Youth must be served
By Franz Scheurer
Most Scottish Single Malts are released at 10 years old or older. Glen Grant is one of the few exceptions with its 5 year old cornering the Italian market. Contrary to Cognac, older is not necessarily better with Single Malts, as many lose much of their fruit with excessive age and become one dimensional. Due to the loss of the ‘angels’ share’, older whiskies’ cask strength is much lower, adding to the ‘mellow’ and ‘smooth’ perception of age. Although you can dilute and lower the strength of younger offerings it’s precisely that ‘kick’ or ‘burn’ of higher alcoholic strength that creates a huge following among the Single Malt aficionados.
Islay and Jura are not known for releasing young whiskies, but that may change with the recent release of Ardbeg’s ‘Very Young’ and the Isle of Jura’s 5 year old Single Malts.
The Ardbeg was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2004, entirely from first-fill casks, non-chill filtered, at a cask strength of 58.3% vol.
The Isle of Jura 5 y/o was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2004, non-chill filtered, at a cask strength of 60.6% vol.
The Ardbeg shows off its signature pale colour and literally reeks of peat as soon as you open the bottle. This is not so unusual as Ardbeg is known for its heavily peated whiskies.
The Isle of Jura however is a surprise. The colour is dark honey, darker than expected for a whisky this young, and again, is heavily peated, which is not usual at all for Jura. In fact I can’t recall a single Isle of Jura that ever showed a lot of peat.
Both are whiskies that simple can’t be ignored. They fill your mouth with flavour that extends to every last tastebud within a nanosecond of your first sip, and due to their strength give you immediate retro-nasal feedback. The Ardbeg is dry and floral with lots of notes of freshly dried hay, a little gust of salty sea air, with an incredibly long, idodiny, sea-weedy finish and a touch of maple syrup at the very end of the palate. The Isle of Jura is initially a lot sweeter, with honey, heather and Thai-style caramelised pork flavours, but finishes dry and clean with overtones of smoke and bonito flavoured dashi-custard. Diluted they both show the same, expected impurities; neither of them benefit from water at all. The Ardbeg loses its complexity and becomes one-dimensionally peaty and dry and the Isle of Jura becomes oily and unattractive. Both whiskies must be tasted at full strength, where they display an unequalled vibrancy.
Neither easy to get nor benign on the hip-pocket nerve, these are both absolutely glorious drams, worth every cent. I scored them both at 8.6/10 and am looking forward to many more encounters. I think, therefore I dram!