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