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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.