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

May 4, 2022


Crazy Ardbeg

It's always hard to build a coherent line-up with such makes, given that some are NAS (no age no vintage), while some are older vintages bottled at a young age, some are of good age but very strong, while others yet are just powerhouses. So let's simply try, while keeping all factors in mind. And forget about the NFTs… First, the mandatory apéritif, an old youngster at a very low strength…

Saucy French ad for Morteau sausages. Yes it's real.


Ardbeg 13 yo 1972 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Meregalli Monza, +/-1985)

Ardbeg 13 yo 1972 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Meregalli Monza, +/-1985) Five stars
This is what we used to call 'the brown banner label'.  I believe the stunning 13 yo 1974 is a little easier to find these days, just like the 13/72 Sestante, but I could be wrong. Hope this little one won't be too fast (because of Meregalli 'Monza', yeah right, S.) Colour: full gold. Nose: it's obvious that it was a mistake to have this as the apéritif. These drops remind us why some became fans of Ardbeg, some way before a certain 'writer' started to promote the freshly bought brand as if there were no tomorrow, in the mid to late 1990s. This has strictly nothing to do with any recent Ardbeg, NAS or not, be it natural or pumped-up with woods or wines, even if we keep writing that 'Ardbeg will always be Ardbeg', which is true in a way. But let's build a short list of aromas, let's say old coal tar, old hessian bags, dunnage, those famous tarry ropes, almond paste (an important member of the choir), bicycle inner tube, overripe apples rather than citrus, old engine oils, benzine, then all things sea fruit, from whelks to oysters. I'd even quote sea urchins, and certainly kelp. Mouth: incredible feeling of peat-smoked fruit paste (quince, pear) and just an avalanche of tarry notes, in all their guises. And some citrus this time. Finish: surprising long and rather on camphor, ointments, seawater and smoked oysters. Ashy quince jelly in the aftertaste. Comments: G&M have had some utter stunners from 1972, including these ones and of course the Broras. We could have written a tasting note as long as a month of Sundays, but this was only the apéritif.

SGP:468 - 94 points.

That was unfair to the others, we're way too high and fast, that's our mistake, our mistake maxima… I'm afraid we'll have to row upstream… Let's find something as young and bottled at a low strength as well…

Ardbeg 12 yo (43.9%, Jack Wiebers, bourbon cask, 120 bottles, 2022)

Ardbeg 12 yo (43.9%, Jack Wiebers, bourbon cask, 120 bottles, 2022) Four stars and a half
The label and back label would tell you a lot about an old paddle steamer from the River Elbe, but really not much about this wee whisky. Love this very engaging and friendly German bottler anyway. Colour: gold. Nose: not the same whisky at all, but that was to be expected. This is thicker and rather less complex, rounder as well, but with a very nice citrusy side and some 'really good smoke' and iodine. Perhaps a little less different from the other heavy peaters from Islay than it used to be in the past. Mouth: probably more Ardbeggian on the palate, more on tar and ashes, more of coastal elements as well, with our beloved whelks (dead whelks, naturally) and bits of 'good rubber'. Finish: longer, more robust and saltier than the glorious 13. Some peppery and medicinal notes in the aftertaste. Comments: excellent at just 12 and at barely 43% vol. The peat was less 'fat' than in the o13/72 by G&M.

SGP:457 - 89 points.

Ardbeg 'Ardcore' (46%, OB, general release, 2022)

Ardbeg 'Ardcore' (46%, OB, general release, 2022) Three stars
I could almost believe Jamie Reid did the label here (remember, Sex Pistols, Never Mind The Bollocks and so on). What's really cool is that this one seems to be fully ex-bourbon, and so was not botoxed or siliconised. Colour: white wine (hurray). Nose: very new-makey and full of pear spirit. Then sour caper brine, solvent, and bags of ashes and burnt plastic. It feels extremely young and it is having trouble after the Jack W. and, of course, G&M's glorious 13yo. Mouth: once again, this feels extremely young. More pear eau-de-vie, raw ashes, drop of brine, a little citrusy and syrupy fatness (our friend the limoncello), morello juice… I would have called this one 'Work In Progress', as some did with Kilkerran. Finish: rather long, raw, this time on kirschwasser, more pears and even high-column rum. Comments: really fine, but not essential . I've tried the 'Ardbeg Consumer Club version' or however they call it (I'm joking) informally and liked it much more.
SGP:646 - 81 points.

You mean a Committee Release?..

Arrrrrrrdbeg! (51.8%, OB, Committee Release, ex-rye cask, 2020)

Ardbeg 'Arrrrrrrdbeg!' (51.8%, OB, Committee Release, ex-rye cask, 2020) Three stars and a half
It was time. More NAS but Mickey Heads is on the label, which is almost as good (actually better) as a vintage + age. The use of rye casks is obviously a gimmick, but after all, why not. Don't Doritos do some rye-flavoured tortilla chips too? (you wish)… Colour: straw. Nose: great fun, really. A lot of smoked sausage and bacon, cigar ashes, some lime and rhubarb, exhaust pipes (two-stroke engine, say old Kawa), then apple pie. I'm fine with this nose. With water: more ashes and smoked sausage. Do you know Morteau's? Also turmeric and ginseng powder. Peppered olives. Mouth (neat): good raw very smoky and peppery and ashy. Very robust and getting drying. Some sweet bread too, buckwheat, tequila…  With water: fruits coming out, even pineapples, otherwise pears and apples. The rye becomes more obvious. Finish: rather long but a little indistinct. Would you smoke some fruit bread? Very ashy and drying aftertaste. Comments: good but now I remember why I hadn't written any tasting notes before.

SGP:556 - 83 points.

Back at the indies'…

Ardbeg 16 yo 2004/2020 (59.8%, Hunter Laing, The First Editions, for HNWS & Whisky Lovers HK, hogshead, cask #17912, 99 bottles)

Ardbeg 16 yo 2004/2020 (59.8%, Hunter Laing, The First Editions, for HNWS & Whisky Lovers HK, hogshead, cask #17912, 99 bottles) Five stars
Rather a micro bottling but we've already tried it  - informally – and were thrilled. Colour: light gold. Nose: feels like the best of the official core range in the best years. Evident, with everything great, from peat to vanilla throughout citrus. In the background, hints of paraffin, hand cream, even shampoo, fresh almonds and walnuts, various oils, mercurochrome, engine oil… etcetera. With water:  oh hurray, old-style Ardbeg! Wonderful oils, tars, ointments, oysters… Mouth (neat): this is the best part, this palate is fantastically zesty, blade-y, salty and lemony. As we sometimes say, it would cut you into two identical pieces – in a rather Uma-Thurman way. With water: and it did. Wonderful. Finish: long, extremely sharp in an extremely thrilling way. Long story short, superb smoky lemons.  Comments: the smoke is perfect too. Awesome echoes of the G&M (I'm comparing them again as we speak).
SGP:467 - 92 points.

Back on the track, back on the OBs…

Ardbeg 19 yo 'Traigh Bhan' (46.2%, OB, batch 'TB/03 -10.10.01/21.BL', 2021)

Ardbeg 19 yo 'Traigh Bhan' (46.2%, OB, batch 'TB/03 -10.10.01/21.BL', 2021) Five stars
This is ex-American oak and oloroso sherry casks. According to the label, Colin Gordon was already the manager when this was bottled. Angus already tried this baby on WF and liked it a lot last year (WF90). There, data computerised (eh?) so let us proceed… Colour: light gold. Nose: this is the most porridgey of them all, the most fermentary, and probably the closest to Nature. Raw wool on Islay (wandering on the Oa), chalk, mud and sheep dung, sourdough, sour fruit juice (white cherries, gooseberry juice), grist and wash… This is the first one that really smells of 'touring the distillery' (at 1am, valinch in hand). Mouth: gets drying almost instantly, but all the rest is pretty perfect. Extremely dry indeed, fino-y (Ardbeg in fino always worked well), then with mentholy lemons and medicinal potions of all kinds. The best of the 'newer' Ardbeg style, in my opinion. Finish: long, very dry, a little austere but very 'Ardbeg'. Comments: the dryness is a little surprising but I just love this kind of Ardbeg. It's just that I can't seem to remember what 'Traigh Bhan' was supposed to mean. Whiskies and their names!
SGP:357 - 90 points.

Good, we've had six, let's push it to, say eight and say goodbye. Oh did we mention fino?... We've also got a first fill 'ex-Côte-Rotie' but I say we'll try that one around the year 2057, if you would agree. So, fino…

Ardbeg 2013/2021 (60.9%, OB, 2nd fill manzanilla butt, cask #272, 671 bottles)

Ardbeg 2013/2021 (60.9%, OB, 2nd fill manzanilla butt, cask #272, 671 bottles) Five stars
I think this is for Germany. Remember a manzanilla is a fino matured in Sanlùcar. If you mature a fino elsewhere, it won't be a manzanilla. A manzanilla does not need to be have been harvested in or around Sanlùcar, the name's only related to the place where they mature the wine. Oh and I'd kill for a good bottle of manzanilla; as a matter of fact, I'll be there next week. Anyway… Colour: deep gold. Nose: bacon and smoked sausage again, as in the 'Arrrrrrrdbeg!' (that was not a name for grownup enthusiasts, was it). Active wood, roasted bananas, sandalwood perhaps, and really a lot of bacon. No manzanilla-y notes yet, but 60.9% is high. With water: heavy smoked grist, carbon, ink, old magazines, walnuts, mustard indeed, unpacking new electronics… Mouth (neat): high-power smoky and slightly mustardy arrival, then a drying and very ashy development, full of barbecued bacon… But it is too strong for me (S.!) With water: it's amazing that it would have become this manzanilla-y. Wonderfully salty, mustardy and walnutty, it's just that it doesn't swim too well, so please handle your pipette (or coffee spoon) like Karajan, not like Keith Moon. Finish: long, rather acidic, with a lot of citrus popping out, especially bitter oranges. We're well in Andalucía. Obvious oak spices in the aftertaste, the cask was rather active. Comments: we knew this was going to be rather superb.
SGP:457 - 90 points.

Good, we said 'eight'. Why not a very old one then…

Ardbeg 32 yo 1967/1999 (47.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, sherry cask, 185 bottles)

Ardbeg 32 yo 1967/1999 (47.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, sherry cask, 185 bottles) Five stars
The owners have missed the 1960s completely (only lousy efforts have been made – white gloves, come on!) but neither Signatory Vintage nor Douglas Laing have been as conspicuously absent. Having said that, I've never tried this one, neither formally nor informally. Colour: dark bronze. Really, it is virtually green (greener than the green Springbanks, if that rings a bell). Say as green as olive oil, really! Nose: it is not surprising that you would find a few similar aromas as in the G&M 13/72, especially rubbers, tyre inner tubes, then rather mushroom cream (truffle), some kind of old style oils and polishes (what we were having in my time in the French army), stewed rhubarb at the fruit section, a blend of pipe juice with 'secret Chinese medicine', baijiu (really, not making this up, I swear), prunes, dried figs, longans, hoisin sauce… Pure madness. Patches, nails in the cask? You say patches AND nails? Mouth: it is incredible that it would be this green. The taste is a little funny, I have to say, not exactly 'rotten' but you do feel that something is not exactly right, perhaps. Something metallic indeed, bitters, tobaccos, very old oloroso, salty liquorice, turpentine and eucalyptus… Now the heart is beating steady and strong, this is not a foul old Ardbeg at all, it's just 'different' and makes you reconsider your tasting paradigm (what? No way!) Finish: while it got even greener, or so it seems… More metallic notes, various old embrocations, liqueurs and unknown liquids, oils, dried fruits, baijiu indeed… Comments: you can't quite score this. Crazy colour, crazy drop. I've never seen any spirits as green as this – not talking about green chartreuse, naturally. Camouflaged whisky, almost.

SGP:475 - 90 points.

I'm sure there is no Ardbeg crazier than that one. So at ease, you may smoke! What's sure is that we do keep loving Ardbeg, even if those NAS annual special/committee/limited/whatever releases seem to have become the mocking events of the season.

(Many thanks, Hideo, Jens and Sebastian!)

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







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