Category Archives: Ardbeg

An interview with Dr. Bill “Billy” Lumsden of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie

A short while back I had the good opportunity to interview one Mr./Dr. Bill Lumsden.  Billy, as his friends call him.  Actually, this interview was about a year and a half in the making.  When I had heard that Glenmorangie & Ardbeg went for OU Kosher certification for the US market, I had it in my head that I should interview Dr. Bill.

Even though this is a blog for ALL whisky lovers (be they people just getting into whisky or whisky veterans), it is called the “Jewish” Single Malt Whisky Society so I imagined that the kosher-keeping Jews who followed our blog would want to know more.

So I reached out to David Blackmore, Global Brand Ambassador for Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, and he vowed to set it up.  Sadly, and for many different reasons, the stars never aligned – until now!

Bill shared some good information with me including some details on the Glenmorangie Private Edition release, the next Ardbeg and what might very well be another few Ardbeg releases in the near future.

A big thanks goes out to David Blackmore for setting this up and another to Dr. Bill (Billy) for being such a great interviewee.  We had a lot of fun!

Enjoy! (a bit of patience, please.  You may have a wait a short bit for the Soundcloud player to load below)

So you’re aware, I missed my train to NYC to meet with David and Bill so we moved the interview from the offices of Moet Hennessey to wonderful restaurant downstairs, Colicchio & Sons (yes, Colicchio as in Tom Colicchio of Top Chef).  That being said, there’s a bit of background noise/music/chatter.

Lastly, the last word in the interview got cut off.  In case you couldn’t tell from the context, Bill’s last word was “Interesting”…

An interview with Dr. Bill Lumsden coming soon – Here’s your chance to ask him a question!

Most people know who Dr. Bill Lumsden is.  Those of you who don’t, he’s THE guy who is in charge of creating all of the Ardbeg & Glenmorangie expressions you enjoy day in and day out.

Glenmorangie Signet, Astar, Nectar D’Or, Quinta Ruban, Lasanta, Original, Sonnalta PX, Finealta… yup, we can thank Dr. Bill for those

Ardbeg Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, 10yo, Supernova, Alligator, Airigh Nam Beist, etc… we can thank him for those too.

So now you know who we’re talking about.  I’m going to be interviewing him very soon and I figured I’d give you the chance to offer up a question or two for Dr. Bill.  If you have one, please comment on this blog post.

Here & now is your chance!

Ardbeg Alligator – A surprising little snapper!

Islay region – 51.2%ABV – $89 – $139 (big, dumb price variance.  Can you say price “gouging”?  I know some US retailers can) | £58 | €67

Man-o-Maneschewitz, was the cat let out of the bag on this one or what?!

That’s right.  On January 14th, 2011, it was prematurely announced that Ardbeg would be releasing a new whisky: Alligator.

I remember this day quite well as the whisky world was in a tizzy and the folks at LVMH were scrambling a bit (or so I heard).  Think of all the time, planning and money spent on marketing to help create the “buzz” and poof…  Oh well.

Cats out of bags or no, Ardbeg’s website/online shop was still temporarily shut down due to sales traffic when the whisky was finally released!

Initially released as a “Committee release” (see image on the left), this whisky sold out damn quick!  With only 1000 Committee Release bottles here in the US (and I think a total of 6,000 world-wide (please someone correct me if I’m wrong on that number), this $hit sold out right quick!

I was able to get seven of those committee bottles.  I sold four (at no profit mind you!) and kept three.

So, what is Ardbeg Alligator?  It’s a mixture of 60% Ardbeg 10yo and 40% Ardbeg 10yo (or so) whisky that’s been matured in heavily charred bourbon barrels.  The name “Alligator” comes from they type of charring that’s been done to the barrels.  The char is so heavy that it resembles alligator skin.  Fun!

Now, what I find interesting is that this has been bottled at 51.2%ABV and nowhere on the bottle does it say cask strength.  At 51.2%ABV and only being around 10 years old, cask strength should be closer to 58-60%ABV.  Ardbeg normally bottles their whiskies at either cask strength or 46%ABV so, why the 51.2%??

Yes, the whisky is damn good at 51.2%.  Maybe that was the driving factor – it was the optimum strength to meet the flavor and mouthfeel.  Or maybe, it was bottled at 51.2% so that they could bottle more whisky.  Or maybe, just maybe, there will be a cask strength version down the road…  Only time will tell.

Just so you’re aware, the ABV on both the Committee Release and the new standard bottling as the same: 51.2%ABV.  I am told from a few hi-ranking birdies that the juice is the same from the Committee Release to the standard bottling.

Let taste this schtuff:

On the nose  Whoa, I like this one here!  Burnt and briny and lemony custard tarts.

Bacon – pure, unadulterated bacon (like walking into a mid-western diner on a Sunday morning?).  This smells wonderful.

Bonesucking Barbecue sauce, vanilla and pencil shavings in the background.

Ballpark hotdog mustard.

Rounded, balanced and oh so sniffable!

On the mouth Big creamy attack full of vanilla then an assault of charcoal ash (with hot embers still in the center).

Lemony sweet and tart – really affecting the sides of my tongue!

More of the pencil shavings I got on the nose (focus on the wood rather than the graphite).

Grilled and burn asparagus.

Tough to get past the creaminess on this one until we get to the finish…

Finish Drying and medium in length

In sum Balanced quite nicely, this is a whisky to just drink and enjoy rather than to pick apart.  I found this absolutely delectable to sit and relax with and that’s what I suggest here.  Work hard then relax with a nice glass of this fine whisky.  I can easily drink this every day.  Though at $99/bottle (or $139 at some places), it might break the bank…

Ardbeg 10yo single cask – bottled by the SMWSA – Cask number 33.91

Islay region – matured in a puncheon cask – 64.4%ABV – $95 (no longer available – only a few hundred bottles available)

Over the next few days I’m going to focus on whiskies by distilleries I’ll be visiting while in Scotland.  I’ll be in Scotland from August 12th – 20th (as part of a tour led by Jason Johnstone-Yellin of GSD and the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society) and I’ll be visiting:

  • Arran
  • Ardbeg
  • Bowmore
  • Lagavulin
  • Talisker
  • Glenmorangie
  • The Balvenie
  • Glenglassaugh
  • plus others…

During the tour I plan on taking lots of pictures, videos and keeping a tour diary that will be made public and will be made available as soon as humanly possible.

So, today’s whisky is one bottled by the SMWSA.  A young peaty Ardbeg.  Let’s see how she fares…

On the nose  VERY young smelling stuff!  Fruity new make spirit.

After a couple of minutes to get past the newness of it all and we’ve got notes of barbecued pulled pork (or what I remember of it).

Lime & agave (think silver, unaged tequila).

This is a very aggressive whisky and not the most complex but not unpleasant.

On the mouth Much softer than expected.

Pussycat attack with honey and burnt sugar.

Some lemon pledge furniture polish.

Salty iodine, fresh sea air.

More like a smoky Mezcal, really.

Those agave notes are really present here.

Finish A touch of milk chocolate with chili peppers.  Medium long.

In sum Not what I’m after in an Ardbeg.  Even young Ardbeg (the ones I’ve had) seemed ready.  This one, on the other hand, seemed like it could have used a few more years in the cask (or maybe even to spent some time in another cask).

Special thanks goes out to Chris Kent for the Sample!