Independent bottlings are notorious for their inconsistency. This is observation, not criticism. Inconsistency has led to some of the most unique and, in some cases, incredible whiskies I’ve ever tasted. You are required, by nature, to take a bit of a flyer on ’em, but much like bucking the odds at the track, the payoff can be astronomical.
Now…let’s get down to brass tacks here…
Ardbeg is my favorite distillery. I don’t even pretend to hide the bias. Some bottlings are obviously better than others, but if I were to average and weight my scores by distillery, I can’t imagine anyone coming even close to this Islay mecca’s dominance. Consistently high marks by a nearly unanimous field of writers, critics, reviewers etc indicate I’m far from alone in recognizing the high quality of spirit flowing off the stills at Ardbeg.
Now one of Ardbeg’s great strengths, I think, has always lain in its incredible vatting abilities. It’s no small secret that early Uigeadails (and maybe later?), bottles of the 17, Lord Of The Isles etc were helped along immeasurably by the inclusion of some older casks in their respective vattings. I have no idea to what degree that is still going on, but man…there are some nuances and shades in many of the Ardbeg releases that should only be found in mature whiskies, and not certainly not in the youthful peat beasts they keep unleashing of late.
Having said all of that…what happens when Ardbeg isn’t able to do large vattings? Such as in a case like this one where G&M were responsible for bottling. Being as there is no cask information on the packaging, I can only assume that this was a marriage of a few Ardbeg casks which this independent bottling giant had in its vast whisky warehouses. Not certain, but either way…I’ll take it.
Right now we’re looking at a 1975 Gordon & MacPhail release from under the Connoisseurs Choice brand. Unfortunately the decision was made to drop the abv down to a more palatable strength (ahem…read: watering it down = more bottles released = more profit), but that can be overlooked if the drink is still good. I’m sure I don’t really need to say it, but with a whisky this old it’s well nigh blasphemy to hobble it. Let it run. Let it be big, bold and impetuous.
Getting beyond that initial disappointment though, the whisky itself is an absolute revelation. Beautifully complex and bearing the fruits of a long period of coming of age. Each year invested in maturation was time well spent. This is great whisky, with a particularly fantastic in-sync dialogue between nose and palate.
Here’s to more old Ardbeg crossing our palates soon.
Nose: Soft and crumbly iced sugar cookies. Very mild peat and smoke. Mild lime…mild melon. Softly spicy. Is that kiwi fruit? Not sure, but my mind keeps coming back to it. Cinnamon. Faint old dunnage warehouse. Some salty and peppery notes begin to emerge after a few minutes. As do some greens. There’s a savoury note too which I can’t quite put my finger on.
Palate: So beautifully matured. The peat is just an ethereal memory here, but the smoke is still there to a wee degree. A little bit of anise meets mouth-watering sweet fruits white fruits. Cinnamon cookies. While I love fiery young peat, this is where my heart lies now. Older Islay malts are like distilled angel tears.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt