Ardbeg is an Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky brand located on the island of Islay and renowned for its complex but smoky flavors.
The distillery of the same name dates back to 1815, when it was first licensed, although it operated for several decades unlicensed before that. For much of the next two centuries, Ardbeg focused primarily on producing components for blended whiskies. But like many of Scotland’s storied distilleries, Ardbeg reduced and ultimately stopped production in the 1980’s, and remained (essentially) closed until Glenmorangie purchased and reopened the distillery in the late 1990’s. Since its reopening, the distillery now focuses on Single Malt Whisky.
Over the last decade, Ardbeg has released some globally recognized amazing whiskies. It has claimed “World Whisky of the Year” four times since it reopened. And that was not from a single product. Check out the various awards listed on Ardbeg’s website here.
In 2012, Ardbeg introduced a global “Ardbeg Day” to occur annually on June 2nd in conjunction with Islay’s early summer “Fèis Ìle,” the Islay festival of music and malt whisky. Those local can attend the various Fèis Ìle festivities around the island. But Ardbeg has expanded Ardbeg Day events to occur around the world.
Each year, Ardbeg releases a limited edition whiskey, released at two different proofs: a 46% general release done in conjunction with Fèis Ìle/Ardbeg Day, and a higher proof “Committee” release of the same whisky that is available before the Fèis Ìle release (Ardbeg’s “Committee” is the distilleries “fan club”). This year’s release is the Ardbeg Grooves, and we hope to bring you a review of that soon.
In the meantime, we wanted to help celebrate Ardbeg Day by providing our reviews of a few of the more readily available Ardbegs, along with last year’s Fèis Ìle release, the Ardbeg Kelpie.
[Author’s Note: Lee Bullock and I sat down recently to give these bottles a review. Our combined tasting notes are below. Those not familiar with Ardbeg and many of the other Islay Scotches may not recognize that each of these is perceived as very smoky, with each being a fairly heavily peated whisky. Our notes may unintentionally downplay the peatiness because we can look beyond it and find the more subtle flavors behind the smoke. If smoke is foreign or offensive to you, these may be ones you want to sample first from a bar or from a friend’s bottle.]
Ardbeg An Oa (93.2 Proof) (NAS) (Non-Chill Filtered)
[This is Ardbeg’s most recent addition to the continuous release “Ultimate Range” with the 10 Year, Uigeadail and Correyvreken. This is a whisky aged in various casks types including Pedro Ximinez sherry casks, virgin charred oak casks, and ex-bourbon casks, among others.]
Nose: Ocean, sea salt and sandy beach; sweet ripe melon (including cantaloupe) and citrus; honey; vanilla; not overpowering peat but certainly some smoke present. Not overly complex or old, but solid flavors. (3.5/5)
Palate: This palate hits in three distinct phases. First, vanilla simple syrup and milk chocolate sweetness hits. Then it dissipates and melon and salted caramel develop. That subsides and additional spice, oak, honeydew and cantaloupe arise. Not overly thick or complex, but again satisfying. (3/5)
Finish: Smokey char (almost tar) without a ton of peat flavor; light sherry sweetness; lingering band-aid (common in many Islay Scotches) that drops the finish score; briny. (2.5/5)
Overall: There is really nothing to be displeased about here overall, although we could nitpick some individual flavors. And you can tell this NAS whisky is not very old. Notwithstanding, this is just all around satisfying and a great introductory Ardbeg. (3/5)
Value: We picked this locally at $50, and we would do it again. (3/5)
Ardbeg Ten Year (92 Proof) (10 Year) (Non-Chill Filtered)
Nose: Musty oak; ocean breeze; citrus; melon (including honeydew); almond extract; overripe berry; smoke; plastic; creosote (think of the smell of treated lumber). (3/5)
Palate: Thick; briny; vanilla/caramel; salted mocha and coffee bean; apple skins; melon rind; peat smoke, with softer plastic notes. (3.5/5)
Finish: Rich and lingering; a crescendo of fruit flavor including apple skin and dark fruit; brine and faint smoke; sweet cigar and heavy cigar ash. (3.5/5)
Overall: A good balance of oak and peat. (3.5/5)
Value: We were both more than satisfied with this pour at $45. (4/5)
Ardbeg Kelpie (92 Proof) (NAS) (Non-Chill Filtered)
[This is the 2017 Ardbeg Day release. It is produced using virgin casks from near the Black Sea.]
Nose: Unique, as the impact of the oak from near the Black Sea is different than anything we have ever tried. Musty and funky, like old boot, earth and mushroom; life of the ocean, like seaweed and shellfish; bike tire; pear and apple; dark fruit leather; chocolate; some rock salt hidden in the background. We imagine this is either a love it or hate it nose. (4/5)
Palate: Oily. Tartness (apple and sweet tart candy); seaweed and seawater; vanilla simple syrup; toffee and caramel; richer, charcoaly peat; apple juice. (3.5/5)
Finish: Short-medium but delightfully fading; vanilla; smoke with some of the same bike tire smoke from the nose. Oily and briny. Overall, just a bit too short. (2.5/5)
Overall: We did enjoy this, but not quite as much as the Ardbeg 10 Year. (3.5/5)
Value: For $120, we both wanted so much more out of this. We don’t hate it, but with fantastic other products like Ardbeg 10 that have much in common but priced as low as $45, we just don’t recommend this as a satisfactory value. (2/5)
Ardbeg Uigeadail (108.4 Proof) (NAS)
[Initially released in 2003, Uigeadail is bottled at cask strength from whisky aged in used bourbon and sherry barrels. It is a continuous release product.]
Nose: Rich, complex sherry upfront; vanilla; oak; honey; light citrus; pineapple, melon and other tropical fruit; peat and smoke that you have to search for; light brine. (3.5/5)
Palate: Vanilla; graham cracker; chocolate; artisanal salted caramel that hits about halfway though; raspberry, bing cherry, and sherry fruit; peat on the back end. Delicious. (4.5/5)
Finish: Mocha coffee with salted caramel; peat; brine; lingering raspberry and bing cherry that is tart and gritty. (4/5)
Overall: The Uigeadail is solid from start to finish. While the sherry notes are more subtle than some other sherry cask Scotches, it brings out complexity and flavor to this Ardbeg that are just delicious. (4/5)
Value: At around $70-$80, this is more than satisfying. We would buy this all day. (4/5).
Ardbeg Correyvreken (114.2 Proof) (NAS)
Nose: Demerara sugar; orange zest; caramel (almost butterscotch); sea air that tingles your nose; mocha coffee, with come caramel and vanilla syrup. Brine, peat and seaweed are subtle. The higher proof is discernible. (3/5)
Palate: Sweet, like straight caramel; then some saltiness; honeydew melon; vanilla; plastic/light peat; caramel apple. Again, amazing. (4.5/5)
Finish: Long, long finish; smoke, vanilla; apple; melon; caramel; drying chocolate; cinnamon. (4.5/5)
Overall: We can’t say anything bad about this. Delicious, and our favorite Ardbeg of the bunch. (4/5)
Value: We see this priced generally $10 more than Uigeadail, and we will rate it is such. But I should note that we found this for $65 and I don’t think we could be more satisfied at that price. But at retail, this is more than satisfying. (4/5)
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.