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Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
|Owned by||The Glenmorangie Company (LVMH SA)||Address||Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll,
|Capacity (Litres of Pure Alcohol-LPA)||1 150 000 litres||Visitor Centre||Yes|
Among single malt aficionados, particularly those who have a preference for peaty tasting malts, Ardbeg holds an almost cult status.
Ardbeg was officially established by the MacDougall family in 1815. Subsequently its ownership underwent many changes, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Since Allied Distillers sold the distillery to Glenmorangie plc in 1997, the latter has been busy building up their stock of quality consistent spirit.
Unlike other Islay malts like Laphroaig or Lagavulin, Ardbeg tries to avoid the more pungent phenols, thus a smoky after-taste is greatly reduced, while not detracting from the peaty taste.
The Ardbeg core portfolio
10 Year Old - a 46% strength ABV 'Distillery Bottled' Single Malt Whisky. (£25-40)
|Aroma||Peaty infused with zesty citrus notes, cinnamon and pears, all wrapped in ceraceous dark chocolate.|
|Taste||After the initial burst of peat with hints of tangy lemon and lime juice, waves of warm creamy cappuccino mingle with barley notes, tobacco, strong black coffee, liquorice and cocoa.|
|Finish||As the taste sensation deepens, waves of tarry smoke and liquorice root develop as the palate is continually coated with chewy peat oils. Smoky but slightly sweet with a lingering hint of malted barley.|
For peat-lovers, or those willing to try a peaty Islay, Ardbeg 10 Year Old is probably the highest-quality 'entry-level' single malt available on the current market. It is possibly the distillery many Islay connoisseurs would choose as their favourite. Indeed, it is arguably the benchmark against which all other Islay malts are judged.
The tall stills at Ardbeg together with a purifier on top of the spirit, neither of which are seen at other Islay distilleries, help to contribute to the finesse and delicacy of a spirit that retains some of the over arching peaty flavours without it being too smoky. It does not flaunt the peat, however, rather it yields to the natural sweetness of the malt to produce a perfectly balanced whisky.
Ardbeg 10 Year Old is an exuberant maelstrom of complex peat and malty tangs with a hint of fruity floral flavours; definitely an in-your-face whisky to be treasured.
In Jim Murray's 'Whisky Bible Awards 2012', Ardbeg 10 Year Old was awarded 'Best Single Malt Scotch of the Year, 10 Years and Under '. This accolade has been given three years in a row.
Uigeadail - a 54.2% strength ABV 'Distillery Bottled' Single Malt Whisky. (£40-70)
||Relatively Pale, straw-coloured|
||Peaty with subtle hints of fino sherry and slightly damp leather. Intensely laden with heady and smoky aromatics.|
||A burst of winter fruitcake spices trigger a smoky-spicy explosion of intense and multi-layered, oily peat smoke, counter-balanced by a sumptuous mid-palate of honey glazed, smoked food and sweet, chewy treacle toffee and a touch of dried fruit.|
||Smoky dominance with hints of spice. The waves of deep, smoky tones and rich aromas build up pleasingly on the palate like a fine Montecristo cigar.|
The hard to pronounce Uigeadail (pronounced ‘Oog-a-dal’) is the name of the loch from which all Ardbeg water is drawn at the distillery. Since the launch in 2003 of this special bottling, it's been an enormous success. It is both full of peat smoke, earthiness and layers of oak. Full bodied and rich with a texture that unctuously coats the mouth. The taste of Uigeadail is a provocative balance between sweet, spicy top notes and deep, smoky flavours.
The marriage of Ardbeg's traditional deep, smoky note spirits with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry casks give a sweet and smoky finish to this malt. It's 'non chill-filtered' at high strength, thereby retaining maximum flavour and lending more body and added depth.
For peaty malt aficionados Uigeadail is an absolutely stunning whisky, and following the demise of the Ardbeg Airigh nam Beist (pronounced 'Arry nam Baysht) a delicious vintage bottling from 1990, sadly discontinued as a result of exhausted stocks, ('The Beist' was an extremely popular Ardbeg, with an assertive edge and powerful peatiness balanced by a lovely honeyed flavour.) Uigeadail probably represents the best value in the core range.
In 2009, Jim Murray’s 'Whisky Bible' named Ardbeg Uigeadail ,‘World Whisky of the Year’ – in praising its “utter silky brilliance” and “complexity on a level only a handful of distilleries in the world can even dream of reaching.”
To sum up, a fine drop of Ardbeg bottled at cask strength.
Blasda – a 40% strength ABV 'Distillery Bottled' Single Malt Whisky. (£40-60)
||Relatively Pale, Fino sherry or white wine coloured|
||The aroma is reminiscent of baked creamy vanilla custard and roast chestnuts. A tingle of lemon and lime marmalade cuts through the vanilla with spiced pears Some tasters get a hint of cloves, pine cones and fresh mint or a breath of menthol and sea salt that rise from the glass. These elements are softened by ripe fruits that fuse with almond and vanilla.|
||The initial sip is sweet with a mixture of sugared almonds, marzipan and hints of dried fruit. Refreshingly sweet while earthy, silky and creamy to the palate. Gentle peat oils build on the palate, while remaining soft, clean and dry with a dusting of powdery sherbet. Tangy citrus notes freshen the palate with a gentle fizz. Later a gentle warmth is provided by tingling spices and creamy cappuccino.
||A short finish of refreshing lemon vanilla and spiced apples|
Launched in 2008, with a phenol level at only 8 parts per million, Blasda, chill-filtered and bottled at the distillery, has a lightly peaty taste. It is, however, still perfectly balanced, but light, sweet and delicious - a light expression of Ardbeg’s otherwise quite heavily peated whiskies.
In Gaelic Blasda means 'sweet and delicious'. It caused quite a stir when it was released, with disapproving shouts of “It’s too sweet, where’s the peat?” The thing is, the point of this expression was to decrease the smoky peaty flavour in order to show the beautiful balance and complexity of Ardbeg’s fruity undertones, flavours which are otherwise difficult to distinguish.
Ardbeg's Blasda is an ongoing product scheduled to have a three-year lifespan, as some 1800 bottles have been produced for the UK market
Corryvreckan – a 57.1% strength ABV 'Distillery Bottled' Single Malt Whisky. (£60-80)
||Relatively Pale, straw-coloured or amber.|
||Heady, intense and powerful. Peaty with hints of fino sherry and slightly damp leather. You can smell the tarry ropes, creosote and linseed oil rising from deep within the vortex.|
||A rich, luxuriant mouth feel. Intense and multi-layered oily peat smoke, sweet yet earthy, with a touch of dried citrus and forest fruits.|
||Smoky dominance with hints of spices, grilled anchovies, charred lemons and seaweed.|
If peaty whiskies are to your taste, you'll be happy with this.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan has been a huge success since its launch in 2009, winning 'World's Best Single Malt Whisky' at the 'World Whisky Awards 2010' and 'Best No Age Statement Scotch ' scoring 96.5 points out of 100 from Jim Murray's 'Whisky Bible 2011' and 2012.
Corryvreckan, according to the Ardbeg website, takes its name from a famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, a place where only the bravest souls dare to venture.
Like the whirlpool itself, Corryvreckan is not for the faint-hearted!
Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram. With the first sniff, be prepared to encounter the deep and turbulent force of Corryvreckan as it pulls you inwards.
As you succumb to its power, a heady mixture of waxy dark chocolate, warm blackcurrants and muscovado sugar grips you in its spell as a salvo of plump cherries and earthy pine needle arises torpedo-like towards you from its murky depths.
A decent balance of flavours is maintained throughout, ending with a lovely briny note right at the death.
Other Ardbeg whiskies worthy of mention:
Supernova, (58.9% ABV) (£125-200) launched in 2009 had a phenol level well in excess of 100 parts per million. Supernova 2010 (£80-100) also hit the 100 ppm mark but the strength of alcohol was slightly higher (60.1% ABV).
Ardbeg Supernova's success was a true phenomenon, since the Advance Committee Release sold out in a matter of hours in January 2009. It also scooped 'Scotch Whisky of the Year' from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010, (scoring 97 points out of 100).
Several other Committee bottlings have been produced, among which notable ones include Rollercoaster (57.3% ABV) (2010)(c £200) and Ardbeg Alligator (51.2% ABV) (2011) (c £150), which can only be purchased by Committee members.
Some harder to acquire bottles:
Ardbeg 1990 / Airigh Nam Beist 46% ABV (c £100.00)
The following three are precursors to Ardbeg 10 Year Old;
- Ardbeg 1997 / 'Very Young' Committee Approved 58.3% ABV (c £325.00 )
- Ardbeg 1998 / - Still Young 56.2% ABV (c £65.00)
- Ardbeg 1998 / Almost There 54.1% ABV (c £100.00)
Ardbeg 17 Year Old 40% ABV (c £250.00)
Ardbeg 10 Year Old / Bot.1990's 40% ABV (c £555.00)
Ardbeg 10 Year Old / Bot. 1980's 40% ABV (c £600.00)
Ardbeg 1973 / 15 Year Old / Bot.1988 / Cask Strength / Sestante 53.5% ABV
Ardbeg 1976 / 31 Year Old / Cask 2397 / Sherry Butt 52.4% ABV (c £999.00)
Ardbeg 1974 / Provenance / USA Bottling 55% ABV (c £1,200.00)
Ardbeg 1976 / Cask 2392 / Committee / Sherry Cask 55% ABV (c £1,750.00)
Ardbeg 1976 / Cask 2391 / Manager's Choice / Sherry Cask 56%ABV
- Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012, Murray, J, 2011,Dram good books Limited, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.
- Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012, Ronde I, 2011, MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, UK.
- 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, Buxton, I, 2010, Hachette Scotland, London, UK
About the author
Philip Day is an early-retired academic in linguistics who has published many articles.
A North-Midlander (The Potteries) by birth, he currently lives close to the Lancashire Pennines which he regularly explores with his Patterdale terrier, Max.
In particular he has a keen interest in European fine wines and good food and will be contributing further articles in the future for Escapement.uk.com.