Outside the Box: From Armagnac to Ardbeg

I’m trying a different approach/format today. Let’s see how it goes.

Location: Hollingbury Castle [wiki], the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. What’s left is the outer ring of the camp which these days finds itself in the middle of a golf course.

Hollingbury Golf course.jpg

It’s a beautiful evening. I’ve never seen so many people on a golf course. As much as I have enjoyed a bit of golf in the past, it’s so nice to see all this land being used for all manner of recreational activities by individuals, couples and families.

On the tasting-front, first up is a mystery dram.


Dalmore 12yo [2020] Ob. 40% WB80.67[636] WF84

Dalmore 12yo.jpg
[WB photo]
  • N,T,F: Apparently, this had arrived in the post a few hours earlier but it smells and tastes not like a neck-pour, but as if it’s been nicely opened up for a month. It also appears far older than a 12. I guessed 15-18. Is this the effect of being outside? There are some bits that don’t quite work perfectly. For example, there’s form throughout even if it’s somewhat short and stilted. If however, you’re after a sherry fix that isn’t a hit, with dusty citrus into chalkiness underlying, then this may be for you.
  • C: The last time I tried contemporary Dalmore 12 was in 2013! We were surprised at how good this was.

Provisionally scores 83 points – which means that both [W&M’s] Dalmore and Jura 12s currently beat Balblair’s 12yo [WLP] hands down. What a change.


On a beautiful sunny evening on an old hill fort overlooking the sea, what could be the main event? Armagnac of course, samples from an [MoM] advent calendar I bought in 2017!!

Here’s four from Baron de Sigognac

Baron de Sigognac Armagnac flight.jpg

  1. 10yo Bas-Armagnac 40%: Nothing wrong with this. With all the elements in place, what a great introduction to armagnac for the uninitiated. Scores 80 points.
  2. XO Platinus 40%: This received an immediate positive reaction although we found the abv strength disappointing, a constant issue throughout the Sigognac range. This prompted talk of buying that St. Vincent rum at 84.5% abv that Ralfy recommended to ‘alcohance’ weakly presented spirits. Now, back to the armagnac! Despite the strength/weakness, I found it complex, interesting and talkative. Scores 84 points.
  3. VSOP 40% [WF82]: VSOP is older than XO right? I’m always forgetting the rules and amendments. Oh, I got it the wrong way round. Never mind. This seemed more [abv] sensitive/even weaker than the XO. Liquorice prompts more bitterness, in a desirable way for me. This could work very well with food and at times when you’re after something more gentile. Scores 83 points.
  4. 20yo 40%: Too woody? Not for me, but we have certainly reached another ageing strata. Currently priced at around £70, of the four, this is the one for me. Scores 85 points.


To finish this random session, a smoker that also just arrived in the post.

Ardbeg 5yo [2020] Ob. Wee Beastie 47.4% [btl code:L738061] WB86.02[98]

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5yo.jpg

If this had been an annual release accompanied with all the bells n whistles marketing flannel and a bumped-up price tag, I’d have ignored it. But it’s affordable, available [in Europe but not the UK yet ?!?], and its got an age statement. ‘Brave’, some say. I agree, and yet 5yo whisky has been around for decades. A common sight on the whisky landscape of the 1960s-80s, Scotch with a 5yo age statement was a regular feature for distilleries such as Auchentoshan, Balblair, Caperdonich, Glenburgie, Glenesk, Glenfarclas, Glen Flager, Glen Grant, Glen Moray, Glen Scotia, Tomatin, Tullibardine,…. and many others. Modern examples include Bunnahabhain [Staoisha], Octomore [05.1], Gelston’s, Hinch, Akashi,… Whisky with a 5yo age statement isn’t a new manoeuvre. We’ve just had to endure a number of heavy marketing/NAS/anti-disclosure years to get back to where we were.

  • So how is the Ardbeg? Very pleasing. This smells and tastes like the ingredients its made of – toasted malted barley and sweet vegetal peat smoke. All good so far.
  • And the ‘wee’ [47.4%] punch? I find it decidedly relaxed. Also, there is no neck pour issue, but again, we are outdoors which must be having quite an effect.
  • The form is measured and overall, it’s clean but not clinical.
  • C: Another good move from Ardbeg. Really impressed with this wee 5yo. I don’t think peeps will be disappointed.

[Provisionally scores 85 points]



We discuss Barry C. Smith et al [WLP] and the ‘every glass of whisky is different’ philosophy. ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man‘ – Heraclitus.

We ponder the disadvantages of tasting in isolation and tasting individual whiskies in isolation as a missed opportunity. The antidote: pair, contrast, bounce ideas off each other and build ideas around collective appreciation. That is, getting away from the good/bad, young/old, ‘it’s not as good as last year’ approach, which I for one am frequently guilty of doing. I like Ardbaggy’s thinking around the next [whatever distillery’s] release isn’t better or worse than the last, it’s just the next/different version/profile of whisky from that distillery. Note to self: watch, observe, enjoy.

Why wine tasting is hard Barry C Smith

We ponder tasting notes and the usefulness of listing descriptors for individual spirits/brandy/rum/wine/food,… We discuss the benefit of whittling complex observations down to a sentence or even 2-3 words. Basically, prompts in order to re-map/re-group whiskies not by age, region or cask type, but by character, mouthfeel –  ‘waxy like Clynelish’ for example. In this way, you could group/pair/contrast any spirit of any age, distillation type, origin, mash bill,…. if they shared similar character traits or promoted further understanding.

Scotch whisky experience COLLECTION

Finally, we discuss the importance of a living library and the cost to set one up. One could viably set up a half-decent [core-range & Indie] reference library with 20cl bottles.







outside the box


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