If the portfolio of my own attempts at depicting distilleries or sketching stills is anything to go by, whisky naturally lends itself to art. The Scotch palate is forever inspiring the palette of oils and watercolours (check out these stunningly atmospheric works by Jonathan Wheeler). The gleaming hues of the copper or the vivid richness of whisky straight from the cask imprint themselves on the memory.
anCnoc, the Highland distillery with an arty inclination, has since April 2012 enjoyed a productive partnership with New York-based Scottish artist Peter Arkle. Invited to the distillery in order to deduce for himself what makes anCnoc tick, Peter was then commissioned to represent the myriad mysterious processes occuring in Scotch whisky, which would adorn a series of limited releases bearing his name. There have been three Peter Arkle liquids exhibited in various territories thus far, and a sample of No. 2 found its way through the No-Man’s-Land of postal deposition beneath the Scotch Odyssey Blog Garret.
The artwork for this expression chimed with one of my principal fascinations with malt whisky production: the proving bellies of barrels and butts, undulating in dunnage darkness. ’My illustration aims to capture the essence of what makes the whisky so special – time, as the sense of time passing was almost tangible inside the warehouse,’ Peter explained.
An even split of first-fill Bourbon and Sherry casks, this is a different beast to Peter Arkle No. 1 which came to fruition via 100% American oak Fino Sherry casks. By way of comparison, I had a miniature of the Welsh single malt, Penderyn, on my desk. I estimated this to be of a similar age, to be of the same strength, and it also hailed from esoteric woods. How would the pair measure up?
anCnoc Peter Arkle No. 2 46% £49.99
Colour – full honey gold with a greenish hue.
Nose – sticky orange liqueur pasted onto pale creamy oak at first, with dark, squashed citrus fruits and deep honey in the background. Quite feinty. More orange developed together with a papaya texture. Blanched almond and lemon zest. The spirit underneath the sticky Sherry is lush, fresh and full of pear. Pretty meaty, with an interesting quince jelly accompaniment. Water made for a sweeter aroma with more orange, cinnamon bark and vanilla ice cream. A fragrance of new tennis ball, noted on Peter Arkle No. 1, appeared before giving way to polished wood, beeswax and nearly ripe pear. With more time to get its act together some very pleasant natural barley aromas – medium-rich and dry – appeared, as well as blackberry.
Palate – dark Sherry and quite high in tannins. Meaty malt comes through with orange and bitter chocolate. Some coffee granules. Dry. Water picked out more orange and tamed the tannins. I found a Fruit and Nut bar character. Burnt fruitcake reintroduces the drying element.
Finish – big, almost phenolic. Rather dour and earthy. Powdery grist and boiled sweets after a few more seconds. Water brings out the burnt character still more: malt that has been singed, some ginger. A glance at honey but overall quite disappointing.
Penderyn Madeira 46% £34.40
Colour – full gold with caramel depths.
Nose – rich, thick, creamy barley and squashed black fruits. Intense vanilla pod. Then comes pink grapefruit and mince meat: sparkly citrus-driven sweetness and something richer. An extremely estery spirit with apple and pear, and it receives the best attentions from the oak. Grassy, with some syrupy white grape. Blackcurrant and apricot fromage frais. Broad, lively and juicy with plenty of barley and lime pith. Water intensified the fruit, providing hedgerow berry jam, and more vanilla. Baked biscuit with a hint of stem ginger. Cascades of thick but bright barley sugar. Lime cordial and fresh mint. A dab of cocoa powder. Quite brilliant.
Palate – incredibly sweet, blackcurrant again and vanilla pod. Tongue-coating. After swallowing there is blackcurrant leaf and demerara sugar. Water provided the intensest fruit salad: kiwi, strawberry and white grape followed immediately by a wave of sweet baking spices. Slightly too heavy just on the end.
Finish - dries slightly, the malt becoming a little chunkier. Crisp apple jelly and some lemon peel by way of balancing sharpness. Vanilla marshmallow. Greenness of youth in the background: gooseberry crumble and fresh cream. Water made for a shorter finish but one very close in character to the undiluted sample. Biscuit and fresh citrus, crushed Pear drop.
So…? The Peter Arkle is a dram for dusk and encroaching darkness – perhaps even for drinking in the warehouse depicted on its carton. It is not without merit, but I grew a little tired of its brooding qualities and overly oaky delivery. This was more pronounced when pitted against the extraordinary little performer that is the Penderyn. A symphony of sweetness, it wasn’t all eager first-fill sugars and high-toned green fruit. This is a spirit with serious character and a beguiling complexity which I enjoyed immensely. It showed its Scotch cousin a clean pair of heels using playful and bright brushstrokes.