Friday, November 20, 2009

Addicted: Ardbeg

Devotees of the Smoky Peat and Honey gathered at the store on a cool and drizzly Monday night to meet the spirited Ardbeg 'Evangelist' Davinia Small and to welcome the newest Ardbeg offering "Corryvreckan" to Dallas.

Ardbeg is a small Islay distillery that produces some of the peatiest intensely flavored whiskies to be found. Production is tiny, they only have two stills. The distillery has been mothballed and the startup has been slow. Offerings have been limited blends of existing stocks, but are avidly sought after, achieving cult-like status.

We tasted four expressions.

The Ten Year Old, aged solely in ex-bourbon casks offered brisk smoky peat of the pure malt, highlighted by the salty lime and iodine notes of the Atlantic. Davinia kept referring to oysters! Among the publicity materials was a recipe for an Ardbeg margarita, which I initially thought was something of a heresy, but then I remembered having margarita's in New Mexico with the complex smokey Del Maguey Mezcal floated on top. Hmm. Good Reposado with Agave Nectar and lime juice, shaken, served up, Ardbeg on top.....

Uigeadail, aged in bourbon and sherry and bottled at 54% abv, packs a more powerful punch. I was able to sit at home the other evening and compile some detailed notes on both Uigeadail and Airigh Nam Beist, tasting the two side by side. They are surprisingly different expressions. Uigeadail present aromatics (in approximate order of perception) of smoke, peat, iodine, citrus oils, salt, rosemary, cedar, and honey. Tasting revealed smoke, peat, more smoke, more peat, honey, citrus oils, dense medicinal herbs followed by still more honey and then the creamy, oily texture dominates the sensation followed by sweet fruits with a long smoky floral and honeyed sweetness on the lingering finish. And then dizziness.

Airigh Nam Beist is a limited 1990 release. My understanding is that what is in shops is what there is, so don't delay if you're interested. At 46%, the whisky is a little less hot than the Uigeadail. Oak comes first on the nose with notes of vanilla  and nutmeg, followed by smoke, peat and citrus oils, with apple, fennel and pine transitioning into lingering notes of smoky floral honey. Luxurious vanilla scented honeyed cream coats the palate accented by smoke, citrus oil, apples and spice before finally coming to ground in dense salt, peat, iodine and medicinal herbs, dissolving in a cloud of delicate floral creamy honeyed sweetness. Intense stuff.

Corryvreckan is the newest release. The French Oak finish gives it a different character from the other expressions which are grounded in traditional bourbon casks. First impressions are of deeply burnished wood. Polished nutmeg and spice with notes of burnt oranges give a deep resonance and then more traditional flavors of smoky, peaty honey begin to intermingle with rich warmth of creamy spicy vanilla. The 57% abv combines with the caramel and allspice to keep the richness lively on the tongue through the long finish. Quite delicious.

The following week has been one of intense addicition and withdrawl. Waking hours are spent craving any and all these flavors. As I sit here writing at 8 in the morning I have two bottles on my desk. They are so tempting. Well.... it is Friday!

1 comment:

  1. Airigh Nam Beist is wonderful. I was fortunate enough to have some at the distillery itself. Sadly, none to be had in my area, but I did manage to secure a bottle of Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.