The final leg of our tour of young, assertive Islays is a whiskey that is regrettably not available in the US. One of the difficult things about being a Scotch fan in America is that lots of the good stuff just doesn't make it to us. There are many complex reasons for this, and John Hansell recently addressed them on his blog at Malt Advocate Magazine. But whatever the cause, the result is that many smaller distilleries or specialty bottlings pass over the US market, and we consequently lose out on a lot of good Scotch.
One of the things we Americans have been missing out on is an innovative series from Ardbeg, known as the "Peat Path to Maturity." The concept is simple, starting with its first distillation after reopening (Ardbeg was briefly closed in the 1990s), Ardbeg began releasing samples of young Ardbeg over several years to demonstrate how it matures on its way to the standard 10year old bottling.
The whiskey for the series was distilled in 1998. In 2004, Ardbeg bottled its first in the series, Ardbeg Very Young; in 2006, the distillery introduced Still Young and in 2007, it came out with Almost There. These bottlings are cask strength (or close to it) and are not chill filtered.
Now, while this is a fascinating experiment, it doesn't exactly show you how Ardbeg evolves into the ten year old bottling. The Ardbeg ten year old, while wildly popular and critically acclaimed, is not, as the series seems to suggest, merely a bottle of ten year old whiskey. Rather, as with most distillery bottlings, it is a blend of whiskies of different ages, the youngest of which is ten years old (or older). Now, perhaps this will change when the '98 distillate turns ten and we will see a cask strength all-ten year old ten year old, but that would be different than the standard ten which is blended with other, older barrels to create the Ardbeg ten that people know and love.
That being said, it is still a great concept and a chance to try much younger Ardbegs than were previously on the market. As an Ardbeg fan, I had wanted to try this series since its inception, and when a willing relative traveled to England, I got my chance.
Ardbeg Almost There, Distilled 1998, Bottled 2007, 54.1% alcohol, Non Chill-Filtered.
Wow! There is nothing almost about this whiskey. Ardbeg can twist more flavor out of smoke than any other distillery, and this bottle is no exception. It has a perfect balance of smoky and sweet, with a salty, oceanside taste as well; and with all that going on, the maltiness is not lost. There is great balance here and if a nine year old is this good, I know there are more impressive things to come from our friends at Ardbeg.
A very impressive Scotch and my favorite of our young and smoky series...too bad we can't get it here...maybe someday.
John Hansell reports on his Malt Advocate blog that Ardbeg will indeed release a special ten year old cask strength as the final leg of the Maturity series. Known as Renaissance, the new bottling will be out soon, but, unfortunately, as with this entire series, it will not be available in the US. Woe is us.
Image and text courtesy of Sku.
Sku eats, drinks and is merry in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles and beyond.