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Chapter 6: Part Two (1997 - 2007) – The Whiskies; “Heavenly Peated

 

Having examined the heritage of Ardbeg, heard from the people who make the whisky and taken a look at how they make it, it is time now to turn to the whisky itself. Ardbeg will never be a ‘middle-of-the-road' single malt for the uncommitted; it is a whisky that inspires great devotion in those who fall for its distinctive, peaty charms. As we shall see, it is marketed in a variety of expressions that reflect the spirit's fascinating provenance and diversity.

Hamish Torrie joined Glenmorangie plc as Ardbeg's Global Brand Director in March 1999, having previously worked for The Macallan in the formative period of its establishment as a single malt whisky brand. "The shape of the Ardbeg bottle and look of the label had already been set," he recalled. "Having finally got production back to the level of output recorded by Alfred Barnard (in the 1880s!), at around one million litres of alcohol, we had the scope to double sales in the next decade. But as we all know, malt whisky is a long-term play, so who knew what would happen? Suffice to say that personally I believe Ardbeg should always be a niche brand in a very niche category. We bounce ideas around as a collective between Marketing and Production with many of the ideas gestating for three to four years before coming to fruition. For example, it took about one and a half to two years to put the marketing plan together for Serendipity, and considerably longer for the Double Barrel."

Central to Ardbeg's core range is the ten-year-old bottling, though when Glenmorangie plc took over Ardbeg in 1997 there were significant gaps in the stock portfolio (rue to the distillery's previous periods of closure, and so the first expression launched by Glenmorangie was, of necessity, a 17-year-old. Glenmorangie's Head of Distilling

in truth very little has had to be spent on marketing the brand although clearly a great deal of thought goes into every bottling before it is released

and Whisky Creation Dr Bill Lumsden says been a real challenge to eke out the stocks, to maintain quality and quantity given the bizarre stock situation we had. inherited. The level of peating was all over the place, particularly in the older stock, but then you tend to find that in stock that comes from distilleries that run their own maltings. It is not an exact science. Rather than see this as a problem we turned it round to our advantage to show the differing style of Ardbeg."

Head Warehouseman DouglasDugga’ Bowman adds "The oldest Ardbeg the company had was from 1965, just two casks which were bottled in 2006. Very few refill casks were used in the first year Glenmorangie owned Ardbeg, though I think second fill casks produce really good Ardbeg. We're currently filling around 50/50 first and refill casks. Anything special or different we try to keep in Number 3 warehouse. We've got casks of 1990 in there, and one is a fourth fill cask. You wouldn't think it would have been all that good, after so much use, but I think the whisky in it is fantastic."

Since 1997, Glenmorangie has had to be very creative with Ardbeg releases and this has gone hand in hand with some creative marketing. Hamish Torrie and Bill Lumsden joke about the Ardbeg marketing budget, but in truth very little has had to be spent on marketing the brand although clearly a great deal of thought goes into every bottling before it. is released. Consequently, each expression seems to have its own interesting story.

Ardbeg 17-Year-Old, 40% abv (1997-2004)
The first expression launched by Glenmorangie contained stock distilled under the previous Hiram Walker regime, and it was during this time the 'Kilda1ton' experimentation with varying peating levelswas taking place (see Kildalton below). The 17-year-old was a comparatively lightly-peated Ardbeg, revealing a more delicate side to the spirit, unmasked by heavy phenol levels. It is ironic that whisky produced by Hiram Walker, who have received a great deal of criticism from aficionados for closing the distillery, has been responsible for converting so many drinkers to the delights of Ardbeg. Even among the distillery workers, the 17-year-old was generally favoured. (A 43%abv version was released for the US market).

Ardbeg 1978 Limited Edition, 43%abv (1997-99) The first vintage release by new owner Glenmorangie dated from 1978, making it a 19-year-old. Distilled in the first year following the closure of the on-site making floors, the 1978 gives an insight into Ardbeg's peaty experimentation. Further bottlings of this limited vintage were released in 1998 and 1999, all at the same strength, apart from one at 42.4%abv.

Provenance 1974, various abvs (1997-2000)
‘What a year 1997 must have been! Incoming distillery manager Stuart Thomson recalls that when Glenmorangie took over Ardbeg "We actually found lots of gems, and some of the best were from 1974 and were bottled as Provenance. I can honestly say it's the best whisky I've tasted in my life. The subtlety was superb. I t was delicate, smooth and honeyed, and with time you'd lost some of the phenols. There is no doubt that in 1974 there was a good wood policy and yet it is only in the last few years that the importance of the wood has been fully appreciated." This appreciation for th.e 1974 cask, appears not to have been echoed by consumers in the US, perhaps as Ardbeg was virtually obsolete at the time, but as a result many cases sent to the US were shipped back to the UK. Now those bottles have increased ten-fold in value and desirability, with most enthusiasts agreeing that the 1974 vatted Provenance bottling represented some of the best to come out of the distillery.

Ardbeg Provenance was released at 55.6%abv in 1997, then 54.7%abv the following year, and at 55%abv for the 2000 releases.

Ardbeg 1975 Limited Edition, 43%abv (1998-2001)
Another vintage release, the 1975 dates back to the year that Ardbeg's largest customer DCL announced a significant drop in their filling requirements, leaving the distillery with a surplus of stock. This stimulated a drive to sell Ardbeg as abottled single malt, but a good number of casks remained in the warehouse to slumber for the next 20-plus years.

Further bottlings of the 1975 were release during the subsequent three years, all at 43%abv as ‘Limited Editions', while some barrels were released i n single cask format.

While Hamish Scott, distillery manager at the time described their 1975 whiskey as "having a distinctive peaty bouquet, although not as heavy as some others", it is a very big whisky and packs an unmistakable phenolic punch.

Ardbeg 1976 ‘Manager's Choice,' 56%abv (1999)
There was a steady stream of single cask bottlings released under Glenmorangie's early ownership (see below), singled out as the very best of the aged casks in the warehouses. The first, and to many, the greatest cask was sherry butt number 2391 filled on 24th November 1976. I t was bottled as the Manager's Choice, although that name is not started on the label. Rather, Stuart Thomson's signature and title of distillery manager adorn the vintage front label. 497 bottles were squeezed out of the cask.

Stuart's tasting notes on the reverse reflect "blackcurrants and morello cherries—with added water a rich Christmas pudding Sherry note."

On the palate, an initial moderate and clean sweetness is rapidly followed by a mouthful of deep peat notes, with tobacco smoke and strong espresso coffee, which then gives way to treacle sweetness and liquorice.

Ardbeg Ten Years Old, 46%abv (2000-2008>)
The core ten-year-old expression was finally released in 2000 using stock produced while Allied Distillers owned Ardbeg. This is a more ‘gutsy' whisky than the 17-year-old, with a significantly higher phenol level. It was not necessarily matured in the most rigorously-selected casks, indicating how Ardbeg may have tasted in earlier incarnations.

According to Ardbeg's website, "Ardbeg Ten Years Old is a very special bottling for the Ardbeg distillery as it is the first non-chill filtered whisky in the Ardbeg range. Chill filtering was considered essential when the whisky industry was a little more ‘hap-hazard' than it is today. Ardbeg Ten Years Old is whisky with none of the goodness taken (chill filtered) out and as good as straight from the cask"

Bill Lumsden eloquently describes this core whiskey as "Exceptional balance and depth on the nose. At full strength, the aroma is a seductive mix of toffee and chocolate sweetness, cinnamon spice and medicinal phenols. Fresh citrus notes of white wine are evident as are melon, pear drops general creaminess, fresh phenolic aroma o f sea spray (iodine) and smoked fish. Hickory and coffee emerge later as the most volatile top notes fade. On the palate, an initial moderate and clean sweetness is rapidly followed by a mouthful of deep peat notes, with tobacco smoke and strong espresso coffee, which then gives way to treacle sweetness and liquorice. The mouth-feel is firstly lightly spiced (astringent), then chewing, mouth- watering, full and finally dry. The finish is long and smoky. A smoky sweetness is left on the palate, with a crushed peat and sweet malted cereal character."

From July 2008 the new Ardbeg Ten Years Old was phased in at the same abv, comprising spirit produced and matured entirely under the Glenmorangie regime. Bill Lumsden says "As far as humanly possible I've tried to recreate the same style for the new ten-year-old. It's heavily peated, of course, done to 50/65ppm at Port Ellen Makings, and the quality of wood we've filled the spirit into is better than in the old days."

Ardbeg 1977, 46%abv (2001-04)
The last of the 1970s whiskies to be offered as a vintage, 1977 was released over four years, each time at 46%abv. "I really can't find enough superlatives to describe this fantastic whisky. Rich, creamy, fudgey, smooth and smoky. Yum! Far and away the best peaty whisky I've ever had the privilege to drink. Some Ardbeg consumers love the 1974 and some the 1978, some even love the ‘Very Young' above all others. Personally, I can't see past the 1977....and so the debate rages on!" - Bill Lumsden

Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, 46%abv (2001-07)
In 2001 Ardbeg launched its greatly-admired (25-year-old) Lord of the Isles expression, which was closer in style to the 17-year-old than the ten-year old, and ultimately contained a percentage of 'Kildalton' spirit, contributing to its famously mellow character.

According to Hamish Torrie, "We owned the Lord of the Isles trademark, and if you've got something as distinctive as that you really have to use it. Somerled was the first Lord of the Isles and one of his successors was Dougal, so you get Clan Dougal and then Macdougall, and it was the Macdougalls who founded Ardbeg in 1815.

"The launch of Lord of the Isles was held in the National Museum. in Edinburgh, the reason being that the presentation box for the whisky was inspired by the Monymusk Reliquary, an 8th century box which held relics of St Columba, the second rarest thing linking to the Lord of the Isles. The box was paraded before the troops at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 by Robert the Bruce to get God on their side.

"We've had been eking out stocks since its launch in 2001, and essentially it was 1974 and ‘75 whisky going into it, plus some 1976 when we had it. So, the last bottlings were actually 30 years plus."

Bill Lumsden adds that "It's been a core part of the range using some o f the more delicate whiskies, and people love it. When we've opened a bottle at whisky events people congregated to taste it like bees round a honey pot.

"It has an exceptionally deep, rich and sweet nose: the sweetness of chocolate, marzipan and cherries, surrounding a deep and peaty centre. Cocoa and a rich maltiness are discovered with layers of smoke andsalt, giving wood smoke and saddle soap. Later, there is a hint of mandarin fruit and a gentle heather and lavender scent. The taste is initially sweet with vanilla and chocolate giving way rapidly to a crescendo of peat and cocoa. The finish is long and dry with chocolate malt, cocoa and crushed peat resting satisfyingly on the palate."

Ardbeg 21-year-old, 56.3%abv (2001)
"I'm a modest guy," declares Stuart Thomson "but the 21-year-old we came out with was my biggest achievement in terms of picking casks. I chose twelve Bourbon casks from 1979 and 1980, and samples were sent over to Glenmorangie's head office in Broxburn. Ultimately they were blended by Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie and they produced a fabulous whisky."

Released as one of the first Committee exclusive bottlings, the 2,500 bottles of 21-year-old surprisingly, did not sell out particularly quickly, but like a number of other early releases, has since come to be greatly desired.

A symphony of salt and peat balanced with Ardbeg's more delicate fruity character with some coffee and marzipan. What else could you want in a glass?

Ardbeg Committee Reserve, 55.3%abv (2002)
The 2002 special bottling for Ardbeg Committee members was the Committee Reserve, a vatting of several vintages from 90's, 80's & 70's, limited to 3,000 bottles, and selling for a mere £25 each. This release went on to demonstrate the strength of Ardbeg's following, and provided an indication to Ardbeg's owner Glenmorangie of the value of establishing a strong link with their consumers.

Uigeadail, 54.2%abv (2003 >)
Uigeadail was introduced in 2003 as a "Traditional Strength" addition to the Ardbeg line up, and featured a mixture of 1993 whisky matured in ex-Bourbon casks and older, former oloroso Sherry casks.

“Whisky writer, Michael Jackson
was at the launch of Lord of the
 Isles," recalls Bill Lumsden, "and he said to me almost as if he
were hypnotising me ‘It's very nice, but I like my Ardbegs ‘MUCKY, MUCKY AND DIRTY,' and so a ‘mucky dram' emerged.

"This led us to Uigeadail. I t was a response to Michael's comments, but I wanted to create something different from the others in the range anyway. There was a higher use of Sherry wood than in most expressions, and we have filled a lot of Sherry casks for future Uigeadails because the sherry is part of its style. It is an ongoing part of the core range."

"It was very important to be able to root the name of the expression on Islay," declares Hamish Torrie. "Uigeadail is the loch from which Ardbeg takes its water. It's a challenging whisky and the pronunciation of its name is a challenge too. We're fine with that; it generates interest."

Bill Lumsden's tasting notes are a little less mucky than the whisky requested by Michael Jackson. "The undiluted nose is deep and rounded—chocolate caramels and barley sugar combine with dates, raisins and smooth Sherry notes. Later, you find leather and linseed oil. With water the sweetness gives way to malted honeycomb, with flowering currants emerging through the smoky sweetness of a well-fired fruit pudding. On the palate, sweet, chewy and oily with a silky mouth-feel. The flavour is initially sweet, revealing fruit cake and treacle. This is followed by smoked barbecue or honey-roast food with the slightest hint of olives. The finish is long, both sweet and dry with honey, treacle and a trace of mint."

Very Young Ardbeg - For Discussion, 58.9% & 58.3%abv (2003-4)
"
Necessity is the mother of invention," declares Hamish Torrie. ' We had to be creative with Ardbeg as we did not have large stocks to work with. Hence the Very Young Ardbeg - For Discussion. The idea was to put it to the Committee and to create discussion. You then get endorsement and that gives you legitimacy. The idea was to offer 1997 Ardbeg (the first of our distillation) just to let people know we were taking care of it and going in the right direction. Labelled ‘For Discussion,' the release encouraged feedback and gave enthusiasts the opportunity to sample and express their views on the new owner's six-year-old produce."

Following the 2003 Committee bottling, Ardbeg Very Young was released to the wider marketplace in 2004 at the fractionally lower strength of 58.3%abv and from the 1998 distillation. For many, the whisky was considered just too young and no release was made in 2005. However, the idea developed into what became the "Peaty Path to Maturity" and provided a great insight into the evolution of Ardbeg.

Tasting the general release, Bill Lumsden found "Sweet toffee, chocolate, hints of treacle and Butterkist popcorn on the nose. Something gently smoky lurking in the background. The delicious, treacly, charcoal smoke reveals itself fully on the palate,with hints of herbs and malt. The finish offers a long treacle and cloves aftertaste."

The Peaty Path to Maturity (2004-2008)
Following the release of ‘Very Young Ardbeg 
- For Discussion,' a revolutionary concept was instigated, based on bottling a series of expressions from the same year—1998 - to mark the ongoing

 

I like my Ardbegs `MUCKY, MUCKY AND DIRTY

 

Process of maturation in the spirit distilled under Glenmorangie's first full year of ownership. Using quirky names, the first being ‘Very Young', the ‘Peaty Path to Maturity' commenced.

As Hamish Torrie says, "We turned the idea of aged whisky on its head, smacked its bottom and sent Very Young Ardbeg out into the world. Because of the stock situation, invention and fun came about."

Committee consultation served not only to generate a great deal of feedback from Members for the company, but also, as Jackie Thomson says, "It's great for the Committee members to have the luxury of being able to compare the spirit as it matures. The ‘For Discussion' bottling was brilliant. It made people feel really involved."

With the subsequent bottling the consultative process continued to be encouraged, albeit not exclusively via the Committee. The following releases of ‘Still Young' (56.2%abv) in 2006, ‘Almost There' (54.1%abv) in 2007 and ‘Renaissance' (55.9%) in 2008 offered a unique insight into how a whisky can change and develop year on year.

Jackie Thomson recalls, "Very Young had a really phenolic nose, and Still Young was much creamier and a bit woodier. People expected Almost There to keep the creaminess, but it surprised them. It was more phenolic than you might expect, rather back to the style of the Very Young."

Ardbeg 1990 Cask Strength, 55%abv (2004)
The Ardbeg 1990 was the first vintage to be released in cask strength format, and was limited to 1,740 bottles, with the majority earmarked for Japan. This was a 13-year-old whisky which went on to become the Airigh Nam Beist expression. See right.

Ardbeg 1965, 42.1%abv (2005)
2005 saw the distillery offer its oldest and most expensive bottling up to that point in the shape of Ardbeg 1965. Bill Lumsden notes that "We have not had to re-rack much but we did have to re-cask the mighty 1965 vintage as the two casks we had were leaking and there was very little whisky left in them. We had to rescue it and had the two re-racked into one single refill, refill, refill sherry butt. I was not looking for influence, just a container to save this precious liquid."

Marketed as The Envy of Islay,' Hamish Torrie is proud of the promotional campaign for the bottling which included a 'viral' which was a parody of the Chanel Egoiste advert of 1988/9. "The Chanel ad is about the extreme envy felt towards one shuttered house in San Tropez that remains closed. In the Chanel ad a bottle of Egoiste comes out, in our ad the 1965 came out."

Just 261 bottles of ‘1965' were released, and the beautifully-crafted 70c1 bottle was presented in a glass case, along with a 5cl bottle for collectors to drink and actually experience the elusive, old spirit. Each bottle was fitted with a numbered, wax seal, and there was even a small amount of Islay sand used in the manufacture of the glass. The few retailers who were allocated stocks of Ardbeg 1965 were issued with pairs of white gloves to wear while handling the bottles, like museum curators with precious, ancient objects.

Extensive tasting notes from Bill Lumsden extol a fine vintage malt. "Initial wafts of sea spray on the nose give way to a mix of luscious summer fruits (blackberries and blueberries) enveloped in ripe peaches.

"Beneath the mouth-watering fruit, nutty chocolate and vanilla notes emerge. The senses are latterly aware of sweet smokiness, coal tar and gentle peat oils. With water the sweet smokiness becomes more apparent; subtle medicinal, tarry rope notes are suggested with briny sea spray as the senses are reminded of its Islay birthplace. The theme is still fruity and fragrant, with top notes of wine gums and autumn brambles.

"The flavours open further, revealing waxy aromatics, chocolate raisins and rich fruitcake. Subdued traces of tree sap and tobacco smoke are present in the background. The mouth-feel is warming with a tingly effect. The flavour is initially of a salty sea breeze with fish smoked over an open heather and peat fire.

"In a few seconds, rich dried fruits (raisins and sultanas) come to the fore with elements of cherry pie and ice cream. Vanilla is present throughout, with peat, espresso coffee and berry fruits completing a myriad of flavours. The long finish lingers with peat smoke and blackcurrants, with hints of dark chocolate, dried fruit and traces of sea salt."

We could have blended it away, just putting small amounts into various blends, but the value of the stock was too great for that.

Serendipity, 40%abv (2005)
While all other Ardbeg releases are the result of careful deliberation between production and marketing staff, based on stock availability and perceived ‘gaps in the market,' one expression came about entirely by accident. One day in 2004 a member of staff in the blending facility at Glenmorangie's Broxburn headquarters mistakenly vatted a quantity of old Ardbeg with some 12-year-old Glen Moray. As Hamish Torrie explains, "It was 16,000 bottles worth—it was a major problem at the time. As a marketeer I was tasked to get value out of what were essentially damaged goods. We could have blended it away, just putting small amounts into various blends, but the value of the stock was too great for that. It was 80 per cent Ardbeg, around 20 years old and more lightly peated, destined for the 17-year-old bottling, and 20 per cent 12-year-old Glen Moray.

"I thought why don't we just own up to what's happened and offer it to the Committee first to buy. The meaning of the word 'serendipity' had been explained to me by my father when I was a boy, and it stuck with me. It just seemed the perfect name for this whisky—making happy discoveries by accident.

"To deliberately fool people even further, the mailer for Serendipity was sent out to arrive on the doormats on 1st April 2005 (April Fool's Day) with the idea of keeping people guessing whether is was a genuine mistake. Was it true or was it a wind up?

I consider this bottling to be one of those dream moments where a marketeer gets the opportunity to really prove his or her mettle very satisfying!"

Ardbeg Young Uigeadail Committee Reserve, 59.9%abv (2006)

Although Uigeadail had already been released in 2003, and had become a core expression, a very limited Young Uigeadail, °ogling' was released as a Committee Reserve at 59.5%abv. Bottled to highlight the vatting style used for Uigeadail, this release was made by vatting whisky from an ex-sherry cask with three former Bourbon casks.

 

Ardbeg Kildalton 1980, 57 .6%abv (2004)
2004 not only saw innovation in the form of Very Young,' but also a limited release of 1,300 bottles of Ardbeg Kildalton, dating from 1980. Robert Hicks was intimately involved in the production of Kildalton, and explains just what it was and why it was distilled.

"During the period from 1978 to December 1980 there were continuous experiments run at the distillery using various sources of malted barley and varying levels of parting, from 100 per cent unpeated plain malt to 100 per cent traditionally peated Ardbeg malt.

'The concept was to maintain the distillery at maximum production in economic and distilling terms. If the distillery continued using 100 per cent traditional malt then there would be an unbalanced stock position in the future. The decision was then taken to use various sources and peating levels to have, in the long term, a malt whisky that encompassed the traditional level of phenols at one end of the spectrum (Ardbeg) and a more usable lightly unpeated malt (Kildalton) that could be used at a higher inclusion in blends without impacting on flavour.

“Experimentation at distilleries in Hiram Walker's time was relatively common, as can be seen by the use of Lomond style stills at Scapa, Glenburgie and Miltonduff and the many experiments tried at Glencadam.

"Very early in the experiment some distinct problems surfaced. The first being that without installing a separate receiver to collect the two very different styles of feints then the heavy phenol character obtained when using 100 per cent Ardbeg malt became readily apparent during the first following run using unpeated malt. This gradually lessened over subsequent runs until unpeated distillate was produced.

“The experiment was altered from using 100 per cent unpeated to using varying levels of unpeated to peated malt. This alteration then produced the second problem in that the mixing of the different styles of malt was not uniform. During each week's production the distillate could vary from similar to Ardbeg to nearly plain.

“These problems meant that over the experimental runs there was only a small amount of fully unpeated whisky produced and that the majority varied between 20 percent and 75 percent character and that this variance could be contained within one week's production. Distillate produced using non Ardbeg malt was coded Ardbeg Kildalton but the character of this varied from near traditional Ardbeg (90 percent) to plain (0 percent).

“The distillery ran this experiment until December 1980. Due to the whisky lake' that became apparent in the late 1970s and early '80s, Ardbeg ran 100 per cent unpeated malt from January to March 1981 when it closed"

According to Bill Lumsden "It was not completely unpeated but as near as damn it. If you assume bottled Ardbeg has circa 25 -30ppm phenol in it, which is roughly half what's originally in the malted barley, then the Kildalton had about 4ppm.You can measure the phenols in the whisky itself and we measure by the industry standard indophenols,' the colorimetric method, although some use HPLC which artificially inflates the reading.

"It had amazing delicacy, fruity and floral esters and aldehydes came through, along with a waxiness from the wooden washbacks. We released it to give a glimpseof the delicacy you get in ‘newmake' Ardbeg."

Brand Director Hamish Torrie makes the interesting point that ‘Ardbeg new spirit has the same amount of esters, aldehydes and all these fruity floral character that Glenmorangie has, but you do not usually find them because they are woven in or hidden by the phenols. Unpeated Ardbeg gives an indication of the delicacy within Ardbeg. Waxiness from the pine washbacks adds balance to the heavy phenols."

 

Airigh Nam Beist 1990, 46%abv (2006-08)
Uigeadail may have presented consumers with difficulties of pronunciation, but the 2006 release Airigh Nam Beist gave them an even bigger challenge.

Airigh Nam Beist is the name of the second loch that provides Ardbeg's distillery water. It therefore performs a balancing role in supplying the water from Loch Uigeadail required by the distillery. Airigh Nam Beist (pronounced ‘arry-nam-baysht’) in Gaelic means ‘shelter of the beast.' According to the packaging "No more fitting name could have been bestowed on such an eerie place; this is where - legend has it - something other-worldly lurks, lying in wait. So what measures can be taken to protect local and visitor alike? If you find yourself straying this way, then pray equip yourself with that traditionally reliable antidote to sheer terror - the stiff drink. A travelling man could ask for no better protection than a hip flask full of the strong stuff, namely Ardbeg's Airigh Nam Beist. For it's truly a wee beastie of a dram - waiting to be released!"

Hamish Torrie says that "The aim was to have three different styles of Ardbeg rather than ages," while Bill Lumsden adds that "Airigh Nam Beist was a homage to the old and very popular 17-year- old. W e wanted something subtle, and lots o f the first fill ex-Bourbon casks added creaminess and softness. It fitted in well with. the `standard' 10-year-old and the Christmas pudding-like Uigeadail style. The name came about as a result of myself, The Gow and Dugga looking at a map of Islay spread out on the bonnet of a car, trying to find a name for the whisky! We followed down from Uigeadail and came to Airigh nam Beist, the deep dark mysterious, peat-laden loch from which the water is drawn." "Smoky, ice cream, fennel, pine nuts and zesty limes on the nose. Peppery, oily mouth-feel. Maple syrup, smoky bacon, antiseptic clozenges, some vanilla, smoked meats and barbecue spices on the palate. The finish is zesty, smoky and intriguing" - a complex array of flavours detected by the palate of Bill Lumsden. Airigh Nam Beist was replaced part way through 2008 with. Corryvreckan. Perhaps Airigh Nam Beist was just too much of a mouthful?

Ardbeg Ten Years Old - Mor, 57.3% & 46%abv (2007-08)

Ardbeg's open day during the 2007 Feis Ile (Islay Festival of Malt and Music) saw the release of Ardbeg Mor which was designed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the distillery's renaissance. Mor contained the equivalent of more than six bottles of 10 Years Old, but instead of being offered at the usual strength of 46%abv, it was presented at a cask strength of 57.3%abv. 1,000 bottles were released, and once more a Gaelic theme was present in the name, as Mor means ‘big' or ‘magnificent.'

A second Mor bottling was released the following year at the reduced strength of 46%abv, in line with the regular size 10-year-old bottle.

Ardbeg Double Barrel, Various abv (2007)

If Ardbeg 1965 was the ultimate Ardbeg bottling in terms o f age and retail price, then ‘Double Barrel' took the concept of luxury presentation of fine and rare whisky to an entirely new level.

According to Hamish Torrie, "The initiative was conceived by us three or four years ago, before LVMH came along and purchased Glenmorangie. Inspired by the tradition of a shooting party, Ardbeg created a ‘Double Barrel' gun case, crafted by a traditional gun case maker."

The case contains two single cask bottles of 1974 Ardbeg from three pairs of casks, so it is not all the same whisky in every bottle. The strength ranged from 44.3% - 49.9%abv. Accompanying the rare spirit are eight sterling silver Hamilton & Inches drinking cups, a bespoke oak and sterling silver Ornas pen, complete with detailed Ardbeg engraving, two hand-stitched leather-bound books —a ‘Sampling Register' with full tasting notes of the 1974 cask bottlings and `Double Barrel', a quirky miscellany of Ardbeg single malt and shooting traditions. Only 250 Double Barrels were released internationally, priced at L10,000.

 

Single Casks, Various abv (1999 >)
In addition to the expressions listed above, there has been a steady flow of Ardbeg single cask bottlings since 1999. Stuart Thompson fondly recollects a number of outstanding releases:

"In July 2000 two (1976) oloroso sherry casks were picked to be hand filled - as an exclusive Ardbeg Committee bottling. On the Friday afternoon we had evaluated the casks and demonstrated how many bottles you would get from the casks for customs. On the Monday I sent the boys down to get the casks and to take them over to the filling store. One of the guys came up ten minutes later and said ‘You won't believe this, one of the casks has totally emptied.' It had emptied over the weekend just like that. It had a ‘worm hole' (which is a porous piece of wood) right in the bottom that had become more and more porous, so it had sat there for 25 years and just opened up in those three days. It was a beautiful, beautiful whisky, and it had probably emptied in about an hour. The lost cask was number 2393, so we had to select another cask to fill with and so we ended up with casks 2392 and 2394. Cask 2395 which went to Japan was superb as well. Then there was a 1972 bottling done for V.E.L.I.E.R, an Italian distributor, and that was fantastic whisky too."

Inevitably, Glenmorangie inherited a significant amount of 1974 spirit, as over one million litres was produced that year, just before the Ardbeg business faced a dramatic downturn. Consequently, most of the single cask releases have been of spirit produced in 1974, primarily in 2005 - 2007, reflecting one of the distillery's finest years with numerous exceptional casks. The majority of the remaining single cask bottlings are of whisky distilled in the 70's, until a 1990 single cask was bottled in 2007. The following year casks 1189 and 1190 were bottled, representing the first single casks distilled under Glenmorangies ownership.

The initial single cask releases in 1999-2000 had arustic brown label with a ‘handwritten' style text; some with the Kildlton Cross on them. The second batch, released through 2002-3, also had the ‘handwritten' style text, but this time with white text on a black label and Celtic knotwork down each side.

The remaining single cask released can be easily identified, with the gold knotwork surrounding the whole top label, and with a lower vintage and proof label carrying the vital statistics.

 

17-Year-Old first released in 1997 at 40% and Ten Years Old, first released in 2000 at 46%

 

Various vintage Ardbegs: 1975 first released in 1998 at 43%, 1977 first released in 2001 at 46%, 1978 first released in 1997 at 43% and 1990 first released in 2004 at 55%

 

Provenance, first released in 1997 at 55.6%

 

Managers Choice Single Cask 2391, bottled in June 1999 and distilled in November 1976. The first and arguably the best single cask bottling by Glenmorangie

 

Lord of the Isles, 25-year-old first released in 2001 at 46.0%

 

21-Year-Old for the Committee bottled in 2001 from 12 casks distilled in 1979 & 1980

 

Uigeadail distilled in 1990, first released in 2003 at 54.2%

 

Kildalton, released in 2004 at 57.6%. The lightly peated Ardbeg

 

Committee bottlings: Very Young Ardbeg For Discussion released in 2003 at 58.9%, distilled 1997, together with Committee Reserve released in 2002 at 55.3% and Young Uigeadail Committee Reserve released in 2006 at 59.9%

 

1965, released in 2005 at 42.1%. Vatted from two casks and bottled at 40 years old

 

 

Airigh Nam Beist, first released in 2006 at 46%, distilled in 1990

 

The path to peaty maturity: Very Young released in 2004 at 58.3%, Still Young released in 2006 at 56.2% and Almost There released in 2007 at 54.1%. All distilled in 1998

 

 Double Barrel, released in 2007. Sold in pairs, each set is from two of six differing casks distilled in 1974

 

WOOD EXPERIMENTATION

Under the ownership of Glenmorangie, the sort of wood experimentation programme that has been so successful with the Glenmorangie single malt range has also been applied to Ardbeg. Mickey Heads says

"We're filling batches into different types of cask by way of experimentation. Toasted oak, plain, new oak, wine casks. Just maybe 15 to 20 barrels of each."

Stuart Thomson notes that "In my time at Ardbeg we experimented with French casks, including Burgundy, and we filled six ex-claret casks to see what would happen."

Bill Lumsden has overseen the use o f new French oak barrels, most notably for Corryvreckan, while new charred oak barrels are part of the An Oa maturation regime. Highly-charred virgin oak barrels were employed in the ageing of Ardbeg Alligator, Marsala casks for Galileo, `dark sherry' casks for Dark Cove, and Black Sea oak casks for Kelpie.

 

 

 


Written by Gavin D Smith & Graevie Wallace

 

The text is an excerpt from "Ardbeg: Heavenly Peated" (pp. 157 - 172), written by Gavin D Smith & Graevie Wallace, published 2018 by Hogback Publishing.