I have a couple of Ardbegs kicking around that I haven't reviewed yet; not only am I going to take a look at each one individually, but I'll compare each of them to the standard Ardbeg 10 Year Old.
The Ardbog is Ardbeg's 2013 Ardbeg Day annual release. Some of the malt has been matured in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, and at 52.1% I presume this is cask strength. Thanks to @Victor for helping me obtain this bottle.
The colour is a medium mahogany - the darkest Ardbeg I think I've ever seen. On the nose there is a complex interplay of sweet, savoury and smoky: bacon, salami, furniture polish, Christmas cake, tobacco, stewed prunes and baked apples. Dark chocolate. Burnt caramel and motor oil. A little bit herbal. Some water adds milk to the dark chocolate, and tames the nose. There is a lot going on here - sometimes it gels, sometimes it doesn't.
On the oily palate, things somewhat clash: peat, brine, rum-raisin, milk chocolate and old leather. Very fruity with plum, black cherry and dates. Nutty. Spicy with the high ABV; less so with water. I like many of the individual notes - it's rather mouth-watering and at times delicious - but it is constantly shifting and is woefully off-balance.
The finish is off-putting: cigar ash, sherry and spice with developing leather. This is such an interesting dram, with all sorts of flavours and aromas going on, but it is so all over the place, it's hard for me to really recommend it. Murkier than the 10 Year Old, it doesn't quite achieve that one's near-perfection. It has gotten some great reviews (Dave Broom scored it a 91 and was named Editor's Choice in Whisky Advocate) but, even as a die-hard Ardbeg lover, I find it too challenging.
Old thread, my two cents on 'balance' and 'harmony', both of which I use with slightly different nuances: 'balance' seems to me more a static concept, looked at from one moment in time, whereas 'harmony' looks to me to be more of a dynamic moving of the flavours past one another.
I use 'balance' in the sequential review scoring as the one overall static descriptor, which is mostly outside of time and space, because it applies to all of the sequential stages of tasting. For me the sequential review framework is all about static snapshots in time at each of the tasting stages.
I do a non-sequential review also to emphasise the elements across time, or, the elements as they change in time. If you even hold in your mind the thought of the whisky across all of the tasting steps, you will inevitably have the memory of the entire tasting sequence flow through your mind as you do so.
Both snapshots and videos are useful.
BlueNote, is your point that we shouldn't bother defining what "balance" means? If so, I disagree. This seems worthwhile.
For the first time—after reading an ungodly number of whisky reviews over the past ~5 years—I might finally understand why anyone would give a rat's behind about "balance." It's because they really mean "harmony."
Whether some insanely delicious flavor (say, wood smmoke) is "balanced" by something different seems irrelevant to me. However, the presence of other flavors that are in HARMONY with that woodsmoke, well, that's nice.