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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Ardbeg Kelpie, 46%abv US Release

I almost never have anything positive to say about Ardbeg's annual special releases, and I had no plans to review another one, ever. But then there's Kelpie, which is in the hot running for the worst of those limited editions.

Kelpie and I met at a Scotch Night event about three years ago. No one at the event had anything nice to say about the actual liquid. I witnessed a few Ardbeg fans pour their Kelpies down the sink. The notes I wrote were, "Sour, bitter and hot. Oppressively poor."

Though I thought I'd ditched my whisky masochist side, I recently found myself drawn to try this whisky again, by myself, where no one could hear me scream.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Region: Islay
Product: Kelpie
Age: NAS
Maturation: virgin oak from the Adyghe Republic
Limited bottling: of some sort
Bottling year: 2017
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from a bottle split)


The nose begins with layers of moss, sugar and ocean and leaves. Granny Smith apples, mint candy and cocoa powder emerge after 15 minutes, with hints of yeast and dried berries in the background. Diluting the whisky to 40%abv keeps the fruits and yeast, adding in cardamom.

The palate is very astringent, brutal even, after a couple of sips. Lots of salt and ash, no Ardbeg soot to be found. It calms down after 30 minutes, but then bitter oak enters the picture. It nearly disappears after being diluted to 40%abv. Wisps of ash, bitter oak, sweet citrus and cardboard arise after a bit.

The finish is astringent. I hate to reuse the word, but it fits. There's lots bitter oak, bitter roots, fabric, paper and ash. Once reduced to 40%abv the finish matches the palate, with an added metallic effect.


Sourcing alternate oak species is an interesting idea, but every experiment doesn't need to see the light of day. Unless there's a significant sunk cost. And there's a customer base enthralled with the brand's baloney.

As with many of its Special Edition cousins, the Kelpie smells unique and entertaining, but flops in flavor. Here it's more dramatic than usual. It is slightly better than what I'd remembered, but not something I'd even try to blend out. It got THUMPED in a side-by-side with the 5yo Wee Beastie, then I let the rest of Kelpie swim down the drain. Once again, unless you're an Official Lumsden Honk, don't weep if this annual release passed you by. There's better Ardbeg. In fact, all of it is better. (Even Galileo.)

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - You do not want to know
Rating - 76