Sep 072013

Ardbeg 1977017

46% abv

Score:  94.5/100


I had held off in putting pen to paper on this one for quite some time.  A couple of years, in fact.  The simple truth is that those reviews for that small select handful of whiskies that are simply stratospherically better than all others out there are much harder to write up.  Much harder to express in sentiments that won’t come across as nothing more than gushing praise and salivation.

It’s no small secret that Ardbeg is my favourite distillery, and up until recently, when I was able to taste both 1974s from the Ardbeg Double Barrel release, this 1977 was arguably the greatest Ardbeg I’d yet encountered.  That should tell you something as to its inherent quality.  This one was a sort of a ‘where do we go from here?’ type thing.  Once I’ve laid down the word on this one, I had wondered, is everything else a mere shadow?  Maybe something akin to Plato’s forms?  Well…here’s hoping not.  And I like to think the Double Barrel releases from this Hebridean distillery are proof positive that that perfect dram…that holy grail of malt whisky…is as elusive as ever.

A certain whisky writer once opined in his sermons that 1974 and 1977 were special years for Ardbeg.  While I may not agree with everything he says (or even much of it, to be honest) he was dead-on accurate in this case.  Those looking for the snarling ferocity of recent Ardbeg cask strength giants need to approach this one with a completely different mindset, or simply look elsewhere.  This is no Beastie, nor Supernova, nor ferocious ‘Gator.  This is class, elegance and refinement.

Further…this is a sublime example of beautifully aged peat, vibrant fruity notes and almost unfathomably excellent composition.  The balance struck here is simply magic.

Nose: Fruit with cream. Bordering on tropical. Melon…maybe peach. Chocolate. Vanilla and old cinnamon. Distant echoes of peat. Grains are noticeable, but sweet and bearing a faint fields-o’-barley nostalgia. There’s a gorgeous mild paint or rubber latex note here that you only find in well-matured casks.  Cadbury’s chocolate.  Oranges and other sweet orange fruits. Butterscotch. Aged and balanced smoke. Some more citrus.

Palate: Bright, very bright, with an absolutely great mouthfeel.  And oh, man…the fruits!  A lot of orange, and a mix that borders, again, on tropical.  Mild peat and a building wall of smoke.  Some smooth chocolate.  Lingering and delicious.

ABV does it justice, at a respectable 46%, but man…to have this at cask strength…


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:38 am
Jun 302013

Ardbeg Double Barrel

The sky has been bruised and tortured for days now.  The clouds are still leaking and the wind is tussling with pretty much everything it can catch…and winning.  This deluge has been on and off for days now, but it seems the fiercest of it all may now be in the rear view mirror.  We in Calgary hope so anyway.   

I started putting this piece together over a week ago, but the floods and other concerns have, quite rightly, taken precedence.  While I, and most of the local people I know and love, are safe and didn’t suffer much in the way of loss, I do know others who did.  I, and all associated with ATW, wish you well and offer any help that can be provided.  You know where to find us.

Let me share a few words now about a rather spectacular event that took place not long before the floods swept through.  I’m simply going to pick up where I left off…

I’m sitting at a computer with the lower half of my body damp and, in all likelihood, dripping on the carpet under my desk.  Hey…there’s only so much an upside-down inside-out umbrella can do to keep your head dry, let alone your lower regions.  It’s very early.  And dark.

In short…a near spot-on model of Scottish weather.  What better ambiance to share a few words on an event that went down only days ago, also on a rather bleak and rainswept eve?  Though I’d initially hoped to get this written in the day or two immediately following, life got in the way, as it often does.  Either way…step in and dry off.  Let’s have a dram of Ardbeg and chat.


While I may have missed this year’s June 1st Ardbeg Day festivities (again…life), there’s simply no way they could have come close to measuring up to what has been dubbed ‘The Ultimate Ardbeg Experience’.  On June 14th, at the Southern Alberta Pioneer’s Building, Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market put on a once in a lifetime tasting.  For the legions of local acolytes, and several from afar, this was an evening not to be missed.

The line-up was centered around opening the legendary Ardbeg Double; An over-the-top ornately extravagant guncase housing two different bottles of vintage 1974 Ardbeg.  And, of course, a few extras we’ll get to in a bit.


As each of the attendees arrived, we were pulled aside for a quick photo op with Kensington Wine Market‘s Andrew Ferguson and Ardbeg Brand Ambassador, Ruaraidh MacIntyre.  Preserving this one for the ages, I suppose.  And perhaps rightfully so.  I know of no other tasting in the world that has popped the top on the Double Barrel.

The room was laid out beautifully.  Ardbeg goodies everywhere against the rustic backdrop of a sort of ‘hunting lodge’-esque hall.  Very suited to the occasion, and when one considers the ambience of the darkened skies and onset of the rain, the overall experience was sublime.  A few of us hung topside for a while snapping pictures of the room and the bottles themselves before joining the rest of the guests who had made their way to the lower hall for a bit of an informal pre-event cocktail hour.

There were tangy Ardbeg Ten caesars and drams of Galileo on offer for those who wanted a bit of a warm up, and of course we all did.  For those gasping at the idea of burying their beloved Ardbeg in Clamato juice and spices, rest assured that this really does work.  I’m a purist with whisky, if ever there was one, and still I’ll happily sip on one of these salty, smoky cocktails when offered.  One was enough though, before the Galileo seemed a better fit for the evening.


Downstairs, in the less kitschy lower hall, the party was in full swing.  Familiar faces all around and a lot of reunions of sorts.  Nice to see so many good people gathered and sharing a laugh.  Some of the usual suspects I hadn’t seen in months, or longer, and these sorts of events make me wonder why we wait for formality before gathering.

Aside from a quick pass by the serving station, I didn’t get too close to the food.  It looked great…it smelled great…but I can’t attest any further, unfortunately.  This eve was all about the drink, so it was a conscious effort at palate preservation.


Social hour is always great, but it’s also a bit of a waiting game.  The flight upstairs was a stunning one and anticipation high, so when the call came we made our way back upstairs to claim a seat with no second reminder needed.

The evening started off with Scott Westgard from Charton Hobbs providing a brief introduction and thank you to all for coming out.  He then took a moment to speak of Andrew’s accomplishments on behalf of Ardbeg (and more) and to present him with a plaque commemorating the one year anniversary of the Calgary Ardbeg Embassy, something that is quite a point of pride for both Andrew and KWM, I believe, and rightly so.

Andrew took a few moments to share a few words on the generosity of both Kensington and Charton Hobbs in helping to subsidize this event before gracefully ducking the spotlight and handing over the reins to the evening’s host extraordinaire, Ruaraidh MacIntyre.


I’m not sure Ardbeg (or LVMH, perhaps I should say) could have a better ambassador than Ruaraidh.  He’s mere months removed from Scotland; grew up on Islay; and has generations of familial ties to the Ardbeg distillery.  On top of these blood qualifications, Ruaraidh is passionate about both the island and the whisky.  His humour and comfortable delivery are the perfect medium for bringing to life what Islay is really all about.  Ruaraidh entertained with touching anecdotes, hilarious tales and heartfelt pride.  Great speaker with great subject matter.  For an audience…it doesn’t get better.


I mentioned earlier that the line-up for this tasting was tip-top.  That may have been understating matters.  The flight was seven malts deep, from peat monsters to delicate old stunners.  How best to structure a flight like this is something I deal with frequently between personal tastings and Dram Initiative events.  You always want to save the best and most aged gems as the closing treat, but when it comes to peat…the younger ones that come before can easily beat the hell out your senses before getting to the true showcase.  Tough call.

Anyway…here’s how it all went down…

Uigeadail – Starting with a beefcake such as the Uigeadail before moving into the subtleties inherent in older whiskies was a bit of a concern for me, but it all worked out.  I was initially afraid of blowing out the tastebuds before the big show so I only took wee sips from this and the following dram.

Corryvreckan – Again…another big boy.  Small sips.  Came back to this one at the end of the night.  Had to save the receptors for what was to follow.

17 – Having just killed off my own 17, it was a treat to revisit, and wow, was this a stunner.  Big batch variance from the 17 I had just finished.  This one was rich in sweet subtle tropicals and incredible depths of complexity.  Some malts in here much older than 17, I think, and if I had to venture a guess I’d say this was one of the earlier 17s released.  Spectacular, and one that created quite a buzz this night.

1977 – An all-time favorite of mine, and one I couldn’t see being dethroned as the best of the Ardbeg releases.  Until tonight, that is.  This 1977 was brought along from Victoria by Lawrence Graham.  You’d likely know Lawrence as the gent behind The Victoria Whisky Festival and Whisky Intelligence, among many other whisky endeavours.  Thanks, Lawrence.  This really was a treat.

Ardbog – This was the evening’s closer, and followed on the heels of the Double Barrel bottles.  Unfortunately, the glasses for this dram were slightly compromised, and by the time we came round to this one, the whisky had fallen apart and was a murky mess with a funky flavor.  Perhaps a little soap residue or something.  Oh well.


Conversation at the tables was fun and relaxed, with everyone happy to share in the making of memories and spend a little time getting to know their neighbour.  Guests had come from afar for what was truly a world-class event.  Andrew managed to pull in folks from Montreal, San Francisco, Victoria and more.

Anyway…I think we’ve laid enough of the bedrock.  Let’s talk about the reason we were all here.  Ardbeg Double Barrel.


The Double Barrel is sort of an iconic thing of lore in the Ardbeg spheres.  For those that may have visited the distillery, this would be the elaborately packaged ‘gun case’ you would have seen locked away with the diver’s helmet behind the glass enclosure.  The case features two different bottles of vintage 1974 Ardbeg, eight engraved silver cups, an oak pen, and a couple of leather-stitched books.  All presented in the aforementioned hand-crafted leather gun case.

The sticker you’d have seen in the shop at Ardbeg…£10,000.  For anyone who may have nabbed one of the four that made its way to Canada…just over $15,000.

So…with no further ado, I’m going to share my tasting notes here, but no scores.  An event like this is not the environment to properly assess a whisky.  Even tasting notes should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but here goes…


Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #1745151

49% abv

Nose:  Tropical-like fruit notes, with vibrant peach and tangerine at the forefront.  Jelly candy…somewhat like a red cherry ju-jube.  Creamy milk chocolate.  Licorice.  Touch of iodine.  The smoke is only an afterthought here.  Crisp cookie notes.  Creamy caramel and smooth subtle vanilla.  Smooth and complex spice profile.

Palate:  Smoke and peat are a little more pronounced now.  Finally.  Some salt licorice.  Slightly fishy note.  Salty dough.  Smoke and licorice grow, then ebb into echoes of fried tropical fruits and very pleasant vanilla oak.

Thoughts:  This one followed on the heels of several good drams, including a great bottling of the 17 and directly after my favorite Ardbeg, the 1977.  I hate to admit it, but that ’77 has now been dethroned as my favorite Ardbeg to date.  This cask is stunning.  An absolute diamond.


…and now…the second bottle…


Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #3151157

47.7% abv

Nose:  More chocolate here than on #1745.  Still tropical, but slightly less…technicolor, if you will.  This is made up for by a darker, more mysterious air to this one.  Dark European bread dough.  Smoked oyster and maybe a little smoked fish as well.  Doughy and carrying some beautifully balanced spices.  Butter tarts, Andrew mentioned, and was dead-on accurate.  Slightly more pokey and peppery.

Palate:  A little more peat here than on the previous cask.  Smoke and dark chocolate.  Some coffee notes (strong…espresso-like) and high content dark chocolate.  Licorice.  Salty and briny.  Much more in the style of contemporary Ardbeg.

Thoughts:  Deeper and darker than cask #1745, but not necessarily better for it.  Very complimentary though.



Definitely a slight preference for the first of the two, cask #1745.

Though I can’t share scores here, these are both certainly in the 93-95ish range (give or take).  Especially the former.  What I wouldn’t give to sit down again with these two and do a proper session.

Whisky is meant to be shared among friends.  It’s meant to make memories with.    This night 30 or 40 friends got together over a dram (or maybe it was eight) and made a helluva pile of memories.

An extra special thanks to Andrew and Kensington Wine Market.  Andrew has wanted to turn this into a reality for the better part of four years now, and I truly don’t believe anyone but he could have actually followed through and made this happen.

Also, to Moet Hennessy and Charton Hobbs…a bow.  Merci.


– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:35 pm
Jun 272013

Ardbeg Ardbog027

52.1% abv

Score:  89/100


That very same uncontainable impatience and excitement we all had as children in the lead-up to Christmas is the very same bit of childish glee I experience as we approach the release day of each new Ardbeg expression.  And much like Christmas, while some are better than others, these Ardbeg releases never seem to disappoint.  Just think back to some of the past few years’ releases:  Airigh Nam Beist, Supernova, Rollercoaster, Alligator, Corryvreckan and so on.  And while I do know a few detractors who were less than over-the-moon about Blasda or Galileo, I dare ya…try those malts blindly and tell me they still don’t stand head and shoulders above 80-90% of what’s currently on the market in this age/price range.

No two ways about it.  Ardbeg is a finely oiled machine.  Kinda like the Beatles in their heyday, pumping out hit after hit.  Soak it up while you can, folks, is all I caution.  They say all good things must come to an end, and so I play the ant, not the grasshopper, squirreling away my stores while the sun shines, for I fear that bleak and dreary winter.  Hopefully our current state of fortune never dries up on us, but I will continue to plan (read: hoard) accordingly.

I’ll use my soapbox here to speak frankly:  Ardbeg has done a bloody masterful job to date in assuaging any concerns over quality slippage or supply falling short.  I don’t want to push my luck but let’s cross our fingers for twofold reasons.  One…that our cupboards ever overflow with the green and black; and two…that the distillery is holding back some maturing stock.  Who wouldn’t love to see a new Ardbeg 17 hit the market?  Or maybe even an Ardbeg 18?  Lest I get too caught up here in dream and fancy, let’s get back on topic.

Last year’s Ardbeg Day release, brilliantly and insightfully titled ‘Ardbeg Day’ (hint o’ sarcasm), was quite a stunner.  I loved that dram.  Heavy on the phenolic and ashy side while still bearing a sweetness and balance that only this distillery seems to consistently hit across all of their expressions.  So…how then do you follow up a release that won accolades and adoration across the whisky sippin’ world?  Why, you release another wee snarling beastie of a dram that roars in at cask strength and shows a bit of innovation to boot.  Ardbog is a vatting of 10 year old Ardbegs matured in bourbon casks and Manzanilla casks.  A first for the distillery.  While not as radical as the afore-mentioned Galileo, this is still Ardbeg having a bit of fun and exercising their muscle.

All that remains then to is to ask if it works.  And the answer is ‘yes’.  While still not on par with last year’s Ardbeg Day, this is definitely another special release from Islay’s undisputed champ.

Limited run (though how limited, I can’t seem to find answers for).  Stock up now or forever hold your peace.

Nose:  Smoke and hot rubber.  Something akin to bicycle tire.  Some neat fruits.  Is there such thing as Ardbeg jam?  Iodine (almost like farmyard urine).  A small dab of ultra dark chocolate.  A few drops of espresso.  Black Wine Gums.  Heavy salt.  Seems almost like the Alligator, but further finished (though not necessarily better for it, to be honest).  Some very tongue-curling deep red/purple jammy fruit notes…not far off from fruit leather.

Palate:  Here’s the smoking rubber again up front.  Then into a vaguely raspberry note.  Then into that Ardbeg familiarity:  vanilla, citrus, licorice and big smoke.  Shaved ginger.  Granny Smith apple flavors add a drying tartness to the back end.  A neat balancing act between smoky, salty, licorice notes on one side and sweeter sherry-influenced fruit on the other.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:28 am
May 052013

Ardbeg Lord Of The Islesbarry's place pics 038

46% abv

Score:  93/100


“One dram to rule them all, One dram to find them,
One dram to bring them all and in the drunkness bind them”

The ‘one dram’ here…a thing of legend now.  Apparently at one point this beautiful old Ardbeg actually sold for a decent price.  Nowadays, a combination of the distillery’s cult status and the machinations of unscrupulous collectors manipulating the secondary markets have driven this one well beyond the budget constraints of most of us punters out there.  Getting your hands on a bottle of this ‘precious’ will likely cost you either a second mortgage or a divorce.

Such is the nature of the beast, unfortunately.

Lord Of The Isles was launched in 2001, and was released in small numbers through 2007.  Depending on when you bought, the whisky in the bottle could range between 25 and 30 years old and contain Ardbeg from 1974, 1975 and possibly 1976.  Older Ardbeg, particularly those between ’74 and ’77 are held in extremely elevated esteem.  Rightfully so, though that is of little comfort to those of us who want to drink the stuff yet can ill afford current market value.  If you can somehow get your hands on it…do not hesitate.  The Lord Of The Isles is quite possibly the second best Ardbeg I’ve yet tasted (behind the glorious 1977).

The whisky is mild by today’s Ardbeg standards.  Recent releases have been an assault on the senses…blindingly strong…immensely flavored…and nostril burning (and that’s why we love ’em!), but the Lord Of The Isles is much more akin to the lighter fare like Kildalton, 17 or Airigh Nam Beist.  Assuming, of course, those lovely drams were allowed a slightly longer period of maturation.  Don’t expect a featherweight, a la Ardbeg Blasda, however.  This is still a fairly smoky and tarry dram.

A final note…love the packaging.  The box was apparently inspired by the Monymusk Reliquary, an 8th century Scottish reliquary (ummm…simply put…a container to hold relics), quite possibly designed and built by Ionan monks off the West coast of Scotland in the Hebrides.  Cool stuff.

Nose:  Very soft fruits and a wonderful ‘old cask/latex’ note.  Soft sweet candy.  Vanilla and a touch of chocolate.  Scone.  Very mild on the peats you’d expect in an Ardbeg.  Quite organic (if that makes sense) in carrying some earthy notes like teas, grass and herbals.

Palate:  All that typifies Ardbeg (and was absent on the nose) puts in an appearance now.  Peat.  Smoke.  Tarry…sooty..ashy.  Some citrus.  Still very subdued and sophisticated.  Brilliant dram.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt



 Posted by at 2:12 pm
May 022013

Ardbeg 17028

40% abv

Score:  90/100


Ardbeg 17 is quite legendary in its own right.  This was one of the early releases from the distillery after it was reopened and enfolded into the loving care of  Glenmorangie in 1997.  This wasn’t the best of Ardbeg, nor was it even really typical of the style we know (and love) today.  Instead it was a rather tame, mildly peaty dram that was bottled at 40%.  HOWEVER, there was no debate as to the inherent quality of the product.  The whisky in the bottle was mature well beyond its years, as it was comprised of older, pre-closure, Ardbeg single malt, and it had mellowed to a spectacular balance and complexity.  So sayeth the many voices out there: what ended up being bottled as a 17 year old was actually built with some casks much older.  You have to remember, though, that this was before the current whisky boom and slightly ahead of that point where the stuff in the green bottle became a thing of near cult status.

But we’re here to talk about the stuff in the bottle, so let’s move on.

A few years back Ardbeg released an expression called Serendipity.  It was referred to as a ‘happy accident’ or some such similar description.  Serendipity was a blend of young Glen Moray and older Ardbeg destined to be bottled as the next batch of Ardbeg 17.  Somehow these two component malts got vatted together.  Oops.  Anyway…long story short…the sweet bubblegum fruity profile of this Ardbeg is not far off the nose of that ‘incidental’ vatting.

Great whisky from Ardbeg, and sadly…long gone.  I year for a day when we start to see older ‘age expression’ releases from this distillery again.

Nose:  Clean…light…fruity.  Austere.  Some gum notes.  Not toooooo far off the ‘Serendipity’ in terms of nose profile.  Vanilla meets barley meets bread dough.  Cream soda.  Ummm…peat?  Hello?  You there?

Palate:  A wee bit of spice and peat now come through.  Vague smoke (almost as if an afterthought).  Immediately into apple notes.  Very light.  Very short.  Has a bit of a tangy citric nip.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Nov 132012

Ardbeg Day045

56.7% abv

Score:  91/100


A limited run of 12,000 bottles meant to commemorate the launch of International Ardbeg Day on June 2nd.  You can only imagine how quickly this flew off the shelves.  …Or in our case (Canada) never even made it to the shelves.  I had to cross the sea to nab bottles of this!  Yes…life is rough, I know.

I’ve read reference to this release as very much another ‘Uigeadail’.  I can sorta see the rationale for comparison, but here again, as with each Ardbeg release, there is something to differentiate.  Sometimes innovation is entirely unnecessary, and it simply makes more sense to find a winning formula and stick with it.  Such is precisely the case here.  Ardbeg decided to take a damn good spirit (comprised of nothing more than a mix of eight, nine and twelve year old bourbon casks married in sherry butts) bottle it strong and clean and sit back and collect the accolades.  If it ain’t broke…or so they say.

The nose is led off on notes of pungent peat smoke, iodine and braised barbecued meat.  There is a dry quality to this one.  Closest I can come to nailing it down is the smell of wet rock (ever suck on a pebble?), ashes & tar and oysters on the shell.  Lemon Pledge and lively eucalyptus.  Fishiness meets farminess.  A medicinal Band-aid note I’d more closely associate with Lagavulin.  A damn good expression of Ardbeg, to be honest, with a slightly odd ashy profile.

Flavour wise…BBQ chips (crisps, for my mates on the other side), weighty in salt, smoke and sweet meatiness.  That ashiness follows through here as well.  Licorice.  A lingering fishy peat and brine.

Recently referred to by a friend as a natural ‘progression of the range’.  Absolutely dead on.

Shame this was a limited release.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo: Curt

 Posted by at 8:39 pm
Nov 072012

Ardbeg Galileo

49% abv

Score:  88/100


Methinks Ardbeg is having almost as much fun in their marketing department as Bruichladdich is.  Galileo?  Really?  Based on an ‘experiment’ in which a bit of Ardbeg was sent up in space to see what effect zero gravity might have on the maturation process.  Hmmmm.  Throw in a wicked retro label and packaging and…voila!  Collectibility…sky-high (pun intended) pricing…and word of mouth like a wildfire.  Ok, so maybe the pricing isn’t that bad here.  This is, after all, the first new Ardbeg in a few years to actually carry either an age statement or a distillation year on it.  1999, to be precise, which would in effect make this a 13 year old?  Ish?

Anyway…marketing aside, the innovation doesn’t end there for the Galileo.  This is apparently a mix of first and second fill ex-bourbon casks smushed together with some Ardbeg spirit aged in ex-Marsala casks (Marsala being a fortified Sicilian wine).  Ardbeg in wine, huh?  Odd.

Nose:  Sweet and creamy and more dessert-like than recent Ardbeg releases.  Notes of chocolate and burnt marshmallow.  Tart fruit; like maybe pomegranate seeds and crab apple.  Chilis and iodine.  Hot chocolate with marshmallow.  Grapes that are initially none too aggressive, grow bigger and bigger as this one opens up a bit.  Almost faint at first, but developing like something in the rear view mirror moving ever closer.  Some peat and smoke o’ course.

The palate…not even close to the suggestions of the nose.  Much sharper, really.  Wet, sloppy, juicy delivery that quickly contracts and puckers into sour grape skins and slightly bitters.  Licorice.  A touch too heavy on the wine influence, I think.

After a few sips, my mate referred to this one as both ‘a dirty drink’ and ‘an oddball…one off’.  Yes and no.  Dirty?  Sure.  I get that.  An oddball?  Get that too.  The reason I say ‘nae’ here as well is because this one really isn’t that much of a stretch for Ardbeg.  Just a few quirky steps off the beaten path.  You WILL find familiarity here.

Final concession:  Recognition for odd innovation on the part of the distillers, and acknowledgement of being a tad underwhelmed with this one due to my own possibly inflated expectations, mean perhaps this should really score an extra point, but ultimately I’ll refrain.

BTW…Notice a lot of question marks in this review?  Exactly.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:26 pm
Oct 212012

Ardbeg Serendipity

40% abv

Score:  90/100


‘A happy accident’, I’ve read.  Or something along those lines.  The cynic in me sides with the sceptical masses on this one.  ‘Accident’?  Really?  Come now.  Please explain to me how an Ardbeg accidentally gets married with a Glen Moray.

And that is just what this dram is said to be comprised of.  20% 12 year old Glen Moray and 80% older Ardbeg (supposed age varies depending on which source you read).

Sigh.  Clever marketing aside…what have we here?

Nose:  Syrupy fruits (think canned pears or fruit cocktail with cherry), bubblegum and dinner buns.  Odd combination, to be sure, but the notes are all mild and unassuming.  It works well.  A touch of tame white pepper and salted lemon too.  This is a creamy dram, rich in sweet vanilla syrup.  Is there peat or smoke typical of an Ardbeg?  Undoubtedly.  But I’ll be damned if I can detect more than a faint whiff.  Lighter even, I’d think, than the recent Blasda.  Think old ’70s lightly peated Ardbeg.

The palate is equally smooth and light.  Sort of boasts an almost refreshing character.  Light white fruit and yeasty, doughy notes are well met by a vanilla woodiness fading into gristy barley notes.  Drying and slightly tart.  While not as delightful as the nose, the palate is still a charmer.  I do have to say…the nose is awesome!

Serendipity is definitely primarily Ardbeg at heart.  I can only imagine that the Glen Moray adds a vibrancy to the fruits (and likely some more ooomph to the vanilla influence through newer, more active, casks), but I’d be doing nothing more than speculating as to the true rationale for this marriage.

So…let’s just say this…

It is a vatting (a blended malt, if you will) with a clever gimmick and syrupy sweet name that seriously, seriously does what it was meant to do.  Try it if you can find it.  And…any out there who know where I can find a bottle…please do not hesitate to contact me.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Oct 192012

Ardbeg Renaissance

55.9% abv

Score:  90/100


Fires of hell, is this hot!  Unbelievably explosive.  Ardbeg rarely fails to deliver an enormous whisky, both in terms of aloholic content and a flavor profile so defined it is nearly a caricature.  “Renaissance” is no exception.  This is the fourth installment in Ardbeg’s “young” line, which has allowed us to witness Ardbeg maturing from “Very Young” to “Still Young” to “Almost There” to this ten year old cask strength…”Renaissance”.  Brilliant little campaign that I wish we Westerners had been allowed to partake in.  Sadly none of these expressions hit Canadian shores.

Recent trips to Islay have allowed me the opportunity to try all of these young beasties however (and perhaps mule a little home for my personal stores), so why not share a few details?

The nose on this hot young cracker is peppery like a young talisker.  Freshly cracked black pepper.  The chocolate and fruit notes are reminiscent (no kidding) of a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Sharp peat, citrus and smoke are generously splashed all over a clean medicinal backdrop.  Though the nose doesn’t hold a candle to the tang of the palate on this one, I am blown away by just how razor-sharp it is.  Almost brittle.

First sips…kinda like tongue-wrestling a mouthful of porcupines.  Prickly as hell.  Hot and peppery, smoky and peaty.  Some smooth chocolate here as well, but think mole chile.  I adore the firey anesthesia that comes part and parcel with this Ardbeg.  When the heat finally wavers a touch (some time later) what remains is the typical green apple skin peatiness and a tart, drying mouthfeel.

Not my favorite Ardbeg, but still head and shoulders above 95% of its contenders.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:06 pm
Oct 192012

Ardbeg Almost There

54.1% abv

Score:  89/100


So here we are rounding third.  Ardbeg’s next-to-last step along the way to reaching a standard ten year old release.  So this, rather logically, would be a nine year old.  (I say ‘rather logically’, however this four part series actually only saw releases at 6, 8, 9 and 10 year marks).

So…the name of this expression begs the question ‘almost there to what?’  Simple answer…a flagship 10 year old comprised of distillate produced entirely in the age post-restart-up.

Coming into the homestretch it must have been a hell of a pleasant run for the guys and gals at Ardbeg when they realized that there was a rather decent shot at restoring the distillery’s stocks to the quality they once were in its earlier incarnation.

The nose on the Almost There is wet rock, salt and smoke.  Lemon peel and vegetal peat notes.  Cereal notes still carry through, with the barest dash of almond paste.  Vaguest hints of some sort of white fruit.  Maybe, jus’ maybe, a bit of some sort of ‘lemon clean’-type polish.  Anise or fennel, and powdered ginger (not the fresh stuff!).

Smoke and sharp tangy citric notes hit the palate first.  A salt licorice flavor too.  And to compliment the salt?  Pepper, of course.  The grains are there with a touch of oak and vanillins at the end, meeting that familiar tartness on the finish.  At this strength you get to see all the beautiful nuances Ardbeg is now being recognized (and lauded) for.

Underdeveloped?  Sure.  Unrestrained?  Absolutely.  Rather exceptional for this age?  Hell yeah!

On to the Renaissance…!


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:02 pm