If you were to spark a dialogue with some random whisky peat buff, chances are along with the regular mention of the word ‘Islay’ you would in all likelihood encounter the Ardbeg brand name at least once during the conversation. And why not?! The distillery produces some of the smokiest whiskies, occupying the upper half of the peat spectrum. And though the Ten Year Old might not be able to stand tall against its cousin, the Supernova at 100 Phenol parts per million, and in no way land a punch against ‘Peat Mammoth’ – The Octomore series, some of whose expressions deliver over 160+ ppm, this young Ardbeg does hold its ground at a very respectable 55! And laugh you mustn’t, considering that most of its Highland and Speyside brethren’s are at a mere humble 10-20 ppm.
The distillery itself is situated adjacent to the sea, with only a few rocks separating it and the deep blue divine. And being so proximate, it should come as no surprise that the resulting whisky would exhibit sea like characteristics due to its interaction with salt laden externals. The barrels used by Ardbeg come from first and second fill ex-bourbon barrels, Sherry Oloroso or French Oak, with the Ardbeg 10 being matured exclusively in Ex-Bourbon barrels. The distillery purposefully restricts refilling used barrels beyond the second fill as they feel it might alter the flavor profile negatively. Which also explains why they ‘Non Chill Filter’ their produce keeping all those fatty acids and esters as is, doing their magic!
In terms of looks, the bottle is butch, bold yet curvy, with the labelling and the Signature “A” embossing reflecting much of its Celtic bloodline. There’s also a good chance your eyes might have stumbled across the “1815” splashed on the labelling and the bottle itself, throwing light on when the distillery opened its doors commercially (read legally).
ABV: 46% – a move made by the distillers so as to not dilute the whisky all that much.
Eye : Pale Staw with a tea-like viscosity.
Nose: Welcomed at first by a wave of seaweed, brine and tobacco ash, you begin to experience a mild sweetness, from that of licorice along with hints of caramel and menthol. The peaty influence is still evident highlighting nuances of green olives, grass, and moist wood alongside the presence of some fruit and tangy orange and citrus zest.
Taste: Malt and creamy, some candy and vanilla. Stone fruits, green grapes, brine and earthy wood with some black pepper like spiciness trailing towards the end.
Finish: Moist, slightly dry with a long finish. Green pepper and peaty.
This Ten year old is light, crisp and quite refreshing- ironical considering its peaty rich DNA. It does seem overpowering at first, but is soon tamed once the fruit and caramel kick in. The nose highlights a lot more on the breadth while the palate emphasizes on the depth using a relatively limited array of flavors-not a bad thing. The Ardbeg as is with most Islay whiskies is an acquired taste. Not as sweet as the neighboring Speysides, the spirits’ peat-smoke combination can take a bit getting used to. But once you’ve taken the plunge, in most cases you’re not turning back and this 10 YO spirit is no different. To me each sip is in itself a sort of comprehension – a myriad of flavors both sweet and peaty dancing shoulder to shoulder, while at times competing against one other.
My preference would be to sample this neat; but for those who aren’t peat affinite, you might want to numb the brine and seaweed influence by adding a few drops of water or let it rest for a while. A word of caution though, adding anything more could leave the spirit bland and weirdly sweet, considering its light character.
And for those peat lovers…the Ardbeg is gonna leave a ‘frown upside down’!