Ardbeg is a distillery located on the south-east side of Isaly off the west coast of Scotland. This heavily peated whisky got its start in 1851 and tonight the Malt Nuts are going to drink through 13 drams of Ardbeg.
To celebrate the 1,000 bottle of Scottish single malt whisky being tasted at Malt Nuts we decided to do a tribute to two of our group’s favorite distilleries: Ardbeg and Highland Park. Both have a focus on Indies, but since indie Ardbeg is even harder to come by than indie Highland Park aged 20+ years some OBs were added to this first round. Though, as usual, none of us knew that because we were drinking blind.
Also, as usual, the Malt Nut Czar Barry was the only one who knew exactly what was in the lineup till the reveal. Which is the best way to do it honestly; here’s how the rounds ended up coming together.
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg
- Two 10s vs a Compass Box
- Two cask strength Indies vs Big Smoke
- SMWS vs Kelpie Committee
- Grooves vs Grooves
- Two Octaves vs Ardbeg 21
That’s a whole lotta IB and OB Ardbeg to fit into an evening. The blinded notes are below, now let’s dig in!
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg – Two 10s vs a Compass Box
1A: Compass Box No Name: 54.5% – Various
- Nose: Peat, salt, butter, spice, brulee, plastic and graham.
- Palate: Peat, salt, fruit, char, spice, brulee and graham.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, fruit, plastic and char.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Elegant, crisp and utterly delicious. Has a strong malty backbone which is surprising… until the reveal happened (No Name = 75.5% Ardbeg)
1B: Ardbeg 10 years (2016): 46% – ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Butter, salt, peat, toffee, lemon-lime, char and toffee.
- Palate: Peat, plastic, vanilla, toffee, raw spirit, citrus and char.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, vanilla, char and plastic.
- Overall: B- (80-82) Wow, this tastes really young. I’d guess it was some young indie Ardbeg. (turned out to be a 10)
1C: Ardbeg 10 years (2017): 46% – ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Peat, saline, butter, graham, char, plastic and marshmallows.
- Palate: Peat, saline, butter, char, graham, plastic and vanilla.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, saline, butter and mineral water.
- Overall: B (83-86) Sharp and buttery at the same time, a nice crisp nature to it with a bit of sweetness. Interesting, but not complex.
This was a super interesting round. I brought the No Name with the idea of “let’s see if people peg it as “weird” or think it’s not an Ardbeg” turns out, when compared to two remarkably different 10s, it tasted like an Ardbeg… a really good Ardbeg. No one, including myself, thought anything was up.
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg – Two cask strength Indies vs Big Smoke
2A: SMWS 33.130 Ardbeg 11 years (02-91): 56.1% – 2nd fill ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Peat, apples, honey, graham, citrus, char, vanilla and clove.
- Palate: Peat, apples, vanilla, char, graham, spice and clove.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, apples, vanilla and spice.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Wow it’s powerful. This one packs a serious punch of peat and spice with a nice overall oily presence.
2B: The Big Smoke (old bottling): 60% – “oak casks”
- Nose: Peat, spice, fruit, vanilla, oil and char.
- Palate: Peat, spice, fruit, vanilla, plastic, oil and char.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, spice, vanilla and char.
Overall: B+ (87-89) Rustic and smoky with some fruity essence.
Turns out old Big Smoke releases had a large quantity of Ardbeg in them… learnin’ new things
2C: Eld Vatten Ardbeg 8 years (07-16): 57.7% – ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Banana, toffee, vanilla, peat, plastic, char, cinnamon and oil.
- Palate: Banana, toffee, vanilla, graham, char, cinnamon and clove.
- Finish: Long -> Banana, toffee and peat.
- Overall: B- (80-82) A bit too sweet, unbalanced and finishes bitter.
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg – SMWS vs Kelpie Committee
3A: SMWS Ardbeg 9 years (07-16): 60.2% – 2nd Fill Oloroso
- Nose: Peat, apples, orange, vanilla, char, minerality and honey.
- Palate: Peat, apples, orange, vanilla, char, minerality, menthol and honey.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, apples, vanilla and minerality.
- Overall: A- (90-92) This is so good. It’s elegant, it’s oily, it’s complex and it’s unexpected with a nice mild sweetness tying it all together.
3B: Ardbeg Kelpie Committee: 51.7% – various including Virgin oak
- Nose: Fruit, peat, cinnamon, plastic, vanilla, honey, graham and butter.
- Palate: Fruit, peat, vanilla, cinnamon, graham, honey and menthol.
- Finish: Long -> Peach, fruit, spice and menthol.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Sharp and fruity but balanced. Similar to 3A, but also dissimilar… also could be that it’s all Ardbeg and could be that I’ve now had 8 Ardbegs. We’ll see.
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg – Grooves vs Grooves
4A: Ardbeg Grooves Committee: 51.6% – Various including ex-Wine
- Nose: Big dose of wine sweetness, peat, char, honey, malt, roasted nuts and cocoa.
- Palate: More wine sweetness, peat, char, honey, malt, roasted nuts, grapes and cocoa.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, grapes, char, oil and nuts.
- Overall: A- (90-92) Woah, this one came out of nowhere and surprised me with a 1-2 punch of awesomeness and complexity.
4B: Ardbeg Grooves: 46% – Various including ex-Wine
- Nose: Peat, fruit, toffee, malt, char, plastic, honey and citrus… touch floral.
- Palate: Peat, fruit, toffee, malt, char, clove, honey and menthol
- Finish: Long -> Peat, fruit, char and nuts.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Good solid whisky. Rich but delicate and a tad floral all over; the peat doesn’t seem as oily as some of the others we’ve had tonight.
Super interesting to see how similar and dissimilar the Committee and the regular release are. They’re both objectively good and now that I’ve tried the Grooves Committee 4 or 5 times it’s making me mad I didin’t buy some when it came out. The one year I say “no, I’m not buying into the hype, not this year” is, of course, the year it’s a tremendous whisky. SOML-FML.
Malt Nuts: 13 Drams of Ardbeg – Two Octaves vs Ardbeg 21
5A: The Octave Ardbeg 16 years (97-13): 54.3% – ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry
- Nose: Sherry, char, sulfur, dark fruit, nuts, tar, petrol and smoke.
- Palate: Heavy sherry, char, sulfur, cocoa, dark fruit, peat and nuts.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, char, sherry sweetness and some toffee
- Overall: A- (90-92) This is right in my wheelhouse. Peat-n-sweet with a touch of sulfur.
5B: Ardbeg 21 years: 46% – ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Butter, char, oil, nuts, peat, cinnamon, touch floral and honey.
- Palate: Butter, peat, fruit gems, nuts, cinnamon, malt and honey.
- Finish: Long -> Peat, char and malt.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) Good, enjoyable and robust, but not as deep or dynamic as some of what we’ve had tonight.
5C: The Octave Ardbeg (teaspooned “blended malt”) 17 years (97-15): 52.9% – ex-Bourbon & ex-Sherry
- Nose: Sulfur, char, sherry, oak, peat, nuts, plastic and honey.
- Palate: Sulfur, char, sherry, oak, peat, nuts and spice.
- Finish: Long -> Sweetness, char, peat, sulfur and spice.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) This one was edging up on my sulfur tolerance. It was good, but with less sulfur, it would have been great!
It’s fairly rare for me to end up liking SMWS bottles. When we do the reveals at Malt Nuts SMWS and Black Adder bottles are almost always in the bottom for me, so when the reveal came and I saw the SMWS bottles and my scores I had a “huh” moment. Then I remembered their LVHM connection and it all made sense. If there was going to be a distillery they had good barrels of it would definitely be Ardbeg, and possibly Glenmorangie.
All-in-all an amazing night. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for part two of our 1,000 malt celebration where we drink a lot of Highland Park. Cheers!