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Ardbeg has a reputation of being a very peaty Whisky and one of the finest representations of Islay style single malts. What I would say distinguishes Ardbeg from other Islay Malts is it's well balanced structure. It is a Whisky that perfectly balances strong Islay character with other more soothing notes. It is complex, while delivering just enough intensity to be enjoyable and not overbearing. The Ardbeg 10 y.o. is a perfect example of such a perfectly balanced profile.
Nose: Phenolic tones, peaty, earthy, tones. The nose has brine, sea salt, lots of smoke, burning wood (a bonfire), charcoal, iodine, sea spray, petrol. All these are strong smells but then it also has more gentle notes of lemon zest, orange rinds, roasted coffee, butter, and cream. If you add a cooling Whisky stone you get more intense butter, fresh bread, and bread dough.
Palate: Cream followed by peat and peppers, smoke, clove, sea weed, citrus. Big body, heavy, and thick. The peaty peppers are quite a lasting presence on the palate but they do eventually fade. Once this happens the previously mentioned flavors return.
Finish: Oily all the way through a long finish. Very smokey, butter, bitter herbal tea. The charcoal is very prominent in the finish. Very slight heat showing up once in awhile from sip to sip.
Overall, I enjoy the contrasting smells on the nose and the appearance of very strong tastes of peaty and peppers in the palate that are contrasted by cream and butter. The contrasting nose and taste make this Whisky interesting and complex. They balance beautifully instead of conflicting with each other. This in my opinion, is what makes Ardbeg a complex and well balanced Whisky. Two seemingly contradictory smells and flavors that balance each other out instead of compete with each other. Very nice dram.