I’ve been lucky enough to try Ardbeg from the 60s to recently. And yes, that’s a brag. Brag, brag, brag. I’m awesome and I’m sure you imagine my genitalia as massive and tight and amazing.
Wow, way to alienate new people. Let’s start over.
Ardbeg has changed over the years. What was, at one point, liquid espresso made by the gods mixed with lovely smoke, went from that to a closed distillery to one that had reopened without the costly process that added that amazing flavour and then went on to being part of Louis Vutton.
Thus it’s the peaty cousin of Macallan, though I’d argue with a bit more class. Since the days of the legendary 70s whisky the question one asks when trying an Ardbeg is usually: How amazing is this and is it worth selling most of my family for their body parts in order to try it?
Many peat heads will immediately say “Yes” and thus why you can get a kidney anytime there’s a new Ardbeg release. However even as an Ardbeg fan I can state that not all that is peated is gold, and as such we need to do some deep dives.
Today I’m comparing an OB release and an IB release of Ardbeg to see which I like more. I typically beat the drum of the IB being easier to get and more affordable, however we’re talking about Ardbeg here: There are no IBs that won’t cost you the equivalent of a early 2000s used hatchback.
So which of these won out? Let’s see, shall we?
Thanks to throzen for this dram.
Ardbeg 19 2000 Traigh Bhan – Batch 2 is what we’re starting with. I had reviewed Batch 1 along with devoz , and both of us (as fans of Ardbeg) had decided we were missing some things. And yes, we both checked behind our couches, thank you.
So when our friend Throzen (his Christian name) asked if he should buy Batch 2, we said no. Lucky for us he ignored us and went for it, because it’s 19-year-old vatted Ardbeg that has a mix of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks. Not to mention it’s a decent Abv. and he thought “well those two aren’t the be-all and end-all, I’ll do what I want”.
Thus when we were finally able to meet up, he poured a sample for us. I found the previous batch to be missing that little bit of “oomph” to get to those specific interesting flavours I’ve found in other releases.
So let’s see if my initial un-recommendation was right or wrong, shall we?
Cask types: American Oak and Oloroso Sherry Casks
Colour: 7.5Y 9/8
Nose: Creosote, pavlova, salt water taffy/nori, pear, freshly cut grass
So immediately I’m noticing some interesting little flavours, and as such I think it’s fair to call me somewhat wrong at the moment.
Nice strong dry peat note, followed by creamy/eggy notes, some well developed brine, and even some of the new grass notes that have replaced the espresso of the 70s. I was asking for something a bit more “wacky” last time, given the pedigree of the whisky, and I got it.
Jesus, Ardbeg isn’t reading these reviews, right? I’m just going to hope someone else asked for it now and be happy being anonymous on the internet like the Elder Millennial I am.
Taste: Licorice, salt, apple, leather, a growing concern of toffee, grassy
The toffee just builds more and more as you drink. It’s kinda crazy. First couple sips I was enjoying the licorice and salt and apple, oh and the leather that I go crazy for.
Then the next sip I get more toffee, then more, and it just builds until it’s this rich, lovely flavour. Like when you finally make a sauce right and don’t break it.
Damn I gotta get better at sauces.
Finish: Dry pear, lemon, tar, salty candy, vanilla, Werthers
Long finish. Good dry notes to offset the sweeter notes, lovely salt and some strong, rich caramel notes that mirror the taste.
Conclusion: Richer than the first batch, a noticeable improvement. I feel bad for anyone who purchased Batch 1 given the improvement that is Batch 2, and also happy Throzen didn’t listen to us.
Can you buy a more complex whisky than this one for a similar price? For the time being, yes. Can you buy age stated Ardbeg from the late 90s or 00s for less? No. Not at all. That’s the market. Ardbeg doesn’t need to make anything like this, save to make even more money.
So I can say if you bought this because you can’t afford the auctions on the older stuff, the bars that charge $100 for a dram, or even the IBs which go for the amount you’d expect a home to go for, then you did well. You can drink the age stated Ardbeg again, and it feels like it’s the quality that goes with the age.
But what about the IB option?
Ardbeg Ar11 – Elements of Islay is a 19-year-old Ardbeg that was distilled in 2000, aged in ex-American Oak and then first-fill PX sherry butts. Seems familiar? However there’s a catch: Less casks were used, it was independently bottled, and it’s cask strength.
Immediately I have to think this could and shall be better than the above. Thus why I split a bottle, even though there was a premium with being in Canada where hard alcohol is, in fact, the devil (based on the knowledge of 1800s Scotland).
So is it better? Let’s see, shall we?
Stated Age: 19-years-old
Casks Used: Spent 12 years in American Oak / 7 years in 1st Fill PX sherry butt
Number of bottles: 840
Colour: 7.5YR 6/8
Nose: Eraser, brown Betty, lemongrass, raspberry pop, Nutella The initial nose is a bit rougher but eventually goes to a chocolate-y, acidic, herbal, and brown sugar complex mix. That said, as someone who grew up in what some would consider “the early Mesozoic”, there’s a strong eraser note that takes you right back to class. Again, if you’re old enough.
It’s strong. And there’s some raw edges. Looking at you Nutella, you orangutan killing excuse to eat icing in the morning.
Taste: Papaya, rubber, charcoal, red licorice, Crunch bar
Tropical, some of that rougher side of peat, and a cereal/cocoa mix that I”m really loving. However, that could be because it’s been literally decades since I’ve had a Crunch bar.
Less rough, helped out by the sherry cask here to smooth it out a bit.
Finish: Charcoal, gardening, tar, anise, brine, cinnamon crackers
Yes, the physical flavour you have in your mouth after working in the dirt. And not “I forgot to wash my hands” type of flavour. That earthy, I just worked hard, sweating. Very dry finish. Lots of tar and brine and spice.
Conclusion: Really seems younger and less complex than what it should be, given the stats. And while I don’t mind that, you purchase a whisky with a certain age with some understanding that the rougher elements will have smoothed out. And here, while I liked the whisky, it’s not smoothed out at all.
So I’m basically saying this is a tie, because I feel the above gives you one experience and this gives you a different one. They are roughly the same in feeling at the end of the day, and it roughly ends up coming down to what you want.
I’m personally happy I ended up with the IB in this case. I like the roughness and enjoy this expression. I like the tropical element, I like the rough eraser/rubber elements, and perhaps it’s because I worked on a coal ship, I like that charcoal flavour.
However I think more fans of older Ardbeg are going to prefer the OB. Try each before you spend the money, if possible.
Scotch review #1398-9, Islay review #379-80, Whisky Network review #2074-2075