Some whiskies carry a story. Not the marketing department fluff or the PR nonsense, mind you, but the personal tales we relate back to them. They become sort of timeless and cherished through the memories we associate back to the opportunities we had to taste them. Ardbeg’s Kildalton 2014 is one of those whiskies for me.
I first tried this Kildalton with a group of good friends before a great meal at a very special Ardbeg event. Imagine an evening of brilliant peated malts, a setting sun, long limo rides, a Top Chef-catered multi-course dinner in an isolated setting and spectacular cigars to close it all out. Fortunately, I don’t have to imagine; instead, simply remember. I should acknowledge here that it’s truly interesting to note how many of my favorite malt memories are intertwined with drams from this incomparable Islay distillery. Not a coincidence, I’d suggest.
This special limited one-off Ardbeg was released in order to raise money for something called The Kildalton Project. This undertaking – sanctioned by Ardbeg (LVMH), the North Highland Initiative (NHI), and HRH Prince Charlie – is an effort to “support ‘fragile, rural communities’ across the North Highlands’. In particular, a good portion of the funds are to be used to restore the St. Columba Village Hall in the distillery’s near-neighbouring village of Port Ellen. Neat. And rather admirable.
This 2014 Kildalton is not to be confused with the now-legendary 2004 release under the same appellation. The earlier incarnation was a lightly peated dram, but at a higher bottling strength. It is also very limited and zealously coveted by Ardbeg collectors. While I’ve not yet tried that earlier version, I can attest that the 2014 is a stunner. A tasteful vatting of ex-bourbon casks and new and refill sherry butts. Simple and elegant. I’m happy to see an Ardbeg that hasn’t been tinkered with too much.
And finally, the name of this expression – for those who may not be fully ‘in the know’ – is a tribute to the spectacular and monumental high cross of the same name at the site of the ruined Kildalton Parish Church on the Southeast end of the island.
Nose: Smoky and briny, but soft for a contemporary Ardbeg. Vaguely Laphroaig-ish (Hmmm…slightly more than ‘vaguely’, actually). Lemon squeezed over oysters on the half shell. A little bit of lime and chocolate too. Quite coastal and oceanic. Salty and peppery. Fennel. Green Jolly Ranchers. All told, though…quite soft and creamy dessert-like (think Airigh Nam Beist vanilla notes).
Palate: Gentle arrival. Anise. Wet rock. Briny shellfish. Smoke. Poached pear. Lemon pepper. Grilled meat. A little bit of coffee with good cream. Good balance of peat and sweet.
Thoughts: Great ‘pure’ Ardbeg. This is Ardbeg the way it should be served up. Austere and classy. The only way I would have tweaked this one would have been to leave it at cask strength. Sadly, not one a lot of Ardbeg fans will be able to try, as this release was (is?) a distillery-only exclusive release.
*Sincere thanks to our mate Andrew Ferguson for surrendering a good portion of valuable suitcase room in order to bring me back a bottle of this malt from the distillery earlier this year. Slainte!
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt