Spring is around the corner, bringing in some unsettled weather and maybe even a few storms as it slowly melts away the cold of winter and brings new life to nature. Before we get to the lighter, greener and spring-in-your-step whiskies I want to tell you all about in the coming months, there are a couple of winter favourites I’d like to share with you.
Let’s start off with a stormy number from the Isle of Islay off of Scotland’s western coast, namely Ardbeg Corryvreckan. The naming and branding is heavily myth inspired, which is also reflected in the complex character of the whisky.
Ardbeg – A Brief History
The Ardbeg Distillery, or Taigh-stail Àirde Beaga – the distillery of the small cape – is located on the southern coast of Islay. The distillery opened in 1798 and commercial production started in 1815. As with almost every Scotch Whisky distillery, most of the produced whisky was used for the making of blended malts. In 1886 the distillery employed 60 people and they produced over a million litres annually.
Due to a decline in demand, the distillery was shut down in 1981, though a few people were kept on board to maintain the buildings and oversee the sizeable stockpiles of maturing spirit left in the warehouses. The Ardbeg Distillery was reopened in 1997, when the then independent Glenmorangie Distillery (now part of the LVMH portfolio, alongside Ardbeg) purchased the distillery and restarted production.
It was under Glenmorangie that the distinctive green bottles and brownish packaging, instantly recognizable as Ardbeg, came into being. The first releases were from the old stock, being the “10” and “17” year olds (though both were more than likely aged much longer, as the last stocks had been laid down 16 years before.) – though the releases have shifted mostly to named bottlings with no age statement (NAS). To the delight of many aficionados and snobs like us, Ardbeg refrains from the use of caramel colouring and chill filtering in their whiskies, which they tend to bottle at cask strength.
Corryvreckan – The Prince’s Whirlpool
This creation of Ardbeg’s was named after the famous and iconic Corryvreckan Maelstrom, located between the isles of Jura and Scarba, on the Scottish coast. The maelstrom, or whirlpool if you like, is one of the largest and most powerful in the world, and as such, obviously the subject of many legends and stories.
One of the most popular says that it was named after the Viking Prince Breackan, who fell in love with a maid of the isles and whose father would consent to their marriage only if the Prince proved his bravery by spending three days and three nights anchored in the midst of the churning waters. As is customary for fables such as these, the Prince had three magic ropes to tie the boat with, but each in turn broke and eventually he was pulled under and drowned in the surf.
Ardbeg offers an alternative ending to the fable on the side of the packaging for bottles of Corryvreckan, in which they believe the Prince survived thanks to Cailleach Bhéaran, the Goddess of the whirlpool, who took the Prince with her to the bottom of the sea to warm her bed. And now the Prince is waking up and returning to the mortal world, probably in the form of this whisky. Or so they say. Who knows, stranger things have happened.
This NAS whisky was released in 2009 and replaced the highly popular Ardbeg Airigh nam Beist. Corryvreckan gained nearly immediate notoriety and a cult status, as well as bringing home a host of trophies and prizes from the world’s whisky shows and competitions in 2009 and 2010. In honour of the spirit of the Viking myth, I thought I’d show this whisky in a handcrafted traditional Viking glass. And I think you’ll agree, it looks rather handsome, despite not being the best shaped glass for nosing or tasting.
Nose: Iodine, medicinal – like bandage adhesive. Greasy, butter and fried chicken, finishing in spruce and herbs.
Taste: Without water, a battle of prickly peppercorns in the mouth, which is to be expected with the high alcohol content. An appropriate dose of water the scent softens to a softer, caramel-like scent. The taste is still very strong, though creamier and spiced. Fresh fruits, some underripe berries. That bandage glue is still here, with a touch of lemon zest.
Finish: Salty and sour. Smoky, but not really peaty. Tar, the kind used on roadworks. Some chilies to the end.
Notes: Wow, that’s a lot of facets! This always manages to surprise me with it’s complex mix and mash of different elements, whenever I drink it. I’ll call it a bravely different whisky, to say the least.
Availability: Widely available almost everywhere
Suitability for Whisky Novices: This might take a bit more bravery to approach than most others, with all those medicinal flavours. I don’t think I would be a whisky blogger, had this been my first dram.