Ardbeg 21

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Colour: Wheat
Nose: 8.6 | Palate: 8.8 | Finish: 8.7 | Overall Score: 8.7

Review
It’s seven in the morning here in Islay. The sun refuses to rise. It’s been spitting for the last 24 hours. The wind is auditioning to be in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. And I still can’t get the taste of the Ardbeg 21 out of my mouth.

It took me three flight connections, an overnighter in Glasgow and a bumpy plane to Islay to make this impromptu trip. I’m normally not spontaneous but when my buddy from Canada said he was going to be there, along with three other friends, I began thinking. And when Ardbeg sent me a mail inviting me over to try the new Ardbeg 21 I knew there was no way I was going to be able to refuse.

I was at Ardbeg twenty minutes after my plane touched down in the morning and the sign on the bench, as you turn into the distillery, couldn’t have rung any truer for me. Rest and be thankful for you have arrived.

I love that saying.

As we milled around the visitors centre we were greeted by the supremely kind and generous Jackie who poured for us, among other absolutely magnificent old-school Ardbegs, this hugely anticipated release. We sat in the Old Kiln Cafe and took our first sip of the 21 year old.

Matured exclusively in bourbon my sample is from an open bottle and served at 46%

Nose: There’s first the unmistakeable smoke and peat bacon that you can only attribute to Ardbeg. A sweetness but it’s not entirely from fruits. More from a sugared barley. Quite salty. Mussels. Fishnets. Let it relax and it starts to curl open. Green lime. Now there’s some green apples. Melon rind. Red liquorice. And a hint of purple flowers. I love it. Solid. And on point. 8.6

Palate: Still savoury as the nose suggests. But with more citrus this time. The green lime is bigger. As is the lemon. But it all comes on the back of a sooty, charry coal smoke which completely puckers up your taste bud. It’s a warm arrival that coats your mouth and forces you to chew. Dries mid-palate with just the slightest hint of pineapples. This is really working for me. 8.8

Finish: Medium to long. Drying again. Touch of green chillies. 8.7

Overall Comments: I had been constantly second-guessing my self all along my journey here. Was the whisky going to be worth it? Was this trip a good idea? But the allure of Islay and the opportunity to meet friends was strong. Besides Ardbeg had somewhat redeemed themselves with the Committee bottling of the Dark Cove so it was their game to lose. And guess what. I think they’ve hit it out of the park.

Overall Score: 8.7

Ardbeg 1975 OB 2000

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Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 9.2 | Overall Score: 8.6

Review
I think by now everyone’s read about my trip to Islay for the Feis Ile so I won’t bore you with the details.

What is pertinent, though, is our annual pilgrimage to the Kildalton Cross, a few miles ahead of Ardbeg, with the aim of toasting something special. This year there were seven of us. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good because more the merrier.

Bad because we decided to drive down to the cross in a single Volkswagen Passat. Let’s just say everyone had their privates mashed against someone’s rear at all times. There were violent complaints followed by uncontrollable bouts of laughter as we made the agonising 20 minute drive from Lagavulin.

The only person unaffected was my self. As the designated driver for the day I had the enviable position of sitting comfortably in the drivers’ seat and laughing at my friends’ discomfort.

I had procured this bottle in Dubai and gingerly carried it in my luggage all the while hoping and praying nothing would happen to it. Luckily the whisky Gods were on our side. The bottle was unscathed. The day was beautiful. Everything was perfect in that moment.

This vintage Ardbeg was released soon after the new ownership had taken over the distillery. Released in 2000 my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: A fading peat. Soft and in the background. Not as earthy as I thought but more coal smoke. Old leather shoes. Almonds. Walnuts. Organic kale chips. Salty kale chips. Yemeni honey. After a while becomes quite malty. Cereals. The tender oak is next. Becomes a touch floral over time. Dried lavender petals. Like potpourri. Heather. Such a distinctive old school style of spirit. No sharp edges. Everything married as one well rounded robust offering. 8.2

Palate: Feels better on the palate. So full. Extremely oily. Mouth filling. Lovely soft delivery. Faded peat. Cocoa powder. The oak here is supreme. Beautifully balanced. Same nuttiness as on the nose. Banana cake and almonds. Four cumin seeds. Not five. Not three. Four. 8.4

Finish: Bloody hell. This just keeps getting better and better. One of the more magnificent finishes I’ve encountered in a long time. Just stays in your mouth and refuses to dissipate. Hints of vanilla. The soft peat. And, of course, the divine oak. Love it. 9.2

Overall Comments: A truly world class whisky that harks back to a bygone era of whisky making. There’s an aged softness to these old school spirits that I’ve noticed that might never be replicated. There’s just too much time and care taken to produce these kinds of gems to make them successful in the modern world where everyone is impatient and has the attention span of a Jack Terrier on cocaine. And, frankly, even if they do I doubt us lesser mortals will be able to get our hands on it anyway. Such is the world we live in.

Overall Score: 8.6

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 55% | Colour: So dark!
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 9.2 | Finish: 9.0 | Overall Score: 9.0

Review
Yes, I know. A million bloggers have already written about this one and I’m super late to the party. I have an excuse, though. I’ve been sick for a while and, frankly, quite busy with putting together my documentary Every Dram Drunk.

I’m calling it a documentary but, as my friend rather sarcastically pointed out, it’s actually just a pathetic attempt on my part to validate yet another boys trip. I can’t help but fear she’s right but, hey, you know what they say. Opinions are like butt cracks. Everyone has one.

Anyway, the whisky at hand.

Now Ardbeg have started doing this thing where they create two versions of the same whisky to release during the Feis. A Committee bottle and a Festival bottle. They did it last year for the first time with the Perpetuum and now this year with the Dark Cove. Usually the Committee bottle has a stronger ABV compared to the Festival release. While the Perpetuum had a 2% difference in ABV this years’ release has a whopping 8.5% difference!

The Committee release is bottled at a punchy 55% and the Festival release at a mere 46.5%

I wish I could understand the logic of it. I mean if the whisky is meant to be tasted at 55% let it be. Don’t go about watering it down to create more stock. Look, the Festival release is pretty darn decent by any stretch of the imagination but the Committee at 55% is a completely different animal.

And that’s what was sitting in front of me my first day on Islay.

After warming up our palates with the tasty Lagavulin 8 we ordered this one while sat at the Old Port Bar at the quaint Port Askaig Hotel.

There’s not a lot of literature on this one and even at the distillery everyone was quite vague. All they kept saying was this one has a lot of dark sherry in it. Apparently it’s a rare kind of sherry from Spain. But that’s all I know. Anyway.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at, as I mentioned earlier, 55%

Nose: Bam! Big big nose. Reminded me why I was in love with Ardbeg for the longest time. Touch mossy at first but then relaxes into a smoky haze. Wet barn. Wheat biscuits. Bung cloth. Cracking peat. Black fruits. Lots of toffee. Red peppers. Cinnamon. All-spice. Rather sweet on the nose. Love this bold approach. The peat and the dark sherry, whatever the hell that is, works beautifully together. 8.8

Palate: The true test of a whisky is on the palate and this is where this one comes through in spades. The 55% is the right strength for this spirit. Massive flavours. Solid oak. Cinnamon. Quite oily. Salty. Dark chocolate. Wait, bitter chocolate. Almonds. Toasted wood. Sticky toffee pudding. Liquorice. Dark fruits. This is unapologetic. Love it. 9.2

Finish: My hastily written notes say mad spice! So I’m going to have to go with that. Mad spice. Caramel. Smoke. 9.0

Overall Comments: Beautiful whisky this. While the Festival is nice in it’s own right the Committee is the one to beat. Reaffirms my faith in this distillery to produce knockout flavours. This one also marked the start of a memorable boys trip to the Festival and, thus, has a special place in my heart.

Overall Score: 9.0

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.

Ardbeg 1815 001
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.
Ardbeg 1815 002

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.

Ardbeg 1815 002A

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.

Ardbeg 1815 004

Ardbeg 1815 005

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 Uigeadail 2005

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.2% | Colour: Full Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
It’s been a while since my last review. And to be completely honest I wasn’t feeling up to it. Don’t know why. Just being plain lazy, I suppose. I would sit down with something and then decide to just drink it for the pure enjoyment of it. No notes, nothing.

So it needed something special to get me off my lazy ass and put pen to paper. And so I naturally went back to the whisky that gave me my first Holy Mother of God what witchcraft trickery is this? moment.

For me it was the Ardbeg Uigeadail.

I don’t even know what year bottling it was. I just remember closing my eyes and savoring the moment. But in order for me to get back to writing it had to be a special Uigeadail. And so I rummaged in my closet for my Peat Pack which, along with the 10, 17 & 1981 Kildalton, had a 2005 bottling of said Oogy.

I knew that the earlier Oogies were far more delicious than what we’ve been tasting of late. Just how good I had no idea.

My sample is from the 5cl mini which is part of the Peat Pack collection with the bottle code L5 300 11:29 5ML. This makes it bottled towards the end of 2005 and at a strength of 54.2%

Nose: Beautiful. Smoke. Iodine. Salt. Fresh oysters. Eucalyptus. Balanced peat. Vanilla. Dark chocolate. Hint of freshly shaved grass. Citrus. Orange marmalade. Touch of black pepper. So robust. Just perfect. Hard to find a nose more balanced or captivating as this. 24/25

Palate: Just the loveliest mouthfeel one can imagine. Oak. Cinnamon. That orange marmalade again. Black salt. Black peppercorns. Bitter chocolate. A little char. Soot. Singed kippers. Just a lovely juxtaposition of sweet and salty. 23/25

Finish: So long. Peat. Smoke. Slightly drying. Cinnamon. Oak. 23/25

Overall Comments: This is what Ardbeg tasted like back when they had re-opened and were releasing new whiskies into the market. Even though it was NAS no one really cared to bring that up. Probably because they were, and still are, priced quite decently and just a lovely whisky to hold in your mouth. This is just the right dram to get you back into the groove of things.

Rating: 93

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 17 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 40% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
They say love is illogical and fascination need not have a reason. I say they. I actually mean me. Early on in my journey as a malt nerd I decided that I would devote my irrational emotions to a little known distillery by the name of Ardbeg.

It started with the 10. Then the Uigi. The Corry was followed by the Alligator and I began getting hooked. Desire trumped logic and I flippantly decided that I would make it my life’s mission to acquire as many Ardbeg expressions as I humanly (read financially) could.

And, thus, for no reason other than personal satisfaction began my journey towards financial ruin. Of them all there was one which got my attention above all the rest. It was the 17 year old. I don’t know why. I proffer no explanation other than there was something mysteriously beautiful about it.

Given that it was getting increasingly rare on the ground I had a hard time finding one at a good price but somehow managed. Not wanting to crack my full 70cl open for a few nips I managed to procure a couple of minis for a tasting.

And so after lusting behind this malt for over four years I finally sat down and fulfilled my silly little love dream.

Nose: Very mild peat. When I say mild I mean it’s really mild. Delicate soot. Tangerines. Cured meats. Sweet fish oil (if there is such a thing). Apricots. Dehydrated berries. Pineapple. Iodine and eucalyptus. It gets sweeter over time with a cherry cola quality. It is quite possibly one of the mildest Ardbegs on the nose ever. After a while you could be forgiven for thinking it might actually be a Speysider. There’s none of the real Ardbeg aromas. It’s not bad but it seems like everything is bit subdued.

Palate: Mild. Cardboard. Sweet lemon. Fruits with a wisp of smoke. Very faint peppers. Touch of mint. The palate is once again on the softer side. Everything is held back a touch.

Finish: Disappears at first but then comes back well. Oily with hints of oak and fruit spearmint.

Jim Murray had a hand in crafting this expression and it was the first one to emerge from the distillery when it re-opened under Glenmorangie’s leadership. I think the intention was to re-introduce the distillery to a much much wider audience with flavors deemed palatable to the novice drinker.

I wish I had drunk this many years ago when it first came out. I would have liked it much better then. Today, while I still think this is a fine dram, I missed the robustness of the Ardbeg flavors that I am so used to.

But love is blind and I am happy that I was able to cross this one off the top of my list.

Rating: 88