...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, July 10, 2015

WTF Is This? Ardbeg Perpetuum.

BOOM!  Almost-Relevant whisky.  Yes, this is still Diving for Pearls.  For those who have been reading my rambling for years know much of this Ardbeg intro, but for those who are newish...

As recently as three years ago, Ardbeg was one of my Top Five favorite distilleries.  They could do no wrong with their regular range of Ten, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.  I didn't find their Ardbeg Day events annoying and I eagerly awaited their annual special releases.  But then we each went or separate ways.  To adapt to demand and shortages or fiscal demands, Ardbeg changed the recipes of Oogy and Corry.  The whiskies got younger, the oak/wine got louder, and the balance couldn't hold.  What once was the best peated whisky on the market became just pretty good.  Meanwhile, I grew up.  The aggressive marketing began to read as circus barker gibberish and their special releases provided diminishing returns.  For instance:
Ardbeg Alligator - Woo hoo!
Ardbeg Day - Almost as good as Oogy!
Ardbeg Galileo - Someone screwed up, right?
Ardbeg Ardbog - Not bad, but $110?
Ardbeg Auriverdes - Who cares?
Ardbeg Perpetuum - No.

Usually when these special releases come out, LVMH's marketing team buries some information about the actual whisky contents within their storytelling.  But this year, they and Bill Lumsden are playing especially coy about Perpetuum's content.  They say it is “inspired by the main styles, ideas and quirks of fate which have influenced Ardbeg recipes over time. It combines different styles, different flavours, different dreams and different trials, all skilfully married together in a melange of the very best Ardbeg has to offer.”

So it's mystery meat.  $110 mystery meat.  Thanks to the Orange County Scotch Club, I was able to try the stuff and then I pirated a sample.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owner: LVMH
Age: NAS
Maturation: one would assume so
Region: Islay
Alcohol by Volume: 47.4%
Release Year: 2015
Limited Bottling: 72,000

Tasting Notes:
Color - Pee.  Which usually means urine for a good time.

Nose - More burnt and mossy than the Ten.  Then cinnamon rolls, if fact there's a lot of cinnamon (cassia) in here.  New tires, ocean / seashells, and Laphroaig-y band-aids.  Eggy sulfur hits first, later it becomes struck match sulfur and singed tennis ball fuzz.  With 15-20 minutes of air, a new oak note develops, then totally takes over by the 25 minute mark.

Palate - Burnt and bitter (but good bitter).  Black licorice, mint, sweet basil, and a little bit of white sugar.  Between the burnt note and something meaty, it reminds me of Balcones Brimstone at times (though better).  Moments of hazelnuts and nutty sherry.  A curiously thin and watery texture.

Finish - Charred ribs, sugar and cinnamon, peat, rubber, and cheap cigar smoke.

1.  In Ardbeg's own description they're admitting this is a garbage pail whisky.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  There are some very good garbage pail whiskies (see the late Longrow CV).  But this is what they went with for the distillery's 200th anniversary?  Really, Ardbeg?  Why don't you show a little pride and release a cask strength version of the Ten?  You know, "This is us now, two centuries in, at full power. Deal with it."  It doesn't even have to be ten years old.  Just make it all bourbon cask, bottle it at 60%abv, and even bitter old Diving for Pearls would buy a bottle.
2. On the nose, I could do without the eggy sulfur, but I didn't mind the matches.  The new oak note was out of whack with the rest.  The palate was good and the finish was actually better.  But the very thin mouthfeel was strange.  That was the only thing that stood out when I first tried it at the club event two weeks ago.  I found that thinness again this time.  It was so watery that I didn't feel the need to add more.
3. As decent as the good parts are, overall the whisky is nothing that Ledaig can't do better, regularly.
4. In fact, it's nothing that Ardbeg's own regular range doesn't do better, regularly.

And again, #4 is the main problem.  The perpetual problem, if you will.  Each year the special release comes out, and each year it fails to top their regular cheaper stuff.   Exclusivity -- which is what I assume Ardbeg Day geeks are paying for -- does not equal quality.  So, if you're shilling out $100-$130 in order to hoard, flip, or brag about young brown liquid, then that's your financial decision (though you may want to read this).  But if you're thinking about buying Perpetuum to drink, then you can find much better whisky for less money, and some of those better bottles will still say Ardbeg on the front.

Availability - Unsurprisingly still available at many specialty retailers
Pricing - $100-$130, though much more on the secondary market
Rating - 81


  1. It's genuinely baffling that their recent special releases haven't even gotten to the same level as Uigeadail or Corryvrecken, even in their current diminished forms. Are they just trying to unload mediocre casks on a buying public that will eat them up no matter what? It can't be that this is the best they can do, because they can obviously do better.

    Also, having tried cask strength ten year old at the distillery, I can agree that is something I would actually pay money for.

    1. At one point the original post was almost twice this size thanks to rant after rant. But as an act of mercy for my readers I trimmed it. Let's see if I can keep this comment brief...
      1.) We know they have no motivation to lower the prices of the special releases because people are buying them and flipping them for more.
      2.) I liked the Alligator and I still think it would be a cool addition to their regular range, with big oak being in fashion.
      3.) Every whisk(e)y warehouse has honey casks. I have no idea why Ardbeg isn't plucking those out to use for their special releases. One would think that would be the time to showcase one's best stuff.
      4.) In my previous life, I was involved in the Creative realm. When a creative (I hate how that word was turned into a noun) becomes very financially successful, he or she becomes surrounded by sycophants, which is why I believe we tend to see directors, writers, bands, etc. get soft. It's not the money that ruins them, it's that no one around them challenges them. They hear "you're amazing, that's amazing, don't listen the critics!" I think Lumsden, whose products have sold tremendously in the past, no longer has anyone challenging him. I don't know if that was Jim Murray's job or Rachel Barrie's, but there seems to be very little quality control. But he's treated like a god wherever he goes and he's tasked to release special editions every year. So we get what he declares ready for sale and people buy it (though at a slower rate than they used to, for both GlenMo and Ardbeg). So can he do better? I don't know. No one's asking him to.

    2. If nothing else, we may just be getting his particular taste (like, oh, some other people I could mention). If there is no broader group of people making the selections, that could get very specific. The emphasis one funny finishes definitely seems to be one of his quirks.

  2. Thanks for taking one for the team and writing this. Now I don't have to!

    Shouldn't that be a sign, when even SmokyPeat doesn't want to review your peated whisky?

    Yep we all would have frothed at the mouth to have a 10yo CS. But instead of giving peat heads what they want, lets just send you some smoke and mirrors. Oh, and robots, and outer space. Seriously do they think we are children? (End Mini Rant)

    Ta Ta for Now. (TTFN)

    1. I think you're the one who asked on Twitter, why is THIS being released for the 200th anniversary? After drinking it, I can find no answer to that question. Just more questions.

      P.S. Yeah, they think we're children. Or addicts.

    2. After recently hearing a number of different people utter variations on "I own whisky that is too expensive to drink", I do think addiction is not a completely useless way to think about this.

  3. I've really got nothing to say about Perpetuum but I saw something interesting in the news this week. For some reason Diageo has decided they want people to like them so they've announced a new series called Johnnie Walker Select Casks. The first release is a 10 year old, 46% ABV, and ex-rye cask finished blend which will go on sale this September for a whopping $45 a bottle. Yes, we've got an age statement, a higher than usual ABV, an interesting wood finish (even though I'm sure rye casks are also sent to Scotland labeled as ex-bourbon), and, best of all, a great price.

    Why now Diageo? Why are you trying to make me like you?

    1. Clearly they're not hurting for aged stock, with the re-release of Green Label and an actual age statement on this Select Cask. I just can't believe they beat Lumsden to the rye cask finish.

    2. I decided to crack open my bottle of Ardbeg Day. It's funny how it's the only one of the Ardbeg special editions that wasn't finished or tinkered in any way (except for a finishing in ex-Oogie barrels I think). On first impressions, I must say the nose is very peaty but a lot of that smell gets lost once water is added. The whisky itself is very sweet due to the sherry influence.

    3. Yeah, I remember it being noticeably sweeter than the rest of the Ardbeg range, but not badly so. I'm not sure how many special editions we'll see that are as tinker-free as the Day since futzing seems to be the Mix Master's main stock-in-trade now.