Age: 10 years old
Ardbeg celebrated its 200th birthday in 2015, but it hasn’t always looked like the distillery would make it that far. Although Ardbeg produced 1 million litres of spirit as early as the 1880s, output dwindled to next to nothing a century later. A change in ownership was meant to turn Ardbeg’s fortunes around, but the distillery ended up closing its doors for a second time in 1991. It remained mothballed until as recently as 1997, when it was acquired by The Glenmorangie Company. Since then, Ardbeg has seen a true revival that has propelled it into its current standing as one of Islay’s favourite malts. Ardbeg enjoys a loyal fan base (not least through the Ardbeg Committee members), allowing it to experiment with limited editions, some of which have been excellent. Nevertheless, as one distillery employee told me: “Ardbeg 10 year old is so good that we will always struggle to make a better whisky than our standard expression”.
Peated to 54 ppm, Ardbeg offers the smokiest spirit on Islay (not taking into account exceptions such as Octomore). Despite this, its whisky is deliciously smooth. This is largely due to a copper purifier attached to the still, a rarity in whisky making. Without it, Ardbeg is said to be undrinkable; this is certainly not the case today. Enjoy this peatiest of Islay malts!
Nose: Citrus fruits are clouded in immense peat smoke. Deep and complex, underneath the smoky tempest lurk the more intricate aromas of dark chocolate and crispy fried bacon.
Palate: Once again peat smoke reigns supreme, but after the initial explosion becomes intertwined with earthy flavours and oaky vanilla. A sharp burst of pepper and cinnamon gives way to notes of cured ham and burnt toast.
Finish: Wriggles down your throat like a fire breathing sea monster. Briny, meaty flavours accompany a waft of cigar smoke. The aftertaste of sweet, peaty malt persists almost endlessly.
Verdict: This is a ferocious, untamable whisky, ready to knock your socks off. Although one of the peatiest malts on offer, Ardbeg manages to perfectly balance smokiness with more complex woody and spicy flavours. In this, the 10 year old is no exception. An absolute delight!