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The nose is powerful - peat, salt, a little iodine and an underlying sweetness. I can leave it sitting on a coffee table more than a metre away, and within a minute, I get gentle wafts of the smell. Very balanced too, and warm.
The taste takes a few seconds to gently and smoothly bloom into a deeply warm, peaty, smoky, salty, slightly medicinal, spicy warmth with a tantalising hint of sweetness - complex, but in a good way, and superbly balanced. Every sip tastes a little bit different, and all of them taste brilliant!
The finish is long and warm - filled with salt, smoke and peat with a just enough spice to make sure that your lips tingle for some time after each sip.
My first Islay malt was the Lagavulin, and if I were to make a recommendation, that's probably not the dram you should suggest to someone who was just getting into whisky and had only tried the Glenfiddich range up until that point. Suffice it to say, that Islay malts weren't my thing for a while. The Ardbeg 10 year old is the malt that changed all that.
While the Lagavulins and Laphroig's have a little bit of a 'punch you in the face and take no prisoners' attitude towards flavour (and that is one of the many reasons I now love them), the Ardbeg is a little more urbane. It has all the elements that make Islay malts great (salt, iodine, smoke and peat), but keeps them within elegantly balanced limits.
This isn't my favourite Ardbeg expression (that would be the Uigedail), but it is a genuinely fantastic drink, and the perfect introduction to Islay malts for those who are ready. At least, it was for me.