A couple of weeks back I reviewed the 200th anniversary bottling of Lagavulin and it occurred to me at the time that I had yet to review anything from their neighbour on Islay’s south coast – Ardbeg.
Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John McDougall, however it has been closed or ‘mothballed’ more than once in it’s lifetime. The most recent of these closures was in 1996 and things looked bleak for the distillery and the local community before Glenmorangie stepped in the next year and took over. They have since invested heavily in the distillery itself and in casks with which to properly mature and do justice to this legendary whisky.
Ardbeg sits on Islay’s Kildalton coast near Port Ellen – a town founded by Walter Frederick Campbell, known as an ‘improving laird’. These were landowners who made great changes to their estates, improving things not just for themselves but for their tenants and for local industries. Walter Frederick and his grandfather Walter established much of Islay as we know it today.
Walter Campbell became laird in 1777, inheriting the title from his brother Daniel. Walter created and improved roads and transport links and he constructed new quays in order to improve the fishing industry. When his grandson, Walter Frederick took the title in 1816 he began to reshape much of the island and in 1821 he created Port Ellen – named after his wife Eleanor. Then, in 1828 he founded Port Charlotte, named after his mother and later, Port Wemyss named in tribute to Eleanor’s father, the Earl of Wemyss. In addition to this Walter Frederick was a great supporter of the commercial development of the island’s distilling industry and it was he who persuaded John McDougall to apply for a license to legally distill at Ardbeg.
Today Ardbeg is a worldwide success, with some fanatical devotion amongst whisky drinkers and obsessive collectors alike. There are frequent special releases with extravagant names including Provenance, Supernova, Alligator, Gallileo, Ardbog and Auriverdes… The main core (or ‘Ultimate’) range is made up of the 10 year old, The Uigeadail and The Corryvreckan – all of which are excellent drams. For today though we’ll be focusing on the 10…
Being an Islay whisky the nose is a bombardment of Smoke and Ash at first but after you become accustomed to it, notes of Vanilla, Lemon and Barley come through – reminds me a little of Custard Cream biscuits actually. On the palate there’s some Citrus Orange, Salted Caramel, Vanilla, a little Coffee and Tobacco Smoke.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 18.5 / 20. A nose that could only come from Islay. Big, big smoke.
Taste: 17.5 / 20. A thoroughly enjoyable mix of creamy vanilla, light citrus and earthy, medicinal peat smoke.
Value for Money: 9 / 10. Usually comes in around £40 – £45. More than some other 10 year old malts but on the other hand it’s been bottled at 46% and hasn’t been chill-filtered – making it better value than some of it’s competitors.
Overall: 45 / 50. Ardbeg is not for the faint hearted. It’s big and it’s bold but for those that like their whisky smokey the ten year old is a must.