What was the occasion: The occasion is there are expensive whiskies that come in a group that I got my hands on, and wondered, aloud, probably to my cat, if they are worth it.
There used to be a huge writeup by a brandy fan that explained the idea of slowly going from enjoying one or two bottles, then trying something nicer, and eventually only buying high end Armagnacs and Cognacs. There used to be people online who had a hard line as the state when the whisky price versus the eventual quality stopped being worth it.
Thus I’m seeing if this expensive offering is worth it. Cause it’s fun.
What whisky did we review? Ardbeg 28 1992 The Kinship Collection 2020 Hunter Laing, a 90s Ardbeg that was lucky enough to have survived the constant culling of old Ardbeg whiskies to actually get to the age of 28.
At this rate I expect they’ll have to start selling them as “3 years and X days” old next given how much money people pay for these without requiring the quality to back it up.
So it’s an Ardbeg single cask released as part of (arguably) the biggest whisky festival for Scotch by Hunter Laing under one of their higher-end brands, all at cask strength.
What’s the distillery? Ardbeg is a large distillery on Islay that releases one or two special releases per year, is much beloved, and was also shut down in the 80s and nearly mothballed before it was brought back back Hiram Walker, then sold to Glenmorangie and now it’s all owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH).
It’s since been hyped right to the moon. Heck, at this point we’re half way to Titan.
Something to note when reading any Ardbeg review: The different times Ardbeg was around determines the type of whisky you get. Pre-1974? That is the legendary stuff. They were malting their own barley. The amazing stuff. 1974 to 1981? Still some of their own malted barley, but some will say it’s not as god. Post 1989 to 1997? That’s the “ad-hoc” stuff that was made under Hiram Walker. It’s different. Post 1997? Now you have Glenmorangie involved, and we’re still figuring that all out.
Which obviously leads to my bias.
What’s my bias? Years ago I’m what you’d call an Ardbeg fan. Close to a super fan, save I didn’t have the amount of money needed to hit that level. Since then, the special editions have gotten less special, there’s been the aforementioned changes to the whisky, and I’ve had to evolve.
I still really, really enjoy Ardbeg, but I’d be lying if I said I’m ready to pay the super premium in time and money to obtain the special editions. I pine for releases like Alligator or An Oa. I dare not mention a standard OB release that I reviewed and stated was the second worst Ardbeg I’ve ever had, as it usually means everyone and their brother posts comments about how they actually liked it and it’s okay and I’m allowed to have that opinion but I’m wrong because they always have that Ardbeg at home and it’s good actually. It’s barely good enough to go into my chocolate chip cookies.
As for IBs? I mean… A cask of Ardbeg was sold for millions of dollars. IB Ardbegs aren’t falling from the Heavens without a large price tag. If they even make it to The People’s Grand Duchy of Canuckastan, they cost a massive premium, usually have to be bought with other products, and are 90s Ardbeg.
Finally my bias towards 90s Ardbeg is that it can be interesting, it can be good with an interesting grassy flavour, it’s not as great as 70s Ardbeg. Which is like saying I, a person with a broken leg (at time of writing), don’t run as fast as Usain Bolt.
Oh and Hunter has released some things I feel are too expensive for the quality, but this has gone on long enough, let’s get to the whisky, shall we?
Price: $8K for all 6 bottles (CAD)
Number of bottles: 251
Colour: 5Y 9/6
Nose: Licorice, brine, honeycomb, banana, engine oil
Interesting nose. So going into this I expected a strong grassy note and some peat. Instead I’m getting a honey/waxy note (which must be strong because I am wax blind at the best of times). On some level that makes sense since floral/honey notes are close to grassiness. And anise is a mixture of smoke and grassiness as well.
That said, there’s a strong funk and some industrial notes. Did Ardbeg accidentally make a run with someone from Springbank and then didn’t do it another 200 times? Because I’d have done it another 200 times, this is a very nice nose.
Taste: Cocoa, salted licorice, lemongrass, espresso, caramel, tahini
Grassy, earthy, good development on the peat, some elements I remember from the few pre-1974 whiskies. That said, it’s not as complex as other 20+ Ardbegs I’ve had from either decade. It has elements of complexity and elements of each, but it doesn’t go the distance.
Again, kinda like me versus Usain Bolt while my leg’s in a splint.
Finish: Anise, salt, earthy coffee, grass, peach
More anise, more earth, lovely coffee, and simple flavours. The taste I can forgive. It’s a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude. That’s hard to do and we’re not all RDJ.
Instead the finish feels like it’s a hard working person who gets home and is expected to workout, make dinner, eat well, read a book, understand all political issues in their country and other countries, never use terms they grew up with that haven’t aged well, and be pleasant and totally not depressed. It’s given us enough.
Conclusion: This is a 90s Ardbeg trying to be a 70s Ardbeg and not being as good as other old 90s Ardbeg, but still being a nice dessert dram with a good taste and nose. Even the finish, with its total lack of complexity for the age/hype of the dram.
So two things to discuss: This by itself, and this (so far) as part of a set.
By itself, I’d say this is for hardcore Ardbeg fans and completionists. It’s not bad, you’re not going to be angry about buying it and pouring it if you like Ardbeg. Heck it’s probably one of the few times you’ll be able to drink an Ardbeg this old.
But when comparing it to the OB releases from Ardbeg themselves, or older legendary releases, or other IBs from Elixir Distillers, this whisky comes up short. Can you easily find those for the original price? Probably not. But that’s how the cookie crumbles. See an old review I did of an IB Port Ellen that was bottled at 40% (cue Wilhelm scream).
As part of (insert dramatic music) The Kinship Collection 2020? It’s better than the previous Highland Park, but just? It still has issues, and if you bought the whole thing just to have old Ardbeg, you’d be frustrated, because it is good, not great, and the price is painful, not blowjobs and rainbows (these are good things).
Oh well, guess I’ll have to see how the aughts Ardbegs with age come along. Hopefully they exist and don’t cost the same as a small hatchback from the same years with only 100,000 kms on it. That’s the same distance as about 155,038,760 opossums for the Americans reading this.
Scotch review #1626, Islay review #426, Whisky Network review #2354