Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Scotch Whisky: Single Malt of the Year”: Ardbeg Corryvreckan

February 7th, 2010

Scotch Whisky: Single Malt of the Year

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 57.1%, $85

Dr. Bill Lumsden is a brilliant innovator, and he’s the creative mind behind the new Glenmorangie and Ardbeg releases. This new Ardbeg Corryvreckan replaces Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist. (Bill, how about a whisky name that most of us can actually pronounce?)

As you can imagine, the “short list” for this award category was actually quite long, because there are so many great single malts on the market. One of deciding factors for picking “Corry” is that it is part of the new trend in malt whisky (younger whiskies, not chill-filtered, with interesting names instead of age statements). And while there are many whiskies that fit this category (and will be many more over the next several years), Corry is an example of the proper way to do it. It is a relatively young, invigorating, complex, and meticulously cared for whisky.

It’s also powerful, muscular, and well-textured. (I think part of this texturing is that some of the whisky was aged in French oak casks, rather than American or Spanish oak.) Even within the realm of Ardbeg, Corry stands out. The more aggressive notes of coal tar, damp kiln, anise, and smoked seaweed are supported by an array of fruit (black raspberry, black cherry, plum), dark chocolate, espresso, molasses, bacon fat, kalamata olive, and warming cinnamon on the finish. Quite stunning!

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Awards announcement: Pioneer of the Year.

37 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Scotch Whisky: Single Malt of the Year”: Ardbeg Corryvreckan”

  1. A very interesting choice, John. I take it that you think the hefty price tag actually is adequate. So far that has kept my from buying a bottle, but I will get a sample soon. I’m especially interested how the combination of bacon fat and espresso will work out ;-)

  2. gal says:

    a smacking dram! it’s #2 on my favorite Islays. (after Uigedail).
    it has a loot of OOMPH, oh my god. and yet complex. I love my Islays Young,Pearty, Powerful and interesting, and it has all 3.
    Bill, you’re one genius innovator.
    thanks on behalf of all Islayphills.

  3. two-bit cowboy says:

    John — your award gives this whisky credibility. Thanks for your objectivity. One of my standards is Glenlivet 15; I look forward to seeing how the French oak plays with the Ardbeg.

    Gal — I, too, am a big fan of Uigeadail. This will have to go some to pass, or even catch, it.

  4. B.J. Reed says:

    Great choice – John

    Did you ever to a side by side with the Corry and the one issued by the Committee? I am nursing my Committee bottling but maybe I don’t have to if this one is very similar.

    • John Hansell says:

      BJ: The Committee bottling was aged in more 1st fill French oak, for more of a “leathery bite” as Bill Lumsden describes it. This whisky was “cut” with first fill and refill bourbon casks. I have samples of both and will try to do a side-by-side tasting soon. (Maybe with the new Rollercoaster too?)

    • John Hansell says:

      I am comparing the two right now (and will also next to Rollercoaster in a second). The flavor profiles are pretty close. I agree with Bill in his assessment. I actually like the general release better. Slightly better balance for me.

      I’m tasting the Rollercoaster right now. I’ll put my notes up on the most recent Rollercoaster post.

  5. Alex says:

    B. J. – There is side by side notes here from Whiskyhost:

    http://whiskyhost.blogspot.com/2009/12/sweet-peaty-treats.html

    Picking up my bottle this week!

    • WHISKYhost says:

      Thanks so much for the link, Alex. My blog numbers have enjoyed a rather healthy bump today! Thanks, also, to those of you who have clicked through (feel free to look around once you get there — click ‘tasting notes’ on the left sidebar to see our full list).

      Happy dramming everyone,
      Jason @WHISKYhost

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Thanks Alex

  6. Louis says:

    John,

    Great choice. Despite the economy, I held my breath and picked up a bottle, and I was noy the least bit disappointed. The Corryvreckan is a muscular Ardbeg, and we haven’t had one like that sold in the US. While I know that it is only around 10 years old (that’s what they told me at Whiskyfest), this is one time I have to suspend my value system.

    And yes, I am a big fan of the Uigeadail, with several more in my reserve stock. The Uigeadail gives the dimensions of young and old, while the Corryvreckan splits the difference. Worth tasting side by side.

    Slainte.

    Louis

  7. bgulien says:

    Good choice John,. I liked the Committee Corry better, but that is nit-picking, because there is not that much between it.
    I can believe it was a hard choice, with all the excellent whiskies around.
    Would love to see the actual “shortlist”, John.

    • I think it is a good decision not to select a limited release that is already sold out. Awards like this are always buying recommendations as well, and I think many would be disappointed if a very hard to get bottling got the award.

    • John Hansell says:

      bgulien, Oliver: A close second was the Brora 30 year old (2009) release I reviewed a few weeks back, but Corry seemed more appropriate for the reasons I describe above in my post.

  8. Bomber says:

    1. Great malt. I can not decide whether the Supernova is better though. I have been pleasantly surprised by all of the recent releases from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg the past year or two. Although I usually go for the “peatier” stuff, I truly appreciate the subtly of the Dr. Lumsden’s creations. Signet is a spectacular malt and I just tried the Sonalta PX which turned out to be a very well rounded dram. Hat’s off to all of them. I am looking forward to trying Ardbeg Rollercoaster.

  9. Mark says:

    Oh, yes, admirable choice, John; truly sophisticated Islay, not peat just for peat’s sake

  10. [...] want to steal the thunder Ardbeg Corryvrecken winning our “Whisky of the Year” honors here this morning, so I held off posting anything about Rollercoaster until after the awards [...]

  11. More great praise for Dr. Lumsden and his amazing whiskys. I tried all the Glenmorangie together and had the honor of talking shop with and sharing a dram with David Blackmore, Brand Ambassador for Glenmorangie & Ardbeg, last year and he was very excited at the time with what Ardbeg was doing. I love these creations and continue to look forward to their fine work.

  12. Red_Arremer says:

    John,

    This looks like a choice, which is on the one hand highly questionable, and on the other a guaranteed crowd-pleaser— not like the choice of a discerning and independent palate.

    The Corry is a good example of the biggest trends (NAS, heavily peated, cask strength, no color, no chill filtering) in high end malts today, but nothing more. Last year, we both tasted a lot of malt whiskies, which we know were better than the Corry so I won’t insult you with a list.

    • John Hansell says:

      Red, please keep in mind that our “Whisky of the Year” award winners aren’t necessarily the highest rated whiskies in their category. Other factors are considered (like if they are trendsetters, pioneering in some way, etc.). All these factors are considered before a decision is rendered.

      I don’t expect everyone to agree with every award winner we select. That’s an impossible task. But, if you disagree with our decision and think something else should have won, then tell us. Please insult me with your list. And let others engage in the conversation.

  13. Ernest says:

    Not sure how to take that comment so I’d like to see the list as well. Especially since we’re painted as nothing but the followers of the latest fads and trends for agreeing with the choice. We can’t all be brilliant I guess.

  14. JC Skinner says:

    Definitely an intriguing winner.
    I agree with the person who said it will likely raise questions and please the crowd in equal measure. This sort of award does drive people towards a whisky they mightn’t otherwise have tried, and it’s certainly an interesting direction to point people in.
    Heavily-peated young Islays aren’t everyone’s idea of an optimal whisky. But they are for many. I wonder whether those who haven’t been bitten by that particular bug will be persuaded by this award.
    I’ve been impressed with a lot of younger whiskies recently, and definitely believe that older isn’t necessarily better.
    On the other hand, it is still nice to be able to know from the label exactly what’s in the bottle. I think the fans of this whisky, judging from some of the comments above, are already well-versed on what’s in the Corryvreckan. But I for one would welcome the wave of NAS, funkily named young whiskies a lot quicker if they didn’t treat the contents like some state secret or obscure information that you have to research online.

  15. Grist42 says:

    John & everyone
    The secrecy around the age is perhaps understandable: but I see you characterise it as “relatively young”.
    Any guesses about the age range?

  16. Red_Arremer says:

    Corry’s no trendsetter or pioneer– it’s a follower, it settles down comfortably in land cleared by others, in an established community that is just the right size to be very cozy, and feels awfully proud of itself for doing so. Since PC5 there have just been more and more whiskies like this.

    Another thing to think about– add the Corry’s award to the Peat Monster’s award and you’ve got the entire world of scotch being “reconized” in two NAS, heavily peated, bourbon casked malts… There’s something pretty off about that– even though i love Compass Box and I think the Corry’s really alright. You’re completely passing over all of the nuances that interesting cask selection and prolonged maturation offer. I don’t understand why…

    Here’s a very off-the-cuff list of whiskies released this past year that were surely better with stars next to the best and most viable picks for this actual award:

    *Brora 30 (the best)
    * Laphroaig 25 (something really special)
    * Glenmorangie Signet (you want pioneering…)
    * Springbank 11 Madeira Cask (you want individuality and substance)
    * Glenmorangie Astar (something really different)
    *Ardbeg Supernova and Octomore (both as good or better than Corry– and actually somewhat trendsetting because all the comparison of the two very explicitly set the tone of the new peat race mentality)

  17. John Hansell says:

    Red, those are all great whiskies, most of which I have rated in the 90s. (You will see some of these on our Top Ten New Whiskies List this coming Thursday.) And as I mentioned in @7 above, the Brora 30 was our runner up. (Too bad we didn’t pick that one. Then people would complain about how we picked an expensive, unaffordable whisky of “prolonged maturation” that’s nearly impossible to find. :) . You see, no matter what I do, someone will be unhappy.)

    The pioneering part of Corry is that they may not to be the first one to to make NAS, relatively young, peated whiskies. I just feel they are doing it better than the other ones you mention. I disagree with you about Supernova and/or Octomore (or PC5 for that matter) being better than Corry. We will also just agree to disagree on this issue.

    I really think all this is just splitting hairs, though, as we are debating over highly qualified, very worthy whiskies.

    • B.J. Reed says:

      This debate is a healthy one I think – I am a big Corry fan and own or have tasted most of the whiskies Red mentions but eventually you have to make a decision and not everyone will agree. John has a high profile so when he makes a call about a whisky it carries weight but it also carries responsibility. In my view our role is to both support and challenge those decisions in a constructive way.

      • John Hansell says:

        Responsibility indeed, BJ. A huge responsibility. These decisions were carefully considered. I kvew that Corry would be more controversial. The “easy” pick would have been Brora 30 yr., my second choice. But I was trying to make a point with Corry. We have seen–and will continue to see–many relatively young NAS whiskies coming on the market, many of them peated. I wanted to show the the consumer, press, and trade that there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Corry is the right way.

        • John, again and again your whiskey blog provides a really enriching and vibrant forum for whiskey discussion. In all honesty I think that “splitting hairs” is part of why I read this blog — arguments, concerns, criticisms, and tasting descriptions are all enriched with so many voices and I think arguing over little details is very healthy in this context. And after all, we all come here because, at least we agree about one thing: we love whiskey.
          Conferring awards is a tricky business and I think it puts the Conferor (you) automatically in a defensive position, at the very least defending your choice of Corry. And it’s the details of your defense, or the “splitting hairs” part that is really where I gain the most insights and education.

  18. [...] winners since our last post: Ardbeg Corryvreckan gets Scotch Whisky Single Malt of the Year, and Compass Box Peat Monster wins Scotch Whisky Blended Whisky of the [...]

  19. TheMandarin says:

    Earlier today, a friend and I were talking about Corry winning Single Malt of the Year, and after thinking about it for a bit, I came to see that the pick speaks volumes.
    The way I see it, Corry is being held up as King of the current era, but it’s not a ruling king-of-the-single malts, it really is more of a figure head. Look at what this era meant to the whisky masses, and you’ll see why Corry was the appropriate figurehead for us to look up to…This era was the whisky boom which depleted stocks and raised prices, it was the economic recession which left us with empty pockets, and it was the time when NAS, non-chill filtered, heavily peated whisky came to be seen as the solution: as the bridge between the two. The heavy peat works well with the young spirit, and as one malt advocate poster said many months ago, “a dark time calls for a scarred, smoky profile.” Why is it non chill-filtered?…to acknowledge the demands of newer, well-read connoisseurs .

    There was some question as to where the new approach to whisky would bring us good malts or bad malts, but singles like Corry…and let’s be honest, the man Bill Lumsden, has issued a positive and encouraging judgment. Several other quality malts speak to this era, but Corry is debonair, it drinks well at a high proof, and it’s from Ardbeg, the distillery that perhaps best represents the concerns of the current era.

    Now this may be neither here nor there, but I can’t help but think how Bill Lumsden wouldn’t have chosen Corry as his favorite new creation. What do you all think?

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Bill Lumsden has really made his mark for Moet-Hennessy in a short period of time. His impact on both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie is pretty extraordinary – Like it or not Glenmorangie has moved upscale quickly which I think was the plan when M-H both them but they have done while experimenting (Astar and Signet).

      I think they have been smart to keep Ardbeg true to its roots but have also experimented with flavor profiles that have given us great whiskies including Corry. Key is not to to get too carried away with these variations to the detriment of of the basic brand. That will be the challenge.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        Unfortunately B.J., they can’t rise to that challenge right now because they don’t have the stocks. They’re lucky that for various reasons they’ve been able to find viability, and in the premium scotch market no less, with their very young whiskies. We’re lucky too because this way they get to stay open.

        I only hope their putting some stocks away for more serious maturation.

        • B.J. Reed says:

          Red, right you are – Its been interesting to watch Ardbeg and Bruichladdich and see how they have handled the low stock issue – Not bad, just different. Bruichladdich has produced lots of finishes of younger whisky, tried the high peat, high alcohol, salutes to golf and yellow submarines – They have done this because they have to keep in business and they cannot do it with 25 YO Bruichladdich – They don’t have it! I give lots of credit to McCuen and Reynier for the guts they have shown even though it doesn’t always work.

          Ardbeg, on the other hand has brought us along on the ride with their First Committee bottled and then followed with Still Young…Almost There and so forth. They have now gone to the mixing of older with younger stocks to try and meet demand. Bruichladdich has taken a cue from Ardbeg and is doing the PC series like Ardbeg did the Committee bottlings with a great deal of success (and a great product).

          I agree with you that I hope they are putting down stock that they can bring out at a later date – I have this sense that their is a healthy competition between these two distilleries that (Supernova and Octomore) that will be good for the consumer/collector in the long run.

  20. Kate Buford says:

    Tell us how you came up with the name Corryvreckan. Some of us have a working theory, but want it verified.

    Thanks!

  21. H.Diaz says:

    Go ahead, take a nice – neat dram of Corryvreckan and hold it for a minute or two. Pow. Fireworks. Supernova taken this same way is much – much better. Nearly an hour later, Supernova is still there.

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