Origin: Isle of Islay (Scotland)
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ageing casks: Ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry Oloroso
Additional coloring: No
Owner: Moet Hennessy
Average price: € 250.00
Official website: www.ardbeg.com
It was the year 2015 and two bicentenaries fell on Islay: that of Laphroaig and that of Ardbeg. While the former at the time celebrated with a special edition of its own 15yo, on Ardbeg Day the distillery’s vate, the beloved/hated Bill Lumsden, decided to make a bottling that celebrated the distillate’s past, present and future, using older and younger stock to bring this NAS to life.
Released in the usual two versions, one with a higher alcohol content (49.2%) purchasable only at the distillery and the 72,000-bottle general market version that is the subject of this article, this bottling seemed to many a little underwhelming for such an event, if only because of the choice of an undisclosed age.
But then again, it is not your years that count, but those you feel… in the glass.
The nose is unusually tame for an Ardbeg, with sweet tones leading the way for the aromas: Catalan cream, blood orange, peach, pine nuts. Of course there is no lack of peat, with its lovely inflections of tar and burnt plastic, but it’s so imbued with mineral and iodine components that it is almost fresh and crisp. Malt and honey notes also emerge, with spicy touches of nutmeg and cloves embellishing the bouquet. In length, it becomes almost balsamic. Gently pervasive.
On the palate, it attacks with a certain alcoholic exuberance, supported by a light sprinkling of pepper, but it’s again the sweeter aspect that takes over, embodied in the fruit and pastry component with a good dose of nuts. Peach, apricot, orange and apple go hand in hand with ginger and malt biscuits, pine nuts, and a peat that becomes more acrid, without abandoning the coastal nature but opening up to more ashy and at times medicinal influences. A touch of cinchona and liquorice closes the evolution in the mouth, accompanied by balsamic tones that slip into the finish.
The finish is quite long and crisp, of orange, spices, pickled peat and fruit.
It could indeed almost be described as an Ardbeg’s cliff notes, suspended between evocations of the past and those of the present. For this reason it perhaps lacks epicness and depth, and in this sense as a celebratory bottling it lacks the ‘wow’ aspect, remaining a ‘merely’ very good but definitely somewhat expensive whisky even when it was released.