Welcome to another review! For this one, you might want to pour a dram, as there is a lot to talk about. Today we have most of the Ardbeg core offerings, the Wee Beastie, the 10 year, Uigeadail, and Corryvrecken. I hadn't planned on doing something of this scope, but based on some feedback from my Laphroaig 10 and Ardbeg 10 comparison, and the completely random local availability of Uigeadail and Corryvrecken, I decided to have an epic tasting.
You already know that I am an Ardbeg fan, but reviewing 4 different drams in one sitting is not the simplest undertaking. Given that two of the bottles are high proof, there are some concerns about the quantity of Scotch actually drank. Drunk reviews generally don't go well, and I probably would not be able to read my own writing, so obviously a little care is required. In addition, you can't just quickly sample the different pours, as things tend to blend together. If you search for information on tastings for multiple whiskeys, you will see that you need some water (hydration is a good thing), plain pretzels to "cleanse" the palate, and some coffee beans to basically reset the nose. Yes, I went all out for this, except for the spit cup they use at larger tastings, I refused to waste any of my precious Ardbeg.
So, after we had everything ready, what did Ardbeg have in store for us? These are all non chill-filtered, single malt Scotches. 100% malted barley distilled, aged, and bottled at the Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland. The big differences between the bottles are the age, maturation casks, and proof.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie
Aged 5 years
Matured in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks
47.4% ABV (94.8 proof)
Pears and vanilla cream star the show. Just a touch of brine and ash in the background. Peat feels more foundational than fully integrated.
Light and oily feel. Peat and honey star here, with vanilla and peat right behind. It does get a little warm and there is a roughness to the flavors, like they are being pushed on you. This definitely feels like the oak needs to mellow the spirit a bit longer.
Peat is most apparent, though ash comes and goes. Honey and vanilla stay well in the background. Pleasant medium length finish.
Recommendation: Must try! You can really tell that the Wee Beastie is a bit young compared to the 10 year. Just like other youthful whisky, it reveals itself as a brash teen that needs to mature a bit longer. However, if you can find it under $50, it is a great value. There are not many really good single malts available under $50, and this definitely qualifies.
Aged 10 years
Matured in ex-bourbon barrels
46% ABV (92 proof)
Brine and vanilla fight for dominance. Peat waits just behind them. Far in the background is light sweet pear. Really just a lovely combination.
Oily and rich. This is honey covered pears with a vanilla cream drizzle. Brine and peat try to break through but cannot. While delicious, the brine and peat feel disconnected from the whole.
Honey and ash lead, while brine, vanilla and pear quickly follow. Ash continues throughout the longer finish along with a lingering saltiness.
Recommendation: Buy it now! I am a big fan of this 10 year, as you saw in my prior comparison with Laphroaig 10. While my notes are not exactly the same as that review, the overall score was actually identical. This is another good value if you can find it under $60, but the prices do seem to be creeping higher. This really has to be one of those drams you try to get a feel for what Islay Scotch is all about.
No age statement
Matured in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks
54.2% ABV (108.4 proof)
Vanilla leads the way with honey and unripe plum following. There is a vanilla cake aspect to this, while peat and brine sit beneath it all. Ethanol is apparent but fairly faint.
Vanilla and honey dominate. Brine and peat follow quickly but do not overpower anything. Plums and malty breadiness round this out nicely. Really well balanced.
Just a lovely dance of vanilla, brine, peat, and honey. Ash and raisins provide the foundation of this long, complex, drool inducing finish.
Recommendation: Buy it now! Yes, at $80, but it now. My first introduction to "Oogie" was a few years ago. I never had a sherry finished Islay Scotch, so I was curious to see how the peat and sherry would mix. The obvious answer is, really, really well. This was the dram that got me interested in other sherry finished peated Scotch. This is just a fantastic Scotch and you need to have it.
No age statement
Matured in ex-bourbon and new French Oak barrels
57.1% ABV (114.2 proof)
Brine and vanilla mingle nicely. Honey follows with just a touch of smoked meat and raisins. There is an undercurrent of ash throughout.
Rich but dry, which definitely feels odd. Brine and vanilla lead again. Smoked meat follows lightly with some earthy peat. It does get just a touch warm.
Vanilla, peat ,and smoked meat, oh my! Dry ash provides the foundation here. Just a bit of honey and raisins complete the medium length finish. A longer finish would really have been amazing.
Recommendation: Must try! I struggled a bit with Corryvrecken. Much like the Wee Beastie, it just feels a little disjointed. The palate had some really good components, but they weren't as well integrated as I would hope. The finish is so close to being amazing, but the dryness in the dram definitely hampers the overall experience, more because of the richness of the flavors. This Scotch is not for everyone, but I can see some people loving it, so have a pour at a bar and see if it works for you.
What did we learn?
The first thing that we learned is that all of these Ardbeg offerings are very good. From top to bottom, these are all bottles you would not be ashamed to have in your bar. The one thing missing from this review, ignoring the higher priced limited releases, is An Oa. I have had that before, and it also is of the same quality. It definitely rates higher than the Wee Beastie, but I would have to compare it with the 10 year to see where it really lies.
What is really interesting about this style of review is that you get to see the nuances between the different pours more readily than if you just tasted one on its own. You also get to understand what people mean when they say something about the "Ardbeg profile". Brine, honey, vanilla, and peat flow through all of the offerings. Also, the style of smokiness in Ardbeg is much different than other Islay distilleries. As I described in the tasting notes, Ardbeg tends more towards an ash flavor, a very dry smoke. If you return to the Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10 comparison, Laphroaig has more of a barbecue/campfire flavor. This is what makes each distillery so interesting. Many of the Islay distilleries are very close to each other, but they have their own unique style.
This type of review also tends to force any preconceived notions to the wayside. While I previously liked the Wee Beastie, tasting it side-by-side with its' 10 year old sibling showed just how young and raw it really was. The Uigeadail was clearly the best offering in the tasting, which I previously would have thought was wrong. I adore the 10 year and I knew I liked Corryvrecken, but Uigeadail being so obviously better was a huge surprise. I highly recommend having this sort of tasting if you can. Having even just two bottles from the same brand can highlight the differences so much easier. It can also help you find the different flavors when some things seem so similar.
If you made it this far, congratulations! Hopefully, you learned more about Ardbeg's style and will go on the hunt for a dram. Also, if you like this style of review more than the single bottle tasting, please let us know!