Welcome to a new series I’m calling “I’m Ar-begging you to stop making these puns”, in which I review all of the Ardbeg samples I’ve had sitting around, unreviewed.
When discussing Ardbeg, there’s certainly a line drawn in the sand. You have the 1970s whisky, back before they were reopened, which is legendary. Which I feel I can say because I’m amazing. No, that’s not the reason at all. I’m saying it because I’ve had a few 70s Ardbegs and enjoyed them. That’s more likely. And humble.
I’m so humble.
None the less, there’s a line between 90s juice and 70s juice. And yes, I know it’s not made from juice, that’s a colloquial term.
Since we’re now in the late part of the 10s, we start seeing Ardbeg release, either by themselves, or through independent bottlers, older releases. Thus the questions we can start asking are:
- Does older Ardbeg made in the 90s have a different profile?
- Was the love of 70s Ardbeg caused by what I call the Brora/Port Ellen effect, in that it was closed and the best of the best barrels were given the time needed to age perfectly and were sold at cask strength?
- Did the Glenmorangie takeover of 1997 affect the batch, thus giving us another period of whiskies to obsess over?
- Do people like bullet points?
So we start with Ardbeg 18 1993 Master of Malt Single Cask. I specifically bought this sample by itself when my friend’s were still living there. Why? Age stated Ardbeg that was made before the Glenmorangie takeover yet after the distillery rose like a tired guy surrounded by blue flames. What’s not to buy?
So it’s refill ex-sherry hogshead Ardbeg that was limited to 252 bottles and sold out in seconds when it popped up it’s poor head, like some sort of attractive sheep at a farmer’s market.
My understanding of rural life is amazing.
So let’s get this kicked off, shall we?
Price: Sold out
Distillation Date: 28 Oct 1993
Bottling Date: 29 Aug 2012
Cask Type: Refill ex-sherry hogshead
Colour: 10Y 8/6
Nose: Rich butterscotch, grassy, black cherry, tar, guava, cream cheese icing
So I was discussing wanting that big, brash Ardbeg before. Because that’s what I’m used to. New Ardbeg is young, thus it’s brash. Old 1970s Ardbeg keeps it’s brashness. However that’s not showing up here.
So people who’ve read my last Ardbeg will be saying that I don’t like this. However where the last Ardbeg was missing the brash aspect, this fills in with rich caramel, some interesting grass, and even some tar to remind you it’s a strong Ardbeg who don’t need no man/woman/attractive sheep.
Nice tartness to it as well.
Taste: Spicy chocolate cake, caramel, grass, carrot
If the nose was rich and interesting and all over the place, the taste is more restrained. It’s spicy, chocolate and flour, and it’s some more vegetal aspects mixed with the sweetness.
It balances between complex and simple here, which follows some of the nose. An odd taste to be certain, it makes me wonder if there could have been a bit more to it, or perhaps it was starting to go downhill and they saved it.
Finish: Pepper bacon, edamame, tarragon, ash
Too herbal on the finish, which is too bad. There’s umami, there’s pepper bacon, there’s things that Ardbeg fans will truly enjoy, and then.. a lot of tarragon. Any grass element hit a giant patch of the herb garden with the lawn mower and sprayed me in the face.
Conclusion: What could be considered a very good dram has some problems with it. And I don’t just say that because this was beloved and I have a chip on my shoulder. I would say this isn’t perfect, but it’s not a bad malt either.
Grassiness is a main element here. And the nose is really, really good. The taste shows signs that maybe they wanted a round number on the age statement, or were waiting to see if it did more. And the finish needs something. I can’t say what that is, however it’s overtly herbal to a detriment on the malt.
Overall a nice dram that I don’t think anyone would be annoyed with. That said I hope for more in future 90s Ardbegs of this age (and older).
Scotch review #846, Islay review #207, Whisky Network review #1365