Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.
We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.
Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.
I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.
All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.
I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.
So, how about some tasting notes then?
All notes; no scores.
Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.
Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.
Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.
Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.
Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.
Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.
Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.
Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.
Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.
Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.
Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.
Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.
Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.
Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.
Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.
Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.