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