Takeaway: Right off the bat, the nose catches my attention. Unfortunately, Scorch's palate falls short of the nose, IMO. The finish is mediocre and lacks depth.
Nose: Some classic Ardbeg notes here, including the typical peat, along with a charcoal note reminiscent of oceanic driftwood embers (there's the toasted oak!), vanilla pod, all spice, teak wood, some industrial notes that border on paint solvents, black pepper, caramel nougat with peanut and marshmallow, tumeric, overly fried rice (to the point of being burned), saffron.
Palate: The low ABV runs slightly hot for only 46% but not overly hot. Just not as creamy as some Ardbeg special limited releases, such as Dark Cove. No, it is not the smoke in this dram "fooling me." As we shall see, the smoke really isn't that strong compared with past releases or other peaty Islay drams.
I'm getting a tantalizing note that reminds me of old Ten's from the early 2000's which are vastly superior to today's Ardbeg (yes, even the single cask releases). But then, the note is dashed with what seems like refill wood that is exhausted (100 percent American oak ex bourbon barrels doesn't mean there aren't any refills).
Tannins from some fresh ex bourbon casks are also noticeable, along with a Honduran whole leaf cigar wrapper (very nice tasting indeed). This said, both kinds of wood (fresh American ex bourbon and older refill American ex bourbon) don't seem to mix very well: a case of "old age having a go at the young" to quote A Clockwork Orange.
Now I'm getting a musty muslin coastal curtains from a cigar smoker's house (my grandfather's). Notes of cacao and coffee grounds. Dried lemon skin.
As one continues to sip, the whisky seems more and more lifeless and flat. I feel as though I've been relegated to the Edwin Abbott novel called Flatland in which characters interact in 2-D.
Finish: Cigarette ash, tired wood fighting fresh wood, Ardbeg peat (no the distillery does not smoke its own peat), vanilla bean ice cream, and a well-used cedar sauna at the height of steam.
The finish is barely medium in length (medium short). The tongue is left with a bitterness and a lack of satisfaction befitting a mediocre release from Ardbeg. One's brain slowly ceases to crave more as the law of diminishing returns overpowers truckloads of hype from Ardbeg's corporate advertising blitz involving dragons, .
COMPARISON OF SCORCH TO OTHER SPECIAL RELEASES
Scorch isn't really as peaty as it claims to be. Alligator was far far more peaty, for example. And the ppm of Ardbeg isn't that high compared with some other Islays (which overdo it sometimes, IMO, such as some of the Octomores). That's not to say that more peat is "more better." It's not necessarily but considering the promotional hype, this release isn't really very smokey or dragon-like.
I much prefer Alligator to this whisky. In fact, I much prefer Day, Ardbog, Dark Cove, both Beists, and nearly all of the pre-2006 Tens. I also prefer the earlier Ugeadails to this. The 46% is lame (not even a couple tenths of a point higher than the Ten?).
I've seen Dr. Bill speak in person. He's quite a performer. Here he is in a wizard's cape hamming it up with a lovely flaxen-haired lass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xL43BvRt2k
I really enjoyed Bill's lecture in person a few year's back; however, as he'd mentioned how the pre-French-owned Ardbeg distillery had shoelaces tied to the light switches, I couldn't help thinking how much better those old skool Scottish men were as whisky makers than the new high tech Ardbeg.
Yea, verily . . . ye olde barley was simply better, and it can't be found these days. So there's no way to duplicate that, but some distilleries have gotten even better than the older releases. For instance, Bruichladdich releases (overall) tasted better in 2015 to me than in 2005. Dr. Bill's handiwork in terms of promotion outpaces the actual product. I miss the old Ardbeg that didn't need fancy concepts to sell the whisky. It was just so damned good. And it's not any longer. Not like the old days.
Scorch is a case in point for my nostalia for the past. It just doesn't measure up even to what was coming out of Ardbeg ten years ago. Because ten years ago, it was the Alligator and ten years ago, I was nearly passing out from sheer joy as I stocked up on bottles of that. If I had only known how far Ardbeg and the rest of the industry could fall, then I would have stocked up far more than I did. Because my stash of Alligator is all gone now. Aside from a few samples in little jars that I've kept like some sort of eldritch witch doctor in my pantry.
p.s. One more thing: I think age is a factor here. Alligator tasted older. This one tastes about like the ten (age wise, not in terms of smoke which is more than the ten obviously), with a very few slightly older and quite a few younger barrels thrown in. The younger ones don't really compliment the older ones.
In the early 2000's Tens, for instance, the younger 10 year old casks really went well with the older casks that were thrown in as a "gratis." Gawd, those early tens were good! And they were good because expert blenders mixed old with young so well.
In this case, there really isn't much "old" to speak of, nothing much over ten years that I can taste, and plenty younger than that.
Still, this release isn't as bad as some of the recent Day releases. IMO, Smaug er I mean Scorch is better than Auriverdes, Perpetuum, Kelpie, Grooves, and Drum.
HERE IS MY SCORE: 86.5