five I listed were the only ones. I stand corrected--not sure where I got that impression. Can we elaborate on "the many"?
Lawrence wrote:I find it hard to believe that the matuation location has ZERO effect on the final spirit.
No one would say that! Local conditions certainly have an effect. A cask on an earth floor by the sea will certainly mature differently from one just up the hill in a warmer, dryer spot. I simply think the effect of particular locations is overstated, especially as regards coastal flavors. Hey, it's just my opinion, based on what little I know; I'd be delighted to get definitive evidence to the contrary. It wouldn't be the first time, or the last, that I'd been shown to not know what I'm talking about.
Lawrence wrote:Salt may not be there in a chemical sense but it's there in taste.
And although I could be wrong of course I wonder if this process is responsible for the same "sour" (and good) taste of smoke that is to be found in the Port Ellens (that I have tasted.. ) ? Could it be that "manual" malting enhances the taste in comparison to the computer controlled?
Ron has Umami sorted, although the description rambles on a bit more but basically he has it described.
Mr T, there are more than 5 distilleries currently operating floor maltings, i have to look through my Udo to see which ones.
As for this statment:
Could it be that "manual" malting enhances the taste in comparison to the computer controlled?
Exactly, which is why some whisky writers (or in particular one) think that the Ardbeg's that are scored so highly currently all came from floor maltings operated at the distillery. When we start sampling whiskies produced without floor maltings.........time will tell.
Lawrence wrote:Mr T, there are more than 5 distilleries currently operating floor maltings, i have to look through my Udo to see which ones.
In Editor's View in Scotland Magazine #28, Dominic Roskrow describes Laphroaig as "one of six Scottish distilleries" where "barley is malted on site". That is more than five, innit? But I wasn't too far off. Don't know if that includes Kilchoman--new ones somehow never get counted--so maybe seven.
(Go ahead and look through your Udo, no one else will.)
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