Earlier we had another Ardbeg 10yo, but that one was bottled by independent bottler, Cadenhead. Here we have an official 10yo bottled by the distillery itself. I wonder which one will be best. More than “ten” years ago I had another official “ten” on my lectern, and I liked that one very much. Rumour has it however, that the current “ten”, or those of the last few years, are significantly different. More sweet and accessible and less oomph, just like the road taken by Laphroaig. Together with Lagavulin, those were always the heavy hitters from the south shore of Islay. Today it’s Bruichladdich (once unpeated), that makes the peatiest of Whiskies on Islay with Port Charlotte and the Octomore monster.
Color: White Wine.
Nose: Well peat first, but is seems to me a very accessible, creamy and fresh, almost citrussy peat. No big oomph, but almost elegant peat. It behaves like a good kid. Reliable. It smells like a very luxury Ardbeg now, since it also has some lovely floral notes with well hidden sweet barley. Wet earth, nice smoke, yet no real barley nor wood. Only of you really want it, you can detect some soft wood. Smelling this for a while, it still does remind me of an Ardbeg, so it hasn’t lost its identity (yet), and I hope it never will.
Taste: It really is the sweetness that first hits you. No crisp dry peaty and smoky dram. It’s peat lemonade. First impression. Yup, in business to sell a brand, and to win over lots of people you don’t want to scare away. Yeah, wonderful. Another sip. I want to taste what comes after the sweetness, but it is so distracting. Lets try again. Sweet yes, we’ve covered that, but what else. Toffee, citrus freshness, lemon curd and vanilla pudding. Almonds, fresh and lightly roasted. Luckily the acidity is just right for this profile. Nutty, yes, but not a lot. What else? This fruity peat, not waxy. It starts sweet, so it takes some time to get the rest, but also the body as not that long, nor is the finish. It does have a warming and likeable aftertaste. A bit thin but fruity nevertheless. Only in the aftertaste I recognize to Ardbeg form not so long ago.
From the smell alone, this is not the Ardbeg 10yo, or “Ten” as it’s officially called, I remember from ten years ago. I don’t think my palate has gone to ruins, because I can still recognize heavy hitting drams that are out there, but this Ardbeg isn’t one of them anymore. But it’s not Ardbeg alone. All the big boys from the past seem to have less oomph these days. Don’t get me started on Laphroaig for that matter. Laphroaig today has nothing to do with the Laphroaig that got me into peated single malt Whisky in the first place. The export strength “10yo” and the “Cask Strength” (green stripe). Those days seem to be gone for good.
So I already feel lots of protests, as if I’m disliking this classic Ardbeg 10yo. That’s not true. This is still very likeable, and still a good dram. If you like your peat but you’re not into heavy peat, than this is for you. It shows quality, and worth your money. It isn’t all that expensive. Good dram.
The problem here is that I know, and have, older bottlings of the Ardbeg “Ten”, so for me comparison in inevitable, and going down that road, well, there is no other conclusion. It has changed a lot. It used to be a crisp, dry and clean heavily peated malt, almost a real young masterpiece, nicely battling it out on the store shelves with Laphroaig 10yo, which had a much longer history. Both having avid fans defending it with their lives. Not me, I loved them both, just like The Beatles and the Stones. This Ardbeg is not that Ardbeg anymore, but today’s Laphroaig most certainly isn’t that Laphroaig anymore too, just like The Stones really. I kid you, but the real problem is that I can’t come up with a real alternative if you want the old heavily peated Ardbeg or Laphroaig back, so I have really high hopes for the new 8yo Lagavulin!