Oct 152017

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% abv

Score:  87/100


Here we go.  New Ardbeg time.  Always an exciting thing for this guy, as you know.  In this case it was quite a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to my tasting this one.  Just so happened An Oa was released on the very day I, and a few mates, visited the distillery a wee while back.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  But late at night…after a few drams of Ardbeg…deep in my semi-delusional mental meanderings…I like to pretend they released it when they did just to commemorate my visit.

Errr…right.  Anyway…

I should confess that we drank an awful lot of this stuff on the island, and I’ve been sitting on this sample for several weeks now, so it’s simply a matter of delinquency that we’ve not gotten this posted earlier.  Hey, life is busy.  What can I say?  Either way…what say we finally get to it, yeah?

So…obviously I had very early firsthand opinions about this one, and usually my first impressions are pretty spot on with what my end impressions are.  But it’s been rather interesting to read what the wider whisky world is shouting about An Oa.  If you’ve been following along you’ll likely know that most early word is quite positive.  That is somewhat surprising, in and of itself, cause let’s face it…everyone loves to hate on Ardbeg.  To be fair to An Oa, it actually is quite decent (as is all Ardbeg, if we’re actually being honest with ourselves), but I still can’t help but find myself slightly disappointed.

I like An Oa.  Really, I do.  It’s a decent entry level Ardbeg.  The flavours are decent (young, but decent) and the whole idea of balance that the release is predicated upon is commendable.  But wait…is this really an entry level malt?  Really?  In terms of flavour profile and undisguisable youth…absolutely.  In terms of price?  Well…locally, at least, this one seems to have been positioned between the Ten and Uigeadail.  I was under the impression that this was to be the new entry level Ardbeg.  Seeing as how I can still scoop up the Ten for well under $70 in some locations ’round here, and that An Oa will retail at ~$100, I’m obviously out of sync with things.  Would love to hear something official that speaks to this.  Anyway…tasting notes…

Nose:  Noses young.  Smoke and rubber.  Custard.  A hint of banana.  Lemon.  Salt licorice.  Warm rubber.  Lime and chilis.  Straw.  Ginger.  Eucalyptus.  Soft, creamy sherry notes.  Vanilla-rich oaky bottom line.  Pleasant, but lacking.  More creamy and custard-y than the Ten (and not really better for it).

Palate:  Yep…tastes young.  Oak, vanilla.  Peat.  Loads of licorice.  Sen Sens.  Citrus zest (oily and rich).  Some of the mid-palate fruits are nice.  Orange in particular.  A lot of Granny Smith apple at the back end.

Thoughts:  Yes, it’s good.  Of course it is.  But I think we’ll stick with the Ten, to be honest.  This is too soft for an Ardbeg.  Oh…and cute marketing campaign, I should add.  As always.


 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:53 pm

  30 Responses to “Ardbeg An Oa Review”

  1. Your comments about the pricing and its place in the Ardbeg lineup are spot-on. I won’t repeat the long comments I’ve made on this elsewhere, but I just don’t see the point of this, regardless of its quality.

    Why did we need a new 46% NAS Ardbeg that seems (at least on paper), like some kind of Oogie Jr. and costs 30% more than the good old Ten?

    If a friend wants share a taste with me, great. But there’s zero chance I’m buying one.

  2. As was said on these pages in “Back to Barter”:

    “The reality is that there are less and less great whiskies being released. No, this is not a cynical statement meant to evoke the ‘decline’ arguments we engage in here so frequently. It’s simply a statement that whiskies from a decade ago were arguably of a consistently higher quality. No finger pointing. Just an acknowledgment that before demand took off through the stratosphere there was a lot more mature whisky on the market. Notice we leave price out of this part of the discussion. At this point it is irrelevant. Case in point…old Springbank 21 versus newer versions. Night and day. Same with the 18s. Same with Highland Park. Etc etc.”

    Now, this does skip the “decline debate” (presenting decline as simple fact, which I agree with, both in terms of quality and value), but it also skips assigning responsibility in the next breath, so you can have truth or consequences, but maybe not both at the same time. It’s a handy middle ground, at least in the sense that it can be acknowledged that whisky is in decline, which is pretty obvious, yet no one is actually to be held responsible for it… which is not as obvious. Success has a thousand fathers, but failure, as always, is a bastard. Condemning the current direction of whisky in the abstract but absolving people for it in the particular might not be inevitable, but its effects are fairly predictable: you get, and can expect, more of the same shit that many complain about on a regular basis.

    So, here

    It’s new, so it must be premium (more $$$)

    It’s all about the casking razzmataz, but not about time in the casks (dishonest, completely fabricated physics)

    It’s about Gaelic geographical features (meaningless distraction disguised as folksy culture; age “tells you nothing” about whisky, but travelogues do)

    Check, check, check.

    When people aren’t bemoaning what a sorry state whisky is approaching, they’re often congratulating those who are taking it there. Why aren’t things improving with all the benefits of newfound “freedom and innovation”? The mystery continues. The downward spiral in terms of the economics (and thinking) about whisky may well prove as dissatisfying in the long run as the pressures exerted by current trending prove difficult to overcome. It could be that, if whisky quality is currently dying the death of a thousand cuts, part of the problem in acknowledging/reversing that is that there are knives in the hands of far more than a thousand. The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings – or are content to behave as such.

    And if decline is true, and driven by less mature whisky on the market, we see another dot on the graph with Ardbeg An Oa as a regular range addition: take the age statement off so you can market the stuff younger at will while simply redefining quality to fit your current production and undercut stock for future aged releases. For everyone who said “the Ten is still safe”, think again – unlike with periodic “special releases”, the casks for this stuff will now have to be coming from somewhere on an ongoing basis. Whether the Ten label itself survives or not, the An Oa casks will come at the expense of casks that could have formerly gone to the Ten.

    Far from everybody supposedly presently “hating on Ardbeg”, maybe it should instead be acknowledged that this distillery gets far more of a free ride for peating some whisky than many other distilleries do. There probably isn’t any cloud that Ardbeg can produce that won’t have some silver lining for someone, even as exactly the same nonsense from some other quarters simply wouldn’t fly. Somehow Nick Morgan is generally agreed to be full of shit among many whisky enthusiasts, but the folks at Ardbeg aren’t. The remedy for Morgan’s less-than-sterling reputation is as obvious as it is ridiculous: he doesn’t need to change his outlook on whisky, he just needs to work for Ardbeg.

    And, for all the blind loyalty, passes issued and eternal optimism involved, is there any sense that anyone is being straight with you about what you’re buying? Not a chance, because THAT’S how much you’re appreciated. $97.99 for this as opposed to $81.99 for the Ten (priced via Kensington Wine Market, but Winesearcher has An Oa at an average of $80 vs. $65 for the Ten)!? Yeah, they love you, folks… or at least they saw you coming. If it’s acknowledged that it’s a business, then why make better, more honest products at more reasonable prices when they can just sell you this nonsense instead? Yep, costs more than the age statement yet isn’t as good, even as it takes future stock away from the age statement, helping to make it more “rare”. It’s Kelpie, but not quite as good, and now on a continuous basis. We all reap the rewards, such as they are, of this trending – but folks are probably right: NAS is harmless fun.

    On the pricing, as my friend, the Scotch Guru, said: “it’s not about you being out of sync, dude, it’s their marketing department thinking everything they make is a gold star whisky; they’re giving you average whisky, but elegant pricing – and it’ll get worse with the less information you have”.

    In the long run, blank cheques usually turn out to be very expensive, but don’t worry about that here… it’s Ardbeg!!! Rest assured, there are people working long into the night at Ardbeg Labs AG/Inc. trying to figure out how to make future products better, younger and more expensive for Ardbeg’s true believers and two out of three ain’t bad…if it’s Ardbeg! Lumsden hasn’t run out of chalk yet. Thank goodness we have the “innovative tool” of NAS available, or it might not be possible.


    • That’s a hell of a rant! I dig it, and I can accept it as an argument for the decline you feel in today’s whisky world.

      And I see I’m not alone in fearing this An Oa is the warning sign we’ll all one day wish we’d understood to mean that the Ten’s days were numbered.

    • One day someone will look back and say…That crazy Jeff pissed everyone off but he was right…

      On that day I’ll raise a toast with something that has an age on it that I gathered from the good old days…

  3. Hi there,

    the An Oa is for LVMH what Select is for Laphroaig or Skye for Talisker. It is meant to be “approachable” e.g. a malt that brings new drinkers to the brand that shy away from the standard OB originals in this case the Tens of Laphroaig and Talisker.
    And it is there to take pressure from stocks of the Ardbeg Ten – pressure created when the drinks giants started to sell their standards in supermarkets. A lot of new customers but a lot of pressing new demand as well. A backfire calculation. So now you get watered down expressions of classical single malts that have not much in common with the originals.
    It is doubtful they will do what they are supposed to do. What they surely will accomplish is to diminish the brands standing with fans and enthusiasts.
    That the An Oa is twice as expensive as Skye or Select (I suppose) ist because it’s an Ardbeg.

    Another nail in the coffin in which they will burry whisky in too long time.


    • Kallaskander,
      I really don’t understand how these “approachable” versions of full-bodied malts are ever supposed to end up in the hands of their supposed target audience. (And now I WILL repeat myself from elsewhere—apologies.)

      I’m imaging a Venn diagram defining these products’ hypothetical customer base. These buyers have to simultaneously be:

      •FAMILIAR ENOUGH with peated malts to know what the heck they are and to know which ones they dislike (say, Ardbeg Oogie).

      •STILL INTERESTED enough to still want to drink some peaters if they can find one that’s easier.

      •TUNED IN enough to peated malt, despite their dislike, to know that this An Oa thing exists and offers an easier version of what they dislike.

      That sounds like a very small target customer population to me. Are there really a lot of customers like this—Laphroaig Select devotees that Ardbeg plans to steal away?

  4. Hi there,

    in a world where everything is marketing it might appear so to some.

    I consider Skye Select and now An Oa a disservice to the brands as far as loyal followers are concerned.
    As to luring newbies into peat-land… I think you have found some flaws in the logic.


    • Have you tasted An Oa?

      • To stretch an analogy…

        Do you have to taste vomit to know it’s not worth $200?

      • Hi there,

        actually not – true. But I will.
        But I have read about 6-7 reviews about it and most praise it faintly.
        All are unified in one thing, though. It is not what you expect from Ardbeg.
        More Blasda than Uigeadail. And many rveiwers recommend the TEN.


        • I am asking because that was my thought also, another Select… But it’s not IMHO.

          I was surprised that they chose 46.7% ABV. However, it seems that it was this ABV that won over and over in blind tasting of An Oa.

          A 4th whisky in the Ardbeg range made sense since they have increase their alcohol output (now at maximum capacity) over the last 10 years.

  5. Too many new whiskies to try them all. These reviews help us focus where our efforts are best put to use. Keep it up Kallaskander.

  6. Hi there,

    I said I will try the An Oa and I have now.

    Let me keep it short…. the most Ardbegishness I found when I nosed the open bottle and the fresh pour in the glass.
    The longer it was exposed to air the more it desintegrated and developed into something I would call a lightly peated Speyside malt like an Ardmore or a Benromach.
    It became rather sweet and all the time it had something from a fruit eau de vie a little marzipan and a strong vanilla oakiness. The longer it was in the glass the more it turned into a Highland malt without any pronounced Islay flavours.

    It tasted sweet and a bit strange fresh from the bottle a little bitter and adstringent and soon turned to a bitter dry oakiness. No fruitiness I could find. Does it taste of Islay… not sure but it desintegrates even quicker. Young oak a sweet topnote that is reminiscent of Ardbeg, tannins bitterness vanilla and sweet smoke.

    After 15 minutes you wonder what’s in your glass – Islay is not the first thought.

    What gets better all the time is the finish that profits from time in the glass. Now really smokey even cured meat notes and very long. Woody and sweet smoke that linger and linger.
    From the fresh glass the finish is bitter and dry.

    I did not dare to try it with water because I expected no improvement.

    Not an uninteresting whisky but nothing for hardcore Ardbeg or Islay fans and not a whisky for peat heads.


    • This actually sounds like something I’d like! Showed up here for about $54 (Ten is $43, Corry $67, Oogie $73). A HTHTHTH maybe in order! BTW, I really miss that $30 Ardmore TC!

  7. I’ve always liked Ardbeg but haven’t tried this one yet

  8. For reasons unknown – beyond the idea that everything new and Ardbeg, particularly the stuff younger and not as good, needs to also be more expensive than the Ten – An Oa will be $127.95 in Ontario. Remember to type out those thank you notes to Ardbeg.


  9. For the five minutes that it was available in BC it was about the same price. Might as well move right up to Kelpie which is a mere $189.75. Ardbeg is starting to believe its own horseshit. I think we know which part of his anatomy Mickey Heads’ head is up if he thinks Ardbeg is going to sustain this level of slavish loyalty from the adoring cult members for much longer if the current trend continues.

    • It’s well put and an interesting point: Ardbeg sort of has the reputation as the “whisky guy’s whisky/ not really for neophytes”, so is there a limit/shelf life for the amount/duration of Ardbeg’s nonsense, given its (supposedly) experienced and knowledgeable clientele? I mean, even the age thing aside, Ardbeg’s recent offerings haven’t been all that much better, or certainly better values, than those put forward by the competition – and the silly pricing speaks for itself. Is An Oa really just the stupid whisky for the stupid people who believe stupid things (like they determine “whether or not” age matters to whisky because they decide whether it matters to them?). I’m beginning to think that many Ardbeg fans, beyond those with clear personal interests, haven’t read much Hans Christian Andersen (http://www.honolulutraffic.com/Emperors.pdf).

      You can fool some of the people some of the time…


    • Hi there,

      let’s keep in mind that the marketing decisions are not made at the distillery. There they make whisky and good one most of the time.
      All the Ardbeggian bullshit does not come from the island but from where ever the marketing team or directors sit and are bored to death but full of ideas of grandeur.

      There is much to critisize all around whisky but the men and women who make it have the least to say about how it is sold and at what price.


      • True enough; the people at the distillery don’t decide about marketing and prices, but they don’t decide what is made either – if the decision is to make some An Oa today, then An Oa it is. The intentions of the actual operators at the distillery aren’t really questionable, but they don’t really come into play either.

        It’s an interesting question, however, whether even Lumsden is the architect of all this or just the builder and frontman. At the same time that no one questions whether profit maximization is the (even laudable) goal, there seems to be little acknowledgement that it’s being actively pursued and that no one really has to be a whisky expert to see how to do it. That being the case, is it Lumsden’s agenda to make whisky younger and more expensive as a way of also making older whisky more expensive by attrition as well, or are those just his marching orders from elsewhere? Does it matter whose agenda it is if consumers simply acquiesce to it anyway?


      • Kallaskander, well said.

    • To what degree are those “insane Ardbeg prices” rather than just “insane Canada prices”?

      In the US, for comparison, the Ten usually goes for about $50 and the No Way thing is priced around $60.

      • A 20% increase over the Ten vs. a 28%, but the issue, to me, is why An Oa is more expensive at all, not by how much.


        • Why is An Oa more expensive you ask. Well if you’d just do some reading, Ardbeg clearly tells you why:

          “..due in no small part to time spent in our newly established bespoke oak Gathering Vat.”

          It’s bespoke. Got it? Now, If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.

          • It’s not the meat, it’s his veggies we can never get young Jeffrey to eat.

          • Time spent in some bespoke location mattered to this whisky? Perish the thought. If bullshit’s a vegetable, people can have my portion.


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