The following originally appeared on Whiskyhost on February 22, 2010:
Last month the Single Malt Whisky Society of the Palouse (SMWSP) tasted five 30 Year Olds. It was a great meeting and the type of thing you can tell your non-whisky drinking friends about and have them "ooh" and "ah" over. However, I think most members of the society were really looking forward to this tasting. Like most peat freaks, I've been a fan of Ardbeg for a long time. However, since the distillery came under the care of Glenmorangie Plc (and now Moet Hennessy) there have been more and more named releases and fewer and fewer aged releases (this isn't surprising since Ardbeg was mothballed in 1981, reopened but run at half capacity in 1989, before being returned to full capacity in 1997). Over the last two or three years I've found it difficult to keep track of what's actually in the bottle (although the marketing names are unforgettable - as well as close to unpronounceable) but this meeting helped set me straight!
Sincere thanks to Tim of The Ardbeg Project for suggesting the title. As always, these tasting notes represent the thoughts and comments of all the society members.
Ardbeg 10 Year Old, 46% ABV
The standard 10 Year Old is the third oldest whisky being tasted here. I think it's a wee bit pricey at $45-50 a bottle but you can't argue with their choice of ABV.
C: Pinot Grigot
N: Sweet peat smoke, slight brinyness, fresh cracked black pepper, fire roasted marshmallows, suggestion of toffee in the very back
P: Salt and pepper, newly fitted car tire, clean smoke, starting to get spicy
F: Soft, sweet smoke remains, as does the pepper, citrus rind and kumquat are also in attendance
Overall: Kudos to any distiller who's entry whisky is 46% and non-chill filtered.
Ardbeg Arigh Nam Beist, 18 Year Old, 46% ABV
When the good people at Ardbeg 'found' a bunch of casks from 1990 the decision was taken to release them over a few years. The first round of bottlings were released as 16 Year Olds. Then came the 17 and 18 Year Olds. Arigh Nam Beist has now been discontinued by Ardbeg and replaced by Corryvreckan (up next).
C: Olive oil
N: Harbor after a rain shower, quite buttery, vanilla bean, hint of toffee, fresh orange zest
P: Toffee on the front, salty with bitter walnut and ginger in the middle, juicy black cherry and a citrus note on the end
F: Moderate and sweet, the peat smoke is there as mesquite barbecue, butterscotch notes conclude the toffee theme
Overall: Pleasant but too much of a reserved old lady for my tastes. My society members tended to agree with me on this one (which is very unlike them!).
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, NAS, 57.1% ABV
Released in September 2009 after a successful Committee bottling, John Hansell recently named this the Malt Advocate Whisky of the Year. Many people like the inclusion of French oak, beyond your usual American and European oak, in the aging of this spirit and believe it lends a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to the final release.
C: Light copper
N: Caramel, clean rubber tires, fennel, warm chili chocolate
P: Dark Mexican mole, ripe black cherries, kalamata olives (had this in mind after reading John's notes), diesel (the liquid rather than the fumes)
F: Cinnamon with lots of black pepper in the back of the throat
Overall: A great bottling that is very drinkable given it's ABV. The combination of dark fruits, chili, and cinnamon makes my mouth water just thinking about it. This one's only expected to be around for three years so get it while you can!
Ardbeg Uigeadail, NAS, 54.2% ABV
First released in 2003 this is a vatting of bourbon and sherry casks (and it shows in the color). No official word on the lifespan but I can't imagine "Oogie" will be with us much longer. Has it really been with us nearly seven years?
N: Buttery, apricots, molasses, suggestion of the inside of a dishwashing glove as well as warm milk notes (as one taster remarked, "but it's not milk from the fridge warmed on the stove, it's warm milk, straight from the udder")
P: More apricots, cinnamon and anise, Gruyère in the very back
F: Burnt coffee and menthol cigarettes
Overall: Whisky drinkers are a weird bunch. Looking at these notes any sane person would hide from this whisky if it showed up at the front door. Members of the SMWSP would invite it in, make it a cup of coffee, and then try and have their way with it. Yes, this was the runaway success of the night!
Ardbeg Supernova, NAS, 58.9% ABV
Another Committee bottling that turned in to a very successful regular release. No word yet on whether this is a one-off, a semi-regular thing, or a new addition to the line. Peated to 100ppm (the Octomore we tasted in December was 140ppm but 'normal' Ardbeg and Laphroaig levels are around 50ppm). Seemed like a novelty item when tasted among this evening's other whiskies. Spending $130 on a cask strength, no age statement whisky strikes some individuals as a bit silly...
N: Passion fruit, saline, lemon cleaning solution, "wet wood burning on a fire next to the ocean," inside of a clean milk bottle, and a bit of cashew. Should also mention there are the obvious cigarette ash, burnt tire, abundance of smoke qualities that you'd expect with a 100ppm whisky.
P: Tobacco (like licking the inside of a chimney), post coital cigarette, and monkey nuts on steroids!
F: Very drying with elements of blood orange and licorice
Overall: Good but not great. Didn't stand up next to the Uigeadail or Corryreckan, although three members voted this their favorite of the bunch. Tasting it at the distillery remains one of my favorite whisky memories.