Ardbeg Kildalton 1981

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 52.6% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
After much planning and fanfare I finally managed to make a trip to Islay for the famed Islay Whisky Festival. It was a long overdue trip made even better with the company of two of my whisky buddies.

While each Islay distillery had a certain allure for me it was definitely the mystique behind Ardbeg that I was most excited about. Of course, once I visited it I realized there was no real mystique behind the name any more. It was just another company that had now taken to producing slightly above average spirit dressed up in marketing glitter.

Quite sad really.

However, that’s the story today. But go back a few decades and you realize why this distillery commanded such awe. Before it closed doors in 1981 there was some real magic happening behind those doors.

Old stock released after it’s re-opening in 1997 shed a giant spotlight on the work that was done during that era. Sadly that era doesn’t seem like it’s going to be revived any time soon.

One of those old stock releases was the 1980 Kildalton and then subsequently the 1981 as a mini as part of the 2005 Story of Peat pack which included the new 10 year old, the Uigeadail, the super rare 17 and this 1981 Kildalton.

I took this very pack with me to Islay hoping to taste it at an opportune moment and it was my friend Nitin (@trailingTheMalt) who had the splendid idea of heading down to the Kildalton Cross, just ahead of Ardbeg, to open and sample the 1981 Kildalton.

The weather Gods were against us that day not giving us more than five minutes of sunshine but finally the sun broke through and for an hour it turned out to be a bright and beautifully sunny day.

And it was right under the Kildalton cross that we each raised our glass and toasted this whisky.

My sample is from a 50ml Mini bottled at 52.6%

Nose: Vanilla. Soft fruits. Honey. Hint of heather. Quite floral. The faintest of smoke. Extremely delicate. Hint of oak. Pineapple. Almost like nosing a fruity white wine. I’m pretty sure this whisky is unpeated or even if it was lightly peated has lost all of it’s peat reek resulting in a sweet delicate fragrance.

Palate: The fruit continues. There’s the hint of smoke again. Vanilla. White spices. Very delicate again. Milk chocolates. Melon. Pineapple. Delicate citrus. And the tiniest of mocha. Very smooth, sweet and fruity.

Finish: Oily. Mouth coating. Touch of oak. Touch of spice. Nice and long.

Overall Comments: I read that this whisky was originally commissioned by a private entity or individual but was instead bottled as a distillery release. May explain the departure from the original Ardbeg house style. Nevertheless this is a wonderfully delicate spirit which simply shows the softer side of Ardbeg. An experience made even better by the symbolic trip we undertook to taste it.

Rating: 93

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