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Monday, April 12, 2021

Ardbeg 21 year old 1992 Sovereign, cask HL 9995 for K&L Wine Merchants

Back to Ardbeg! This week I'm reviewing three bourbon cask indie bottlings distilled during the Allied Lyons years, specifically 1992, 1993 and 1994. If you get an opportunity to try pre-LVMH Ardbeg, TAKE IT. You may find it's usually a subtler, yet thicker and more angular whisky than the current stuff. Or maybe you'll think it's boring, and the joke is on all those people paying four-figures for those bottles.

This 21 year old single cask comes from K&L's David&David Epoch. It was quite a feat for them to nab an Ardbeg cask of this age, since no regular release coming from the distillery had been older than ten years for, well, ten years at that point. Had I been in on more bottle splits back in 2013, I would have taken part just to try the old liquid. But I missed out. So I am very grateful to Saint Brett of Riverside for letting me steal a sample of this stuff.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Owners at time of distilling: Allied Lyons
Region: Southern Islay
Bottler: Hunter Laing
Brand: The Sovereign
Maturation: bourbon cask
Age: 21 years (1992 - September 2013)
Cask #: HL 9995
Outturn: 150 bottles
Exclusive to: K&L Wine Merchants
Alcohol by Volume: 49.6%


What a nose. It's big on seaweed, briny shellfish and cinnamon-and-cocoa-tinged smoke, while apple peels, pineapples and limes float through the background, with clementines joining in after 30 minutes. The coast and smoke are pushed back once the whisky is reduced to 46%abv, with fruit (apples and cherries) and cinnamon being pulled to the fore.

My notes label the palate "ungussied", which is not a word, apparently. In other words, it's spirit-forward, with lots of Talisker-style salt and pepper on one plane, and tart limes, grapefruits, minerals and a subtle sweetness on another. Reducing it to 46%abv, doesn't change much. Maybe more minerals and metals.

Its finish reads heavier and smokier than the palate, with some lime candy in the background. The peat sits somewhere between the LVMH-Ardbeg soot and Talisker pepper. Diluted to 46%abv, it finishes with pepper, tart citrus and soot.


K&L released this Sovereign cask within about 12 months of the 32 year old Caol Ila and 18 year old Caperdonich. That's some good work right there. This Ardbeg is definitely among my top five favorite K&L single casks, though some of you readers have had more of their stuff than I. As with the Caol Ila, the palate falls just short of a dreamy nose. But this nose, though. Not only does current owner LVMH not make 'em this way, I can't think of another Islay distillery that does. Perhaps I need to try more 21 year old Lagavulin. (Don't we all.)

The other two Ardbegs have some serious competition here. If they can keep up, it'll be a good week.

Availability - Sold out years ago
Pricing - $349 back in the day
Rating - 89