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Sunday, 1 March 2009

Rumble in the Jungle! (well... Penge actually...)





"IN THE REEEEEEEED CORNER....!! THE SOUTH SHORE SLASHER!!... THE PEATED POUNDER FROM ARDBEG. WEIGHING IN AT 100 PPM- SUPERNOVA"

"...AND IN THE BLUUUUUUUUUE CORNER...!! THE RASCAL FROM THE RHINNS!!... THE SMOKY SMASHER FROM BRUICHLADDICH. WEIGHING IN AT 131 PPM - OCTOMORE"

Imagine the scene. Boxing legend Don King, enters the ring, at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
The mood is very tense. Everyone is out in force to see this one.
Even the Beckham's are taking a night off prancing around Hollywood to take ring-side seats for 'THE' Battle Royale.

Two, dressing gown clad bottles slowly start to warm up, remove their capsules and menacingly stare at each other eyeball to eyeball. Tonight, there will be only one winner. Take no prisoners. The title of UNDISPUTED PEATED HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD is about to start!!!

Well, that's what would happen if we have more than a budget of £2.50.

The title of 'most peated whisky' probably deserves to be slugged out in better surroundings, rather than a hastily assembled ring on a suburban dining room table, but it was all we had- and to be honest, it was all we needed.
So much has been written and argued about both Supernova and Octomore on every blog/forum and whisky bar from Portsmouth to Port Ellen. We thought it was high time to find out pound-for-pound or 'peat-for-peat' who would come out on top...

SECONDS OUT! ROUND ONE!!

Ardbeg Supernova- 58.9% abv - 70cl - 100 PPM - NAS

Nose:
Here it comes- the haymaker to the schnozzle, surely a knockout blow... only it isn't! First whiff is actually something a lot more unexpected. Bananas.!? more precisely, smoked bananas, cooking softly and slowly on a whisky-fuelled log fire. It is really rather lovely, soft and unexpected. Then it hits you. Young, woody smoky peat, nothing medicinal, but it keeps on coming- and it's good. big dark chocolate notes also come through and all I could think of was that slow cooked banana in foil, covered with cocoa. Mmmmm.

Palate:
Again, softness! then some sherbet turns up. Not at all aggressive, but certainly feisty and very deeeeep. The peat is sweet and smoky. Intense, but not loud and brash. Like Anthony Hopkins in 'Silence of the Lambs'. No need for shouting, when you can be as eloquently menacing as this.

Finish:
As you'd expect - the length is ...well... very long. Peat, into wood smoke, into softer embers, like a dying fire. Great stuff.

Overall:
On any other occasion, this would be impossible to follow, the palate is coated and your senses are blasted. The peat is undoubtedly there in droves, but it somehow manages to keep it in check, whilst providing so much more.

Step forward the other contender. Will it take a walloping, or will it 'do a Rocky' and come through, the Hollywood hero?

Octomore: - 63.5% abv - 70cl - 131 PPM - 5 year old

Nose:
Wow - this is strong. There's a lot more spirit influence there, but clearly it's a more powerful whisky than the Ardbeg. Again, the peat doesn't hit you immediately with an iron bar, but creeps up on you and it's got a surprising subtlety about it. Smoked cheese notes emerge, alongside some roast nuts, butter and a definite earthiness. Whereas the Ardbeg was the desert, this is certainly the main course. I watered this a little and some slight pine notes come through and a real forest freshness.

Palate:
The sharpness of the alcohol gives way into a pretty rich mouth feel, then a fairy dry, gritty and zesty follow-through. With water, the real heart of the whisky comes though. It is rather lovely, with lemon and lime sherbet and some sweet fruit fondant flavours noticeable.

Finish:
The finish is more of the earthy peat, as opposed to the woody smoke our first contender showed. Very long and dry, with a coal dust and tar styled peaty finish, not dissimilar to a cask strength Caol Ila.

Overall:
A different whisky to the Ardbeg yet ironically similar, in that it was much more subtle than I expected, especially on the first few sips.

The Judges decision:
A close fought battle. Earlier points would have to go to the Ardbeg, for its sweeter approach but the 'Laddich battled back in the closing rounds with it's lengthy, peaty resilience. This one is no KO and will be a points decision.

Which do I prefer?...

The Ardbeg just tips it to be honest. It had more going on in the palate and a sweetness which just works brilliantly.
But... before the belt is handed over...

The winner of the 'Most Peated Whisky' title must go to the Bruichladdich. It is just more brutal and powerful, coupled with the massive long tarry finish. In true Rocky style, the Hollywood ending has happened!

Back in the real world, both these whiskies probably represent something of a novelty. The market for peat is obviously huge and like most, I love it. But will they win over any new converts to whisky? Probably not.
But who cares! it was a bloody good battle and we're now booking ring-side seats for
Ardbeg vs Bruichladdich... the Rematch!!