Ah, island time…unhurried, palm trees swaying in soft tropical breezes, white sandy beaches, fruity drinks with little umbrellas…(hold up there, where are we?) Oh, sorry…wrong island! You’ll forgive that this California girl has been to Hawaii, but never to Islay (although I really do want to go there someday). But you’re right, it’s Islay time we want to focus on (still unhurried), and the Ardbeg distillery in particular. Why Ardbeg? Well, Ardbeg Day was last weekend, and I had a chance to savor an excellent Ardbeg Day sample lineup courtesy of Lauren Petka of The Baddish Group.
Officially founded in 1815 (though whisky was distilled there before that), Ardbeg was at one time the largest distillery on Islay. Now it’s the second smallest, but it’s popularity is booming thanks to its quintessential representation of that great Islay whisky characteristic…peat. As one of the most heavily peated spirits from Islay, the Ardbeg line is bold and challenging, yet there are different levels fruity, spicy, and sweet overtones that set the various offerings apart from just being peat monsters. [Side note: I discuss peat in scotch in Where there’s smoke there’s…PEAT!, so I won’t beat you over the head with it here (thanks for that!).] As a result, Ardbeg expressions have layers and layers of aromas and flavors to experience and enjoy. This year the aforementioned Ardbeg Day celebrated the “village of Peat & Love” (see their cute movie) with a limited release of Ardbeg Grooves which I was fortunate enough to sample (thanks, Lauren!).
Ok, let’s set aside any more ado and get to the tasting notes! (yes, let’s!)
Ardbeg Day Sample Lineup
- Nose: beachy mist, light driftwood smoke, a hint of caramel
- Taste: sharp, smokiness, medium body, immediate burn with white pepper, seaweed
- Finish: smoke lingers a long time, menthol at the end, warmth in the back of the throat is pleasant
- Comments: grabs the tongue and holds on, great intro to the Islay smoke…no holds barred
- Nose: sweet sea grass, cream, soft smoke down the beach, cereal grains
- Taste: soft entrance, white pepper rises with embers and ashes, medium body
- Finish: creamy sweetness returns with the smokiness holding on, fades very slowly
- Comments: fills the mouth with beach bonfire, savor the long sweet & smoky finish; with water the pepper is tamed to reveal seawater brine and a softer smokiness, fades a little faster
- Nose: soft beach smoke, light herbal, ocean breeze
- Taste: sharp hit of ash, sulfur rises quickly, lighter in body
- Finish: fades to eucalyptus leaves and a whiff of seawater brine, the smoke hangs on and on
- Comments: all smoke and ash, echoes the rise and fall of the tides; with water the ashes and matches flavor intensifies, then the menthol and smoke peek out and stay for a while
Ardbeg An Oa
- Nose: mint and brine, sweet caramel candy, light clover honey
- Taste: soft entry, sweet honey leads to brine and smoke, light to medium body
- Finish: smoke stays long after the sweetness fades, then the mint comes back and stays a while
- Comments: a nice balance between sweetness and smoke, doesn’t hit you over the head but enters easily, really lovely!
- Nose: clover honey, oak, light smoke and ocean breezes
- Taste: matches and ashes, more smoke than brine, oak sweetness and a little vanilla peeks out
- Finish: sulphur and sweetness
- Comments: nicely balanced, more smoky than An Oa, but still sweet and ashy; with water, just enhances the sweet smoke. Quite excellent!
This is a really good lineup…the An Oa & Grooves shine, while the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan show Islay peat well. Hopefully I’ll get to visit Islay one day and savor a sip on Islay time, but until then I’ll let the scotch transport me there!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!