Yeah, I’m a peat head.
I’ve tried to deny it, I’ve tried to ignore it. It’s a cliche, right? Oh, Scotch drinker likes smoky, peaty whisky. The more peat smoke, the better. Nothing subtle there at all. Heck he even owns a bourbon that was finished in an ex-Ardbeg cask.
Which leads us to Ardbeg. It’s a tough distillery to review. On the one side, some of the best whiskies I’ve personally had, in my utmost humble opinion, were Ardbeg. Wait, it’s not my opinion that they were Ardbeg like that’s up for question. They were Ardbeg. I am of the belief what I put in my liquid/air/food hole was tastier than other fermented grains that were left in barrels.
But let’s not dance around it: Ardbeg is pricey. Ardbeg produces small amounts. Ardbeg doesn’t always have age statements, and there have been major fundamental changes to the whisky over the years. So it can be tough. Some of the special editions have been less than great.
All of that brings me to another multiple Ardbeg review series, because why not? Let’s look at some of their offerings and see if the money is worth it, shall we?
Ardbeg 19 1999 Traigh Bhan is the second of the main lineup to have an age statement. Three NAS offerings, two age statements. And immediately there are those of us whose ears perked. Why? Because we remember Ardbeg 17, either because we had it (not me) or we heard the hype around it (yeah that’s me)..
This is not cask strength, aged in ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, and has an age statement. We’ve had some tries of early 90s Ardbeg. However by the end of the 90s Ardbeg was under new management (Hiram Walker in the early 90s, Glenmorangie in the late 90s).
Will this be a new “get a nice whisky for that guy who likes peated whisky” Scotch? Or another bump on the road away from the legendary 70s malt? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $400 CAD
Cask Types: American Oak and Oloroso Sherry Casks
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Cocoa, juniper, fermented lemon, brown sugar, thyme
Nice chocolate/herbal note, some good evolved/strong lemon notes, and an underlying molasses/sweetness I’m liking.
That said.. Looking for a bit more, maybe something a bit wackier. Nice though.
Taste: Lemon, mineral, juniper, cocoa, anise, salted caramel
Alright, more Islay/Old peated dram flavour. Really like the salt elements, the spice and cocoa are pairing well. Again, nothing wrong, just keep asking “And then” like I’m quoting a movie from my teen years that proves I’m old as fuck.
Wait, he’s an investment guru now? Weird. 2020 keeps surprising me.
Finish:Caramel, mineral, vanilla, blueberry, coffee
Sweet, salty, get some interesting vibes like it’s a really cool single-origin coffee with the fruit/vanilla and coffee notes.
You know where I’m going through with this…
Conclusion: This should be higher Abv to really delve into those flavours. As is? Not doing itself any favours.
I am lucky enough to have tried older peated drams. And you get that fun, excellent cocoa/spice/juniper development with time. You also lose money to get there, and frankly, people will pay you for the whisky ten years earlier.
This is a perfectly fine whisky. If you bought it and poured it for yourself you’d have fun. But as a “next level” whisky? Not there. I’d increase the abv. And let the years on it shine. So sadly it’s a pass for me.
Ardbeg 22 is a special edition, older whisky, made right around the time the company was going from Hiram Walker to Glenmorangie. It’s not cask strength, and from what I heard the company bought it back (this is an unsubstantiated rumour so take it with all the salt and some of the beach) to release it as a special edition.
I did enjoy one of the previous older Ardbeg releases and was ambivalent about the other. Where will this one sit? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: £ 475
Cask Type: Ex-Bourbon
Number of bottles: 2,400
Colour: 7.5Y 9/8
Nose: Mango jam, mint, dried papaya, cinnamon bun, grass
Fruity, nice well-developed herbal/mint notes, good cinnamon and lovely tropical. Also, I’m getting that grassiness that pops up in 90s Ardbeg, that I’ve slowly grown to like.
I mean, the first time you see grass you’re all like “I don’t know how that got in my sock drawer mom” and then, later on, you’re like “dude, let me have a toke” so you know, takes some time.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, great tropical nose.
Taste: Peach pie, vanilla ice, cinnamon syrup, carrot cake, cocoa
Good butter notes, lovely rich vanilla/creaminess, strong cinnamon notes all with a sugary backbone. This is a dessert dram and I should have been sent to fat camp. Playing right into my “sweet” spots (I hate myself for that one).
Finish: Oat muffin, cinnamon cookie, carrot cake, shiitake, mint, raisin
Cooked cereal, more butter, has some meaty/smoky notes that remind me of shitake mushrooms. Falls a bit off at the end but by that point, it’s back to the mint from the start and that finishes it off so well that you forgive it.
Conclusion: Damn good. Really damn good. Complex, unique, interesting, doesn’t seem all over the place, solid, sweet driven. And that’s really the thing about it: You have to love that buttery, spice-filled dessert dram. And I do. I’m biased as heck towards it, it’s part of my DNA. This is all nostalgia for me.
Heck, before writing this I was wondering if I wanted to go to a bakery and get things like this. That’s how much I’ll love it.
So yeah, this one’s worth a sip. And if you bought a bottle, it’s for after dinner, not before.
Ardbeg Supernova 2019 is the latest in the special editions from Ardbeg. The idea? At one point Islay was all atwitter about who had the peatiest whisky. Well, that’s what the press/media/whisky nerds would have you believe, but let’s go with it.
So we know where it ended up: We have Bunnahabhain that’s heavily peated now and Octomores and Supernovas. Ardbeg was the smokiest before, isn’t now, but they’ll still release these every so often.
I enjoyed one of the previous ones and was let down by another. But perhaps my recent peat binge has reignited my blind love for tons of smoke? Let’s see, shall we?
Colour: 7.5Y 8/8
Nose: Mango, ash, lime, anise, brine, leather
Unbalanced, lighter than I’d like in a whisky like this. The nose is really a hurdle to get over. It starts initially with a lovely fruity aspect and then goes… light? Hard to read? Is there a ton of peat in here? Is my life a lie?
Water brings out some brine and leather to try and save it, but it’s really a slog to get there, and there are whiskies that do it better without all the work. Like dating someone non-toxic or being friends with someone who isn’t an asshole.
Taste: Anise, chocolate, cinnamon, hot chilis, lemon pudding
Okay, that’s a chance. From next to nothing and unbalanced comes a spicy, chocolate-filled whisky. Earthy, nice spice notes and a creamy acidity pop up with water. It’s strong and powerful and completely distinct from the nose.
Finish: Brown sugar, anise, leather, brine, dark chocolate
Long. A huge finish that doesn’t bury the leather and gives you this lovely sweet/bitter/earth mixture that you wanted from the start, all while balancing it with salt.
Conclusion: A bad nose opens up to a really good taste and finish. Which is frustrating as hell. If I was to base this on the nose alone I’d say skip. If I was to base it on the finish alone I’d say worth picking up. And the taste was good but kinda hot so it may be too much for people.
So what do I say? I don’t know. It’s rough, it’s crazy, there are parts I love and parts I don’t think should be there. Should you pay this much for something like that? Debatable. Try before you buy, maybe you’ll know better than I do.
Thanks to /u/EvilAFI for swapping me this sample.
Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release is here for multiple reasons. First off, I haven’t reviewed it. I did review the standard Dark Cove release, and let me tell you, I loved it. I haven’t been as enthused with some of the special releases over the years, but Dark Cove caught my attention.
As such, I feel if I’m going to be reviewing various Ardbeg releases, I should revisit the cask strength version of my favourite in the last few years. Maybe more alcohol won’t help it. Maybe it will. Let’s see, shall we?
Price: € 279 (Currently, not at the time of release)
Cask Types: Ex-Bourbon & Dark Sherry Casks
Colour: 2.5Y 5/8
Nose: Hazelnut, smoke, plum, chocolate milk, honey
Nutty, good smoke and sherry influence. I think if someone had used a less smoke driven whisky this would have been lost, but the smoke and developed peat notes really pop up.
Very inviting, nice sweetness going on. See above if you’re not a sweets fan like me.
Taste: Butter, golden syrup, brine, orange, cocoa, lime, funk/hay, cinnamon
A lot going on here. Simple flavours, though distinct. Think kitchen sink versus complexity. Sweet, buttery, salty, acidic, earthy, funky… One of those whiskies where I worry I’m writing too much down. I have to bounce back and forth asking if I’m running my pen or listening to my tongue.
Finish: Brine/salty peanuts, dry apple, smoke, farmy/hay, raspberry
Salty surprise at the end, just like everyone enjoys. Farmy, smoky, some sherry elements to round it all out. Very nice.
Conclusion: Yeah, sherry goes with smoke. Stop the presses, right? What a surprise? That whisky from 2016 was a good idea.
Well, some of these bottles are still up for sale and bounce around the auctions/online stores. And some of us, after having some of the less fun Ardbeg releases wonder if they are ever worth it. This most certainly was. Rich sherry notes, a good amount of acidity, and playing to the strengths of peat.
Is there a big jump in quality from the standard to the Committee Release then? This time I think both were really good, but the jump wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. If you’re a fan of sherry and peat, you should try this. If you have the extra bucks, find it or the standard release.
Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release is the current year’s release, an Ardbeg that was matured in ex-New Zealand Pinot Noir casks. I was interested in it immediately due to my love of the above Dark Cove (well the original Dark Cove) because I find red wine casks to add similar elements as sherry casks.
Also: Did Ardbeg just make a sheep joke on New Zealand? That’s almost like something I’d do, and then both get praised, ignored, and hated for it.
Ardbeg Grooves was fun, but maybe it was fun because I liked Alligator. Maybe Blaaack will be different. Maybe we’ll be back to not being enthused.
Let’s see, shall we?
Price: € 270
Colour: 10YR 6/8
Nose: Peach, buttery peat, cherry candy, anise, chocolate-covered blueberry
Lighter starts off pretty standard. Butter shows up, some cherry/sweet notes, and a tart/chocolate forward note. Best I can line up to it is the distinctive smell of those chocolate blueberries that you ever see but don’t buy but then someone gets them for you and you’re like “that’s an odd smell” and no one knows it but kinda does?
No? Okay, it’s blueberry and chocolate.
Taste: Golden syrup, peat, papaya, hay, waxy chocolate
Simple, though doesn’t really hit that “lots of flavours” level of the Dark Cove. It dances near it, nice tropical and waxy chocolate notes, though it doesn’t quite hit it.
Guess New Zealand Pinot Noir isn’t as strong as Dark Sherry. Whodathunkit?
Finish: Brine, pear, smoke, manure, cherry, plantain
Nice brine, some pear and farm notes, good rich fruit notes. Not super sweet like other releases, which I think some people will like. Though it feels a bit restrained. A bit more time in the cask would have helped the finish perhaps. Or maybe we needed newer casks? Or perhaps this is the downside to red wine casks? Who knows.
Conclusion: Hey, red wine casks work too. Very nice, farmy/funky, chocolate forward dram. I enjoyed it, wasn’t blown away, but also wasn’t annoyed like previous releases. I think the average Ardbeg drinker (like myself) will get what they want out of this: Chocolate, farm, peat, and some fruit roundness.
I’d say keep playing around with red wine casks, personally. This is doing something less sweet and potentially different than An Oa or Dark Cove or Uigendail are. It was the least sweet of the bunch. And for non-Ardbeg lovers, who may have enjoyed Dark Cove? Yeah, this is worth trying, if only because it’s a bit different.
Scotch reviews #1253-7, Islay reviews #334-8, Whisky Network reviews #1906-10