A couple of nights ago I was privileged to attend an Ardbeg Committee launch event in Westborough, MA, celebrating the arrival of Ardbeg's latest, rare committee release - Ardbog! The launch is coincidentally timed quite well with the arrival of Ardbeg Day on June 1st (today!), with rolling launch celebrations being held all over the world the week prior. The May 29th event I attended was expertly hosted by Julio's Liquors, with a raffle of Ardbeg Supernova (a bottle signed by Dr. Bill Lumsden and David Blackmore!) and great food and drink all around. There was even an "Ardbog Sushi Roll" designed to pair flavortastically with the new whisky, but they ran out before I could try some.
As with any major whisky tasting event there was great SWAG, such as signature green Ardbeg tasting glasses, Ardbog Day tees, and assorted memorabilia, but the reason we were all there was to get our first glimpse (and taste) of Ardbog itself and maybe buy a bottle or two. While I've finally penned my tasting notes for Ardbog over in the reviews section, I thought I'd share a few other observations from the evening here.
I had a chance to speak with Ardbeg and Glenmorangie Global Ambassador Mr. David Blackmore at length after the new drink had been introduced and all the hubbub died down. I first met David Blackmore at a Glenmorangie Master Class at Whisky Live NYC (where I talked him into a bit of a blind tasting), but I'll never turn down an opportunity to get the "inside scoop" on what's happening in my favorite distilleries. It was - in a word - sublime to enjoy a dram of the delicious Ardbog while generally "shootin' the shit" with one of the most fun-loving personalities in the whisky biz.
Here's a summary of what I could get on the record:
While critical reception of Ardbog (which has already been in some tasters' hands since mid-week) has been generally quite positive, Mr. Blackmore was understandably tepid about pronouncing Ardbog to be anything "revolutionary" while simultaneously confident that it was quite excellent stuff. True 'nuff. I think much of the "sigh" reaction that you tend to hear amongst industry insiders is just weariness at the annual Ardbeg hype cycle itself, rather than the whisky. Also, there seems to be a weariness about sherry maturation setting in around some corners, with many renowned and respected tasters and bloggers swearing that ex-bourbon is just "where it's all at" right now. I think any judgment of Ardbog needs to be free of preconceived prejudices. In fact, if you've read my review, you'll see that I rate Ardbog easily above the Ardbeg Day and Galileo expressions, going so far as to say that it may turn out to be my favorite Ardbeg release yet - and that includes the Corryvreckan!
Why "Ardbog", given that this expression is actually none too monstrous on the phenol front?
"Well, I think it's a lot like the Uigeadail in some respects, while being 'dirtier' - a bit earthy. We don't take ourselves too seriously here," David said. The host at Julio's Liquors even joked about one of my recent "criticisms" of the Glenmorangie Master Class, where it seemed Mr. Blackmore was there to let us have our stab at what we thought we tasted, while telling us definitively what we were supposed to taste. If there's one thing I appreciate about whisky fans it's that everyone is a critic.
Glenmorangie's Cask Masters Project
If you haven't heard about Glenmorangie's Cask Masters Project, it's an industry first (as far as I can tell) attempt at crowd-sourcing extra maturation. Glenmorangie periodically releases private edition whiskies that showcase their mastery of ACE'ing (Additional Cask Enhancement). The Artein, for example, was extra matured in Super Tuscan wine casks. What the Cask Masters Project aims to do is give the public control of what cask to mature the next private edition in. Your choices: ex-Burgundy, ex-Bordeaux, and ex-Manzanilla.
I've said before that I tasted all three expressions at Whisky Live NYC, and I definitely preferred the Bordeaux above the other choices. I thought the Burgundy was too much at war in the glass and the Manzanilla was not enough of a departure from the signature, light Glenmo character. I was disappointed then to hear from Mr. Blackmore that the Manzanilla is currently in the lead among Cask Masters voters. I have my own suspicions as to why this could be so, starting with the fact that few of the voters have probably actually tasted the variations, having instead learned about them by tasting note videos on the Cask Masters website. The drawbacks here are obvious, like telling a Master Blender that he can't rely on the valinch and must instead go on what a stranger is going to text him about his casks. Please, please, voters, don't screw this up.
The other thing I discovered was that the Cask Masters Project is - for the moment - delayed. Mr. Blackmore didn't offer too many specifics as to why, aside from a bit of bureaucratic maneuvering in the UK and USA governments. However, I suspect it could just as easily be a master blender who thinks that many of the casks just aren't ready. After all, this isn't an exact science, and nobody's going to release a whisky for Glenmorangie - pioneer of ACE'ing extraordinaire - until it's perfect. Overall, while Glenmorangie is committed to this grand experiment, it sounds like there won't be another private edition until 2015 unless something changes. Still, with private editions like Astar and Ealanta still selling out there, I think I can entertain myself another two years just fine :-)