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

  35 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.

    Sláinte!

    • OUCH!

    • Jeff, is it really not as good as JW Black Label?

      Is that your own assessment, or a comparison of the two scores here on ATW?

      • No, to be fair, those are Curt’s scores:

        Ardbeg 10: 88.5/100
        Black Label: 88.5/100
        Ardbeg Kelpie: 87.5/100

        But even if the three whiskies were in a dead-heat, Kelpie’s still $139.99 at KWM, vs. $81.99 for the Ten and $51.99 for JW BL (the only one currently out of stock).

        Sláinte!

  3. I don’t think this is the first time anyone has linked to the following Lumsden interview (from Nonjatta) here on ATW, but it’s worth another glance here as we cordially discuss this Kelpie thing:

    http://www.nonjatta.com/2017/03/Bill-Lumsden.html

    I really just like (a) how they called it “KGB” as they were working on it; and (b) this quote from Lumsden: “what does a mythical water beast, the Kelpie, have to do with this whisky, I would say to you: absolutely fuck-all.”

  4. For their next annual release, I wish Ardbeg would “pull a Laphroaig” and simply release a cask strength version of a fan favorite.

    You want a cask strength Laphroaig QC? Boom, you got it: Cairdeas 2017.

    You want a cask strength Ardbeg 10? Boom, you got it: Ardbeg Whackerdoodles.

    • An Ardbeg 10 CS would be superb… But is it in the planning of their stock?

      As for the Cairdeas 2017 Quarter Cask CS, wait before applauding. I tasted it. It is IMHO clearly inferior to the Quarter Cask at 46%…

      • Hard to believe… I will gladly take a chance if the price is right…

        • Don’t get my wrong, not a bad whisky but in a side by side comparaison like I did, no contest! The Cairdeas QC Cs is too sweet compared to the QC… But if you like very sweet and creamy whisky, then you will like it!

  5. If I only ever had Ardbeg 10 and Uigeadail I would be quite happy, and maybe the long lamented 18 yr old Airie Nam Beist. They can keep the rest of their overhyped, overpriced Gaelic NAS crap. I feel the same way about Highland Park these days. I’ll take the 12 and the 18 and forget about the overhyped, overpriced bullshit NAS Viking shit.

    • People can draw the boundaries where they like but, as far as I’m concerned, we ARE evidently in serious danger of congratulating distilleries, not on the quality or value of their products, but on the quality and value of their unmitigated bullshit. Not surprisingly it’s Ardbeg, lately a world leader in unmitigated bullshit, that is helping to lead the way in this. The bullshit was, at first, argued to be “harmless” because “the quality and value are there”. Now, with the rendered blank cheque on physics and reason safely in the Ardbeg vault, the quality and value aren’t so much ‘there” now and we’re handing out kudos for deception and nonsense on the basis it’s charming, “tongue in cheek” or just that “it seems to work”.

      Although I guess I see the difference in degree, – Dr. Lumsden’s true crapsicle masterpiece probably IS still in the development stage, although it WILL be encouraged by the reception to this one – I just don’t see the real difference between Kelpie and Lore in terms of overall trending, except for the size and silliness of the distillery fan clubs. How far are we away from the Ardbeg version of Lore? One more overhyped, overpriced and nonsense-based release, maybe two? Place your bets, because the answer IS forthcoming.

      Sláinte!

      • Jeff, you got me chuckling heartily here to your “true crapsicle masterpiece.” That’s gold!

        • (With sincere apologies to Queen)

          CRAP-sicle! CRAP-sicle! CRAP-sicle!
          Bill’s going to make a crapsicle
          He wants to make some shite
          He wants to make a crapsicle
          He wants to sell it with some sprites

          You can almost hear it, can’t you? One of the reasons for that, beyond my very questionable talents as a lyricist, is that, deep down, people know it’s coming – because no one, Ardbeg and Ardbeg fans alike, is going to stop endorsing sheer nonsense until it arrives… and they may not stop even then.

          Sláinte!

          • It disturbs me that I could actually hear it…

          • This is the best post that’s ever been put on any whisky website.

          • I’m truly honoured to be considered a contender, but this is my nominee:

            http://thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk/Blogs/domblog/2011/06/20/new-vs-old-media/

            Although I think the truth that Dom gets at here should have been an earthquake in whisky and was only allowed to be a marginalized tremor, it nevertheless continues to reverberate across and through whisky, even if it continues to be more than most can swallow. The only part of the circle I think he failed to square is the one over the comparative “expertise” of bloggers; it’s true that simply having an opinion on whisky doesn’t make one an expert, yet “professionalism” hasn’t resulted in more truth telling about whisky either – in fact the opposite, if anything… and folks admitting that they’re shilling doesn’t make everything alright.

            Sláinte!

          • Hi there,

            2011… good article by Dom… but since then things went downhill…
            I follow quite a few blogs – or better I used to – and some ceased activities alltogether recently and others show more and more signs of whiskyfight fatigue.

            The same tiredness that the whisky category itself is showing in things and signs I notice about whisky on the internet.

            It is surely true that the demise of whisky started when marketing was allowed to be kingmaker and got to decide what can be made and sold.

            Greetings
            kallaskander

          • I doubt that whisky will ever meet its demise. Rather, what might be called a golden age for whisky is fading out….

          • We collectively got the whisky market that we collectively made. Things have become more nonsensical (and expensive) as the result of a large number of people thinking that merely removing an age statement is now the first step in making a “premium” product and that leaving it on is now the first step in making an “ultra-premium” product.

            Most of the professional experts, knowing what side their bread was buttered on, dutifully fell silent on the age issue and most bloggers never really took any kind of stand that didn’t endorse the industry’s position. Most people would rather have more product information rather than less (duh!), but that’s not the equivalent of speaking out or fighting for it (and changing purchasing habits was, of course, a complete non starter), so they just sat on the fence and took whatever came down the pike.

            When producers tell you that something as fundamental as age matters with some whiskies but not with others and that they choose which depending upon labeling – and something that ridiculous then sticks and actually generates defenders in the public at large – you know that consumers, as a group, have been written off by producers as being weak and dumb enough to be taken anywhere and told anything. If ABV disclosure wasn’t written into law, the pattern with NAS could easily be repeated there too; most experts, bloggers and consumers wouldn’t oppose it, or even see a problem with it.

            As Dom does, I write off the “experts” as nothing more than hired marketing guns, their “expertise” in terms of telling the truth about whisky hopelessly compromised out of concern for the distillery masters they serve. Many bloggers could be put in the same boat, but it’s far more difficult to tell who owes what to who or to what degree, so I read most bloggers with more caution than I do Dave Broom making up some pressing whisky “issue” to distract from the fact he won’t denounce NAS as bollocks.

            But are the rest of the bloggers and consumers actually as weak and dumb as the industry must now believe they are? I really don’t know, but it’s a part that many seem willing to play on the internet out of some very misplaced concern that someone at some distillery either won’t like them or will find themselves unemployed – or because, if some nonsense is acknowledged as needing opposition, someone might realize that they should take a hand in actually opposing it.

            We collectively got the whisky market that we collectively made. Indifference to the truth about whisky, as harmless as it was supposed to be in the beginning, largely based on the quality of three whiskies that NAS didn’t have any actual bearing on, is now doing damage to the market as a whole. Instead of QC and Uigeadail (or A’Bunadh), we now get Lore and Kelpie. The industry shrugs its shoulders and says “it has to be this way” and it’s an easy sell to a consumer base that either will not recognize that its interests are separate from those of the industry or which will simply not act on those interests. It’s not a great market, not even remotely a rational or truthful one, and, given people’s indifference to that, it’s hard to drum up any enthusiasm for the future of whisky.

            To the people who are fighting back, please keep doing so and speak out that this should be done – you really are the only hope that things will improve until, after wrecking whisky, the hipsters either go to something else or return to vodka.Yes, things will probably get worse before they get better, but it would help if more people would wake up.

            Sláinte!

          • Old school journalist H. L. Mencken said it best: “No one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of plain people.” or words to that effect.

          • “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H. L. Mencken.

            The guy wasn’t a writer; he was a prophet.

            Sláinte!

      • Hi there,

        let the man himself tell you.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2lFFJxtVO8&feature=youtu.be

        Greetings
        kallaskander

        • Wow. I never imagined him having a Scottish accent, for some reason. Weird.

        • Yeah, really interesting stuff. So, according to Mr. Test Tubes himself, it was never about better oak – it was about “much, much cheaper” oak where nobody “could really tell”, which I’m sure puts consumers’ minds at ease in Ontario in terms of passed-along savings as Kelpie makes its debut at more than than TWICE the price of the Ten. Interesting, too, that – for all age supposedly doesn’t tell us – apparently cask size/product contact doesn’t make all that much difference.

          “This is not marketing here, this is the truth” – so, quite evidently, there IS a difference.

          Sláinte!

  6. I can’t get on Ardbeg’s case, as they still make the Ten, which is really good and only $42-45 here. That’s a steal! If they sell other NAS whiskies for much more money to others, that is not my problem. Same goes for Glenmorangie. I buy the 10 for about $32, which is also a steal. They can sell the annual NAS releases to others as long as the 10 is around and inexpensive. There are always people who run from one shiny object to another, and I don’t have a problem with LVMH selling them those whiskies.

    I have more of a problem with companies that either jump the prices of their base whiskies way up (HP, Macallan, Dalmore), or drop quality aged whiskies for much younger NAS (Glenlivet Nadurra). Edrington can issue all the NAS crap they want if they would not have made such huge increases in the prices of their 12, 15, and 18 yo base whiskies. I will give Glenlivet a bit of a pass, as they still issue the 12 at a decent price ($40ish here).

    BTW, I finally decided to pick up a bottle of the Ardmore Legacy, which replaced the Traditional Cask a few years ago. It’s 40% vs 46%, much less peat, and very forgettable. Guess I was right not to run out and get this, as its nowhere as good as the old TC, which I really enjoyed at the $30 they charged. Its not bad, just kinda “meh”. An inexpensive whisky for someone starting to try scotch. Better with a spoonful of water. Probably won’t buy again.

    • It’s true that I’m on Ardbeg’s case here, but not about the Ten – although I don’t think the Ten is an excuse for what they’ve done in other quarters or the fact that the special releases are not my problem in terms of purchasing means that they won’t create other problems down the road. It was all the NAS crap that Edrington issued, and the success of it, which resulted IN the huge price increases in their 12, 15, and 18s – every cask that goes to an NAS can’t go elsewhere. Given that so many people apparently now don’t care about age information, if you now want to know what you’re buying (at all), you now have to pay more for the privilege. NAS premiumizes both younger product and product information in general. It’s all interconnected.

      I don’t think Ardbeg’s special releases will ultimately prove harmless either; if they can now sell an undeclared 7 or 8 for $140 on the basis of nonsense and distillery boosterism, how safe is the Ten at current pricing levels – and how safe is the Ten, period?

      Sláinte!

      • The Ardbeg Ten is pretty safe. All the Ardbeg range is based on the Ten, a vatting of 1st fill and 2nd refill bourbon casks. To the Ten you add a few sherry casks and you get the Uigeadail. To the Ten you add some new French oak casks and you get the Corryvreckan. To the 10, you add another type of casks and you get the Ardbeg day release. Brilliant way of controlling the stock in my opinion!

        As they sell a lot of these core range bottles and do an annual Ardbeg Day release and produced a relatively small amount (last year was the first time in their recent history that they reached the 1.4 million liters of alcohol produced), you do wonder if there will ever be another older age statement (appart from the recent buy-back casks!)…

        This year, the addition to the Ten was Russian oak casks, casks sought after by some wineries since the late 90’s after the French cooperage Seguin Moreau rediscovered it. Apparently, some wines matured in these casks are more elegant and have sweeter aromas than when it matured in French oak casks (from Seguin Moreau website – “its aromatic contribution is low in lactones. The wine presents a less intense woody character which is never excessive, with a more perceptible fruity flavor. It shines in elegant red wines that are sensitive to absorbing oak, such as Merlot- or Pinot Noir-based wines.”). Despite the fact that the marketing department took over, as usual (the darkest Ardbeg ever, really?), the use of these casks is interesting and should have been clearly highlighted as innovative… I think that there are likely other distilleries that have whiskies maturing in these Russian oak casks, future will tell!

        • Very interesting, Benoit, but ideally this information would come from Ardbeg, preferably on the bottle labels. Do you know for a fact that Uigeadail, Corryvreckan and special releases are based on the 10 year old? If they are simply adding an assortment of young spirit to the 10 to obtain a slightly different flavour profile then, to my way of thinking, the whole special release nonsense is a bit of a hoax, an overpriced hoax at that.

          That is why I am methodically stockpiling Ardbeg 10. Currently 6 in stock and counting.

          Cheers

          • Yes, the information comes from the distillery and was presented in a tasting they did in the past over a period of 2-3 years at the distillery, Deconstructing the Dram tour – you were offered samples of FFBB, RFBB, sherry cask and new French oak cask. The bourbon casks were always 10 yo and the other varied but were usually close to being 10 yo (nothing less than 8 yo if I remember correctly). For the Russian oak casks, no idea but they were young as they are virgin casks.

            Why call it a hoax? On my side, I see it more as a very clever way of having a new release for Ardbeg day (with very different taste profile) and have total control of the stock in advance that assure them of a very stable core range especially one that is highly successful…

          • I think that, considering what people are paying these days, that kind of information, if true, belongs on the label as well. The current pattern seems to be that producers supposedly want customers to be “well informed” but that the information to make them so is increasingly rendered in ways that, quite deliberately, are not legally binding. Some people might call that dodge “clever” as well, but I call it full-on deception, or at least equivocation. The stuff that appears in binding print these days is, increasingly, fucking Gaelic fairy tales, while the supposed “real info” is rendered in completely reliable urban legend.

            I think this also speaks to another important point: whether Ardbeg is “clever” in using non-information as a way of controlling its stock, it only serves Ardbeg’s purposes in doing so; customers gain nothing by being kept in the dark. Even if the composition info cited is currently true, NAS labels guarantee nothing about minimum age of the composition of future releases; nobody guarantees me what Corryvreckan is now, so it’s VERY unlikely that anyone will be guaranteeing me what it is a year from now.

            Sláinte!

  7. Hi there,

    I put this here because the review of the Kelpie was the most recent posting with a connection to this imo

    https://thewhiskeywash.com/lifestyle/love-whiskey-story-behind-three-annual-fans-releases/

    On reading it a second time I asked myself: interesting information or cleverly leaked marketing shill?

    Come to think of it not so much the kind of info I would like to have…

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  8. Yeah, notice that we’re getting the “inside scoop” on Kelpie from McCarron (whoever he is), largely because Lumsden is now on the record as saying Kelpie wasn’t really drinkable/sellable on its own.

    “In truth, we are always looking for new different casks. We have many ‘experiments’ maturing in our warehouses, and the reason we released Kelpie [this year’s release] with Black Sea oak is that this oak type was ready, and the whisky tasted so good”, says McCarron.

    In truth, according to Lumsden, the Black Sea oak made the whisky “so good” that Kelpie had to be made with more than 50% Ten in order to save it.

    “This is not marketing here, this is the truth”, said Lumsden – and, that being the case, it needed to be erased/trumped by another narrative that would sell more product. So much for the value of the truth.

    But, for me, the real point of the whole piece was to put Colorado’s “Snowflake” on the map through association with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. It’s true; I don’t follow every new wonder whisk(e)y that producers want to promote closely enough to have heard of Snowflake – but now, thanks to this “informative” piece, that’s completely remedied.

    Sláinte!

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