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Whisky Reviews

A Trio Of Classic Ardbeg: Uigeadail, Corryvreckan & Ardbeg Ten

 

Few distilleries command as strong a fanbase as Ardbeg - it's as enviable as it is a testament to the Islay distillery's signature profile that has become so iconic that it stands alone. And that's saying alot considering that Scotland's Islay region, Ardbeg being amongst its peers of equally legendary stature, has become one of the hottest Scotch producing regions in recent years thanks to the island's distinctive peaty, smoky, coastal and sometimes medicinal herbaceous flavours. It's competitive y'know! Especially considering that the Island has no shortage of great selection, all aimed at giving their interpretation of one specific regional style.

 

 

So how did Ardbeg find its way to its now cult-like status?

One perspective takes us through Ardbeg's storied history on Islay. Ardbeg might be successful today, but it's certainly been through its fair share of ups and downs. Ardbeg got its start on the island all the way back in 1815, with its origins as an illicit distillery, before it was taken over and conducted its business proper. It's actually the second oldest distillery on Islay, and for much of its life served as a major employer on the island who worked to supply the distillery with everything it needed to be self sufficient.

Everything from the peat used to create the smoky flavours, which was sourced from a bog just two miles from the distillery, to its waters drawn from the Loch Uigeadail down by the hill just behind the distillery, and even its malted barley which was processed inhouse. The Islay locals were actively involved in every step of making the Ardbeg whisky, and a town formed around the distillery to support the distillery's workers.

 

 

It was so beloved that every time the distillery went under, it would never be for long, with someone coming along to resurrect it. The most severe of which happened in the 1980's when there was a downturn in the Scotch industry, which saw the closure of not just Ardbeg, but several other distilleries across Scotland that are today considered to be truly spectacular - as they say, you want what you can't have right?

But as we said, it never was too long before Ardbeg would turn on its stills again - another Scotch company up in the Highlands, Glenmorangie, would help to revive Ardbeg in 1997. And whilst it got off to a slow start, only active for months at a time initially, and would require extensive renovations, the distillery would finally see its first core release in 2008 - the fateful Ardbeg Ten Years Old, just slightly over 10 years after it reopened.

 

 

From then on, it was sworn that Ardbeg would never close again - to do that, a Distillery Committee was formed. But not just any Committee, Ardbeg's Committee is one that any of its fans can join. It was a momentous and heartfelt move by Ardbeg to make sure that its fans knew that it was them who are at the core of the Distillery and they were ultimately the most important in keeping Ardbeg going. Speaking of which, you can join the Committee for free anytime here - and its been years since its inception and today one of the biggest privileges is getting to access Committee-only special releases. Whilst Ardbeg does have a distinctive flavour profile even amongst its Islay neighbours, I'd argue that the Committee that is open to any and all fans is probably what makes Ardbeg the most unique.

 

 

But how does Ardbeg make its distinctively rich, meaty, smoky, and yet fruity and sweet signature profile? It comes down to the distillery's use of long fermentation in Oregon pine wooden washbacks, high reflux during distillation and a good use of Bourbon casks. Yet one of the things that keep Ardbeg exciting and relevant is its constant streak of experimentation, which often culminates into various limited edition Committee-only releases. So there's always something new to try with Ardbeg. But that said, it's critical we don't overlook its very strong stable of core range expressions too.

And that's precisely what we're here for today - to taste test the trio of Ardbeg's core range expressions that sits at the heart of Ardbeg, and is available year round for what I'd argue is a very value for money price. We have today the Ardbeg Uigeadail, Ardbeg Corryvreckan and the Ardbeg Ten Years Old.

Let's go!

Ardbeg Uigeadail, 54.2% ABV - Review

First up! Uigeadail (Ardbeg says to pronounce it Oog-a-dal) is taken to mean "a dark, mysterious place" in Gaelic, and is also the name of Ardbeg's water source - the Loch Uigeadail that sits at the base of a hill 3 miles behind the distillery.

The expression itself weighs in at 54.2% ABV and was matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry casks, which are then specially vatted to marry the two flavours together.

 

Tasting Notes

Colour: Gold

Aroma: Starts off honeyed and rich, this leans sweeter, but there's also a savouriness to it of BBQ bacon. The sweet smokiness is soft and mellow here, with wafts of seawater, gentle notes of kombu seaweed. The coastal quality is present but takes a backseat to the honey, with some drops of teriyaki sauce too. 

Taste: More richness here, honey forward, with still that savouriness of BBQ sauce. It's entirely mellow, backed up slightly tangy maple syrup and then some earthier and darker brown sugar.

Finish: It gets a little herbaceous and gently bitter, alitte more dry. The ash coming through here, although not at all acrid. The light savouriness persists, with a soft but deep glowing warmth. There's a light aftertaste of banana hard candy.

 

My Thoughts

Really nice richness here - it's a combination of sweet, smoky and tangy savouriness. Almost like honey meets BBQ sauce. What really stands out here - and is what will appeal to those new to whiskies or aren't quite familiar with peaty whiskies - is that the smoky peat here is very well integrated into the richness and so comes off more like smoked meats from a grill, and has pretty much no harshness, bitterness or acridness.

That's itself a testament to Ardbeg's ability to produce fuller bodied whiskies that are so much richer and tends towards being a little bit sweeter. Also a nice bonus is that aftertaste of banana candy which was so unexpected but at the same time so aromatic and bright. Where I think this could take it a notch up is having more energy and intensity about its body to give it more punchiness.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 57.1% ABV - Review

We head off the coast of Islay to the Corryvreckan! A notable natural water feature north from the coast of Islay and is actually a whirlpool! And so that is where this expression takes its name from.

It's tough to find information on what goes into the Corryvreckan, but with some intensive research, we find that it's a combination of ex-Bourbon casks and new French Limousin oak casks, and also potentially some ex-Burgundy wine casks, Worth taking note here is that for the core expressions, Ardbeg does not finish any of its whiskies, but rather each component is entirely matured in its selected cask (eg. French Limousin oak cask) and then vatted together. Some Ardbeg Ten Years Old is added here as well! It's bottled at 57.1% ABV.

 

Tasting Notes

Colour: Amber

Aroma: Big richness of honey and smoke that's very well integrated. It's rich, it's aromatic, it's got great intensity. The smoke here is more BBQ grill smoke, that's also mellow and very fragrant. There's some gentle notes of kombu seaweed, a splash of seawater and drops of iodine. It's got a great roundedness with this gentle and rich coastal seabreeze quality - not too far off from BBQ by the sea.

Taste: Richly honeyed, again very well integrated with the coastal hit of sea spray and seaweed on the shore. There's caramel, cold smoke, herbaceousness from the seaweed, as well as some tangy teriyaki sauce. Very slight bitterness that's overcome by the sweetness, and with a side of herbaceousness. It's very rich altogether, starting with honey and then moving on to smoke and herbaceousness. There's also a chalky minerality backbone to it.

Finish: More savouriness here - BBQ sauce, teriyaki sauce, it's more buttery with loads of sweet malt, as well as a deep sweet smokiness. Some light salinity with very little bitterness, instead there's sweet ash. It only gets a touch bitter on the aftertaste.

  

My Thoughts

Absolutely smashing! This was rich and flavour forward, it's got all these big flavours that are very well-expressed and balanced, and there's alot of power in it that in turn gives it a very lovely intensity. To that end it just stands out - you'll remember it. It's also got a very nice progression as it develops along the way. And it's just got this blast of flavour on the palate that leans towards a rich and heavy sweetness that must be the French Oak! That sweetness gradually recedes into the finish, where the only time there's any bitterness is a slight pop in the aftertaste. It evokes a deep warmth, and it's incredibly aromatic with all that sweet honey and coastal smoke. 

This was my personal favourite if you can't already tell by now! For me this is just a standout expression that just checks all the boxes for me - good intensity, it's big on flavour, it's got a nice progression and complexity, it leans somewhat sweeter and richer, with very little bitterness, and is honestly a great value pick that's readily available around, and so you don't have to think twice about cracking open. This is for me everything great about Ardbeg taken several notches up - it's meaty, it's moreish, it's big and bold, flavour forward, with all that richness. Perfect!

Ardbeg Ten Years Old, 46% ABV - Review

And finally we get down to the first Ardbeg core expression to be released in 2008 - the Ardbeg Ten Years Old. This expression stays true to expressing the classic Ardbeg's signature character by being purely of ex-Bourbon casks. It's bottled at 46% ABV.

 

Tasting Notes

Colour: Straw

Aroma: This is more seaweed forward, with the coastal notes really coming through more. It's supported by a softer yet still rich note of honey, with also more of a buttery malty quality. More soft sweet smoke, again with lots of seawater, it's very aromatic and with a great integration between the coastal and malty scents. It's not entirely honeyed but keeps that richness. Again, special mention to how aromatic the smokiness is here. With time, it's almost floral, with some apricots coming through, along with some tinned fruit syrup, as well as some banana hard candy, citrus and also some beeswax. It's worth giving this some time to open up.

Taste: Very gentle and mellow sweetness, there's lots of honey, with a touch of ash and a light herbaceousness. The smokiness is very restrained, alot more gentle than from its nose, with a very good approachableness. More on light pops of banana hard candy and tinned fruit syrup of tinned apricots.

Finish: Takes a more savoury turn here, there's more cold ash, still very much honeyed sweet, with more of those yellow banana notes of soft fruit flesh.

 

My Thoughts

This was by far the most approachable and elegant, carrying the classic Ardbeg flavours but in a more understated and mellowed way. The richness, the honey, the ash, the fruitiness, all of it is the most clearly expressed here, giving it a sort of purity that I think we sometimes forget (with all the more in your face sweet and fortified wine casks that's more in vogue these days) and it's very refreshing to go back to it.

It might be less punchy and intense than some are accustomed to, but I find this to be the more expressive of the Ardbeg character and really takes time to open up to all its nuances and complexities - something you can really sit with and watch unfold. This is the most classic and characteristic of the Ardbeg profile in its purest. Yet, I think the fact is most folks who might say the Ten Years Old is far too gentle, simply can't come to terms with this simplicity and purity. If you're new to Ardbeg, start here. This is Ardbeg barefaced and au naturale.

  

Kanpai!

  

 

@111hotpot