Ardbeg 1815

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 50.1% | Colour: Dirty Gold

Review
It’s been exactly one day since I’ve been back after spending almost ten days on Islay for the 2016 Feis Ile. It’s a massive re-adjustment, I tell you. I was there last year as well but for half the amount of time and it took me almost six months to recover. Lord only knows how long I’m going to take this time around.

Add to the fact that I went with six other friends is only going to make the memories better and harder to get over. So here’s a tip of my hat to a very special boys trip!

Our last day on the island started off cold and windy. It was 8AM and we were stood in line outside the Ardbeg gates hoping to be one of the first to pick out one of many mystery tastings that were happening during the day.

Seems like Lady Luck was shining down on me as I ended up picking a Golden Ticket to one of the mystery tastings. The only thing they told us was that the tasting would be with Micky Heads, the distillery manager.

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After solving the (rather easy) cryptic message on the paper we discovered the tasting was due to happen at midday, with Micky & Philco at the Not So Dark Cove.

We first collected at a gate behind the Ardbeg sea-view cottage and were promptly informed that due to unavoidable circumstances Micky would be unable to attend. In his place Philco would conduct the tasting. There was a collective groan by everyone but the promise of large drams brought out a big cheer proving once and for all that all whisky drinkers care about is whisky and nothing else.

As we made our way (around twenty of us) to a secluded rocky inlet by the water there sat Micky, dressed up as a funny looking smuggler complete with flowing black robes and a fake beard. Big cheers followed and we settled ourselves on the sharp rocks to saver some serious whiskies.
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The first out of the chest was the Ardbeg Dark Cove, the Festival Release. Lovely dram and I think one of the better Ardbeg Feis bottlings in recent years. Accompanying the whisky were lovely black Ardbeg Night glasses produced specially for the day.

This was followed by the Ardbeg Alligator Committee Release and then a lovely and delicate bourbon single cask from 1974 – Cask 3498.

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Beautifully constructed flavours on the all the whiskies and, so far, things were going swimmingly well.

However, this all paled in comparison when the last whisky of the tasting was pulled out for all to gasp and whoop in joy. Philco stood proudly displaying it to a cacophony of clicking cameras and the occasional wolf whistle. For he had in his hand the Ardbeg 1815.

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Released last year for the 200th Anniversary of the distillery the spirit inside this bottle is quite special. A mix of 1974 first-fill bourbon and 1975 first-fill sherry it was vatted together in a glass container for six months before making it into 400 bottles. The younger spirit is approximately 33 years old and is quite a throw back to the days when Ardbeg reigned supreme.

I thought of pulling out my notebook and taking down some notes right there. I even thought about decanting the spirit into a sample bottle and trying it later at home. But both options meant that I would be unable to enjoy the spirit and the place that I was in. So, with a little bit left in my glass, I chose, instead, to sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the ocean to enjoy this fine spirit.

Beautifully oily on the nose. Quite sweet. Hints of nuts. A rounded earthiness that showed it’s character. Something salty and mineral – maybe because I was sitting on sea drenched rocks. Sweet coffee beans and milk chocolate on the palate accompanied that same oiliness I found on the nose. Those nuts again.

Again, it’s not the most magnificent whisky I have drunk or ever will, but it is certainly one of the most special. Yes, it costs £3000 pounds a bottle and there’s only 400 bottles of it ever produced.

But the fact that I sat amongst fellow whisky nuts savouring this special spirit with the highly likeable Micky Heads at one of my favourite distilleries was the real treat. Add to that this was the way I was closing off one memorable trip made the moment even more special.

The rest of the day went by in a blur as we drank more and more Ardbeg, danced in the open courtyard, made new friendships and cemented existing ones.

As one of our friends so rightly said on the trip : I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but today is a good day.

Ardbeg Almost There

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.1% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Palate: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24
Strength: 25 | Variety: 23 | Quality: 24 | Harmony: 25
Final Score: 96.5

Review
Dear God! There was some real old school magic going on at Ardbeg when they re-opened in 1997. I don’t care how bad the economy how do you close down a distillery that produced spirit of this quality? Utter madness.

Well, thank you Glenmorangie for doing what you did.

Quick recap for the uninitiated. After Ardbeg opened it’s doors in 1997 they, on their way to the standard 10, decided to release four committee only bottlings of the spirit on it’s journey.

The first is called Very Young and is a six year old whisky. The second installment is called Still Young at eight years. The third Almost There at nine years. And finally the Renaissance which went on to become their standard 10 year old single malt.

The series is called Path to Peaty Maturity and you will seldom see the art of whisky making reaching such lofty heights. Almost flawlessly crafted these spirits are the reason people go bananas trying to get hold of each new Ardbeg.

It was a little over a year ago that I first tasted the Still Young and was suitably floored. And so last night I decided enough was enough and brought out my spare bottle of the Almost There to remind myself why this distillery is so close to my heart.

The spirit in my hand has been distilled in 1998 and bottled on February 27, 2007 at approximately nine years of age. The code on the bottle is L7 058 23:55 4ML and bottled at a cask strength of 54.1%

Nose: Tight citrus. Raw sugar. Tart lime. Black salt. Pineapple. A controlled peat. Milk chocolate. Cherries. Black licorice. Soot. Ash. All spice. It’s a touch more savory than it’s younger brother. That extra year of maturation shows. Such brilliantly balanced aromas. 24/25

Palate: Lemon tart. Spices. Vanilla. Oak. Bitter chocolate. All spice. Cumin. Lemon curd. Gets fruitier mid-palate. Cherries. Green apple. Pineapple. This one is gorgeously layered and the flavors keep swimming in and out of focus but stay within their family. 24/25

Finish: Insanely long. Oily. Lime. Lemon. Cumin powder. 24/25

Balance: 24/25

Strength: Crisp. On point. Strong. Bold. Cask strength. Perfect. 25/25

Quality: Almost incomparable. Crafted by hand. Almost artisan. 24/25

Variety: Good old fashioned flavors come at you one after another. 23/25

Harmony: An essay in perfection. 25/25

Based on my scores I award this whisky 96.5 points

Ardbeg Supernova 2010

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 60.1% | Color: Pale Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 |Rating: 91

Review
Ah, yes! The old school Ardbegs from the great forgotten era of 2010. Back when peat monsters ruled and the world was getting it’s first taste of NAS whiskies.

Second in line after the inaugural 2009 release of the same name this one ups the ante with an extra 1.2% of alcohol.

What is an extra 1.2% you ask? Everything! Just ask my stinging taste buds!

Definitely a youngish whisky (7-9 years if you ask me) with everything cranked up to maximum. Peat levels of upwards of 100ppm (other Ardbegs measure around 50ppm) and a very high strength ABV of 60.1%

I remember having this when it first came out and being suitably blown away. I was young and naive, much like this spirit, and easily overwhelmed. Now it takes a touch more to impress. And I have to admit the spirit does it’s best!

This review is from bottle code L10 070 16:22 6ML

Nose: Reminds me of the Still Young. That same youngish malt with classic Ardbeggian aromas. I know the peat here is cranked up but it still comes across as understated. Sharp lime. Lemon sorbet. Vanilla. Green apples and pears. Honey crust. Sugarcane. Let it breathe and it becomes more sooty. But with an underlying sweetness to it. Now with more herbs. Some cardamom. An essay in balance.

Palate: Lots of black and white peppers. Prickly green chilies. Lemon. Sugarcane. Dry honey. Slightly bitter oak. Melon. Mint leaves. Quite savory belying the nose. Fires up the tastebuds that’s for sure! Made me salivate. But the spices dominate. Is the high strength trying to mask something? Seems like it.

Finish: Oily. Tobacco leaves. Limestone. The same spices. Touch of smoke.

This is a fine dram. Need to sit with it for a while as it evolves. As of this writing I have not had the 2009 version which I’ve heard is off-the-hook. I’d love to make a comparison.

Overall great nose and finish with the palate marginally behind.

Rating: 91

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Needless to say, and for those who know me, I have been an Ardbeg fan ever since I can remember. Which is basically to say I can only remember as far back as four years which is when my journey of whisky madness commenced.

Ardbeg was my muse and I collected and sampled as many expressions as I could humanly get my hands on. Of late, though, following on the heels of the Uigi, Corry and Alligator, it felt like my once favorite distillery was losing steam. The Fies Iles were not as powerful as the spirits that had captivated my attention.

Ardbeg Day was OK, not bad. The Galileo again missed the mark for me. Ardbog was decent. Auriverdes was so-so in my opinion. There was more mediocrity than there was greatness. And that was saddening.

And so when the new 2014 Kildalton came out I was skeptical of the spirit inside. But like a spoilt child in a toy shop I had to have it just so that it could sit on my shelf for all to see.

What I did not know was that my distillery had taken this moment to announce, what I hope is, a true return to form.

Bottled as a way of supporting the North Highland Initiative charity that supports fragile, rural communities across the North Highlands in Scotland.

Available only at the distillery Ardbeg Kildalton takes its name from the nearby Kildalton Cross. At 1200 years old the Kildalton Cross is an icon of Islay and Scotland and stands six miles along the coast from the distillery. Ardbeg also released a whisky by the name of Ardbeg Kildalton back in 2004.

It has been matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (both 1st fill and refill) and comes in at a chewy 46%.

Nose: Mild peat. Warm tangerines. Touch of toffee. Melon fruitiness. More like Lovehearts. Delicate parfum with a hint of oak. Faint ash. And iodine that transcends into a more floral eucalyptus. It’s a wonderfully balanced nose and shows a lovely range of complexities the longer you sit with it.

Palate: Chargrilled citrus. Smoke and peat. Lemon sweets. Mild spices – more white than black pepper. Fruity vanilla and apricot. Hints of wood. The mouthfeel is quite deliciously creamy. Dries a touch in your mouth signaling good quality sherry.

Finish: Long with mocha wood and a touch of mint. The drying sherry is back.

After a really long time I was treated to some classic well-balanced flavors from Ardbeg. The intention and packaging behind the whisky are both noble. I would, however, love to know the age of the spirits inside. I’m going to guess nothing older than 9 or 10. But then age is just a number.

Welcome back Ardbeg. You were sorely missed.

Rating: 92