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Here’s a little comparison review of an older vs. newer bottle of Ardbeg 10, just to see if any significant changes occurred with this popular dram over a three-year period.
I found an older bottle of Ardbeg 10, tucked behind a row of newer bottles, on the shelf at the local store. I recognized the older-style packaging that was discontinued in 2009, so of course I snatched it up. Bottle code is L9 096, which, I believe, is the last batch issued in the U.S. (April 2009, according to the Ardbeg Project website) with the old bottle and packaging. This review will compare that bottle to a 2012 bottling, with a code of L12 071.
Maybe there’s not much practical value in comparing two random batches, I’ll admit. And it might prove nothing insofar as the “older=better” debate is concerned. I could have a sensational batch from ’12 and a dud from ’09, after all. So maybe I have no better reason for writing this review than wanting to share my thoughts as I enjoyed these two drams side-by-side.
The 2012 bottle is about five months old, down below the halfway mark. Last sampled a couple of months ago, and gassed after doing so. This will be my third dram from the 2009 bottle, opened three days ago.
Nose (2012, neat): Stings with earthy peat. A bit of that unpleasant pavement-after-rain smell. Lemons and fresh sea air help balance things. Something sharp and metallic here, and I kind of like the way it kicks you in the nostrils and dares you not to like it. Tames down considerably after a 12-minute sit.
Nose (2009, neat): Much, much fresher. No dirty or metallic notes here. The peat and lemons are co-stars here, and a little touch of mint is a new supporting player. No sting, no alcohol, even with the heartiest of whiffs.
Palate (2012, neat): Nice and syrupy on arrival, nice oily coating as it sits. Begins rather subtly with vanilla and citrus fruits (or a lime Dreamsicle, if you prefer), followed by a slow-creeping burn of peat and pepper. A fascinating finish comes and goes in waves: just when you think it’s gone, it comes back for yet another encore. Carmel and smoke during the quiet moments, pepper and smoke during the crescendos.
Palate (2009, neat): Yes, this is a very different beast. Smooth as butter on silk, even if that smoothness compensates for some lack of balance. (But then, whoever praised Ardbeg 10 for its balance?) More tame and watery in the arrival than the ’12, and the development is much slower, but the same heat and peppers show up eventually. No back-and-forth finish here; it’s steady, long-lasting, but mild—and with much more wood. The wood turns sticky and sappy after about a minute.
Even at a rather healthy 49% ABV, I prefer Ardbeg 10 neat. But I also enjoy its changes after a few drops of water. Just a few, please. It’s a lousy swimmer and drowns easily.
Nose (2012, with water): A strong vanilla note, absent before. The vanilla almost dominates now, in fact, as the neat aromas become soft whispers. The peat makes a major resurgence after a 10-minute wait.
Nose (2009, with water): Same as the 2012, only less so. The vanilla is tamer, the other aromas near-invisible, and the traces of peat are slightly dirtier. Overall, however, there’s a bright freshness to it that’s something of a face-slapper in itself.
Palate (2012, with water): Eerily like the neat 2009. Quiet, neutral arrival, followed by some peppery sting. A little more vanilla overall. Some wood, no longer exclusive to the ’09, appears in the finish.
Palate (2009, with water): Two or three drops of water really make a difference in this one. A creamy balance of vanilla and peat on the arrival, with a much more interesting burn (peat, pepper, lemons and limes) as it develops. The finish is more clipped, but it’s full of some nice vanilla and oak. Nothing but pure peat at the fadeout. Yum.
Hmmm…I guess I didn’t prove much beyond the difference in two each-in-its-own-way tasty batches. And that you should nose and drink both neat, although be sure to have a couple of sips of the ’09 with a little water. And that I probably didn’t mention “peat” in this review as often as I should have. On most nights, I’d give a 90 to both, but I’m in a generous mood tonight.