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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

October 19, 2020


Six Incredible Ardbegs
(feeling like we’re in the early 2000s)

It was about time we did another proper Ardbeg session, this one as a tribute to Mickey Heads its Distillery manager, who just retired after having spent so much time with whisky freaks from all over the world wearing yellow jumpers with orange trousers, white socks and Geox sandals, purple tweed straight from the airport shop, or even worse, Laphroaig/Lagavulin baseball caps and sweaters.

Circa 2004

Ah Feis Ile a.k.a. the Islay Fashion Week! For all that and a few other things, heartfelt apologies and happy retirement, dear Mickey! Now let’s see what we have… First, honour to whom honour is due…




Ardbeg 19 yo ‘Traigh Bhan Batch 2’ (46,2%, OB, 2020)

Ardbeg 19 yo ‘Traigh Bhan Batch 2’ (46,2%, OB, 2020)
This one’s matured in American oak and Oloroso sherry casks (which could be American oak too, no?) and is said to be pretty smooth. So new Wellies or not new Wellies? Colour: white wine. Nose: new Wellies indeed, but small size. Other than that, fresh almonds and fresh putty, a dollop of liquid tar, then whiffs of old shed, garden pit, kelp and really quite a lot of marzipan. I find it pretty light and gentle for Ardbeg, but well-balanced and rather admirably fresh. Mouth: it’s good that it wouldn’t be too modern (a.k.a. oak-influenced) and that both tar and lemon would play first fiddles, while more salty and coastal elements would chime in after three seconds, such as salted fudge and whelks. Always loved the humble whelks. No huge smoke here, rather cigar ashes, and perhaps touches of peaches, ala Ardmore. Finish: this is where you’re closest to ‘old’ Ardbeg – we’re meaning early 1970s – with this natural rubber, tar, smoke and a feeling of old cough syrup. Awesome finish. Comments: superb post-reopening Ardbeg and proof that they hadn’t changed much to the recipe. Thank you Stuart Thompson (and thanks anyone who’s not decided to dump this superb juice into whacky woods). Now, here’s that seminal question, was the purifier working or not?
SGP:466 - 91 points.



Ardbeg 18 yo 2001/2020 (54.5%, The Character of Islay for LMDW, The Stories of Wind and Wave, refill bourbon barrel, cask #257, 92 bottles)

Ardbeg 18 yo 2001/2020 (54.5%, The Character of Islay for LMDW, The Stories of Wind and Wave, refill bourbon barrel, cask #257, 92 bottles)
We already tried the Port Ellen in this rather self-restrained new series and found it almost otherworldly. Colour: pale white wine. Nose: pretty similar to the OB at first, only a tad sharper and zestier, more vertical would I say, more mineral as well, more kilny, gristy, with more seaweed as well, new tyres, fresh rubber, seashells, hessian, tarry ropes… In fact I was wrong, it’s rather different, with even less cask influence. Pure Ardbeg. With water: exceptional and more Ardbeg than Ardbeg (no sense at all, S.) Metal polish, shoe polish, tar, old garage, old car… Mouth (neat): holy featherless crow, is this tense and tight! Tar, smoky oysters and salted lemons. Luminous and ‘evident’. With water: what’s brilliant here is that it doesn’t really get any more complex, just deeper and purer at the same time. To the point where the only descriptor you may use is ‘Ardbeg’. I agree, not very useful. Finish: long, superbly tarry, salty, lemony, and a little medicinal as well. Some camphor. Lemon zests and ashes. Comments: there isn’t much to add, except that I have the ravishing feeling of being back in the early 2000s, when all those stunning single casks were coming out.
SGP:467 - 92 points.




We could try an old bottling that we haven’t tasted yet…

Ardbeg 10 yo 1978/1988 (57.8%, The Syndicate, 240 bottles)

Ardbeg 10 yo 1978/1988 (57.8%, The Syndicate, 240 bottles) Four stars and a half
I remember we used to find these vintages lighter and less concise than those from the first half of the 1970s. The official 1978 was even the lame duck within the range, in a way, together with JM’s rather weaker 17 yo at 40%. Colour: white wine. Nose: much more metallic and kind of ‘dirty’, or at least muddy, with whiffs of vase water and fruit peelings, lime juice… A little mint. That’s a little strange I have to say. With water: no changes I’m afraid. Perhaps more paraffin and brake liquid. Mouth (neat): what wasn’t in the nose lies on the palate, which is extremely ashy, ultra-dry, smoky, full of green walnuts, shoe polish, embrocations, then salt and anchovies. With water: chewing hessian and ashes, almond oil, anchovies, and perhaps a little cardboard. Not sure it’s a great swimmer. Finish: medium, rather on ashy marzipan and bits of tinned sardines. Comments: extremely good but I think this bottle was in a lesser form than the one our dear colleague Angus tasted earlier in the year (WF 93).
SGP:365 - 88 points.

Ardbeg 20 yo 2000/2020 (57.2%, The Whisky Show, bourbon barrel, cask #1087, 247 bottles)

Ardbeg 20 yo 2000/2020 (57.2%, The Whisky Show, bourbon barrel, cask #1087, 247 bottles) Five stars
Some funny stuff happening with the label. When will they be doing microchips and biolabels next year? Colour: light gold. Nose: this one’s clearly got more fresh oak, with notes of curry, ginger, mangos and vanilla (but, hurray, no coconut!), which leads to a rather softer Ardbegness, some cakes, marmalade, cough medicine, fruit paste (quince)… With water: café latte coming out, typically well-charred freshish oak. Bandages and oysters in the background, so all remains very fine. Mouth (neat): same feeling, the wood had much more influence this time, with more mangos again, quinces, ginger, Thai basil and coriander, thin mints, all that over some classic ashy and tarry Ardbegness. Rather a gentle monster. With water: more vanilla and cakes. Scones, pancake syrup, fudge… Finish: rather long, relatively sweet and ‘coated’ with sweet oak. Tangerine marmalade. Comments: superb, no doubt. A modern, well-engineered version of Ardbeg. Feels re-racked into very active American oak at some point, but I could be totally wrong. High-class, nonetheless.
SGP:557 - 90 points.

Ardbeg 28 yo (50.1%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, 251 bottles, 2020)

Ardbeg 28 yo (50.1%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, 251 bottles, 2020) Five stars
This one’s commemorating ‘the virtual Feis Ile of 2020’. Having said that, I’ve often noticed that given the amounts of whiskies consumed, Feis Ile’s always been pretty virtual to quite some friends. What’s more, I find it charming that they would do some vintageless bottling – I suppose this is ‘Laphroaig-made Ardbeg’ from the early 1990s, when Ian Henderson’s team used to do a few runs a year to keep the equipment at Ardbeg fit. Colour: white wine. Nose: typical of those years, rather more on oils (sunflower, grape pips) and all kinds of waxes. Paraffin oil, brake fluid, concrete, chalk, touches of mezcal (typical too), olives, smoked fish, seashells… With water: gears towards paraffin and embrocations. Pencil eraser, menthol, Vicks’ best. Mouth (neat): amazing what good age does to any whisky. Not that the twenties were young, but this is different. After all, remember malt whisky is barley plus water plus oak plus time, and that without time it’s vodka. Ahem. Anyway, brilliant Ardbeg once again, at a perfect age. Rather more on chalk, wax and lemons, then brine and clams. Great balance. With water: wood smoke, toffee, buttered tea, praline, smoky nougat or something… Finish: rather long, relatively gentler, with echoes of Jamaican rum this time. Perfect menthol too, also citron and tangerine liqueurs. The aftertaste is extremely smoky and ashy – as we sometimes say, you just licked the ashtray. Comments: amazing to see how these batches reach the 30-yo mark, while they were sometimes a little wobbly when younger. Great job, dear Mr Henderson!
SGP:457 - 92 points.

Ardbeg 25 yo 1992/2018 (50.5%, Douglas Laing 70th Anniversary, Xtra Old Particular Platinum, refill hogshead, cask #DL 12290, 251 bottles)

Ardbeg 25 yo 1992/2018 (50.5%, Douglas Laing 70th Anniversary, Xtra Old Particular Platinum, refill hogshead, cask #DL 12290, 251 bottles) Five stars
I agree we’re a little late with this baby, but what’s next after ‘XOP Platinum’? What will they do when they find a forgotten cask of Stromness or Malt Mill? Colour: white wine. Nose: possibly the sharpest of them all, the briniest for sure, as this is almost a blend of pure seawater and lemon juice. Plus damp crushed chalk, pickled gherkins, artisan cachaça and bone-dry petroly riesling. That I adore these kinds of profiles is an understatement. With water: we’re now deep in Islay mud, grist, burnt peat, crushed oyster shells, beach sand and Sylvaner grappa. And limoncello. Mouth (neat): : I think we have to thank Iain Henderson once again. Notes of heather honey and great mead arising, which is unusual in Ardbeg. The rest is stellar, lemon, chalk, seawater, smoked mussels, pink pepper… We’re flying high. With water: some surprising roundish, almost sugary notes (syrup) but all the rest is perfect. In fact, this is almost smoked limoncello. Who’s going to try to make that, ragazzi? Finish: long, ashier and drier as almost always, with a perfect waxy background and more lemon, perhaps rhubarb juice, some tar, and this pretty common creosote-y feel in the aftertaste. Comments: happy Anniversary Douglas Laing! Yes I know I’m two years late.
SGP:557 - 92 points.

No, we shall not have any baby Ardbeg finished in cheapish wine-treated re-scratched hoggies.

(Thanks you Angus and Tim - and Mickey!)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far







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