Earlier this year, I was having lunch with Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller and my favourite whisky chemist. We were celebrating the release of the long-awaited Glenmorangie Bacalta, a baked madeira finished whisky and their 8th Private Edition release but I couldn’t help but think ahead to today, the annual release of one of Dr. Bill’s exquisite experiments. Bill is more than a distiller, his eye goes to selecting the oaks and woods for Ardbeg barrels, managing stocks and the creation of whiskies under his watch for the Glenmorangie Company.
With a little twinkle and ferocity, he told me about the Black Sea oaks sourced from Russia that were being used to impart a deeper, darker flavour than previously known. These oaks are typically ignored for whisky production as their wood flavours are too pronounced and strong. But paired with original Ardbeg, there’s a companionable agreement between this hefty Russian influence and the salty, fierce robustness of Ardbeg malt. Perhaps that’s why the mythic Scottish water kelpie won out for pride of place marketing instead of the dark Russian heart of this Ardbeg release. Ultimately, regardless of the Black Sea influence, the whisky is still Scotch, still Ardbeg, unarguably so.
So to the tasting of this year’s rare spirit – by now, I’m sure you’ve heard the legends. New Zealand is first in the world to open for public sale and it’s to be expected that by the end of the weekend, if not today, it will be sold out of stock for the general consumer. Thankfully, there’s an Ardbeg Embassy bar in Auckland that will have a plentiful supply.
To the tasting notes and without further ado:
Colour: The supplied tasting notes say burnished gold, with which I agree although I’d add a tinge of green-gold tarish on the edges. It may well be my imagination but it suits me!
Nose: There’s an intensity to this nose that comes leaping forth – pine trees, medicinal oils that are almost herbaceous and green, peat (of course), seaweed, dark chocolate and then as you add water to it in tasting, the nose becomes almost creamier and with a nutty tone. The tasting notes talk about toasted coconut but I was left with a blanched almond and toffee sweetness sitting against spicy black peppers.
Palate: There’s a big peppery kickoff before the complexity of this whisky kicks into gear. The Russian oak is resounding and complex. It’s in the mid-palate, not in the nose that I get big hits of coffee, dark roasted grounds, toffee and treacle and dark chocolate is present from the nose to the palate. Those medicinal oils come back towards the end – clove and star anise captured in oil with sweet woods like cherry and Maplewood on the tongue, followed by smoky-sweet hickory. It’s woody and metallic at once with a long big finish.
Finish: At first, it’s salty and briny like young olives just as the tasting notes say. But it’s in the finish that I get chargrilled thick-cut Canadian bacon, chewy toffee and residual spice.
Summary: The previous two Ardbeg Day release have been enjoyable but not magical for me. Maybe it’s the Kelpie talking but the magic is quite intense with this release. It has some of the characteristics of Ardbog and Alligator, where the earth elements of wood and fire were so intense. I’m looking forward to seeing how this evolves over an evening. So far, this is my favourite Russian collusion of the year.
Ardbeg Day 2017 is taking place at the four New Zealand Ardbeg Embassies in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
- House of Whiskey, 38 Courthouse Lane, Auckland Central – 11am-5pm
- Regional Wines, Beers & Spirits, 15 Ellice Street, Mt Victoria, Wellington – 11am– 4pm
- Whisky Galore, 834 Colombo Street, Christchurch Central – 9:30am-5pm
- The Jefferson, 7 Fort Lane, Auckland – 7:30pm-10pm
Ardbeg prides itself on being The Ultimate Islay Malt Whisky. Established in 1815, Ardbeg is revered by connoisseurs around the world as the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts. Despite its smokiness, Ardbeg is renowned for its delicious sweetness, a phenomenon that has affectionately become known as ‘the peaty paradox’. During the 1980s and 1990s, Ardbeg suffered from an uncertain future and it was not until the brand was purchased by The Glenmorangie Company in 1997 that the Distillery was saved from extinction. Since then, the Distillery has risen like a phoenix and today Ardbeg is well established as a niche, cult malt, with a passionate following.
About the Glenmorangie Company
The Company is one of the most renowned and innovative distillers and marketers of Scotch whisky brands worldwide and is part of Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Company produces Glenmorangie Single Highland Malt whisky and Ardbeg Single Islay Malt.