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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg 10 year

Distillery: Ardbeg
Age: 10 years
Maturation: bourbon barrels
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

There have been a lot of Islays showing up on the Report recently.  That was unintentional.  They're just what I've been exploring recently.  We'll take a break from this region for a bit in order to continue reporting on a broad range of whiskies.  But before that, here's a whisky that I tried this very week...

Ardbeg is one of Laphroaig's neighbors in southern Islay.  Like Laphroaig and Lagavulin, Arbeg's malts are known for being very peaty.  These distilleries use an exceptional amount of peat smoke to dry out the malting barley at the beginning of the process.  All that smoke from a particularly intense salty peat influences the flavor of the final product.

Ardbeg is an older distillery, having started up in 1794.  They ran for almost 200 years before closing up in 1991.  In 1997 Glenmorangie purchased them, poured millions of dollars/euros/pounds into reviving the place, and have since reaped the rewards.

Ardbeg is well known for their peaty malts, often competing with other producers to create the peatiest whisky in existence.  They like to advertise the fact that their kiln and mill are amongst the oldest working kilns and mills in the world.  It helps create the PR image that their single malts are of the old school variety.

I wasn't sure how or when I'd ever get a chance to try an Ardbeg.  In the US, they're often overshadowed by those two South Islay big brothers.  But in the midst of my fantastic Sunday Night I discovered that the great little Piano Bar had Ardbeg 10 amongst its impressive selection.

The bartender started pouring it neat, looked at the green bottle, declared that it was about empty, then poured the remainder into my glass.  Never a bad thing.  It was priced reasonably too, considering Hollywood Bar prices nowadays.

The bar was dark, but using a white light background from my cellphone, I was able to somewhat eyeball the malt's color -- straw, as in hay straw.  This is fascinating because I caught some straw/hay in the nose, hidden behind some nice cream and sugar.  The elephant in the room, of course, is the peat smoke......which actually was mellower than Laphroaig's.  Or maybe I'm building up a tolerance.  It was there, but not punishing.  The ladies I was with thought it was strong, so there's that to consider.  The body/texture was oily.  The actual palate was mellow peat smoke, cereal, grass, and the straw again.  It finished calmly with light pepper.

Then I hit it with a little water; approximately 2 teaspoons.  I figured it could take it.  It was 46% ABV and it was Ardbeg's first unchillfiltered release.  It didn't cloud, but I could see the oils swimming around.  The peat smoke remained in the nose along with considerable fruit sugar and swimming pool.  Yeah, sense memories of swimming pools in Upstate New York.  The palate was all mellow peat smoke and oak.

And curiously, the finish was better -- more pepper and some bitterness.  With two teaspoons of water the finish went from early Mark Twain to late Mark Twain.

Because it sat in one of those wide-mouthed rocks glasses, it was difficult to glean anything more from the ten-year-old.  But I liked it.  I'll bet it would be great with a cigar.  Now I'm torn between the three big southern Islay producers.  I guess I'll have to give Lagavulin another try!

Pricing - Good at $40, Acceptable at $55
Rating - see note below

(NOTE: Second report and updated rating here.)