What you need to know:
- Feis Ile is a whisky festival held annually for the distilleries on Islay, one of Scotland’s key whisky-producing regions. It translates to Islay Festival.
- Ardbeg is releasing a bottling called “Scorch” for this year’s Feis Ile.
- It highlights the use of Ardbeg’s most heavily-charred casks, which legend has it that a dragon that lives in Warehouse No. 3 scorched till chao-tah.
- Charring causes blisters to the surface of the cask which increases surface area in contact with the whisky, therefore imparting strong flavors.
- Notes to expect are soot (obviously), aniseed, liquorice, medicinal and tarry.
- Laphroaig and Lagavulin lovers, Ardbeg is trying to win you over!
You gotta really give it to the marketing team over at Ardbeg. They’re really a creative bunch when it comes to weaving their whiskies into stories. And I suppose that is somewhat the magic about whiskies right?
You ever see anybody write stories on craft beers?
Most tequila connoisseurs are too blacked out drunk to write their own names.
Every story about wine involves the quintessential four-part story – it always starts with the setting, some obscure plot of land, then you have the Herculean challenge, “it was like impossible, IMPOSSIBLE, for the grapes to grow”, and then the hit song of the album, “tannins”, and lastly sprinkle in an obscure fact, “Do you get abit of orange zest? Well that’s cos one ocean over there is an orange farm. That’s the terroir”.
With whiskies it’s always about an idea, something that jiggles the brain to start jogging again. I like that about whiskies.
Now back to Ardbeg.
First we had Arrrrrrrdbeg! (with 7 “r”s) to commemorate the retirement of Ardbeg’s manager (or otherwise its Captain), followed by Fermutation, for whiskies that underwent an extended fermentation cycle, and now Scorch, which highlights the use of Ardbeg’s most heavily-charred casks, which legend has it that a dragon that lives in Warehouse No. 3 scorched till chao-tah (as we call it in Singapore to mean burnt to a crisp).
Those blackened chao tah bits on local carrot cake (called chai tao kway). If served in the UK, it’d be called Singaporean Wok Blackened Turnip Cubes. (Image Source: Visit Singapore)
That’s really one of the perks of reading a whisky blog written by Asians, you pick up all these cool lingo that you can flash at your friends. Say it with me now: chao tah = burnt crisp.
So anyway back to the casks in question, these are heavily charred ex-Bourbon American Oak casks, and this bottle will be released to commemorate the annual Feis Ile festival, “Feis Ile” meaning Islay Festival.
Feis Ile at Ardbeg Distillery. (Image Source: Visit Britain)
So saying Feis Ile festival is like your habit that just won’t quit of ordering chai tea latte at Starbucks/Coffee Bean, when “chai” already means tea. Come on man, get it together!
For Feis Ile 2021, much like the Campbeltown Malts Festival, the event will be held online due to Covid, and Ardbeg has unveiled a new bottling, “Scorch”, which is expected to have the following notes:
Nose: Aromas of soot and smoke, aniseed and patchouli
Palate: Oily texture, sweet smoke, grilled fare, black liquorice and medicinal lozenge
Finish: Long, subtle tarry aftertaste
This will likely come in two strengths, a higher strength for the Committee Release, and a lower strength for the mass market, as is Ardbeg’s tradition.
Once again, joining the Committee is free I might add.
Just hit the link here: https://www.ardbeg.com/en-int/committee
It might be alittle hard to visualize and understand what the big fuss is with charring, so we’ve found a nifty infographic for you.
While charring is not used for all casks, it certainly has a big influence on the flavor of the whiskies when used.
What is the point of all of this you might wonder.
(Image Source: Micro Stock Sec)
Well, the maturation phase of the whisky (when all the fermentation and distillation is done) is a highly crucial part of the whisky’s lifecycle and has a big role to play in the final flavor of the whisky.
Using a highly active cask ie. one that imparts a lot of flavor to the whisky, can influence the whisky to take on very distinctive flavors from the cask.
In the case of sherry casks, you get sweet, spicy whiskies that taste of ripe fruits, raisins, mocha and can get a little drying. With first-fill bourbon casks, the casks give off sweet vanilla creaminess much like ice cream soda.
Active casks can come in the form of
1. The physical attributes of the cask (eg. Shape, Size, Texture, Material),
2. What was used to season the cask before whiskies were matured in it (eg. Sherry, Bourbon, Beer even), and
3. The number of times the cask has been used (eg. First-fill or virgin, second-fill).
(Image Source: BBC)
Examples of how physical attributes can affect the active-ness of a cask include Chichibu Distillery’s Chibidaru casks that are quarter the size of normal casks and so impart flavors faster, or Japanese Oak (or Mizunara) casks which are highly porous and give off strong musky sandalwood flavors.
This is where charring comes in. Charring causes the cask to blister giving it a higher surface area in contact with the whisky and coupled with the char on the surface, makes for a highly active cask.
Even within Sherry alone, there are various types of Sherrys that used to season whisky casks. (Image Source: Whiskey Muse)
It also makes obvious sense that if a cask had previously held a strongly flavored liquid like Rum or Sherry, the whisky matured in it subsequently would be quite heavily influenced.
Hence, good distilleries are able to time it to perfection when a whisky is ready and not be under or overwhelmed by the flavors of the cask used.
Lastly, intuitively, a cask that has been reused multiple times would lose its strength and have a weakened influence. Here you’d spot words like “first-fill” or “second-fill”.
Keep in mind, unlike F1 or your test scores, first is not always the best. Sometimes a second-fill is better suited for the whisky.
Frankly it isn’t rocket science, the ultimate flavor of the whisky is the resultant combination of the whisky itself before maturation (also called distillate if you wanna be professional) and the flavors from the cask or multiple casks used.
A good whisky blends a distillate that is reflective of the distillery’s characteristic flavor profile with the appropriate cask to complement the underlying flavors.
Back to Ardbeg Scorch, it sounds like a smoke bomb so calling at Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Octomore, and Port Charlotte lovers! This sounds like the whisky for you. Unfortunately, I have a baby’s palate and tend towards lighter, more floral and fruity whiskies, so it’s a pass from me.
See ya dragon! Kanpai!