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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Uigeadail versus Ardbeg Uigeadail

Product: Uigeadail
Type: Single Malt
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy)
Age: unknown other than a mix of young stuff and old stuff
Maturation: ex-oloroso (35-45%) and ex-bourbon (remainder)
Region: Islay, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%

An intro

A little over ten years ago, Glenmorangie plc (now LVMH), the new owner of the Ardbeg distillery, was faced with a whisky challenge.  Due to a pair of closings in the '80s and '90s, Ardbeg didn't yet have a consistent library of annual malts to pull from.  In release, they had a ten year (which was sometimes older than ten years), a seventeen year (which was often older than seventeen years), and some well-aged bottlings from the 1970s.  At hand, they had very young malt from their own production, begun in 1997, and much older casks from the previous ownership.  A solution was reached: create a whisky that combined the old sherry-wood-aged whisky with the young ex-bourbon oak whisky.  It was dubbed Uigeadail, named after one of the local water sources, and released to the public in 2003.

Uigeadail was met with raves.  Year after year, batch after batch, people enjoyed the grace from the old malt and the power from the new malt.

But recently, over the past two years, some of the raves have quieted.  Some have even become gripes. In anorak circles online (forums, Facebook, Twitter), some have declared that recent batches have been disappointing.  These fans felt like they were experiencing a great whisky's fall from grace.

We all knew it couldn't always remain the same.  Eventually Ardbeg was going to run out of that old malt, or salvage the better old casks for exclusive exorbitantly-priced single cask editions.  Also, the new malt was going to evolve as the new ownership worked through the kinks of their production.  Cask technology was changing -- for better or worse, depending on one's perspective -- and the demand for whisky was booming.  Wasn't change inevitable?  And if so, we can only wonder what sort of cask experiments are being used to simulate or supplement the old stuff...

Bottle codes

Every bottle of whisky contains some sort of code printed on it by its packaging facility.  Ardbeg bottles have specific codes that have become something that most collectors eye carefully.

The first part of the code begins with an L, then the numbers follow.  First there's a number that denotes the year.  For Uigeadail it'll be a 3 through 13 (and counting).  The next three digits denote the day of the year, 001 through 365 (or 366).  Then the time is shown.  And finally, three digits representing the bottling facility.

To illustrate, here are the bottle codes for the two whiskys I'm reporting on today:

(from 2006)
L6 242 00:22 4ML

(from 2012)
L12 012 15:44 5ML

Often when referring to Uigeadails, fans will refer to them by their bottling code year, like L9 or L10.  The heyday, the supposed cream of the Uigeadail crop, are the L3s through the L9s.  L10s are still well regarded.  But the L11s have received complaints, as have the L12s.  (Side note: I saw an L13 in a liquor store the other day.)

2006 versus 2012

I've been following the critiques with some interest because I've enjoyed Uigeadail every time I've had it.  Though, since I've never purchased my own bottle, I wasn't certain which years (or Ls) I'd been trying. The rave review I gave Uigeadail last year was likely from an L10 or L11.  But I can't be sure.  Could the old ones really be that much better?

I was able to get my grubby mitts on drams of an L6 and an L12.  Something old, something new.

Personal bias

I came to this tasting with a great fondess for Uigeadail's nose.  It's one of my favorites.  I like to call the whisky Oogy, Oogs, The Oog, or El Oogerino (if I'm not into the whole brevity thing).  While Corryvreckan (Corry, we're on a first name basis) is my favorite Ardbeg, I refer to Oogy as Corry's sexy sister.  She's prettier and smells like soused happiness.  (Corry, on the otherhand, is pale and smells like a peated tirefire.)

I wanted to use this opportunity to try to see where the critiques were coming from.  And I wanted to find out what the Old Oogy fuss was all about.

This report going to look different than the usual Taste Off since I'm detailing them side-by-side:

The whisky on the left is......okay, so I took the picture backwards.  Here let's flip the pic:

Okay, so, the whisky on the left (near the small sample bottle) is from bottle code: L6 242 00:22 4ML.  It was bottled in 2006.  Going forward I'm calling it L6.

The whisky on the right, near the 50mL mini, is from bottle code: L12 012 15:44 5ML.  It was bottled in 2012, so I'll be calling it L12.

Let's drink.

L6 - A solid dark gold, unbroken by any highlights
L12 - Noticeably darker, a reddish brown

L6 - Unspeakably rich; there are some scents I can't place, but I'm going to try. Wood smoke with cinnamon and cardamom spices right up front.  Then: honeyed peat, shoe leather & polish, and a touch of vanilla beans.  With time there are golden raisins in molasses, sweat, cherry syrup, camphor candles, dried mango, and loquats (which are delicious).

L12 - Has some of the same elements as the L6 but at different volumes and different orders.  It leads with farmy notes from the peat, some ham, and a good whiff of cinnamon vanilla cake.  There are also molasses chews, fig newtons, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, and fennel.  A big noticeable difference is the prevalence of the familiar sherry note of raisins and prunes......at a level I tend to find in younger sherry malts as opposed to older sherry malts

L6 - A pile of charred meat with a basket of fresh fruit in the background.  A candied campfire or toffee pudding next to a bonfire.  Cinnamon sticks in hot cocoa, black pepper, smoked almonds, melon, an industrial oily note, with some brief bitterness.  It's a tremendous merging of malt and cask.  A solid singular statement.

L12 - Very direct peat at the start, and much sweeter.  White fruits, red berries, toffee and brown sugar. More obvious sherry notes again and more of an ethyl bite.  Sweet tobacco (shisha), dry red wine, and a mild bitterness.

L6 - The candied campfire returns...  Level upon level of char... ... ... ... sorry got lost... Very sticky, honey-dipped fresh peaches and cantaloupe.

L12 - A little briefer but still bold and long, more drying, mostly peat and smoke.  It actually has a second wind, bringing out shisha, swimming pool chlorine, and a sour lemon tang.

It's probably no secret which one I enjoyed more.  While the L12 is an excellent dram to pair with some bread pudding by the fire on a rainy night, the L6 is Miles Davis's trumpet on Kind of Blue.  It's Grace Kelly's face in Rear Window.  The L6 is a beautiful experience.  And I was thankful to have had it.

It's a damn shame Uigeadail is no longer at That Level.  Because the L12 has more immediate sherry notes and a riper bite of both peat and alcohol, I wouldn't doubt if there's a lot more young stuff in the mix than there used to be, including some young sherry-matured malt.

While I can still find it for under $60, I'll try to get a bottle......though if I can find an older one, that would be preferred.  It does sound as if we may be seeing some LVMH price increases in 2014.  If The Oog blasts into the $70+ range, then I'd find it difficult recommending it at that price.  Should we doubt that it'll reach $80 in the next two years?  Nope, unless Uigeadail is retired for a different product, which I don't see them doing.  So again, we whisky lovers will be paying more without gaining anything.

As I said recently on a tweet, L12 is very good, but L6 is gorgeous.  If you can find the old stuff (and can afford the "collector" premium) grab it.  In the meantime, the newer Uigeadails make for a very good desserty sherry peated malt for a cold and rainy winter.

Ardbeg Uigeadail L6
Availability - Scarce
Pricing - Whatever the seller asks for
Rating - 96

Ardbeg Uigeadail L12
Availability - Most liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - At $60, hooray!  At $75+, boo.
Rating - 90

For a different perspective, see Chemistry of the Cocktail for his post, also published today!


  1. From the comments on my post - the K&L Spirits Journal podcast interviewed Bill Lumsden and he stated that none of the old sherry casks are going into Uigeadail any more because they're 'too valuable' (should of thought of that at the beginning, eh?). Long live Uigeadail and all that.


    1. Ha! I actually listened to that podcast this morning while at the gym. The last seven minutes of that interview proved very interesting.

    2. Very, very interesting. He's basically admitted that the jig is up - all the factors that made early 2000s Ardbeg stellar are gone. Now they have to sink or swim on their own quality. And if what I've tried is any indication, that's not a hell of a lot to work with yet. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for the info to filter out beyond the anorak community. Then we'll find out if people really enjoy what Ardbeg currently has to offer or if they've been convincing themselves that it's still good. I have to believe that they can only run on hype for so long.

    3. From what we've seen with both of his brands, his focus seems to be solely on the oak. But what about the spirit itself? Is that not the heart of the product?

      Hype + cask manipulation = contemporary whisky industry?

    4. That's still OK as long as they leave some expressions alone. You have people like us who've been there, done the Quinta Ruban, and come back to the Original as the true good. If others like to go for the whisky-as-perfume stuff, more power to them, to Lumsden, and to LVMH. It's a learning process for every one. The really sad story is when there's nothing behind the smoke and mirrors - do you know of anyone who's in love with, say, Dalmore?

      I can't comment on the Ardbeg 'cause I'm allergic to it. Literally. It just doesn't sit right with me.

      But speaking of true good, how about that K&L Bowmore, Michael? Aren't you the Bowmore Man? I've confirmed with DOG that it's a 100% ex-bourbon cask, no tricks.

    5. Hey Florin! Going in reverse...

      I'm definitely an Indie (not including Murray McDavid ACEs) Bowmore man. I had the opportunity to try David Stirk's Bowmore (2001, I think) that he'd released in the US earlier this year and it was dynamite, so the one he's doing with K&L does intrigue me. And since I'm limiting my whisky purchases, that pre-order price is about right. But I'm most intrigued by the mystery Island 7yr bottling. I'm probably the only one. :)

      Per your Ardbeg allergy, I thought I was alone in experiencing that with certain whiskies. The Jameson 12 year makes me feel terrible after one drink. Tried it three times in three different places, same result.

      Dalmore is darned shame. Their marketing and flair and pricing choices have turned me off to them entirely. There must be folks out there who like their Dalmore, they can have it. Or maybe they should try some GlenDronach...

    6. Now, you say you're an Indie Bowmore man, and I think I know what you mean, because you and I are on the same wavelength here, mister. You don't like the sweet & salty muddy water they sell as the OB Bowmore 12/15/18. But how about the OB Cask Strength and the Tempest? The CS is great! I haven't had the Tempest (currently at batch 4), but from what I hear it's the real article, no messing with sherry casks.

    7. We're definitely on the same wavelength.

      Their Tempests are entirely different creatures than the 12/15/18s. I love the Tempest. 100% ex-bourbon, full-powered. They're much cheaper to purchase via European retailers. I know this because I know someone (*cough*) who may have done so.

      There's also a secret store in LA that has the old(er) OB cask strength bottlings. I haven't pulled the trigger on one of those because I'm not sure if they're from the lavender soap FWP Bowmore era. Do you know which of the CSes you've had?

    8. I got this Signatory Bowmore: http://www.whiskyadvocateblog.com/2011/05/06/review-signatory-distilled-at-bowmore-11-year-old-1999-vintage-46/

      I'll let you know how it is when I open it. I'm currently going through a 12/15/18 Bowmore vertical tasting and so far none of them are quite doing it for me, though I suspect that 46%/NC/NCF would help immensely.

    9. None of those regular OB Bowmores do it for me either, in fact they do less and less for me each time I try them. The 18 is okay, but at its price I'd need something more than "okay". I've spied that particular Signatory Bowmore; I've had a very good experience with their Bowmores, so I hope that one kicks ass too.

    10. So, coming back to our tread, I don't think you're an Indie Bowmore man - you're a Ex-Bourbon, Cask Strength Bowmore man! The OB CS I have is a 1L bottle I bought a year ago, but I tried it first and liked it in a MoM sample. I believe it's a recent NAS. As for all that FWP business, it could also be exaggerated, according to Mongo, another BCSB man: http://www.myannoyingopinions.com, 04/18/13 entry.

      It's a mystery to me why the distillery is futzing about with these 40% abv sugared colas instead of giving us the goods in their regular OB. It's probably very simple, though: they don't care of me and you (and Jordan, and Mongo...), they know we'll take care of ourselves. Shame, though... They seem to know what they are doing with Glen Garioch, and experimenting with Auchentoshan. Maybe Bowmore is next?

    11. Interesting, thanks for pointing me to Mongo's post. The FWP designation was created by the PLOWED fellows, I believe. While I do think that folks toss the 'FWP' descriptor around more broadly than was originally intended, there is definitely some miserable Bowmore malt from that specific period of time. And, to me, calling that stuff 'FWP' is an insult to French whores. At a tasting last month, I had two Bowmores from that period -- one an OB from 1989, the other an indie from 1984. The OB was decent on the nose, but was intensely soapy on the palate with a rancid finish. The 1984 indie was gross, but fascinatingly so. Everything from cheap deodorant to bug repellent. Both were soapy, but one was nigh undrinkable/unsmellable. We should chat about this more offline one of these days.

      Also, I do hope they do a Glen Garioch refresh with Bowmore, especially now that they have the High Priestess Rachel Barrie (whisky crush!) weaving her skills on their payroll.