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Friday, January 6, 2017

Seven Ardbeg Tens, 2000-2016 – The Taste Off

I know the PLOWED guys do more epic Ardbeg tastings for breakfast every morning. But this is a big freaking deal at Diving for Pearls.

If you missed the introduction to this seven-way comparison, click on over to Wednesday's post. Here are the stars of the show by bottle code:
  1. L0 072 4ML L1033 - bottled in 2000 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  2. L5 290 23:12 4ML - bottled in 2005 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  3. L7 323 21:19 4ML - bottled in 2007 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie Plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "old" Ten label
  4. L8 057 22:45 4ML - The first Black Mystery bottling, bottled in 2008 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Allied and/or Glenmorangie plc, bottled by Glenmorangie plc, pour purchased and directly deposited into my sample bottle at a mystery bar located somewhere off A846, "old" Ten label
  5. L10 165 12:47 6ML - bottled in 2010 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample poured from my own bottle, "new" Ten label
  6. L13 003 11:13 6ML - bottled in 2013 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, sample donated by Brett P. (thanks!), "new" Ten label
  7. L65615 - bottled in 2016 by Glenmorangie plc, distilled by Glenmorangie plc, from my own bottle, "new" Ten label

As mentioned on Wednesday, the going theory is that the Tens with bottle codes after L7 143 are from Glenmorangie plc's spirit, even when those codes precede that company's "first" Ardbeg 10yo called "Renaissance". I hope to gain some clarity about this situation with this tasting.

I will be comparing 15-20mL pours side-by-side, then interspersed, until the glasses are empty. That's a lot of alcohol for a lightweight like me, so I'll spread out the tasting over two hours, that way my senses won't become compromised.

Welcome to 2017. Hold on to your butts.

Whisky Notes
L0 072 (2000)Medicinal with some musty dunnage funk. Mothballs, moss and dried grass. Nutty parmesan cheese, smoked butterscotch and a hint of lemon.
L5 290 (2005)Very potent. Mesquite, rubber, burnt tires and new car smell. Tablet and apples. Tequila + lime juice.
L7 323 (2007)Barbecue, specifically burnt ends. A bit sugary though, with a touch of vanilla. Elephant cage. A hint of ethyl prickle. With time, some peach slips in.
L8 057 (2008)Lots of char. Burnt moss. Sesame oil. Maple syrup and a little bit of lemon. Bleach.
L10 165 (2010)Not as sooty as I remember it being, instead it's an herbal rubbery bomb. Then salt, honey, whole wheat toast and lemon pastries. Slight farmy note.
L13 003 (2013)Lots of barley and a hint of bacon. Brown sugar, orange peel, vanilla cookies. Peat smoke, plastic toys and saline.
L65615 (2016)Varnish. Burnt plastic. Yeast in the foreground, ash in the background. Hints of cocoa, band aids and dirty hay.

Whisky Notes
L0 072 (2000)Lovely. A great balance of soft sweetness, bitterness and pepperiness. Pastries, menthol, cayenne pepper and Ceylon cinnamon.
L5 290 (2005)A wormwood bitterness around the edges. A strong earthy note, and more moss than smoke. Sweet citrus and chili peppers in the background.
L7 323 (2007)Cinnamon, ethyl heat, salt and mild peat. Sugar, chlorine and jalapeños.
L8 057 (2008)Pleasantly fruity and salty. No smoke, just vegetal peat. A bit of alcohol warmth. More sweetness and bitterness with time.
L10 165 (2010)Toasty and sweet. Marshmallows and peat. Brown sugar and tart berries.
L13 003 (2013)Quite sweet. Mint candy. A little bit of tar and smoke. Mild white fruit note.
L65615 (2016)Peatiest, hottest and rawest of the group. Salt water, burnt grains and a big bitter bite.

Whisky Notes
L0 072 (2000)A cool mint and menthol tingle that expands and expands. Some lingering gentle smoke.
L5 290 (2005)The smoke shows up here with a horseradish bitterness and a big chili pepper bite. Nothing pretty about it.
L7 323 (2007)The lightest finish of the group. Pepper and chlorine. Mossy peat. Drying.
L8 057 (2008)Very warm. Burnt ends and a light smokiness. A good bitter bite appears after a while.
L10 165 (2010)Austere (I'm allowed to use that word once a month) and ashy. Tart and tingly.
L13 003 (2013)A light herbal bitterness, saline and ashy residue.
L65615 (2016)A drying ethyl tingle and a peat conflagration. Sour and salty.

Whisky Notes Rating
L0 072 (2000)Codename: Beauty Queen. The most nuanced and balanced of the group, and the best drink to boot. It was the best in all three categories. The peating feels moderate, even lighter than modern Caol Ila.
L5 290 (2005)Codename: Margarita. Rougher around the edges and more chaotic than the 2000, but very appealing in its ruggedness. Once I found the tequila and lime in the nose, I couldn't stop smelling it. Yet it's better than tequila and lime. A lot better.
L7 323 (2007)Codename: Jimmy Durante. A thunderous nose, but a palate that's a little raw and misses more than it hits, especially in the finish. It's still a good drink, though. 
L8 057 (2008)Codename: Enigma. Another big crazy nose, but a mellow palate and finish. Almost like two different whiskies.
L10 165 (2010)Codename: Simple Simon. Straightforward modern Ardbeg, but nowhere near as sooty as I remembered it to be. Surprisingly sweet, actually.
L13 003 (2013)Codename: Kildalton Candy. Very rich sweet stuff. Had its finish not completely fizzled out, this may have been a 90-point whisky.
L65615 (2016)Codename: Petulant Toddler. You cannot convince me this is ten years old. Everything in Kilchoman's range, including the half-baked 100% Islays, register as longer-matured than this. This "10 year old" feels maybe five years at its oldest. It's not bad whisky, just very very raw. Truly the most divergent of the group. I do hope it improves because I have most of a bottle left over.

Okay enough with all this fancy HTML.


As a result of this tasting, I'm going to agree with the PLOWED and Maniac fellows who say the post-L7 143 stuff is from the new ownership. There are clear differences between the Allied Lyons and Glenmorangie plc distillates. The new stuff is much sweeter. It's also more likely to be inconsistent, out of balance, schizophrenic. That doesn't always mean it's worse, but sometimes it does. And yet when it is worse, it's still much better than most peated whiskies on the market. I would be happy to drink any of these seven whiskies, though I'm a little concerned about the 2016 bottling. It's slightly more acceptable on its own, but it suffers deeply when compared to these other Tens. If my 2016 bottle doesn't improve it might be my last modern Ardbeg Ten. On the other hand, I would be happy to blindly buy a bottle of Allied-era Ardbeg.


  1. After putting Ardbeg 10 Year and Kilchoman Machir Bay side by side I've never been able to convince myself that the former is worth the money in its current form. It's possible that Ardbeg's current spirit could be good with enough age and care, but right now they're just shoving whatever they can out the door.

    1. Regarding Ardbeg 10yo vs Machir Bay, I now agree. The state of Ohio had the 10yo on sale for $46 last month, which really helped motivated these posts. At $46 it's not bad, but I think its quality has slipped behind Laphroaig 10 (at about the same price). But overall, I'd rather give my money to Kilchoman than either LVMH or Beam.

      I've tried the 2016 10yo up against all of the Ardbegs I'm reviewing this week and its really not improving. I agree they're likely shoving everything out the door ASAP, though with this batch it seems like they're having some issues with the casks or warehouse too.

  2. Pearl, do you have any idea what a darker color, no balance, bitter austry like ardbeg 10 would suggest? Generally 10 reviews including current will say pale straw, balance,. etc. If this is a rare pass thing I'll try again as a Green bottle.

    These were L13 323 L13 241 L12 011. A few rare comments will pop up online (e.g malt masters). But it's rare. My store has a 666...2016 batch and a L67554 9/2/2017. ??? Are there other islay's more reliable? Laphriog 10 had not been a problem. I've never had a Talisker or Bowmore.

    1. Hi Clive. Thanks for your questions.

      It's fascinating you've found a darker tinted Ardbeg 10. The Ten is usually very light in color. A darker color will come from either caramel colorant or more active casks. Since Ardbeg doesn't add colorant (I think) to the Ten, then that extra shading probably came from some richer bourbon barrels.

      Regarding your tasting notes, I've found that recent Ardbeg 10s have been losing the balance and complexity earlier bottings once had. So one tends to find a lot of bitter sour soot.

      Since you've tried three bottles of the stuff and you're not digging it, you may want to spend £€$ on something else. As much as some of us complain that Talisker 10 isn't as good as it used to be, it's still good whisky, and I recommend it over their Dark Storm, Storm, Skye, etc. Bowmore's official bottlings leave much to be desired, but their 10 year old cask strength Tempest batches tend to be quite good. If you're looking for a lot of Islay peat, Lagavulin 8 isn't bad and I'm always a fan of Port Charlotte.

      Hope this helps. Cheers!