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Ardbeg is the third Islay distillery, after Laphroaig and Lagavulin, on the road east from Port Ellen. For almost a decade, the distillery’s house style has been represented by three core bottlings of excellent quality: the 10 year old, the ‘Uigeadail’ and the ‘Corryvreckan‘. In June 2017, however, there came an announcement that this core range was to be bolstered with the addition 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 distillery’s gathering vat. The name comes from the Mull of Oa, the headland that shields Ardbeg from the worst of the Atlantic weather. Located at the south-west of Islay, the Oa is home to the American Monument, erected in 1920 by the American Red Cross to commemorate two tragic events that took place off Islay during the first World War.
Tragedy at sea
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. The hit resulted in the loss of 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 victims of the Otranto and the Tuscania for 100 years.
Smell: Fruitier than the rest of the range. 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.
Thoughts: I could see myself really falling for this dram. It’s less in-your-face than other Ardbegs but that’s sort of the point. It’s a new twist on the style. It retains the distillery’s house style but differs enough from the other expressions as to make it worth paying £50. Not as peaty as the 10 but by no means is it gentle. It is an Islay dram without a doubt. With their 10 year old, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan expressions, Ardbeg had as good a core range as anyone in the industry. They’ve managed to add to that without dropping the standard.
*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.