Before Whisky Deathmatch, Whisky Newsflash, as Drinks Colossus Diageo, who own Caol Ila, Talisker, Oban, Lagavulin, Clynelish and many other distilleries as well as the world’s best selling blend Johnnie Walker announces the investment of £1 billion into its Scotch Whisky operations as demand soars worldwide. Apparently Scotch is hugely fashionable, and no whisky producing region is more fashionable than Islay, a little island with a big tradition of distilling. Which brings us rather neatly to today’s battle to the doom…
Islay boasts, I think, eight working distilleries with others being developed. Lots of peat bogs on the island and the traditional Islay style is therefore big, peaty, smoky, salty, challenging, sometimes with strange medicinal, chemical edges. Ardbeg is certainly a distillery very much in that tradition, offering a big, smoky ten year old and a selection of weird and wonderful cask strength editions culminating in the famous Supernova, one of the peatiest whiskeys known to man. Bruichladdich are a bit of a different animal. Independent, self-avowedly progressive and rightly proud of their status as Mark Charan Newton’s favourite distillery. Their classic style is actually pretty light on the peat, but their range is huge and incorporates all kinds of experimental finishes, barleys, blends and distillation techniques sometimes bottled at ungodly strengths and including organic editions, quadruple distilled X4, and Octomore, which actually is the peatiest whisky known to man. Bruichladdich Infinity is a multi-vintage vatting (which is to say it’s been blended from a whole range of variously aged and finished casks, NOT blended whisky, still single malt) designed, apparently, to showcase the complexity of the distillery’s spirit. Ardbeg Corryvreckan, meanwhile, is a cask strength beast a fair way up Ardbeg’s range, which actually makes this a slightly unfair fight, at least price wise. But hey, I ordered the bottles before I thought about this, and no one loves an unfair fight more than I do…
Bruichladdich Infinity – 50% ABV, £44.95
Ardbeg Corryvreckan – 57.1% ABV, £61.95
LOOK – Interesting, if you compare the packaging of these Islays to last weeks Speysides anCnoc and Longmorn. Where those two looked light, clear, fresh, easygoing, these two, with their dark boxes and bottles look heavy, dark, dangerous, challenging. Bruichladdich have a really nice, unique approach with a bottle and can with stark sanserif lettering that emphasises their forward-looking credentials and technical prowess. Ardbeg, meanwhile, have taken an almost opposite approach by going for mysterious darkness with a side order of celtic mysticism. Ardbeg actually piss me off at the start by having a plastic cap and wrapper round the bottle top. That’s a bit lame on what is the most expensive bottle out of the dozen (although the Talisker and Highland Park were both considerably more if you factor in the Ardbeg’s mighty strength). Boo to the plastic packaging, especially if you’re going for a magical prehistory vibe, even boxless Bladnoch managed a wooden cap. Bruichladdich’s marketing bumph again emphasise their progressive, science-y approach, using phrases like, ‘designed’, ‘diverse vintage character’, ‘sophisticated flavour profile’, and ‘truly infinite finish.’ Although that last one seems both unlikely and undesirable. I don’t want to necessarily be tasting it for the rest of my life, do I? Or DO I? Ardbeg, by contrast, barely even mention the flavour of what’s inside, instead concentrating on mysterious celtic legends relating to the world’s second largest whirlpool and ending: ‘Fearing it, yet daring ourselves to see it. Powerful and dangerous. A terrifying spectacle… A wild, untamed spirit…’ Okaaaaaaay…
SMELL – Both these whiskys are bottled strong so they come at the nose with intent. Bruichladdich – Mmm. Tough to describe. A bit of seashore, a bit of smoky bacon, a bit of fruit. Wholesome. Appetising. You want to dive in there. I fear the Corryvreckan but I dare myself to smell it, and it smells powerful and dangerous, like a terrifying spectacle, a wild, untamed spirit. I kid, I kid. But actually it does, kinda. It smells bloody weird. Something a little bit like paint stripper meets wet earth at a barbecue and they have beautiful salty babies together. Now THAT’S marketing bumph.
TASTE – The Bruichladdich – oh yeah. Firm in the mouth, sweet and fruity but tough and smoky at the same time. A hint of metallic saltiness. Simultaneously very drinkable and very interesting. Strong but not overpowering. Don’t push it around because it’ll push back, bottled at 50% and meaning business. A tough friend to make, but a good friend to have. A reassuring presence in a tight corner. The Ardbeg – holy, or possibly unholy, cow. If you’re drinking it neat you need to sip because at 57.1% it takes no prisoners. Oily in the mouth and the first thing you notice is a strange, building heat across the tongue. Then BOOM, the magic portals are flung wide and the mysteries of the cosmos revealed. An utterly strange array of tastes. You know that sweet Willy Wonker does that’s a whole meal in one go? Like that. Ruggedly savoury and fearsomely dry. There’s pine in there, liquorice, maybe? A hint of those disinfectant capsules you used to get in urinals. Not that I ever ate one, but, you know … then there’s spicy pepperiness, coffee and bitter chocolate, smoke throughout and lingering long after. Odd, odd, odd, but in a good way. A very good way. The very opposite of easy drinking – challenging, difficult, baffling, endlessly surprising. An evil genius. A dark lord. The most eccentric of Bond villains. A mighty sorcerer driven insane by experiments with forces from beyond our dimension. Like nothing else I’ve tried. If there’s such a thing as a mind-expanding whisky then this is it.
CONCLUSION – Bruichladdich Infinity – A tough and loyal balance of the sweet and the smoky. Recommended PoV – The Dogman. Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Stunning, challenging, powerful, intricate, weird, unknowable. Recommended PoV – Shenkt.
RESULT – Don’t get me the wrong, the Bruichladdich is good in lots of ways, I greatly admire the ethos of the distillery and look forward to trying more from them. But the Ardbeg is mind-blowing. I fear Goliath will be giving David a good old kicking today. Let’s face it, he usually does.
The Winner – Ardbeg Corryvreckan.
Coming next – Silkier than Silky McSilkerson’s squad of ninja weasels, it’s mature sherried Speyside in the gentile forms of Glenfarclas 21 vs Aberlour 18.
22 comments so far
Another great instalment Joe. Also, that’s great news for Scotland.
In anticipation of today’s instalment I was browsing and came across this guy, he’s worth checking out. http://youtu.be/lCXkAy5XvcU
A nice manner and very thorough.
Very entertaining read, Mr. Abercrombie.
Your description of the Bruichladdich’s scientific approach reminded me a bit of Heston Blumenthal.
I don’t drink whisky. I still read every deathmatch. I don’t know why.
Cheers Joe, really enjoying, nay savouring, these posts!
I’m the same way. I tend to stick with beer and wine myself when I drink (which isn’t too often) but Joe just has a way with words.
Hell, I really want to try the Ardbeg Corryvreckan now, but I’m not sure if I can even get it in the U.S. I’ll certainly look for it though.
Hmm, I don’t drink whiskey but still find myself drawn to these death matches with a morbid curiosity. They certainly make me want to try it!
Joe, is there a particular one that you would recommend starting with? One that would be good place to start for someone new to whiskey? I think trying a cheap nasty (mixed, not single malt) one years ago put me off and I haven’t gone back since as it made me feel slightly ill..
Whiskey might not be my thing after all, but I at least want to try a decent one before discounting it completely.
You read whisky deathmatch because you are a man of taste and discernment. You don’t drink whisky because you are a man of no taste or discernment.
That Corryvreckan is not for beginners, I wouldn’t say…
A Glenlivet 12 or a Macallan 10 are relatively light and easy, readily available whiskeys. A HIghland Park 12, maybe, if you want something a little heavier.
You sir, are one bad influence! (In a good way, mind you) Every time I read your blog I find myself off for a newly recomended bottle of whiskey…
And Silky Mcsilkerson’s squad of ninja weasels?! I cannot tell you how hard that made me laugh! Please tell me Silky is a future POV!! 😉
I quite literally drooled when reading your discription of the smell and taste of these. My mouth flooded with saliva, and like an old hound, drool ran on my chin.
That is some powerful wordplay.
Hmmm I know EVERYONE seems to love this but when is the final? Is it soon?
A strong continental lager deathmatch followed by a Monster Munch deathmatch would be much better. Pickled Onion would clean up.
I am thoroughly enjoying the pathos of the Deathmatch. I will be looking to see if I can get Ardbeg Corryvreckan out here amongst the Red Rocks of Utah. I admit it seems unlikely but nothing ventured. I would love to experience the liquid form of a dark lord. I look forward to each round of the Deathmatch, very entertaining.
Ronjo I –
Hey, I live in Utah too! I’ve been able to find most of them, you just have to hop around the SL valley to different stores. Unless you literally live down south in the red rock (Moab?) If that’s the case, then good luck to you my friend.
By the by, since A Red Country is of a western influence, any chance you might give us real westerners a visit, Joe? Las Vegas would be close enough!
I want the Ardberg so badly after reading this. Haven’t sampled either but Islay distilleries have impressed me.
AND 57.1%? Christ alive.
For a man with whiskey in his name your lack of support is unsettling.
Ronjo, Madman 42,
I was consciously going for stuff a couple of steps up the range so some of them may be a little tricky to find. I got them from an internet mail order company with a ridiculous range, though. Surely there must be something similar over there?
I don’t think anyone would complain if you watered it down a little…
This is a fix. The votes were rigged. You are a CHARLATAN. I’m calling in the lawyers.
Mark ‘Bruichladdich’ CN,
Before you get legal on me, have you tried either of these?
The Diageo thing excites me, they have a plant down in Leven, which means there may once more be some jobs in Fife!
I would have to agree with you though, Joe; usually if it’s a peaty whiskey I’m after, I go for an Ardbeg.
I’m still with Mark that Bruichladdich is the better overall, but hey, can’t win them all.
That said, I don’t know if I’d be trusted around a 57.1%…
Actually, yeah – and the Corryvreckan is very good. Not my favourite Ardbeg – not as good as the Uigeadail or the Airigh Nam Beist; but certainly a lot better than the hyped-up Alligator.
Personally I would have pitched the Bruichladdich Octomore against this, since it’s a superior dram. The Infinity 3rd Edition is indeed very good though, but the Octomore has something far deeper and beguiling going on. World’s Peatiest Whisky, too, which isn’t bad for a distillery that doesn’t traditionally put much peat in things.
But then the various Octomores are even further above the Corryvreckan in cost than the Corryvreckan is above the Infinity. It can only be Octomore against Supernova in a clash of the phenol titans. Need to sign me a new deal. Do you tend to get samples, mostly, or whole bottles?
The whole concept of betterness is a tricky one, isn’t it? It’s all so subjective and, as you say, what’s good for one occasion may not work for another. The more I try the less I subscribe to any conception of favourites. Variety is truly the spice of life…
You could be onto something there.
It depends – generally, I get samples, since there’s no way I could afford that much whisky. I get my samples from Master of Malt, but they only offer a limited selection – even though it’s the best selection online. But for the Bruichladdichs and Ardbegs, I’ll buy the bottle.
Just get writing. Or go without food. More whisky, less food.
Nice description of the Corryvreckan which is one of the most complex and baffling whiskies I’ve tasted. There’s such a massive mix of tastes literally everywhere in your mouth when you take a sip. Impressive and fantastic!
Both aren’t bad whiskies but both are like drinking muddy water from a boot compared to a good 21 year old bottle of Mortlach!