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

June 5, 2021


The vicarious Feis Ile sessions
Today an Ardbegganza

Celebrating Islay and Feis Ile from Whisky Fun Towers, with carefully selected whiskies from most distilleries, while we're all dreaming of 2022...

Ardbeg 'Aaargh!'? Or was it 'Scraaatch'? Well I don't think we shall try those slightly silly new flavoured NASses in the near future. I do not despise them at all, mind you, on the contrary, they may even be pretty good, but today we've got more serious stuff on the tasting table… Please fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a true old-school session and we won't do things by half. Do we say eleven, Nigel? What's more we'll try to keep this (as well as ourselves) relatively vertical… Like, 2001 to 1967? Are you ready?

Magazine advert circa 2002. To be cancelled? >

Ardbeg 19 yo 2001/2020 (51.8%, The Single Malts Of Scotland, for USA, refill barrel / 1st fill barrel, 216 bottles)

Ardbeg 19 yo 2001/2020 (51.8%, The Single Malts Of Scotland, for USA, refill barrel / 1st fill barrel, 216 bottles) Five stars
Angus already tried this one for these humble pages, but I sure won't miss this opportunity to try some well-aged post-reopening Ardbeg too. Colour: light gold. Nose: not a big phat Ardbeg, rather a combination of fresh butter with olive oil and some kind of almondy peatiness at first, and only then something tarrier and more coastal. Also a feeling of ashes kept in brine, which is pretty singular, I agree. The whole is extremely nice. With water: with iodine and bandages, I find this one very medicinal once water's been added. Mouth (neat): kerosene flavoured with bananas and mangos! The latter most probably from some pretty active American oak, but trumpets please, we've been spared any coconut. Tar and liquorice lozenges, a drop of seawater, some echoes of pad Thai. With water: softened, salted, also with more ashes. Finish: rather long, with a lovely brine and those green olives back in the aftertaste, which I'll always cherish, also with a little sour wood.. Comments: we're flying pretty high already. I mean, the scores and stuff, not us! Very brine-y Ardbeg.
SGP:566 - 90 points.

Let's jump over Y2K…

Ardbeg 10 yo 1999/2009 (57.5%, Chieftains Choice, German Chieftains Society, barrel, cask #114, 228 bottles)

Ardbeg 10 yo 1999/2009 (57.5%, Chieftains Choice, German Chieftains Society, barrel, cask #114, 228 bottles) Five stars
This is post-reopening too. Ian Macleod have had several excellent Ardbegs, most at 46% if I remember well, but this is cask strength. In short the Germans' Choice (hugs, friends!) Colour: straw. Nose: ultra-clean, zesty, sour, fermentary and on loads of lime. I totally adore this and can't wait to add water in order to dig deeper into it without burning my nostrils. With water: oh, mandarin skins and engine oil, you cannot be against that. Brilliant. Mouth (neat): we're not far from the official 10, only with 11.5 more degrees. Extraordinarily pure and tight, with just tar, lemons, seawater, liquorice and cough medicine. Extremely Ardbeg. With water: disintegrates, meaning that it's getting more complex, which is obviously a great thing. Several citruses, ashes, rare oils, hessian, tars, medicines… Keyword here: tar. Finish: same for quite some time. Keep the bottle away once you've got your pour! Comments: when the distillate is perfect, and it is perfect here, it's hard to beat a great ten. Remember neighbours Laphroaig's early 10 C/S?
SGP:557 - 92 points.

We're really too high and fast already, given that we've got quite 'a schedule' to meet… Ha, nothing more invigorating than self-imposed challenges!

Ardbeg 26 yo (47.2%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, Feis Ile 2019, refill hogshead, 387 bottles)

Ardbeg 26 yo (47.2%, Hunter Laing, The Kinship, Feis Ile 2019, refill hogshead, 387 bottles) Five stars
Some sources wrote that this was a 1992, others that it is a 1991, so let's claim it is a 1991.5. And why not? Colour: white wine. Nose: I find it very unusual, very grassy and sour, almost on sauce béarnaise at first (tarragon, chervil, shallot, butter) but the expected hessian, tar and just seawater are soon to take over. Now some kind of curry-mayonnaise-y notes remain there while crabs and langoustines are approaching too. I love this, a lot of action and difference. The salt of life. Mouth: it is really very singular. More tangerines and even litchis, with a kind of fake softness (you would believe it's soft at times but it kicks you back) then some kind of tarry mustard. Wondering whether some kind of *** chef hasn't been working on this hogshead. Heston Blumenthal? Finish: medium to long, always with this funny smoky mustard. Shallots in the aftertaste. Quite. Comments: a little disturbing here and there but in the end of the day, it's a stunning, softer dram. It's just that there probably isn't any other of exactly the same kind around (although I wouldn't hold my breath in that department).
SGP:655 - 91 points.

Not much to say about Ardbeg in the 1980s. Zzzz zzzz… Let's jump to the 1970s… There, we'll have a lot to say!

Ardbeg 40 yo 1979/2020 (56.8%, Signatory Vintage, bourbon barrel, cask #9861, 82 bottles)

Ardbeg 40 yo 1979/2020 (56.8%, Signatory Vintage, bourbon barrel, cask #9861, 82 bottles) Five stars
That's right, they were having this. Signatory always liked to fly under the radars in some respects (which I deeply respect, precisely). Ah, those useless electronic chatterboxes called 'social media'… Let's also remember that the sister cask for Kirsch Import (#9859) had been pretty stunning. Colour: gold. Nose: let's be clear, this is not 'too old', 'too oaky', 'too tired' or anything like that. That's sorted, let's move on… Some fat Chablis at first (like say Grenouilles in a hot vintage), then really embrocations and ointments of all kinds. That's the main trait. Also mangos and maracuja, oysters, clams, kelp… And that famous, very emblematic 'old fisherman's boat' that, I'm sure, no one's ever seen in real life. It's probably just a descriptor. With water: oh! Drinking old chartreuse on a northern beach. Mouth (neat): no! I mean, yes! Extremely cutting, sharp, blade-y, tell me about a lazy old malt. Thousands of green lemons, lemongrass, chocolate mint (leaves), then a feeling of salted smoked artichokes. And always this emblematic tar. With water: excellentissimal. Sour grapefruits, iodine, camphor, tar, oil and paraffin, heavy salted liquorice, tar… Have I mentioned tar before? Because this is very tarry. You may start to look for the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade's number, thank you. Finish: hate it that it would finish, but love this salty, smoky, tarry lemon juice. Medicinal aftertaste. Comments: extremely Ardbeggian, undisputedly, and spectacularly alive and kicking. Yet another gift to mankind, and yet again we can only meditate. To think that this thing called whisky started as an agricultural by-product, two or three or four hundred years ago.
SGP:565 - 93 points.

Ardbeg 1975/2005 (44.7%, OB for Islay Festival 2005, fino, cask #4719, 188 bottles)

Ardbeg 1975/2005 (44.7%, OB for Islay Festival 2005, fino, cask #4719, 188 bottles) Five stars
Okay I wrote some short notes for this one on location, as it was launched. There was also an oloroso and the world was separated into two categories, the friends who preferred the oloroso, and the ones who preferred the fino, so this one. I was part of the first group but only fools never change their minds, so sixteen years later, let's give a little more attention to this legendary wee fino… Colour: gold. Nose: boy this was 30 as it came out. Incredible tightness and I would believe it changed over the years in glass, becoming tighter, more 'one', and more herbal too. What's sure is that Ardbeg, back in those days, was a fatter spirit. Amazing pine-y aromas, tar liqueur, ashes, kelp, with rather less of that meatiness I had detected back in 2005. But did it vanish or have I changed? Mouth: I'll say it, I liked Signatory's latest even better. This is superb, naturally, with these grapefruits, this tar, and indeed this salty fino-y character, but I do not find it vastly complex. A bit of a death seat effect after Signatory's 40? Perhaps… Finish: no, fantastic, grassy and a tad bitter, but with great tar and a spoonful of coffee dregs. Comments: amazing but one step, I mean one point behind the 40. Now I'm re-reading my old notes and cannot not notice that I used to complain pretty vigorously, while on location, about the fact that they had decided to sell this little glory for £180.
SGP:367 - 92 points.

Ardbeg 1975/2006 (40.9%, OB, bourbon, cask #4699, 121 bottles)

Ardbeg 1975/2006 (40.9%, OB, bourbon, cask #4699, 121 bottles) Four stars
Let's take our time with this one, the strength being low it could be a little fragile… There was for example a very light 1975 for Italy that was almost diaphanous, but granted, it was a sherry (WF 84). So, with extra-care… Colour: gold. Nose: the nose is very fine, a bit metallic, more herbal than others, with really rather a lot of brine and touches of green leaves and pips, perhaps even a little dry cider. Tabloids of the day at the airport. Very lovely but nothing earthshattering this time. Mouth: it reminds me of the official 17 years old, remember it? I believe it was the first new official Ardbeg after the reopening and rather inexplicably, they had gone for a lighter style and only 40% vol. Anyway, this one's a little light too, but not flat! It's just that there isn't really any backbone, rather a collection of tiny flavours, tarragon, clams, cigarette ash, a little lemon, a hint of caper and a background of wet chalk. Almost no middle.  Finish: let alone a finish. It is really light Ardbeg. Some almond milk. Comments: let us not be too fussy, the oak had not taken over and it's not become cardboardy or tea-ish, it is just very light, and frustrating. But I wouldn't refuse a double-magnum.
SGP:355 - 87 points.

Ardbeg 1974/2006 (54.5%, OB, bourbon, cask #3326, 110 bottles)

Ardbeg 1974/2006 (54.5%, OB, bourbon, cask #3326, 110 bottles) Five stars
One hundred and ten bottles, how rare is this one? Now all these 1974s that they had bottled around 2005 came out with a very low outturn, for no reasons that I could understand. So they've all become extremely rare. This one I had never tried, by the way. In life, you just have to wait… Colour: deep gold. Nose: this is like coming home. Smoked bananas and tarry ropes, grapefruit liqueur, fresh concrete and old garage, fresh almonds and shoe polish… I don't think you can do much better as far as heavier peaters go. Wonderful austerity. With water: our dear chalky Sancerre, with a drop of tar liqueur poured in. Mouth (neat): totally huge and concentrated, almost too extreme. I am joking, that's like claiming that Tyson was too strong. Loads of bitter oranges, huge tarriness, the feeling of eating a new pair of boots, a ton of mint, licking new Pirellis… Well this was Ardbeg as in Ardbeg. With water: in the own words of Roy Liechtenstein, wham! Please call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade before it is too late. Finish: what a coda. One of the tarriest there ever was. Comments: this experience is almost animal, there's nothing to think about, no speculations to be had, the whisky just dominates you, whichever your reactions. Whisky for masochists? Perhaps…
SGP:568 - 94 points.

Ardbeg 1974/2005 (51.8%, OB, bourbon, for UK, cask #2751, 141 bottles)

Ardbeg 1974/2005 (51.8%, OB, bourbon, for UK, cask #2751, 141 bottles) Five stars
I agree 141 aren't many either. This is another bourbon, so maybe another orgasm to expect. By the way ever wondered why they never did any 'PX'? Case closed, let's move on… Colour: gold. Nose: oh a funny sucrosity at very first sniffs, perhaps even hints of strawberry cream, but let's remember that may come with peat. Sometimes, when you're wandering around Port Ellen Maltings (we all do that, don't we), you do smell strawberry yoghurt. I have been told by some high-ranked officials that that was normal! In any case, this one's actually rather on smoked tea (lapsang), fern and moss, perhaps even pu-her, and just earth and beach sand. This baby keeps you waiting… With water: ha, those new electronics, plastic bags, brake pads and shoe polish! Plus green bananas at the fruit and vegetable department. Mouth (neat): pungent, lemony, austere, ultra-grassy, tarry, salty, really not easy. Very oily mouthfeel, in truth this is almost oil that's been burning for a few seconds in your frying pan. With water: a lot of spearmint now. That's lovely. Finish: very long, tight and indeed vertical. The tarriness gets bigger again, and even the aftertaste remains a little grassy and challenging, on green walnuts and their skins. Almonds too. Comments: pure magic, but #3326 would cut it into halves. Should a fight occur, naturally.
SGP:468 - 92 points.

You wouldn't believe how tough this is, really. But we're doing this for the cause. Let's just have a wee break and then we'll have more 1974s and possibly some even older ones. As I said, this only for our common cause…

Good, we're back, with more 1974… The next cask they have filled just after that last one we've tried, actually (S., they can read numbers!)

Ardbeg 1974/2005 (52.1%, OB, for Oddbins, bourbon, cask #2752, 133 bottles)

Ardbeg 1974/2005 (52.1%, OB, for Oddbins, bourbon, cask #2752, 133 bottles) Five stars
Another tiny outturn, you see. Colour: gold. Nose: this time it's the smoke from a huge beach bonfire that first enters your nostrils, while you wonder if some environmentally inconsequent folks haven't thrown an old tyre into the fire. The starting grid of a Grand Prix… just after the start. So this one comes very tarry and 'burnt',  but quite bizarrely, it is soon to become much gentler, with all the expected citrus and fresh almonds entering the dance. Then oysters, seawater, shoe polish, lapsang souchong and embrocations. Rather epic. With water: oh fresh bread, wool, old tweed jacket that's seen many rainy moons, more hot tyres and even, as I sometimes say, 'the exhausts of an old 2-stroke Kawasaki'. Mouth (neat): this arrival is very citric; you're almost biting into some Seville orange (inadvertently). So there's a rather huge bitterness, with loads of tar and salt too. Coal tar. Huge! With water: an amazing softness now, this one really loves water. Soft olive oil, tar liqueur, more lapsang souchong, marzipan, just olives, perhaps half an anchovy,  smoked oysters… Finish: long, on brine and iodine, with some plasticine and shoe polish. The citrus standing back this time. Comments: almost a brute when neat, getting gentle as a wee Islay rabbit after you've brought it down to +/- 45% vol. Magnificent, of course.
SGP:457 - 92 points.

Let's move down the years…

Ardbeg 1973/2004 (49.3%, OB, bourbon hogshead, cask #1143, 216 bottles)

Ardbeg 1973/2004 (49.3%, OB, bourbon hogshead, cask #1143, 216 bottles) Five stars
Cask #1146, for Italy, was just a star in my book (WF 95). I'm reading my old notes and notice that I had deemed that one 'dangerous'. Are we in danger zone again?... Colour: straw. Nose: back to extreme tart white wines, Sancerre and some chenins blancs, with a majestic yet well integrated peatiness, a whole plate of seashells and langoustines (add a lobster if you wish), that beach bonfire… And just a total, almost refreshing brightness. Some kind of smoked bread too, marzipan, then whiffs of 'new sneakers' (close to new electronics but not quite) and just a big brand new book. A lot of ink. Mouth: big boy, extremely ashy at first, with a huge smoke of Octomore levels (was the purifier off?) and then the tartest lemons in the whole world. A very chalky and ashy mouth feel, rather on full- ashtray-mode. Very spectacular, even if it tends to become a tad rounder over time. Grapefruit juice, fat oysters, and just touches of vanilla from the cask. Finish: long, bright, smoky and ashy, with once again a little chenin blanc. Whisky de Loire? Some green apple liqueur and limoncello in the aftertaste, fifty-fifty. Comments: it is a perfect style, both very assertive and kind of refreshing. I was about to quote those stunning whites from around the city of Beaune in Burgundy, but I just won't this time.
SGP:467 - 93 points.

Perhaps is it time to put an end to this Ardbegganza, and to have a wee one that was distilled in the swinging 1960s? An independent in that case, that is to say one of those very legendary sherried dumpies by Signatory Vintage…

Ardbeg 30 yo 1967/1997 (50.3%, Signatory Vintage, USA, dark oloroso, cask #1141, 510 bottles)

Ardbeg 30 yo 1967/1997 (50.3%, Signatory Vintage, USA, dark oloroso, cask #1141, 510 bottles) Five stars
I've already tried this one in 2005 but my tasting note was too short. Having said that, the score had been extremely high (WF 95). Let us revisit this baby today and give it a little more time…  While remembering that sherry monsters usually love further aging in glass. So 30 years in a saucy oloroso butt plus 24 years in a bottle, that should have worked out super-well… Colour: copper mahogany. Nose: oh… In my little experience, heavy sherry and heavy peat either just clash, or, in a few cases, create a wonder. This seems to be a wonder, and I'm really happy I actually didn't remember it. Astounding tars and embrocations, liquorice menthol and cigars… And, well, it does floor you a wee bit, it's difficult to take notes, it is almost like when you would rather put down your camera in front of a sunset. Let's put down our camera… Mouth: incredible, this is so perfect! And really very dangerous. I sometimes like to quote Mishima, "true beauty is something that attacks, overpowers, robs, and finally destroys." Let us not fall into this wee Ardbeg's trap. Finish: eternal. Comments: right, coffee, camphor, pine resin, menthol, urchins, chocolate, walnuts, tar, tobacco, liquorice, eucalyptus… With all sliders to the top! Ardbeg's legend was also built by the indies.
SGP:477 - 96 points.

(Heartfelt thanks to KC but also to Lynda, Des, Stuart, Ollie, Billy, Andrew 1, Andrew 2, Anthony… great, great work and passion, everyone!)

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







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