Ardbeg “Corryvreckan” (57.1%, OB, 2014, L59815)

Well, here is an Ardbeg of which nothing is known, apart that it was first released in 2009, following up on Airigh Nam Beist, which ran from 2006 -2008. I won’t bore you with my take on the marketing jazz about Corryvreckan being a whirlpool. You can read about that on the box and on many sites across the interweb. Here the golden nugget from Ardbeg’s own site: “Corryvreckan takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay, where only the bravest souls dare to venture. Swirling aromas and torrents of deep, peaty, peppery taste lurk beneath the surface of this beautifully balanced dram”. Well, what can I add to that!

What I’d like to know is, how this Whisky came to be, and that is definitely more difficult to find out. Every bottling of Ardbeg has some sort of unique twist. Casks that were burnt to a crisp before using, or casks that were forgotten in a swamp, or casks that were kept in space for a while. The unique twist this time seems to that part of the Whisky was matured in French oak casks, (as opposed to the sole use of the immensely popular American oak). The rest of the Whisky was, of course, matured in first fill and refill American oak casks. American oak became so popular since it gives off a friendlier aroma of vanilla, making any liquor softer, creamier and more accessible. European oak, or French oak in this case, is less of the vanilla kind, but more about tannins. All the great Sherried Whiskies from yesteryear were matured in European oak Sherry butts and puncheons. Today the Sherry industry prefers American oak as well for reasons mentioned above. French oak is used a lot in the French Wine industry, so rumour has it, used Burgundy Wine casks were used for this Ardbeg as well. However we don’t know if they were virgin oak, first fill or not and what kind of Wine they contained (if any). A Chardonnay cask will result in a different Whisky, than a Pinot Noir cask…

Color: Full gold (no red or pink nuance though).

Nose: Very ashy and smoky right out of the gate. Licorice wood and sweet smoke. Garden bonfire. Sweet and soft peat. Citrussy, herbal and meaty. Crushed beetle and old tarry rope lying around in the sun. Fresh oak combined with some lemon (not the oil from the skin). Distant vanilla, but it is here. Ripe and sweet strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. More hints of red fruits and more promises of sweetness. Nice soft oak. Dusty. Very well made Ardbeg if it tastes as good as this smells, this will be a keeper!

Taste: Ashy again. Sweet, crushed beetle again, how odd. Big aroma, big body. Lots happening. Initially sweet but it is a good sweetness balanced out with sweet peat and dryness of the smoke. Definitely a type of fruitiness you don’t get from (Bourbon) oak alone, which would support the Wine cask claim. Fat peat and slightly tarry. Empty, off-season, fishing boat in the sun. Visions of an abandoned port. Not hot, only for a moment is shows some higher ABV, but I would have never guessed it is as much as 57.1% ABV. Well balanced, with only a medium, but decent, length. This is where it’s average age is noticeable.

Excellent standard bottling, and a damn good NAS as well, if I may say so. It can be done after all! I’m wondering which of the special releases, which are all more expensive, can beat this one? The 10yo is the entry-level Ardbeg and for me it has lost the most compared to the earlier tens since it has become way too sweet. I guess, that one has to appeal to a larger public, than this Corryvreckan and Uigeadail. I guess the latter are more for connoisseurs and anoraks like me and you. Now I will have to get me a new Uigeadail to compare it to this Corryvreckan. I have high hopes now…

Points: 89

Ardbeg 10yo “Ten” (46%, OB, 2012)

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.

Ardbeg TenColor: 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!

Points: 84

Ardbeg 10yo 1993/2004 (57.3%, Cadenhead, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 252 bottles)

Wow, unbelievable, this is just my second Ardbeg review on these pages! I have this distillery up there with the greats, so what happened? This is an Ardbeg from 1993 bottled by independent bottlers Cadenhead’s. This is most definitely not the first Cadenhead’s on these pages, no it’s actually already the tenth, so for more information about Cadenhead’s, please have a look at all the other reviews of Cadenhead’s bottlings.

Color: White wine.

Nose: Sweet and mellow peat. Smells older than it actually is. Very nice, refined and balanced. Vegetal. Lemon sherbet. Fatty and smoky. Definitely citrus fruits this one, and some tropical fruits too. Not an in-your-face Islay monster, but with a lot of Islay character. Freshly cut peat. After a wee bit of breathing, some butter emerges, and it picks up a bit in oomph. More oily and smoky, ans even the citrus (lemon) is more dominant. The peat on the other hand recedes even more. Breathing adds something fishy and some vanilla to the mix. Somewhat more sea influence.

Taste: Sweet, sweet and light young peat. The smoke comes later. Nice effect. Hardly any wood. Whereas the nose showed me some light (old) peat, on the palate this Whisky does show its youth. Just as in the nose, very restrained lively and fruity Ardbeg, again not a kick in the head. With some air and time, it even gets a wee bit floral and ashy and slightly more pungent.

The offset and the body are nice and full, or round, if you prefer. The tastes fit together and show a more elegant side of Ardbeg. Towards the finish it does start to break down a bit. I said a bit. For an Ardbeg the finish is rather short and again light at first, but breathing lengthens the finish (and adds a little woody bitterness, finally). Typical Islay, not typical Ardbeg is you ask me. Probably not a very active cask, since there isn’t any wood detectable, nor has it picked up a lot op color.  It reminds me of an Ardbeg Bond Reserve I still have, so I’ll review that shortly (also from Cadenhead’s).

Summa summarum, nice Ardbeg that needs to breathe!

Points: 86

Ardbeg 1999/2012 ‘Galileo’ (49%, OB, ex-Marsala and ex-Bourbon Casks, 15.000 bottles)

And here is Ardbeg. Last of the Islay whiskies to feature on Master Quill. The first Ardbeg is also the last one being released. Ardbeg Galileo. A Whisky that in part was matured in Marsala Casks.

Ok, two difficult words. Marsala? Galileo?

Marsala is a Sicilian red wine which mostly is sold for export as an fortified wine. Port and Sherry are also fortified wines. By the way, the Sicilians themselves drink it as… well a normal wine. We all know the Whisky market is booming, but the Sherry market isn’t. We also know that Sherry Butts and Puncheons made of european oak, are the best casks for maturing Whisky, and that good cask are getting scarse, because we, the consumer, don’t like Sherry too much. Sherry casks made of American wood, but foremost other casks, like Marsala, are used to see if they work.

Galileo Galilei was born on February 15th, 1564 and departed from this earth on the 8th of January, 1642. Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution [Wikipedia]. In the case of Ardbeg, Galileo was best known as an astronomer.

This bottling also commemorates the fact that Ardbeg is part of an Whisky experiment in space. On ISS some Ardbeg (and I guess it’s not the Galileo Whisky) in MixStixs are subject to experimentation on the topic of molecular maturation. (Can we mature whisky more quickly and thus make more money, by maturing it in space or at zero gravity? Or am I just being negative?)

Color: Reddish Gold

Nose: Obviously Peat and a lot of smoke. Non fishy, yet clean and almost industial smelling peat. Winey and wine related ash. Flowery and fresh wall paint. Sweet caramels, dried apricots and a hint of peaches on syrup.

Taste: Sweet. Ashy again. Wood and winey and a quick sour note. A little bit of liquorice and foffee. It actually tastes the same as it smells. Strange unbalanced soury finish with the cold contents of an ashtray and some mint lateron. There is not a lot happening in the finish. Astonishingly simple and short. The wine brings a sort of sourness that is all over the palate and isn’t doing the probably standard bourbon casked Ardbeg any good.

I hate to say it, but aren’t “Ardbeg” putting more money into marketing than in the actual Whisky? Don’t get me wrong, I love Ardbeg, just look at my top 25. Alas, this isn’t my Ardbeg anymore. It became some kind of hype, a brand, a handbag. It’s not bad, but I’m gonna pass on this. It makes my head spin.

I haven’t had any Marsala on it’s own yet, but tasting this Ardbeg, Marsala should be closer to Port than it is to Sherry. When using Marsala casks, don’t overdo it please!

Points: 82