Ardbeg Day 2019
By Eric Schmalz - May 29, 2019
Every year, stages are set, distilleries throw wide their doors, and thousands of music and whiskey fans flock to the little island of Islay, in the southwest of Scotland, for the Feis Ile festival. A celebration of culture and whiskey through great music, camaraderie and tastings galore, the Feis Ile festival is a fantastic time for scotch whiskey lovers, not to mention a great opportunity to procure special bottlings.
While I would like to be able to take an in-depth look at all the festival has to offer and every special release that is available, sadly, there are only a few selections that make it off the island. One such release comes at the close every year, sending another Feis Ile into the history books.
Taking place the last day of the festival, Ardbeg Day is a huge event to close out the experience with a bang, which marks the release of their yearly special edition bottling. Each year is different, exploring different types of casks, char levels, sea aged wood and more. This year, Ardbeg is heading to the Caribbean with the launch of Drum, a traditional Ardbeg whiskey finished in rum casks.
In honor of this event, I wanted to do something special by reviewing the core of Ardbeg offerings (the Ten Year, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan), examining some previous special releases to explore years past, and giving a glimpse of what Ardbeg Drum has to offer.
Ardbeg Ten, Uigeadail, Drum Committee Release, Corryvreckan, Dark Cove. Ardbog not pictured (image via Ray's Wine and Spirits)
The classic, baseline Ardbeg Spirit, 46% ABV.
Nose - A sweet, malty peat. There is tobacco and ash smoke backed up by clove spice. Alongside this is an aged, paper dryness and slight leather. Some vanilla and apple come up after resting.
Palate - Dried leaves and herbal peat smoke, with a slight rubber note. Honey, pear, apple and vanilla are there under the peat. Some spice bite brings pepper and pine notes on the back of the palate. Throughout it is quite dry, giving it a slight astringent effect.
Finish - The spice lingers for a while in the mouth. Not much of the smoke carries through and leaves the same malty sweetness from the nose along with the spice.
Overall: 6.5/10 Very Good
Ex-Bourbon and ex-Oloroso Sherry matured, 54.2% ABV.
Nose - Leads with muffled peat smoke and rubber. There is a hint of caramelized raisins, plums and citrus. The backbone of the nose is a rich, roasted nuttiness with almonds, peanuts and walnuts.
Palate - Tobacco leads the palate along with a sharp, salted peanut note. There is a wide swath of peat smoke and a citrus rind sharpness, with a sweetness from flavors of caramel, toasted marshmallow and cocoa.
Finish - Sweet and salty. It reminds me of having good barbeque with the smoke and citrus mingling while having the same caramel sweetness behind. It delivers a lingering warmth without leaving an ash taste.
Overall: 7/10 Great
Classic Ardbeg malt, bottled at an intense 57.1% ABV.
Nose - A big wave of peat attacks the nose right away. Resting brings out a seaweed salt and a yeasty bread character. The peat on this is definitely more medicinal than the Ten or Uigeadail. There is a slight lemon, orange and anise spice in the background.
Palate - The medicinal character from the nose is not present but the peat is simply smoke. There is a similarity with Uigeadail in a meaty tone, but only smoked-, not barbeque-sweet. Clove and anise spice are present along with vanilla sweetness and a light citrus. For as high alcohol as this is, I don’t get any overwhelming ethanol notes or bite.
Finish - Warming and long. The alcohol doesn’t show here either. A fresh ocean breeze, lemon, orange and vanilla. The peat calms down here and doesn’t dominate.
Overall: 7.5/10 Great
Released on Ardbeg Day 2013, this special edition is a vatting of 10-year-old ex-Bourbon matured and ex-Manzanilla cask matured malt, bottled at 52.1% ABV.
Nose - Very prominent cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and all spice. With notes of cherries, raspberries and raisins, this is a red fruit field. There is an underlying funk that I would assume comes from the Manzanilla sherry influence. The peat is way in the background in this selection, acting more as a supporting influence than a dominant one.
Palate - A nuttiness leads along with a hefty peppery spice. This spice dulls into tobacco, cinnamon, brown sugar and nutmeg. The smoke creeps up and sweeps the mouth. The dryness from the base malt is there and, combined with the spice, leaves me reaching for water.
Finish - The red fruit returns but doesn't penetrate the spice. It reminds me of cinnamon raisin bread, spiced fruit cake and even a cigar shop. The same funk from the nose is there as well but is a bit more meaty than the nose.
Overall: 9/10 Incredible
Ardbeg Dark Cove
Released on Ardbeg Day 2016, this special edition bottling is matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon and “dark Sherry” casks and is bottled at 46.5% ABV.
Nose - Rich and savory with a hint of sulphur funk. There is a cocoa wave followed by spices, cinnamon, anise and nutmeg. Dry oak lingers in the background along with almond and boiled peanuts. The peat is reserved, cut through by the Sherry influence.
Palate - Sweet, initially with cherries, plums, brown sugar and baker’s chocolate. Cinnamon, cardamom and anise spices dominate the mid-palate. Then a vegetal peat smoke, pine and cedar wood, campfire ash and moss.
Finish - The Sherry dissipates mostly, with only lingering notes of almonds and a slight sweetness. Toasted pine nuts under a smoke blanket; cinnamon tickles the tongue finishing with a wood bite.
Overall: 7.5/10 Great
Ardbeg Drum Committee Release
Released only to the Ardbeg Committee a few months prior to the regular release on Ardbeg Day, more information found here. The 2019 limited edition Ardbeg Drum is initially aged in ex-Bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-Rum casks. The committee edition is bottled at 52% ABV.
Nose - Sweet right away. Brown sugar, toffee and bananas are very prominent from the Rum finish. There is some rubber and iodine from both the peat and Rum coming together. Lemon, vanilla and fresh pine brings up the back end.
Palate - Pine right away, along with some cinnamon and cloves. Lemon, pear, pineapple and peaches are all very vibrant. A soft, malty vanilla sponge cake sweetness cradles the fruits. There is almost a Sauvignon Blanc crispness coming through. The peat is very reserved, only peaking through the sweet fruits.
Finish - The pine holds through along with some smoke finally appearing. The malty sweetness and pineapple are the stars, leaving a refreshing taste.
Overall: 9.5/10 Incredible
While each Ardbeg release is different, I hope this has given a little perspective on what to expect when diving into just what this distiller can offer. Make sure to raise a glass this Ardbeg Day, June 1st, 2019, and keep an eye out for their regular release of Rum cask-finished Ardbeg Drum. Cheers!
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