May 272012

Ardbeg Ten

46% abv

Score: 88.5/100


It doesn’t get more ‘Islay’ than this. Ardbeg Ten is one of the truest expressions of an Islay single malt I have ever encountered. It epitomizes the region and style. Quite possibly the greatest ten year old whisky I’ve tried and most likely the best entry level expression to come from any of the ‘big eight’ on Islay.

It is the fountainhead of Ardbeg’s resurrection, and as such, it stands as a monument to the rebirth of the distillery. Its clean lines, sharp angles, austere clarity and defined character have shown that the distillery has not only pulled off the Lazarus act, but done so with style.

Interesting to note…old stocks saw the light of day when the distillery reopened in 1997 under Glenmorangie, but quickly disappeared in expressions such as the brilliant ‘17’ and ‘Airigh Nam Beist’. At this time the oldest expression in the Ardbeg core range is this, the Ten. And even still…demand outstrips supply. No wonder there is little old stock hitting the market outside of the indies.

Straight outta that sexy emerald bottle, this is a light straw-like color, quite similar to pale diffuse sunshine, and it prickles at the nostrils a little, ‘cause hey…let’s face it…this is a young whisky.

The nose is all about campfires and smoldering peat. Salty coastal notes and briny iodine are everywhere. Next…buckets of freshly squeezed citrus fruit and a mild nutty vanilla leeched from the bourbon oak. The charred wood notes are to die for and marry well with wispy stirrings of anise (which appear a little more boldly on the palate).

Heat, peat and smoke on delivery and arrival. These come right up front, ride along through the development and stay until the party is over. Surprisingly the Ten is somewhat creamy and vanilla-noted. There is fruit there as well…mostly young ripe green fruit and lemon rind. The finish has just a touch of melon behind the oaky vanillins, smoke and drying green apple skin tartness.

This is coat-your-mouth, room-scenting, firewater. Well worth taking the time to savor.

Ardbeg firing on all cylinders is a nearly unstoppable machine, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the pure spirit when the distillery’s entry level expression, at a mere ten years of age, is this bloody good.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:33 pm

  39 Responses to “Ardbeg Ten Review”

  1. Good review! I really like your descriptors and would agree they’re all there in spades. The Ten is a powerful, straight-ahead whisky and so, despite all the flavours, I wouldn’t say it’s “complex” in the conventional sense (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’re in agreement there). It’s kind of a Gatling gun of tastes – Josey Wales cleaning house – rather than a symphony.

    This stuff does sit right on the cusp of greatness, and is well inside if one factors age into account – a true benchmark malt. It is expensive for an entry-level expression, but a peat lover who takes the plunge will never regret it – and many of those who fall in by accident become peat lovers! (Shout out to the Scotch Guru!)

  2. Basically agree with the review and comment. My “go to” dram at the end of a tasting session ( I have 6 bottles on hand). I should point out that I’ve recently noticed quality varies significantly between bottle numbers. L11 052 was noticeably weaker than others and maybe an 83, whereas L11 321 is about normal and an 87. However, L11 195 is very, very good (91) and makes me smile from ear to ear. So check the numbers on the back of the bottle and keep track of the quality. And if you find a “195” send it my way, as I’ve already scoured all the stores in my area and snagged them all.

  3. Had a dram of Balvenie Single Barrell and one of Glenlivet Nadurra while watching footbal earlier today. I think the Balvenie slightly wins out, but both are very good. Now, while putting up Christmas lights, I took a Bowmore 18 break, followed by a dram of Ardbeg 10. God, what does Ardbeg put in that whisky! It’s a 2010 bottle that is wonderful. Great whisky, especially at the price!!

    • Robert, you obviously don’t live in Ontario. I just compared the LCBO with one Calgary store. Ardbeg 10 is 30 dollars cheaper, and the price difference for the others is as high as 80 dollars!

      • We don’t get a great selection, but prices are apparently quite good. Ardbeg 10 is about $40 with tax while I think the Bowmore 18 was $90 wtax. The other two were around $60-65. A’bunadh batch 40 was $50 wtax the other day, so I grabbed one even though I have some left. I also got decent deals on Corry, Laga 16 and two HP 18’s, along with a Nadurra Triumph. Stockin up for the Holler Daze!

  4. Are the recent Ardbeg 10 bottlings as good as older ones (2007 and before)? Haven’t tested them for two years. I loved them before, but i fear that they have changed too, like Uigadail.

    Any opinions?

    • Big problem is bottle variation. You can have a decent bottle followed by a great bottle and then a mediocre one. If you find one you like, note the bottle code and run back down to the same store to buy several of the same code. Also, if you get a new bottle (say an L13 122 blah blah), open it immediately and do a taste test as stores can sell off a batch quickly. Also, let us know the codes for any great or even good ones, so we can also check. Only the first five numbers matter as they tell the year and day (say May 2nd of 2013 for my example).

      • Variation, yeah…but I’ve not found one I didn’t like. Older versions (prior to the current boom)were likely propped up by some older malts in the vatting. Nowadays I imagine this is bottled at 10 years and 5 minutes.

        • I agree that none have been bad, but I did have one (L11 067? I think) that was fairly bland. I did a comparison at the time to two other bottles, one great and one typical and the difference was significant. Currently have a 2012 open and it is average for A10, which means good. I haven’t noticed much variation in the Corry or Oogie, but have had many more bottles of 10, therefore more chance for finding variations.

      • I see. I used to check the years, but not the full code. L7 bottling were very nice, L10 was not that deep. Now i will check an L11.

        • L11 is fine. 🙂

          Maybe a bit thinner than the older bottlings, but still very Ardbeg. Maybe there’s even more smoke here, and a bit darker in character. L7 was better, but it ok too. Phew. 🙂

          • I don’t doubt there is some noticeable variation from batch to batch, at least at the extreme ends, due to the level of peating, but I’ve yet to find that variation personally where I was absolutely certain it was the whisky and not me. As Curt says, demand took the bonus time away from these bottles a while ago, and that older malt was probably an effective stabilizer.

            I do wonder what will happen to the 10 as inferior NAS labels from other distilleries continue to flood in beneath its price level, but not so far beneath that they don’t threaten to lift the 10 and malts like Talisker 10 to silly levels for a decade’s worth of whisky – and yeah, where you buy makes a HUGE difference on this question. Ironically, neither Ardbeg nor Talisker are doing any of this lifting themselves, bringing in their NAS offerings at prices over their entry-level age statements. With Ardbeg it might well always be so – peat fanatics and collectors will snap up every variant just on curiosity and speculation alone, regardless of achievement in quality – but the 3 Talisker NAS are a big trial balloon for Diageo, which has just picked up Dalmore and Jura . If Diageo can market these and other products at more than entry level, like Ardbeg, margin chasing and sliding quality might be with us for a very long time.

        • Definitely check full code. The worst and best A10’s I’ve had were 2011’s.

  5. Chalk it up to paranoia, but weren’t the scores for this and a few other Ardbegs a wee bit higher a few months ago. I feel like I missed the memo, are the scores of certain whiskies being updated to reflect a more current opinion?

    • Good observation. Yes sir. Some of these scores were quite old (reviews copied over from a previous website even in some cases) and in retrospect, too high. I have an Ardbeg bias, of course, but there were some that needed a tweak downwards.

      After trying enough great whisky, you sort of realize that the ones you thought so highly of in early days may not be quite at the level you thought they were. They may have been the best you’d tried up till then, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recalibrate when your knowledge basis grows. In other words…the ceiling had to move up a bit to allow a little more breathing room for scoring.

      As these reviews are online for anyone to see at any time I thought it prudent to adjust. I didn’t want to mislead or influence anyone based on my overzealousness.


      • Thanks for the clarification, I appreciate the honesty. I’m glad you decided to change the scores to keep the site up to date, as long as it’s active I think a whisky blog should try it’s hardest to stay in the current; a journey, not a museum. It’s certainly better than a store taping a decade old 95 score from Michael Jackson to the shelf with an exclamation point beside it.

      • So your saying that Ardbeg 10 is worth half a point more than Caol Ila 12? No offence, but that’s crazy talk.
        There does seem to be some dramatic variation in the A10 though. An A10 I picked up at UK duty free is markedly better than one a friend picked up in the States.

        • Absolutely, I’m saying Ardbeg Ten is better than Caol Ila 12. I love Caol Ila, but it often has a slight feinty note at this age, almost like it wasn’t the exact right spirit cut.

          You’re definitely right about Ardbeg Ten batch variation.

          • Sorry… Poorly worded on my part. I was meaning to say that A10 is a much, much better dram than the CI 12. A half point is not enough in my eyes to separate those two. Even the weakest A10 I have tried would exceed the CI by a considerable margin. The best A10 I have had could hold its own against an uigeadail.

            I see your dilemma though with scoring here when we know there to be batch variation. It makes you wonder whether one needs to use a range in their scoring. Unorthodox perhaps, but I think saying that an A10 could score anywhere between 88-92 is pretty accurate based on BV.

            Where I live, the A10 is on display usually with a 97 score (from guess who) placed right beside the price, helping to justify price gouging.

          • 97 still scores lower than the price tag in Ontario…

      • So, just wondering, do these score adjustments only reflect a new frame of reference, or have some of these whiskies “slipped” in quality?

        • Just a revised frame of reference, if you will. Re-calibration. True-up. Correcting a bit for bias. Admitting overzealously. Whatever. Not reflective of slippage. If that was the case, I would note it in the comments instead.


  6. What will a L13 be like? Stores have a 200 series and 70. Don’t want a total TCP Front End that’s like an Ash Tray Juice. Enjoyed Ardeg 10 before with Oily feel and clean coal and chimy smoke mid back palate. My last batch L12 011 had a slight more hue colour too like more wood leaked in and tasted like Ash Tray concentrate. I’m noticing Argeg becoming very supermarket price now and always some new gimmick to go with it.

    • I preferered the L6-L7 bottlings. Recent ones tasted younger and rougher. Not bad thing, but i used to pick out more, and refined flavours.

  7. Lol, I don’t have stamina no more to even try to look for L6. Refine notes in old Ardbeg sounds exactly what I want to Enjoy! Store has L13 241 and Connosr review seems Ok but mention too much wood. L14 mentions too chemical and not much else. Thanks on reply!

  8. Sipping some Ardbeg, after opening my stashed 2011 bottle of the Ten. Tasty stuff that one can easily drink neat, with a dash of water, or with a couple of ice cubes. I haven’t had a recent bottle, but Ralfy says it’s really good, so decided to go ahead and open this old one. Somewhat reminds me of the Kilhoman 2008 Vintage, which apparently uses the same barley as Ardbeg. Anyone have a recent bottle they’ve tried?

  9. I got this second hand, but I take it seriously enough to act on it and pass it on: fans of the Ten in Ontario might want to stock up; I understand that there is going to be a sizable price increase before the end of the year.


    • With all due respect, $100 is already overpriced when the “expensive” stores in Calgary sell it for $80 and I suspect you can get it cheaper at the Superstore chain.

      So no stocking up for me. I have a bottle I bought in 2011 and have never opened. Too many CS offerings to drink. I will leave it for those who appreciate the expression more…

      • Last one I got from Calgary Superstore was last September for $62, Uigeadail was $76.
        The Ten is now $105.80 with tax in BC. My sister in law is bringing two up from Oregon next month, $49.90 US each. I guess if it means we have something better than Donaldcare we shouldn’t complain too much.

        • Ardbeg 10 is $42 + tax here. Worth every cent. Health insurance for my wife and myself is over $25,000/ yr with $6000 deductible each per year. Not worth a pile of dog poop.

          • Wow, that’s brutal. The total annual premiums for my wife and me for medical and dental is just over $2600 annually. I guess I can afford to pay full price for my Ardbeg. My American relatives are fortunate to have full medical coverage paid by their employers, but I don’t know what happens after they retire. Our two countries have much in common, but we differ quite considerably on social philosophy.

        • It’s more of a difference than it seems. In Canada there are no pre-existing conditions that prevent you from getting the health care you need, no deductible, and no increase in premiums if you’re “high risk”.

          Not every province has “premiums” but it’s all paid for by taxes… but not $25000 in taxes.

          • The new BC provincial government has vowed to get rid of health care premiums in the next two years. That means sin taxes will likely go up and my whisky will cost more. That’s ok, I can live without whisky if I have to, but I can’t live without affordable, universal health care.

  10. We are constantly told how much Canada’s healthcare blows and we need to just buck up and pay huge premiums to insurance execs. Most of the guys saying that either have company paid policies or are worth 10’s of millions. I go on Medicare in 6 months and can’t wait. Of course, my wife will still cost an arm and leg for another 3 years. Thankfully booze is cheap and numbs some of the pain of premiums. And I can walk around town with the grandkids carrying an assault rifle and grenade launcher. Never know when you Canuckians (or zombies, if there’s a difference) will attack! Good thing Ardbeg and Glenmorangie are reasonably priced.

    • It will happen when you least expect it; the invasion of the zombie Canuckians. We’ll be drunk and we’ll be armed…with hockey sticks and curling brooms. And we’ll be taking back as much cheap Ardbeg and Glemorangie as we can smuggle across the border.

  11. The worst %*#* I’ve ever tasted. Seriously. The best analog is hot antifreeze from an early 80s Chevy, but that’s a bit insulting to the Chevy.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>