Jun 172017

Ardbeg Kelpie

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100


It’s that time of year.  That May / June window when the fiercest of Islay distilleries releases its latest bit of spirit alchemy on the wider whisky world.  It’s a time that polarizes like almost no other in these circles.  On the one hand, the haters, who detest the gimmickry, marketing hype, youthfulness and lack of age statement.  And let’s not forget a price point that outstrips the core range.  On the other hand, the lovers, who are hooked long before the bottles ever hit the shelf.  These latter, acolytes for life, irrespective of all the aforementioned negatives, ready to lay out the bucks for the lore, the aesthetic, the tongue-in-cheek fun and let’s be honest with ourselves…an unbelievably uniform level of quality.

The simple fact remains, even the worst Ardbeg releases are still better than almost anything else in their weight class.  Price may be a little contestable (depending on where you live), but at least you know you’re not ending up with an bottle of swill at the end of the day.  Kelpie is no different.  This one did some slumbering in barrels constructed of oak harvested from somewhere near the Black Sea.  Apparently we have a mix of straight bourbon-matured Ardbeg and these rather unique Russian barrels.  Neato.

And a Kelpie?  Said apparition is some sort of water demon said to haunt the island’s rocky shores in the form of a nightmarish marine bull or stag sort of creature.  Ummm…’kay.  Let’s go with that.  I admit it, I love the angles Ardbeg seems to find time and again.  We keep talking about it, so it’s obviously working.

But ultimately, all that matters is quality.  Whisky served up this young is rarely going to break that 90 point mark for me nowadays (yass, yass, I’m a jaded old fuck, I know), but high 80s speaks volumes, I think.  May not be for everyone – and this will do little to placate the haters – but it is really good whisky.  In spite of that…can’t help but wish we were seeing older releases with age statements.  Oh…and at fair prices, I should add.

Either way…my Ardbeg love continues on unabated.

Nose:  Whoa.  This seems young.  Seven or eight maybe?  Warm rubber (like bicycle tires in the sun or newly-worn Welly boots), dark chocolate, black coffee, oily vanilla bean.  Licorice.  There’s a fleeting note of Cherry Cordials here.  A mix of olive brine and lime juice.  A little bit of orange.  Some medicinal notes.  There’s a neat savouriness too that hearkens back to Alligator.  Bucketloads of peat smoke and Islay-ness.

Palate:  Slightly rubbery here too.  Peat is sharp and on the attack.  Everything is cloaked in smoke.  Now some softer fruity notes emerge and the mouthfeel becomes surprisingly creamy.  Some orange and lime again.  Firm oak, without being vanilla-laden.  A bit of salted licorice.  The malt is sweet and brings cereal notes that are clean and rigid.  Nice.

Thoughts:  Make no mistake, this is huge whisky.  The 46% abv belies how massive it really is.  Incredible times when 46% seems anemic, no?


 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:39 am

  3 Responses to “Ardbeg Kelpie Review”

  1. Gimme an N…..N!

    Gimme an A… A!

    Gimme a S… S!

    WHat’s that spell? MODERN SCOTCH WHISKY!!! YAY!!

  2. Although it’s a great, and handy, equalizer to portray both “haters” and “lovers” as just being dominated by emotion and knee-jerk reactions, the “haters” are really just the rationalists. Therein lays the real difference between the two groups: not emotional polarity, but in the value placed on separating reason FROM emotion. No one really seems to be in a position to defend the gimmickry, marketing hype, youthfulness and lack of age statement… and let’s not forget a price point that outstrips the core range, so you’re left with the conclusion all this “special release” marketing is really just glorified hype. The “lovers” just ignore all that and buy into anything Ardbeg; if you think at all, you’re thinking too much and you’re just not a true believer, as if whisky has now become some exercise in belief.

    Speaking of belief, the unbelievably uniform level of quality, in most recent expressions, is mostly just a referendum on what one already thinks of a particular distillery’s familiar style rendered with around 50 ppm peating (or really just a referendum on substantial Islay peating in general) and 46%+ strength, with the occasional twist on the ten here and there and the higher ABVs usually being rated slightly better. IF you already like the ten, the vast majority of Ardbeg Labs AG/Inc.’s “uniform quality” work IS already done; all that really remains lately is to omit the age, add the nonsense and jack the price.

    The above being the case, my current feelings – as opposed to thoughts – toward Ardbeg are sort of like Leonard Cohen’s feelings toward the U.S.A. in “Democracy”:

    I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
    I love the distillery but I can’t stand the scene

    I do like the core profile and variations on it but, for everything to “celebrate” here, this stuff still isn’t as good as the ten (or even JW Black Label!) and costs, what, 70% more than the ten – all for just being less informative and (therefore probably) younger? Why do metrics not matter again? Because of all the things adjectives tell us but numbers don’t? Even IF quality and/or value is “all that matters” – and I strongly disagree with that position in that I think maybe truth matters too and that the three don’t have to be seen as mutually exclusive just to pad someone’s pocket – a lot of people already sold on Ardbeg seem to be essentially applauding the distillery for not shitting the bed while overcharging.

    I think it could be easily argued that, far from rewarding fanatical brand loyalty, Ardbeg is instead just taking full advantage of it – and taking full advantage of those afflicted by it. It’s only “quality that matters” but some “are hooked long BEFORE the bottles ever hit the shelf” – yep, they’ve got a three prong, a fair amount of line and a sinker way down their throats. Even if “unique Russian barrels” COULD somehow be translated as “superior Russian barrels” – and is anybody saying that(?) – Black Sea oak somehow matters but the time spent in it doesn’t while we pat the Ardbeg Folklore Dept. on the back for its inventiveness? Please, Dr. Lumsden, may I have another? If people see no connection between saying “yes, the nonsense in whisky getting out of control” on one hand and saying “I’ll buy this one and the next, regardless of the boundless nonsense, because look how neat and creative the nonsense itself has now become” on the other, they should maybe look into deprogramming.


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