Bill Lumsden, Pride, and some Alligators
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 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?