Oooooo, you know it is... frightening,
Oooooooo, you know it's like... lightning.
Just as an experiment I've gone to my cabinet and mixed 40% Uigeadail with 60% Corryvreckan and placed that glass next to Ardbog. The nosing will be an exercise in comparisons. Diving in!
Hmmmm... whereas Uigeavreckan is somewhat meaty and stuffy, full of dark, brooding oils and smoking grill, Ardbog's nose is bright and sticky with a distinct maritime salt-spice. Who would have known from the name? Then again, when I spoke to David Blackmore at the launch event he said, "We don't take ourselves too seriously here." So there's that. If you were expecting some sort of weird peat monster larvae here, you'd be sorely mistaken. In fact, the peat is so well integrated into those bright maritime notes I talked about that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. One suspects that the contribution is not all from that kelpy peat bog malt. Perhaps the smoke is complemented and nurtured by this particular light, sherried dryness?
Yes, I did say the sherry is dry. Just because sherry is fruity and floral by nature doesn't mean it's sweet. Have you ever tried it? Most sherries would be described by sommeliers as "dry", but a lot of tasters (even Master Blenders! - looking at you Red Breast Single Potstill Irish Whisky) say that the sherry imparts a "fruity sweetness" to the malt. I think the problem here lies in trying to sort out what our tongues and noses are telling us with these whiskies. We taste sherry and it has that unctuous, long fruit-based contribution and we say "sweet" for lack of something to compare it to. But would you call a fig newton "sweet" upon first tasting it? Or a dried date "fruity"? I'd say "luscious", "unctuous", "fibrous", "rich", or "caramel-y", but when I think "sweet" I think of cherry pie or strawberries or Kool-Aid. Even then the word "sweet" by itself could almost be applied to anything from toaster strudels to flavored mouthwash to milk chocolate. So, maybe not the best word, especially when we talk about sherry.
On the nose of Ardbog we're thinking the slightest hint of light meats, like fresh-caught salmon with a heavy orange glaze being smoked on top of a cedar plank - all without that distinct salmon fishiness. There's a bit of just-cooked-up-some-Black-Forest-bacon-in-the-kitchen sizzliness that prickles the nose. Then a large whiff of sunny sea-spray and bright, hardwood treehouses that were built a decade ago by your grandparents and subsequently infested by wasps. There's a strong, unctuous tone, like port pipes that are slowly leaking by. Then dark, floral notes come blasting at your face like a rollercoaster ride through a giant rose patch, after half of the patch has been burned to a fine, dusty ash. There's even a hint of rollercoaster oil - very exciting! Reminds me of when I first boarded Wildfire and started going up the chain lift. So there you have it - the smoke, which you'd obviously be expecting, comes out of all of this at once. It's obscured inside each facet, first clean and ashy, then musty and damp. Make up your damn mind!
This whisky is straight-up delicious with a finish that is medium spicy.. I was telling some friends yesterday that this ranks above Ardbeg Day and Galileo in my book, and is working its way up to become my favorite Ardbeg expression. It really grows on you.
Much of the critical reception has been positive, but for all the "sigh" articles you read out there I suspect it has more to do with the annual product hype cycle (and general weariness of this particular peat-bomb distiller) than it does with the whisky itself. Which is a shame. Ardbeg is unquestionably one of the greatest Islay distilleries, if not one of the greatest distilleries period. If they had released this as a separate, limited edition later in the year I suspect everyone would be going gaga hailing it as Uigeadail's long lost cousin. Let the whisky speak for itself, and feel free to make up your own mind. I think in a year we'll look back and say "damn", and I'll be glad I bought two bottles :-)