Ardbeg “An Oa” (46.6%, OB, L69049, 2017)

I bought, reviewed and finished Corryvreckan and Uigeadail quite recently and was amazed by the quality you get for the price. Especially since these two are very, very good yet aren’t overpriced special releases. Ardbeg caters to that as well, but that’s another story entirely. No, these two are readily available core range bottlings. When An Oa came on offer, it was a no-brainer to get that one as well, it’s an Ardbeg after all! When freshly opened, whilst I was killing off both aforementioned Ardbeg’s, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s hard to come out of the shadows of both stronger ABV, NAS Whiskies. This doesn’t say much about An Oa though, but more about how good Corryvreckan and Uigeadail actually are.

An Oa is the latest, widely available, addition to the core range, together with the 10yo and the two I already mentioned several times already. So how did they blend An Oa together, what is its unique selling point, what makes it stand out? For An Oa, Pedro-Ximénez casks, heavily charred virgin oak casks and first-fill Bourbon barrels were used, married, and here comes the unique selling point, wait for it, married in a French oak vat in The gathering room at the distillery. Yes the gathering room. I’ll run that by you again, The gathering room. By the way, some suggest, other casks might have been used as well, maybe there even will be some batch variation over the years because of using different types of casks in the marrying process?

Color: Light sparkly gold.

Nose: Softly peaty and softly smoky. All very restrained and held back. Green. Hints of dried fish, ground coffee and tar, but also a fresher and fruitier note, almost citrussy. Dusty and soft. Good job again. Salty, cigarette smoke, powdered vanilla. Hmmm some chlorine even after it had some time to breathe. Spicy and cold, sweet vanilla pudding. Lots of typical Islay markers. Virgin oak yes, Vanilla notes from American oak yes, PX, on the nose, barely, not right now, the virgin oak is much stronger. PX? not so much when looking at the color of this Whisky. I really wonder about the PX though. What did or should it do for this Whisky? An Oa, again like the other NAS Ardbegs, doesn’t smell young or unfinished. It’s not very complex though. Nevertheless it does smell good.

Taste: Wood, paper and cardboard, mixed in with sweet licorice, tar and some ashes. Ashy toffee and almonds, does that make any sense? That right there is what this Whisky is all about. (Slightly bitter) wood, (sweet) licorice and (burnt toast) ashes. These three are omnipresent in this Whisky at any time. Again, very accessible, due to its sweeter side. More licorice even, oily, and a nice warm feeling going down. It tastes familiar. Even when this is a new expression is feels a bit like coming home. Warm and cozy. 46.6% ABV is nothing to worry about. It is enough, and works well for this expression. More wood notes emerge. Sappy fresh oak, not old dry planks. Does carry some woody bitterness towards the finish. Quite green and lively. Some raspberry and citrus notes. Some sort of brooding hidden fruitiness on the back of my tongue. This is from the PX. The finish is of medium length and there isn’t all that much happening in the aftertaste apart from some woody bitterness reminding me of…earwax. Here it shows its apparent youth. Its all in your face right from the start but it lacks in depth and experience older guys, I mean, Whiskies have. Very drinkable. I fear, this won’t last long on my ledger too. I sticked it in the back for a while, but that hardly helped…

What can I say, I’m a sucker for green glass bottles and I like the look as if it was made in the thirties. I love Ardbeg, even these modern ones. They are of high quality and very accessible. Just read back and see how good the Uigeadial and the Corryvreckan are. Laphroaig makes one expression especially for Whisky ‘fans’, the 10yo Cask Strength, made in annual batches. Ardbeg even makes two! Both are way less expensive and even more readily available than the Laphroaig is. Yes they don’t carry and age statement.

Alas, both have been finished already, but boy, do I miss them. When I’m on Islay time, I start out with Lagavulin 10yo which, compared to all the Ardbegs mentioned in this review, seems milky, and unfinished, young, new make-y. They must have used some pretty tired casks for that one I guess. The unusually low ABV of 43% (these days) doesn’t help either. Where the Ardbegs are accessible and just ‘right’, crash tested and approved, the newest young Lagavulins just are not. I’m definitely not a fan of the 10yo nor the 8yo, (but I am of the 12yo and the 16yo core range offerings). Oops, the 12yo is a special annual release. I do welcome the age statements on the 8yo and the 10yo (as well as on the Game of Thrones 9yo, and the Nick Offerman 11yo), but in this case I prefer the NAS Ardbegs and the trusty old Lagavulin 16yo and the 12yo Cask Strength over the 8yo and the 10yo. I have yet to try the 9yo and the 11yo.

Word always was that it’s hard to meet up with the demand for the 16yo, so are all these new and younger editions ways to lure some of us away from the 16yo, to keep it more visible? Wait a minute, is there really some sort of shortage of the 16yo? I see it everywhere, it’s never sold out, and I see them often on offer somewhere. Maybe another ploy to scare the consumer. Making him or she believe, it may sell out and not come back? A rumour always surrounding Talisker 10yo because of al the NAS offerings from Talisker released in the past few years.

This An Oa, because that is where this review is actually about, is a nice one. Its fun stuff. As said above, for me both the Uigeadial and Corryvreckan are just better and very hard to top. I just like higher ABV’s, but I also understand many of you don’t. Should it stand aside them? Nope, it shouldn’t. An Oa is made for different people than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are, but I do feel it does have a place right by the side of the 10yo, to offer another take, with a different composition and being a NAS.

Points: 84

Ardbeg “Uigeadail” (54.2%, OB, 2018, L70174)

My Ardbeg Corryvreckan from 2014 is almost empty, and it will be replaced by this Uigeadail from 2018. However, even before the Corryvreckan is finished, I already opened the Uigeadail, so I can taste them both Head-to-head. Well just for fun, because the Corryvreckan is almost empty, so it had time to breathe, and the Uigeadail is freshly opened and full. Not a truly fair comparison. I’ll compensate by taking my time. If you surf the interweb, and read about the standard Ardbegs, the Corryvreckan gets less love than Uigeadail. Uigeadail is some sort of favourite for fans of Ardbeg. Nevertheless, when I reviewed the Corryvreckan I scored it a hefty 89 points, and never regretted that score over time, when emptying the bottle. I love this (batch of) Corryvreckan. Where Corryvreckan is about ex-Bourbon casks and new French oak. Uigeadail is about ex-Bourbon casks and Sherry casks containing older Whisky than the aforementioned ex-Bourbon casks. Or so they say…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice soft and sweet peat and definitely some smoke rising from the bonfire (I found out later, bonfire is mentioned on the label). Bits of coal for good measure. Big aroma, perfectly balanced. In no way does this smell young or immature, remember this is a NAS bottling, right! Citrus and floral notes. Very fresh and working well with the peat ‘n smoke. The peat is fatty and brooding, but especially this peat reaches greater depths by the Sherry influence. I struggled a bit, at first, to “find” the Sherry, as I expected it to be far more upfront, maybe fruity and obvious, but in fact, it hid in plain sight, it hid in the shadows of peat, just shy of the gates of hell… uhmmmm… I got carried away a bit, sorry Auke. Nevermind, lets continue the review, shall we? Hints of forest floor late in autumn. Spicy, decaying wood, soft wood, but add to that a more meaty feel. Bacon is suggested by the label. I hate that. It indoctrinates the consumer, did I get bacon by myself or am I pushed that way? I can’t unsmell the bacon now, can’t I? Get it off the label, please Mickey, pretty please.

Next something that reminds me of crushed beetle (a ladybug actually, and yes, it was an accident). Yet also some licorice, and earwax on a breath of fresh air. Dry cocoa powder and salty, smoked bacon and more bonfire again. By the way, the label mentions treacle, something I don’t get on the nose. This just keeps evolving. Probably the influence of Sherry again. Hey, quite late to the mix some fresh oak, probably not virgin, but very upfront nevertheless. Even later in the mix some minute amounts of sweet ripe red fruit, of which raspberry is the most obvious to me. I say, excellent stuff again, just like the Corryvreckan. I hope all batches are this good, or did I get lucky again?

Taste: Ahhh, here is the treacle, and the peat and the smoke. Luckily the treacle is thin, making the entry not too sweet, although memories of old Demerara Rum, fly in and out of my head now, more than Sherry notes, although I do pick up some sultana’s, raisins. More liquorice and milk chocolate (liqueur). Burnt plastics and liquid bonfire. Luckily the label only uses three words “describing” this Whisky, which I can report are correct. Treacle wouldn’t have been one of my top three words, yet I understand why. Personally I might have gone for “Chocolate”, but it may be another word tomorrow, only human, y’know.

After tasting the Whisky, the smell gets more of those spices you smell around Christmas, as well as some kippers and creamy latex paint. Tastewise the odd plastic note remains, and in come some more youthful aroma’s hinting at young Whisky. Vanilla and salty butter. More smoke, but like an ashtray this time, mixed with liquorice notes. Sometimes some bitter woody notes, but not every time. Less balanced than the nose though. Fatty, but also with some acidity, splitting the Whisky a bit. The finish has medium length, with the return of the ashtray in the aftertaste. Nice long and warming aftertaste, better than the finish itself. Good stuff.

What an odd standard range. A TEN and two NAS bottlings. Beforehand, the difference seems to be the difference between Sherry casks and new French oak casks. Where one might say that one prefers the former, I have to say that in Corryvreckan the latter works very well. I really can’t say if that is true for all the batches that have been released, through the years, but my 2014 batch was very good indeed. If I was less adventurous, or have a shelf somewhere for bottles that I should have around all the time, both these NAS Ardbegs would be on there. Both wonderful Whiskies, well made, tasty and quite affordable as well.

Points: 87

H2H: Which of the two do you think is darker in color? Corryvreckan! Virgin oak is quite different from Sherry oak, and both nose differ as such. Uigeadail is dirtier and smokier, and saltier, and plastic-ier. Corryvreckan is more about American oak. More vanilla, creamier, very appetizing. Nose and taste alike. Both noses are great, but for me Corryvreckan has a very special side to it. I’m finishing the bottle right now (I saved the last bit for this review), but I’m really, really sad to see it go. Great one, and it certainly deserves my high mark, I mentioned above, both of these would get a place on my “always open shelf”, if I had one that is. I would recommend to have them both open at the same time. Both make the other one better, very different and that’s exactly why. One the main course and the other the perfect desert. I really have to look into a shelf like that!

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 new 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