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.
The Ardbeg distillery was founded back in 1815 by one John McDougall, but it’s long life has not been without problems. When production ceased altogether in 1996 it looked for all the world that Ardbeg’s story was at an end but just one year later, Glenmorangie PLC took over the running of the site and breathed new life into the Ardbeg stills. The company have since invested heavily in the distillery and introduced a new wood policy which saw the acquisition of better casks with which to do justice to this once legendary Islay whisky.
Ardbeg sits on Islay’s Kildalton coast near Port Ellen – a town founded by Walter Frederick Campbell. Campbell was an ‘improving laird’, that is, a landowner who made great changes to his estate, not just for his own benefit but for the benefit of his tenants and local businesses. Walter Frederick and his grandfather (also Walter), established much of Islay as we know it today.
Walter Campbell became laird in 1777, inheriting the title from his brother Daniel. He created new roads and transport links and constructed new quays to aid the fishing industry. When his grandson, Walter Frederick took the title in 1816 he began to reshape much of the island, creating Port Ellen in 1821, which he named for his wife Eleanor. He followed this in 1828 with Port Charlotte (after his mother) and later, Port Wemyss named in honour of Eleanor’s father, the Earl of Wemyss. Campbell was a great supporter of the commercial development of the island’s distilling industry and persuaded John McDougall to apply for his license to distill at Ardbeg.
Today Ardbeg is a global success, inspiring fanatical devotion amongst whisky connoisseurs everywhere. Frequent special releases with extravagant names tempt collectors, while the relatively small core range is as good as you will find from any distiller. As an entry point, the 10 year old, bottled at 46% abv, is a fine place to start…
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 – even reminds me a little of Custard Cream biscuits. On the palate there’s Citrus Orange, Salted Caramel, Vanilla, a little Coffee and waves of Tobacco Smoke.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: A nose that could only come from Islay. Big, big smoke.
Taste: A thoroughly enjoyable mix of creamy vanilla, light citrus and earthy, medicinal peat smoke.
Value for Money: Usually comes in around £40 – £45. More than some other 10 year old malts but it’s bottled at 46% and un-chill-filtered, so worth a little more in my eyes.
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, this is an absolute must have.