Philip Day rediscovers the charms of Ardbeg.


Ardbeg rediscovered

I have been thinking recently about getting a decent bottle of whisky to share with a group of like-minded friends at our annual Burn’s Night Supper around the 25 January to toast the haggis. We generally take it in turns to acquire the “uisge beatha” (water of life) and this year it falls to me to make pay for the wee drams.

This made me recall the tour of the distilleries, I undertook with a friend a few years back.
Since that time, my Islay single malt whisky of choice has been Ardbeg 10 Year Old and digging out my tasting notes of that time, reminded me why.

“As I was pouring my drink, I caught a peaty sensation! Wow, what a nose! This is very different from Laphroaig smoke; That is ‘wet and heavy,’ like that achieved by burning piles of damp autumn leaves. Ardbeg smoke is ‘sharper and salty,’ somehow.”

“First sip – Nice! When you drink Ardbeg 10YO, the smokiness is considerably less overriding than other peaty malts .You can taste the smoke – but it is not the primary or dominant sensation, more of a background tang. However, it is by no means a challenging drink! Ardbeg 10YO may be sharp, light to medium bodied, but warming all around. It’s got a lot of mouth-warming qualities, which, in my book, is fantastic! Other more watery whiskies have no warmth in them at all.”

My marks from 2006, were quite intriguing, as I found them to be very similar to one’s I  gave fairly recently on a 2010 bottle.

2006 Ardbeg 10 Year Old 46% ABV
Nose

Marshmallows and wood smoke. Some fruity (citrus) notes evident with a hint of vanilla.

Palate / taste

Fulsome peaty flavours that’s a touch oily, that acquires a peppery note as they move towards the back of the tongue. The overall taste is by no means rough, though. The richness of creamy cappuccino with hints of barley translates it into a pretty smooth customer.

Finish

As the initial warmth slowly dies down, I find the result on the sweet side with a haunting taste of malted barley allied with aniseed or licorice.

91 Points

My last note just read:

I am in love. This is the best whisky that I have tasted in a long while. This is the only whisky that I will drink from now on, out of choice.”

Ardbeg rediscovered

In Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible Awards 2012’, Ardbeg 10 Year Old was awarded ‘Best Single Malt Scotch of the Year, 10 Years and Under ‘. This accolade has been given three years in a row.

My tastes changed as I got older and my favourite Islay became Ardbeg Airigh nam Beist (pronounced ‘Arry nam Baysht) a delicious vintage bottling from 1990, sadly now discontinued as a result of exhausted stocks

(‘The Beist’ was an extremely popular Ardbeg, with an assertive edge and powerful peatiness balanced by a lovely honeyed flavour.) It can still be acquired but its price is at a premium.

So the decision was made – or so I thought…

While visiting the site I use to make my purchases of whisky, I saw a link to the Ardbeg web-site (www.ardbeg.com), followed it and after reading about Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounced ‘Oog-a-dal’) I felt I needed to do a little more research.

Ardbeg rediscovered

In 2009, Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’ named Ardbeg Uigeadail ,‘World Whisky of the Year’ – praising its “utter silky brilliance” and “complexity on a level only a handful of distilleries in the world can even dream of reaching.”

Ardbeg Uigeadail is meant to combine that trademark Ardbeg peaty smokiness that we have all come to love and cherish with a bit of feminine sweetness provided by the sherry and bourbon casks in which it has been aged. The result is a 54.2% monster full of, well, smoke, peat and sweetness!

Here’s what I wrote about Uigeadail (for research purposes!)

Ardbeg Uigeadail (2010) 54.2%

“On first breathing in its vapours, Uigeadail’s briny peat and smoke hits you squarely in the nose reminiscent of other pungent earthy smells- like those after a thundery rainstorm or the tang of a sea breeze. This initial onslaught is speedily followed by a certain sweetness that makes itself apparent to dissipate some of the smoke. Your palate is then teased by hints of sweet, chewy treacle toffee and touches of dried fruit and floral notes, evocative of a top quality fino sherry.”

“What a marvellous dram. It looks like a refined aged, malt yet it has all the complexity of a young whisky. Thoroughly complex and a rewarding tipple -this is one of, if not the all time greatest malt of our day. Wow!”

NosePeaty top notes with subtle hints of fino sherry and slightly dampe leather. Heady, smoky aromatics with just a tangy pinch of sea salt.
TasteReminiscent of fruitcake spices – a touch of dried fruit activating an explosion of intense, while multi-layered, oily peat smoke. This is then offset by princely mid-palate tastes of smoked and honey- glazed food with the addition of sweet, chewy treacle toffee again with a touch of dried fruit. Beautiful hints of fino sherry.
FinishThe waves of deep, peat-smoke tones and rich aromas with hints of spice develop pleasingly on the palate like those obtained when smoking a fine Cuban cigar- Montecristo perhaps. Long lasting and very rewarding.“

“Taking the nose and palate together, they could be summarised in one word: inimitable. is bold, powerful, and very complex.

I now prefer Uigeadail to the 10 Year old, as it is more refined and has more character. It is fantastically peaty without chemical overtones like those found in some of the other Islay Malts. The body is full on and the finish keeps going on and on. This is a fantastic wee dram.

Where value is concerned, I’d say Uigeadail’s a good purchase. Compared to the price for the standard 10 year old bottling, personally, I would willingly spend the extra couple of quid, as in my opinion Uigeadail’s a more interesting whisky.

My personal score: 94 points”

Ardbeg Uigeadail is my new, current, favourite single malt!

After thoroughly exploring the Ardbeg site, I also considered Ardbeg’s Blasda , launched in 2008, with a phenol level at only 8 parts per million, chill-filtered and bottled at the distillery, it has a lightly peaty taste. It is, however, still perfectly balanced, but light, sweet and delicious – a light expression of Ardbeg’s otherwise quite heavily peated whiskies. I also learned in my research that it compliments cheese exceedingly well.

Ardbeg rediscovered

I found these tips at http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/feature/paired-to-perfection

When enjoying Ardbeg Blasda  with cheese, first take a small sip of the whisky. Keep it in your mouth for a few seconds prior to allowing the glorious brininess to seek out and fill every crevice of your mouth. This prepares your palate. Swallow and enjoy the long, warming finish. Add a small amount of water to the whisky to help break down the congeners, the flavour-bearing compounds in the whisky, and to encourage the complex flavours and aromas to express themselves fully. Take another little sip then bite into some cheese. Sit back and enjoy unalloyed olfactory pleasure.

So I can now purchase what I set out to achieve – a decent bottle of Islay single malt that should wow the revellers at the Burn’s Supper, in January. I would recommend Ardbeg Uigeadail to everyone who is interested in a strong peated whisky and will be keeping at least one bottle in my drinks cabinet at all times.

So my order is as follows:

  • Ardbeg Uigeadail (2010) 54.2%ABV – 4 bottles (3 for Burn’s Night and one for my drinks cabinet!)
  • Ardbeg Blasda (2009) 40% ABV – to accompany the cheese board, 2 bottles
  • 1 bottle of Ardbeg 10 Year Old 46%ABV – for old time’s sake, or as Rabbie Burns elequently put it : “For auld lang syne.“

Ardbeg Website

Have a look at the Ardbeg website you might find something to your own taste or for your friend or loved one.

Ardbeg “Double Barrel”

I feel I must mention the following: Ardbeg ‘Double Barrel’.

An excellent retirement present suggestion or that special something to seal a partnership or merger deal.

Ardbeg presents a truly innovative and luxurious creation of single cask  bottlings – Ardbeg ‘Double Barrel’.

Inspired by the tradition of a shooting party, Ardbeg  have created a ‘double barrel’ guncase, crafted by Purdey – a traditional guncase maker.

It contains:

• two single cask bottles of Ardbeg 1974 – the oldest and rarest Ardbeg. A ‘matching pair’ of expertly selected bottles of highly prized and exceptionally rare Ardbeg 1974 whisky. Alike, but subtly different, each whisky is from a separate barrel of magnificent cask strength malt.

 
• eight numbered, solid sterling silver drinking cups, perfected by Scotland’s top silversmiths Hamilton & Inches.

• a bespoke oak and sterling silver OMAS pen, specially made from mature oakwood in the Italian workshop complete with a detailed engraving of the Ardbeg knot work.

• two hand-stitched leather-bound books – a ‘Sampling Register’ with full tasting notes of the 1974 cask bottlings and ‘The Double Barrel Story’, a quirky miscellany of Ardbeg single malt and shooting traditions.

All of the above are presented in a beautiful, bespoke leather gun case. It is crafted from exceptionally high quality leather, lovingly hand-stitched and finished to the highest standards.
 
With only 250 available worldwide, Ardbeg Double Barrel is destined to become the accessory for discerning sportsmen and distinguished gentlemen amongst us.

Only 250 of these exquisite cases exist anywhere in the world – the ultimate in luxury for the ultimate Islay malt. Now that’s special!

References:

  • Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2009, Murray, J, 2008,Dram good books Limited,  Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.
  • Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012, Murray, J, 2011,Dram good books Limited,  Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.

About the author

Philip Day is an early-retired academic in linguistics who has published many articles.

A North-Midlander (The Potteries) by birth, he currently lives close to the Lancashire Pennines which he regularly explores with his Patterdale terrier, Max.

In particular he has a keen interest in European fine wines and good food and will be contributing further articles in the future for Escapement.uk.com.

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