Ardbeg is a distillery on Islay, the region of Scotland renowned for its peaty whiskies. They are also (somewhat notoriously) known for many limited edition bottlings which are highly sought after and has brought the distillery to cult status. Ardbeg was one of the first distilleries to use No-Age-Statment (NAS) bottlings as part of their core lineup (Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail), even charging more for these whiskies than for this 10 year old. (However – I must add – despite much of the correctly placed critique against NAS whiskies, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very nice whiskies). Part of the reason they utilized a no-age-statement is because the smokiness from peat dies down with age, so an older expression of the same whisky will be less smoky.
This 10 year old is bottled at 46%, and does not contain any caramel coloring or chill-filtration – something we all like to see. At Ardbeg they are working to get this whisky up to a target (apparently better) recipe by incorporating more bourbon casks in maturation – but this will still take a few more years.
Nose: This is just a brilliant nose – a bonfire in a glass, but it remains light despite all the massive smoke. The first time I had a bottle of this we put our glasses in our dishwasher when we were done and the next morning the entire dishwasher smelt like smoke. Slightly peppery, with lots of wood smoke, the salty tinges of sea air, cucumber, a bit of vanilla and the lightest touches of buttery malt underneath. As the bottle stays open the smoke fades and more of the fruit comes through – orange, lemon, plum, apples, pears. It is light and beautifully clean for such a bold nose. The peat is more smoky than earthy and vegetal, but those characteristics are also very present. 27.5/30 (92%)
Taste: A sweet entry with smoke coming throughout – fire blackened chickpeas (I used to do this as a kid), burning leaves, slightly nutty, slightly salty, a bit of iodine – there’s a lot going on here! There is some vanilla and creaminess in the middle of the body before the smoke, chickpeas, and wet rooty earth and cinnamon take over the end of the palate. If you add water, more of the sweetness and fruit comes out. 28.5/30 (95%)
Finish: Vegetal, earthy, and smoky peat, rice crispies, with some vanilla and nutmeg – both slightly tangy and spicy at the same time, but the peat and earth keep playing wonderfully with one another. The spiciness also builds in addictive fashion. It slowly fades, and the taste remains in the mouth for hours. 18/20 (90%)
Conclusion: This is one of my favourite bottlings just because of how beautifully it puts peat forward and embraces it. I can spend hours with this whisky just because of that – casually, in a connoisseur fashion, or leading others into it. Some years ago I gave a friend an intro to whisky with a few bottles, and this was my final one, and he said “now I see why that’s a $100 bottle of Scotch”. 19/20 (95%)