Jul 252019
 

I wanted to love this. I really did. As soon as they announced this year’s Ardbeg Day release was going to be rum cask-matured I immediately went into mental damage control. It’s okay. Relax. It might still be good. You don’t much like wine casks, but Grooves was good, right? Rum, though? Really? And that name. I’ve mentioned the concept of jumping the shark before, and maybe this is finally it.

A few years ago, Diageo’s Nick Morgan made some ridiculous comment that fired up the cognoscenti. He was coming out in defense of NAS whiskies (or if you can read between the lines: being the human shield for the fatcats at Diageo HQ) and said something along the lines of running out of numbers for age statements. Silly, of course, but I’m hoping that the idea of ‘running out of’ anything is maybe a little more applicable on the NAS side of things. Especially as relates to Ardbeg, one of my most beloved of distilleries. Maybe they’ll run out of silly concepts, and go back to numbers. Can you imagine the buzz for a proper age-stated range of Ardbeg? I mean, a regular core range of 10, 17, 21 and 25 or something? That I could get behind.

Drum…well…not so much.

Is it bad? No. Not actively. Is it good? Meh. S’okay. Not much more. I find it oddly thin and lacking the swagger that Ardbeg usually has in spades. Anyway…

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very young-ish. Smoky as hell, but…lacking the expected…I dunno…Ardbeg-iness? Licorice. Bicycle tires. Overripe banana. Caremalized pineapple sugars. Banana cream pie. A little Coke with lime. A bit of eucalyptus chest rub. Smells kinda like someone polished up a pair of Wellies. In all…meh. Underripe and out of balance.

Palate: Again…missing that Ardbeg character. Hot, youthful and spirity. Black wine gums. Sweet barley sugar notes. Sensens. More rummy rubber tones. Lemon. Plastic. Brackish water. Not bad; just not exciting either. It’s almost hard to find the real Ardbeg in there.

Finish: Long, as with all Ardbeg, but yet still somehow thin. Like a longheld reedy note in a symphony when you’re expected a tuba. Leaves behind fruit skins, licorice, toothpicks and a little bit of that plastic character.

Thoughts: You lost me on this one, Ardbeg. For the first time in memory, I’ve not bought bottles for myself. Can we please just have a regularly available, fairly priced 17 year old again? Please?

79/100 (and that might be being a tad generous, if I’m being honest.)

Oct 112010
 

No visit to Bowmore, or Islay for that matter, would be complete without a stop at Duffies Whisky Bar. Duffies is a part of the Lochside hotel on Shore Street just off the pier in Bowmore. The whisky bar is front and center when you enter, but the dining room toward the back offers a lovely view over Loch Indaal while you enjoy a rich and wonderful menu.

The unimposing facade doesn't even hint at the treasures within.

 After finding the bar, I couldn’t help but put in an appearance three or four times on my recent trip to Islay. Much of the island’s tourism is focused on whisky, and what better way to sample a dram or three while on the island (aside from those offered on distillery tours) than making your way down Shore Street to Duffies? The bar stocks over 260 Islay malts alone, with selections from other distilleries available as well.

The staff is friendly and frequently hilarious. One eve, while sipping an Ardbeg Renaissance near the bar, I overheard a gentleman ask the bartender what a certain coin in his hand was worth. Without hesitation the reply was, “that’s a two pound coin…we use those for tipping barmen”. Resounding laughs well deserved. I only hope that chap did indeed leave behind that coin. I shared a couple of great converstaions with the staff at Duffies. I only hope they can forgive me for not remembering them all by name. I’ll be back, folks. I’ll remember next time.

I sat down with Duffie himself one afternoon to chat about his beautiful bar, exceptional selection and life on Islay. Duffie MacNeill is man for whom a smile comes naturally. His thick Scottish accent had me paying careful attention as we settled into a pair of armchairs for a chat, lest I miss any of the nuggets of humor he dropped. He and his wife Roberta have owned Duffies for 8 years now. Conveniently (and often inconveniently, I’m sure) they live just two doors down. I saw a fair bit of Duffie in the bar while in Bowmore, but he swears most eves he is not there if he can help it. I also briefly met his lovely wife, though she declined to join him in the photo op.

Duffie himself mugging for the camera.

In its present incarnation, Duffies is stunning. The bar boasts gorgeous woodwork on the shelving, as you can see below, where the malts of Islay are proudly and prominently displayed. All local timber, of course. And weighing down these shelves? Well…a brilliant collection of Port Ellen, broad ranges of Laphroaig and Bruichladdich, a nice selection of young Kilchoman releases, Black Bowmore for the high rollers and a locked glass case showcasing an Ardbeg 1965. These are but a few of the offerings, many of which have slowly been migrated over from Duffie’s personal collection. The prices are more than fair. Your wallet may take a denting, but that will simply be from sampling many of the bottles, not because of Duffies’ pricing. A framed award on the wall from Whisky Magazine is almost redundant in confirming Duffies as one of the world’s premier whisky bars. One need only step inside to see for themselves.

The place was fairly hopping each time I dropped in for a dram or a pint of Finlaggen ale, and there was always someone to chat with. I met an engaging chap from Hong Kong, a great couple from England and a few American folks. Duffie says the tourist trade is varied, with a large contingent of Japanese and Swedish visitors. Lots of Fins and Canadians as well. Surprisingly, not so many from the US. He says there is no longer a short tourist season anymore, instead a steady stream visit year round. I visited Islay in late September and can attest I met travelers from all over the globe.

Just a part of Duffies' impressive collection.

It is now mid-October. I have been home for nearly two weeks now. I can honestly say that Duffies is one of the places on Islay I am already missing. Looking forward to my next visit.

http://www.lochsidehotel.co.uk/

Sep 102010
 

From Islay Weblog…

Ardbeg and Bruichladdich Islay Distilleries Up For Sale?

Thursday, September 09 2010

Yesterday evening around nine a message was posted on a Dutch forum titled “Astounishing Islay whisky news from Scotland”. The message was posted by Hans Offringa. Hans Offringa is author of the book “The Legend of Laphroaig” and a respected member of the whisky community. The contents of his message were quite astounishing indeed. The news Hans posted was that Ardbeg Distillery was up for sale and Bruichladdich Distillery had recently been sold, according to a reliable Scottish source.

Immediately Twitter and Facebook were buzzing and several forums wrote about this unusual rumour, because that’s what it was/is. Hans Offringa tried to verify the news with some of his friends in Scotland and I did my wee research and checked with the Ileach. Brian was kind enough to contact Ardbeg and he said “I’ve checked with Ardbeg and they know nothing of which you speak. the source of the rumours may be the fact that Diageo own 35% of Moet Hennessy, who own Glenmorangie, but how that woud impact on the sale of ardbeg, I know not.” Continue reading…

In the meanwhile a Twitter message from Bruich_Sales appeared: “Not true! Bruich is still 100% independent & we are all working hard to hit budet this year and next.” Now that sounds like nothing has happened or will happen in the (near) future which means that Bruichladdich will remain independent and Ardbeg won’t be sold. Now why was this message posted in a Dutch forum in the first place? Of course it’s speculation but where there’s smoke there’s a fire. Like I said above, Hans Offringa is a reliable and respected member of the whisky community so my guess is that something really is brewing. Perhaps it’s something completely different, that I don’t know. In the meanwhile Hans is waiting for news from his friends in Scotland and as soon as anything comes up I will post it on Twitter and update this post. So for now the news is no news and the rumours will remain rumours.

Sep 042010
 

Ardbeg’s resurrection and subsequent explosion have been a phenomenon not often seen in the whisky world.  The tagline on the bottle ‘the Ultimate’ says it all.  By now, there is little chance of hiding the ATW bias for Ardbeg.  Fortunately, there is no guilt association…ATW has no ties whatsoever to this Islay giant, simply a profound respect for a great distillery that keeps producing exceptional expressions.  The man at the helm for Ardbeg since March 12, 2007 has been Michael ‘Mickey’ Heads.  Michael is a native Ileach, and has certainly paid his dues in the industry.  ATW was fortunate enough, and grateful, to secure a few moments of Michael’s time to get a glimpse into the life of both a burgeoning distillery and the man who makes it tick. 

Without further ado… 

  

ATW:  Having worked for Laphroaig, Jura and now Ardbeg, can you share a little about what has led you along the path of your whisky career?  

MH:  Probably a good work ethic and being in the right place at the right time!! I certainly didn’t plan it from an early age…in fact I thought it would be the last thing I would do, as my father and grandfathers worked in distilleries, I originally planned to join the police force or go to sea that were the options, somewhere i got lost!! :-) :-) 

   

ATW:  Can you think of a personal proudest moment or career highlight thus far?  

MH: Being able to travel to other countries, meeting new people and talking about something you love doing..
I don’t really have a proudest moment, although, I suppose being asked to take on the responsibility of looking after a well known Distillery is a bit of a compliment!!
 

  

ATW:  What does an average day at the distillery entail for you personally? 

MH:  Usually start around 0730 and check with the boys in the plant to see if everything was ok through the night. Every day is different, check my e-mails, plan budgets, meet company guests, ensure all our records are complete and up to date, check our stocks, carry out quality checks, and anything else that crops up. It is very varied and a lot of the times in doesn’t plan out!! 

 
 
ATW:   What can one expect when visiting Ardbeg and touring the distillery? 
MH:  The Distillery is in a beautiful location, we have friendly staff who will ensure you are made welcome and give an informative tour. Afterward you can taste some of our excellent whiskies, we also have cafe / restaurant at the distillery, the food is excellent and we have a lot of return visitors…it is a great place to spend 2 or 3 hours. 
 
 

ATW:  Has the involvement of Glenmorangie changed the direction Ardbeg has been moving in? 

MH:  Most definitely!! Prior to Glenmorangie being involved the distillery was closed, with a bleak future, now the place is vibrant, has a bright future and the popularity of our whisky is growing world wide. The company has invested heavily in the distillery and should be congratulated for what they have done over the last 13 years. 

 
 
ATW:  There has been an overwhelmingly positive reception to the recent entries in the Ardbeg range, not to mention the awards and accolades that have followed.  Does this add an element of pressure going forward or simply vindicate a team of hard-working and talented individuals?

MH:  I think it is a testament to forward-looking people who have pride in what they do. I don’t think pressure is the word!! We look forward to developing Ardbeg and bringing new product for the enjoyment of our followers and for any new consumers who may join us in the future.
It is always nice to get rewarded, it gives you confidence to know that your efforts are always appreciated.
 

 
 
ATW:  What is your current favorite expression in the Ardbeg range?

MH:   Ardbeg 10 years. For quality it is hard to beat!! 

 
  
ATW:  When not drinking Ardbeg, what is your single malt of choice?

MH:  I have a few, depending on the mood…Laphroaig 10, Longmorn, Clynelish, Glenmorangie Original & Signet, Jura 16. 

 
 
ATW:  For quite some time now Ardbeg has been in a position of having demand far outstrip supply. Are there any plans to increase production at any point in the future? 

MH:  We have no plans to increase the size of the plant. We have been building stock now for the last few years and what we fill now goes one hundred percent into cask for Ardbeg, nothing now goes for blending. 

 
 
ATW:  Most foreign markets are subject to the law of ‘whatever-we-can-get-here’ (*note…at the time of this interview, Aug 2010, Canada has just welcomed Corryvreckan).  For this reason, I’d like to ask what Ardbeg considers its core range of expressions, and how long that will stay static? 

MH:  The core range for Ardbeg is 10 years old, Uigeadail & Corryvreckan and this will be the range for the foreseeable future. 

 
 
ATW:  Can we ask your take on the somewhat controversial issue of whether or not, and to what degree, ambient atmosphere affects whisky maturation, and Ardbeg in particular? 

MH:  I am a great believer that where we are determines what we produce and atmosphere comes into that. We make whisky by the sea, we store it by the sea, the peat that is used comes from peat bogs sitting on raised beach and the Atlantic spray in the winter time is absorbed into it, so it all affects the final product. Movement of spirit in the cask is also important, cold the spirit contracts in the winter, warming and expanding in the summer, this all helps with the maturation process. Casks breath…slowly, but they do breath!! 

 
ATW:  For someone sipping their first Ardbeg, which expression would you suggest? 

MH:  Has to be 10 years old, however we have a gentler version called Blasda which is less than half the phenol level of the 10, however this is limited, so the 10 without doubt. Our new bottlings over the last couple of years have been excellent, this is since Glenmorangie took over the distillery in 1997 and is testament to our wood policy. 

 
ATW:  Can you share any hints as to what may be next for Ardbeg? 

MH:  I’m afraid that would spoil the surprises for the future, what I will say is that we will continue to make and develop high quality whiskies which people will enjoy and hopefully then spread the word, after all it is the ultimate Islay malt!!! 

 
 
ATW:  Any final thoughts you’d like to share? 

MH:  I always think we are in a great business, the people who make Ardbeg are passionate about what they do. Single malt enthusiasts are also passionate about single malt whiskies, they are all good ambassadors and I hope the enthusiasm (especially for Ardbeg) continues and helps spread the word to future generations!!!  

Hearty thanks from ATW, Mickey.  

Keep visiting.  Curt is off to Islay in a couple of weeks and will be visiting Ardbeg (along with the 7 other distilleries on the isle).  Much more will be posted on the distillery and the Ardbeg range.  ATW will also have reviews of Ardbeg’s Rollercoaster and Supernova up in the coming months. 

Slainte.