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Ardbeg is the third distillery, after Laphroaig and Lagavulin, on the road east from Port Ellen. For almost a decade, the distilleries house style has been represented by three single malts of exceptional quality: the 10 year old, the ‘Uigeadail’ and the ‘Corryvreckan‘ but in June 2017 there came an announcement that this core range was to be added to with the release of ‘An Oa’.
The new release is created by taking whisky matured in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, Virgin Oak casks and Ex-Bourbon barrels and ‘marrying’ them in the distilleries gathering vat, allowing each component to come together to create a more harmonious dram. The name comes from the Mull of Oa, the headland which shields Ardbeg from the worst of the Atlantic weather, famed also, as the location of the American Monument…
The Monument was erected in 1920 by the American Red Cross to commemorate two tragic events that took place off Islay during the first World War. On the 5th of February 1918 a passenger liner called the Tuscania was sailing from New Jersey to the coast of France with 2000 soldiers when they were torpedoed by a German U-Boat, resulting in the loss of some 230 lives off the Mull of Oa. Just six months later, the HMS Otranto was carrying troops from New York to Glasgow when it collided with a steamship in a storm off Machir Bay on Islay’s west coast. 400 people lost their lives, many of whom are now buried at the military cemetery at Kilchoman. The monument to these lost souls was designed by architect Robert Walker to represent a lighthouse and has stood proudly saluting the men of the Otranto and the Tuscania for almost 100 years.
Smell: Fruitier than its brethren: Lemon, Orange and Cranberry with a touch of Caramel, Honey and some Milk Chocolate. The familiar Ardbeg notes of Smoke, Ash and Tar are present but mellower than the rest of the core range. Malty notes come over time and there’s a note of what I could swear is playdough.
Taste: Fruity again – Citrus and Berries, Chocolate and Toffee, Creamy with a touch of Chilli and Pepper. Again the Ardbeg smoke is present but never dominates.
Value for Money: I can see myself falling in love with this dram. It’s less in-your-face than the others, but that’s sort of the point.. It’s a new twist on Ardbeg and is worth every penny of it’s £50 price tag.
Ardbeg have managed to offer something pretty different while retaining the brands in-house identity. Not always an easy thing to do. With their 10 year old, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan expressions, Ardbeg had as good a core range as anyone in the industry. Now, with An Oa there’s been no drop in standard whatsoever and if anything, they’ve raised the bar even further.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.