Whisky Advocate

Bill Lumsden, Pride, and some Alligators

April 26th, 2011

As far as Mondays go, yesterday was a particularly good one. I lunched in New York with Dr. Bill Lumsden, brilliant whisky creator for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg (and long-time friend).

I always enjoy my time with Bill. The icing on the cake is that he usually has a few samples of something fun in his bag. This time it was samples of Glenmorangie Pride, Ardbeg Alligator, and a third sample with the secret code name “Son of Alligator.”

That should have your attention–especially for all of you Ardbeg enthusiasts. I’ll get to Ardbeg soon enough, but let’s chat about Glenmorangie Pride first.

Glenmorangie Pride

Glenmorangie Pride is the newest creation by the Glenmo team. There were a lot of great whiskies that came from the 1981 Vintage (including the first Distillery Manager’s bottling that was available only at the distillery which was outstanding!), so this particular whisky has a fine pedigree. After aging for 18 years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, It was finished in Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes casks for 10 years before being bottled.

For many of you, reading about this whisky is merely academic. With only 1,000 bottles produced, only 100 available here in the U.S., and retailing for approximately $3,600 a bottle, most of you will not be rushing out to your specialty retailer to order a bottle. (And, to be perfectly honest, neither will I.) But, I was fortunate enough to receive a review sample of it over a week ago, and also had the opportunity to try it yesterday with Bill.

(For those of you interested in my thoughts on Pride, read on. For those of you who are mumbling under your breath that you don’t care what a $3,600 bottle of whisky tastes like, you can continue on to my Ardbeg write-up below.)

The bottom line: Pride is a very good whisky (probably low 90s) and I don’t think anyone who purchases a bottle will be disappointed. Is it my favorite Glenmo? No. And I’ll explain why. (My favorite Glenmorangie whisky on the market is probably Astar, in case you were wondering.)

The two key influences in this whisky are: Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes wine and the French Oak casks the wine (and eventually the Glenmorangie) was aged in. The lovely sweet wine notes really impact the palate, especially up front, with sweet, lush, fruity notes (lemon custard, sultana, honeydew). Gradually, the resinous French Oak influence reveals itself, balancing the sweetness with a barrage of spice, tannin, and a gripping resinous finish.

This is a very textural whisky. It’s dynamic and always evolving. That’s what I like about it. The last thing this whisky will ever be is boring.

If I were being picky (I get paid to be picky, so I will), I would like to see Pride with a little less wood influence (especially on the finish). I completely understand why he bottled the whisky at 28 years and 9 months, rather than waiting until it was 30 years old to do so (which might have made the marketing department happy, but the whisky probably would have suffered for it).  That being said, I can only wonder how amazing this whisky could have been if it were bottled, say, after only  25 years? I would be willing to sacrifice some of the lovely sweet Sauternes influence for a whisky that might have achieved even greater balance, integration, and complexity with less wood impact.

Ardbeg Alligator (and the “Son of Alligator”)

Welcome to what is now becoming an annual occurrence: a new Ardbeg release. Last year it was Rollercoaster. This year, it’s Ardbeg Alligator. Why the name Alligator? Well, a portion of the whisky was aged in heavily charred barrels (that Bill refers to as an “Alligator” char).

As he describes it: “It’s similar to Ardbeg 10 year old, but with bells and whistles.” (I was waiting for him to say it’s  like the 10 year old, but a bit more hard-skinned and with a bite. :))

The age of the whisky is also very similar to Ardbeg 10. It’s a combination of some “regular” Ardbeg with some of the Alligator char-aged Ardbeg which was then aged an additional year in refill casks to marry and integrate. (I promised Bill I wouldn’t go into any more detail than this, so please don’t ask.)

My thoughts?: It’s an aggressive Ardbeg (and will be bottled at 51.7%) with a good dose of smoked fish in the flavor profile. The nice thing about it is that there’s a good creamy vanilla underbelly to balance the aggressiveness and (at least partially) muzzle the Alligator. Alligator should be available here in the U.S. in June as an “Ardbeg Committee” release.

The third sample Bill pulled out, which he calls the “Son of Alligator,” was much different that Alligator. Bill hinted that this might be next year’s Limited-edition Ardbeg release. it was softer, creamier, and fruitier than Alligator, with a good does of creamy vanilla, custard, and stone fruits (peach, apricot, perhaps even nextarine.)

Would any of you (who are still reading this long post) like to wager why the good doctor is calling it “Son of Alligator?” Is Bill using the emptied alligator-char casks an additional time? I honestly don’t know. I’m just guessing. What’s your guess?

22 Responses to “Bill Lumsden, Pride, and some Alligators”

  1. Alex says:

    I had Alligator at one of the Committee summits. I liked it a lot, more than the Corry, although ANB is still my favorite.

    Ardbeg with stone fruits sounds very interesting too!

  2. Serge says:

    Hi John, I liked the Pride quite a lot (hadn’t seen the decanter yet, and I had thought the price was going to be ‘only’ £1000, so my impressions weren’t biased ;-)) Ahem. Interesting comments you make about a younger version, did you ever try the 21yo 1981/2002 ‘Sauternes’? Very good stuff… It may have been the same batch that had spent much less time in the Yquem casks. As you know, Yquem belongs to LVMH as well. Funny how distillers sometimes choose wines that belong to the same companies (Lagrange – Suntory/Bowmore and so on…)

    • John Hansell says:

      Yes, that earlier bottling was very good stuff. (And I would be willing to wager from the same stocks…). If so, we tasted it at 21 year old and also at 28+, but where did it peak, I wonder? That’s why I am thinking (guessing) 25 years old?

    • Mark C says:

      I’ve seen a lot of whisky finished in Yquem from Murray McDavid recently. I’m generally not a fan of wine finishes but would be happy to try this one just to make sure 😉

      • Serge says:

        Mark, I’m no fan either but I’ve had some very good Sauternes (or other sweet whites) finishings. There’s a company in France that specialised in such finishings and do that since many years (before Glenmorangie). The series is called Celtic Connexion and they use genuine Sauternes, Cadillac, Monbazillac, Saussignac and several others. All ‘natural’ sweet whites, no ‘muted’ ones.
        John, I agree, probably around 25 years. Yquem only use first fill (just like bourbon makers) so the casks are probably very active when used for whisky for the first time, even if Yquem keep the wines for a long time in the barriques (3 years I think).
        I think there’s also a difference between genuine first fill ‘chateau’ barrels and refills or even wine treated hoggies… But that’s another matter. I think ex-wine hoggies are also starting to appear at the coopers’.

  3. thomas mckenzie says:

    John, they were havy charred new barrels?

    • John Hansell says:

      I think they were charred at Speyside Cooperage. Not confirmed, but just a guess, which would suggest they might not be new charred.

    • Brian Bradley (Brian 47126) says:

      At the release party she said they were level 4 charred barrels. I am not certain if they were new oak;however, I believe they were.

  4. John – is that a genuine pack-shot of the Pride?

  5. bj reed says:

    Serge raises a good point of comparison with Pride and the earlier 21 which I thought was an outstanding whisky (and one I should have gotten my hands on) – How does it stack up with that one?

    I also think Glenmo has to be careful on aging because it can get woody in the cask. Even Bill, Rachel and others at Glenmo have stated as much in the past. So, why 28 is a good question. Still, Sauterne casks don’t overwhelm whisky like other wine finishes do.

    I see pattern with Rollercoaster and Allegator (BTW I thin Allegator is better than Rollercoaster and the charring does add some great barbecue notes) and the recent release of Finealta to go with Sonnelta – I assume this means that both Glenmo and Ardbeg plan annual release into the future. I am fine with that if the price point isn’t crazy and we get to explore some fun expressions.

  6. Gal Granov says:

    What can i say?

    better concentrate on the “alligator” which i can afford. Aggressive Ardbegs tend to be very good, so looking forward to tasting it.
    Wish i could meet with the good doctor, the only doc i am happy to meet any day!

    Cheers john for a lovely post.


  7. Barry Jay says:

    I’m liking that the big boys on the block (and the girls) are crafting up some new and bold expressions. It really does seem like the craft beer industry; even the names are getting there. Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing “Peat Wallop” and “Arrogant Islay”…

  8. Mike Dereszynski says:

    The Good Doctor Lumsden loves his children.
    I remember him calling the Finalta his “grandson of Sonalta”.
    The Son of Aligator?
    To have a son you need a Pappy and a Mammy.Is there a Mariage planned at Ardbeg? Perhaps its something the Marketing Dept. came up with to go along with the two “Choppers” the Spirit of Islay and the Beist. In any case I know with people like Doctor Bill and Rachel Barrie creating it,the Son of Aligator will be a monster and not just a Marketing pile of Croc.
    Did the Doctor give you an update on the Sassicaia?

  9. […] writes about Glenmorangie Pride, a 28 years Glenmo for just $3600, a bargain. Also he tasted Ardbeg Alligator, which seems that will be bottled at 51.7% and that will be available at USA as a Committee release […]

  10. Red_Arremer says:

    John, wanted to make a general comment. I really like the style of this post and your last post– The informal thoughts on whisky set in the context of your experiences and casual insights. No review numbers. I don’t expect it every day, but it’s very enjoyable and refreshing.

  11. Fred says:

    Hi John,

    Concerning the son of alligator, I would suspect there is an additional finish based on the Alligator, like a sherry finish that would explain some of the flavors you had and would justify the name as it is made from the Alligator.

    The son of alligator seemed to look like the Beast (Arigh Nam Beast) with more teeth

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