The past few months have been busy at Ardbeg, one of Islay’s most iconic distilleries. Management transitions, a new nursing home and a series of new releases have highlighted the changes that have taken place.
First, Mickey Heads, managing director of the distillery since 2007, retired after a 13-year tenure that saw him oversee the distillation of dozens of new Ardbeg expressions. He was named Distiller of the Year in 2014, and Ardbeg won the Distillery of the Year award from the International Whiskey Competition (IWC) for three consecutive years, from 2018 to 2020. In his dual role as Ambassador of the most traveled brand. , he has visited dozens of countries and has spoken at countless events around the world.
Heads is also the chairman of the Ardbeg committee, a position he will retain after his retirement. The Committee is a worldwide organization of Ardbeg enthusiasts. Now numbering over 120,000 members, the Ardbeg Committee has proven to be a powerful force in promoting brand marketing, especially on social media. The distillery rewarded the members of the Committee with exclusive bottlings, generally at a higher alcoholic strength than the commercial expressions. The distillery also provided a venue for many weddings and celebrations for the members of the Committee.
The distillery’s latest exclusive offering for committee members is Arrrrrrrdbeg (yes, there are seven r (s) in the title. Intended to commemorate Mickey’s retirement from the distillery, this is Ardbeg’s first fully-fledged whiskey. matured in rye whiskey casks. The distillery describes the phrase as “a spicy mouthfeel igniting a blunderbuss of fruity flavors, while the long finish lingers with a sweet smoke on the palate.” A full tasting note is here below.
Heads also recorded a farewell film of the Arrrrrrrdbeg tasting as well as a question and answer video. He confirmed that he “would spend a lot of time fishing” and that he “would still spend a lot of time at the distillery”. It’s only a 10 minute trip, it’s Islay after all. Colin Gordon, former distillery manager at Ardbeg’s neighbor, Lagavulin, will be the new distillery manager.
Coincidentally, Ardbeg also unveiled its new still home. The new building is located on the shore of Ardbeg and will contain two wash stills and two alcohol stills, each a faithful reproduction of previous Ardbeg stills. The sea side of the house has a huge bay window overlooking the Atlantic.
Two other recent Ardbeg releases include a 25 Year Old Expression and Ardbeg Scorch, a limited edition malt whiskey for the annual Fèis Fle d’Islay – Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt. Traditionally, the last Saturday, the last day, of the event is Ardbeg Day and offers the distillery the opportunity to present the Fèis Ìle whiskey of that year. This year’s celebration, for the second time, will be celebrated entirely online. The tasting notes on the three expressions are below.
Ardbeg, Arrrrrrrdbeg, NAS, 51.8% / 46% ABV, 700ml / 750ml
This is the first Ardbeg version to be fully aged in rye barrels. The version for the Ardbeg committee is bottled at 51.8% ABV, while the regular version is bottled at 46%.
On the nose there is dry smoke, as well as the typical medicinal notes of Ardbeg. There is a slight aroma of rye bread, with hints of pear fruit, tropical fruit notes of toasted plantain, as well as dried orange and lemon zest and a hint of pineapple. There are additional notes of vanilla, some toffee, and some earthy quality. There is a hint of flavor on the nose, a characteristic common to Ardbeg, as well as a slight aroma of raw bacon.
On the palate, the whiskey is smooth and sweet, with a smooth and oily consistency. There is an initial peppery that builds up quickly and then fades away. We find the same fruit notes on the nose, although the pear notes are a little more forward and gradually give way to tropical fruit notes. There are additional spicy notes of cinnamon and some candied ginger, with more vanilla and caramel flavors.
The finish is long, sweet, with notes of brown sugar and fruit accompanied by smoke and a peppery persistence.
The whiskey is easily recognized as an Ardbeg with the cool, well-integrated smoke and the characteristic sweetness of the Ardbeg. The rye casks are probably responsible for adding the spice and tropical fruit notes, giving it a slightly different profile than the typical Ardbeg, but the UKTN is unmistakable. At an average price of around $ 200, the price is steep for what you get, but it’s a whiskey that any Ardbeg lover will appreciate!
Ardbeg, 25 years old, 46% ABV, 750 ml
This is the second expression of 25 years of Ardbeg. The first being the Lord of the Isles version which was first released in 2001. The last version was aged exclusively in old bourbon casks.
On the nose, the whiskey is immediately recognizable as an Ardbeg. It is very reminiscent of the Ardbeg 10, but smoother, less forward and better integrated. On the nose, we find the characteristic cold peat smoke of Ardbeg, as well as notes of charred wood and even some roast meat. There are fruity notes of lemon zest and candied orange, a little apple, a little tropical fruit, especially banana, and a hint of peppermint.
On the palate, we find more the same fruit notes as on the nose. There is a smooth, creamy quality in the whiskey accompanied by notes of vanilla and caramel, and the note of anise / licorice that is often found in Ardbeg expressions.
The finish is long, with hints of lemon zest, a sweet but persistent peppery and the medicinal and brackish notes characteristic of Ardbeg.
Ardbeg, Scorch, NAS, 51.7% / 46% ABV, 700ml / 750ml
Ardbeg Scorch is aged in the most heavily charred barrels of the distillery. The version for the Ardbeg committee is bottled at 51.7% ABV, while the regular version is bottled at 46%.
According to Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distillation and whiskey creation at Ardbeg:
Scorch is our tribute to the legendary Islay dragon. Using our most heavily charred barrels, we created a fire-breathing beast of a dram.
On the nose, we find a sweet note, an intense smoky and medicinal character, with pronounced aromas of charred wood and some roasted barley. There is some minerality, more cold steel than wet stone, with some creamy wax. There are notes of herbs and anise, surprisingly, with floral notes.
On the palate, the whiskey is smooth and fat, with a noticeable weight in the mouth and a buttery / creamy texture almost custard. The pronounced notes of smoke and charred wood on the nose, as well as some charred meat, continue on the palate. There are additional notes of fruit, especially apple and citrus (lemon, tangerine orange and some grapefruit), tropical fruits, especially mango and melon, anise / licorice and the medicinal elements. expected. There are spicy notes of cinnamon, ginger, pepper, a little cloves, as well as vanilla and brown sugar. As the whiskey opens up, a more distinctive chocolate note emerges.
The finish is long, with notes of smoke and charred wood, some tar and a lingering candied sweetness.