Ardbeg Distillery Island of Islay Scotland

Ardbeg Kelpie

Review of the 2017 Ardbeg Day special release.

Provenance: Islay (Scotland)
Typology: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Gradation: 46%ABV
Ageing barrels: Ex-Virgin Russian Oak and ex-Bourbon
Chillfiltered: No
Additional coloring: No
Owner: Moet Hennessy
Average price: € 199.00
Official website: www.ardbeg.com/en-int
Vote: 89/100

Every year Ardbeg produces a limited edition bottling which is presented on Ardbeg Day during Feis Ile, in honour of the not particularly exclusive Ardbeg Committee.
These are often quite original bottles, both in name and composition, of which a limited edition is then released, but often with a different strength, which is then sometimes found in the distillery’s core range.
This fate befell Supernova (Committee Release in various vintages) and Corryvreckan (in 2008), while others remained unique pieces such as Grooves, Alligator, Rollercoaster and this 2017 Kelpie, of which I taste the version produced after that of Committee (released instead at an alcohol content of 51.7%).

The Kelpie is an evil, shape-shifting spirit from Celtic mythology that lives in the lochs and rivers of Scotland, with many legends linked in particular to Loch Ness.
It can transform itself into any being, although it generally prefers horses and, of course, men, looking for company to be attracted and dragged into the water to then devour the unfortunate victim and throw the remains on the shore. A reassuring image to associate with a whisky…
In addition to its name, the particularity of this whisky is its (undeclared) ageing in casks made from oak from the Republic of Adygea, on the Black Sea, whose whisky was then blended with others from more common ex-Bourbon casks.
Why this choice? Michael Heads, Ardbeg’s Distiller Manager, in presenting this bottling said that the Black Sea endowed the whisky with an extraordinary depth, with “waves of salty seaweed and tarry strings, suggesting what might lie beneath the sea…”.
Evocative power of marketing!

Light gold in the glass.
Marine is marine, there’s no denying it, and in this the Kelpie name could well be right. In fact, considering how deep and thick the aroma is, there is a desire to be dragged into the glass. Very intense cloves are propped up by a blanket of acrid, salty smoke, smoked herring and tar, from which you glimpse an apple pie with cream that strenuously resists this assault, like a victim of the lake demon. Ardbeg can’t be broken with wood from the Dead Sea!
The peat soup of the ocean ignites and burns in the mouth, with the smoke here more fleshy, leaving more room for the sweet soul of the whisky, caramelised and sugary with a delicate contribution of apple. Chilli olives filled with liquorice, a medicinal touch in the background. A contrast that confuses and even stuns, layered and unusual: Ardbeg less Ardbeg than usual but very Ardbeg. Clear, right?
The finish is long, very, of ash and seaweed, dried fish and caramel, pepper.

I have to change my mind about the chosen name, which on tasting turns out to be really apt. It’s not a well-balanced whisky but certainly complex, enthralling and fun, with moments of sincere bewilderment.
An experiential drink, which not many can afford.

Other bottlings in the blog:
Ardbeg 10yo
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 2007
Ardbeg An Oa
Ardbeg Blaaack (Committee Members Release)
Ardbeg Blaaack Limited Edition
Ardbeg Blasda
Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Ardbeg Dark Cove
Ardbeg Drum (Committee Members Release)
Ardbeg Grooves
Ardbeg Supernova SN2019
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19yo Batch 1
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19yo Batch 2
Ardbeg Uigeadail
Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5yo

Other perspectives:
Malt Review

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