So we hit the end of our four Ardbeg drams at Ardbeg Day 2018: An Oa, Dark Cove, Kelpie, and then Ardbeg Grooves. We had pulled pork for lunch, the day was nice, and our fellow drinkers were a great group to have a few drams with.
Then we’re lead outside into the spacious, cool patio at the back of the Caledonian pub. And on our way out? Oh, you know, nothing much. Just a dram of Ardbeg 23. You know, that fun dram.
Suffice to say I had a review to do before grabbing an oyster with Ardbeg An Oa spritzed on it.
Ardbeg 23 is part of the Twenty-something limited range. Simply put, Ardbeg has been finding and/or buying casks of whisky from the 90s and bottling it in limited runs. This one was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks.
I won’t hide something here: I was concerned about a review on Ardbeg 23. I wasn’t blown away by the previous Ardbeg 21.
So how does this one stack up? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: N/A at the LCBO
Cask Types: Ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks
Nose: Rich treacle, dark chocolate cocoa, grapefruit, cotton, angel food cake, steak
Immediate rich, strong caramel notes. Whereas other 90s Ardbegs take some time to open up, going slowly, this one blasts you immediately with rich chocolate notes. Immediate love for the dram.
Lovely acid to balance the sweets, some floral/laundry notes, and even some meatiness. The big chocolate and caramel is the main star which keeps you coming back for more. It’s addictive.
Taste: Milk chocolate, orange rind, angel food cake, Nordic liquorice, juniper berry soaked moose meat
More chocolate, more sweets, more acid with the right blend of sweets. And then you let it open more and more. There’s a gamey note, there are some gin aspects of spice, there’s a well-balanced anise note… It just keeps going. Everything is complex, everything is interesting.
Finish: Chocolate souffle, grass being mowed, pecan pie, chicken Katsu, dried papaya
Long finish. Super long finish. Just keeps going and going. More chocolate, some grassiness that seems to pop up from nowhere, and a big umami/fried aspect.
Any citrus is now a dry tropical note. Lovely pecan.
Conclusion: This is the closest that an Ardbeg from the 90s has come to one from the 70s. And while I question every day why they don’t bring back those amazing unfanned maltings to add in that touch of splendour, it would seem that it’s possible to come close without doing so.
It’s hard to point out anything off with this dram. The taste is a sweet factory balanced to the hilt. The finish surprises you. Maybe the nose? I mean, I loved the dark chocolate and caramel, however, one could argue that maybe that needed a bit more to it to let the other flavours be amped up.
Is this the most amazing whisky I’ve ever had? No, sadly not, but it’s the best of 2018 so far, and well within the top end. And my wife? In heaven with this dram. One of her favourites ever.
What I’m saying is this: Try this if you can. It’s well worth it.
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