This is a great old bottle of Ardbeg that my wife bought online for me. From the bottle code it dates from September 18th of 2002. Sadly . . . this is the end of the bottle. To celebrate I put it up against the Ardbeg 17 year old and the Beist.
Nose: Wow. Much more smoky then the 17. WAY more peat also. Engine oil, gasoline, engine degreaser, engine coolant, turpentine, auto-mechanic garage . . . now it changes . . . charcoal, hickory wood chips, chunks of charred oak. The 46% is doing this whisky right. It is extremely complex and evocative. Now, lemon bread, citrus, hay, porridge, malted barley . . . and cakes of soap. All of this complexity lives under the blanket of a big robust peaty umbrella. Where the Beist is all about sexy smoke this has a much bigger peat muscle. This is a trip back in time to an old mechanic’s garage . . . that is surprisingly clean . . . with an unexplained peat fire in the corner (?) I love the intense iodine, pine, strong peat, but most of all the old auto-mechanic garage of this old guy. Water is fantastic on the nose and really releases some sweet peat and engine notes. It becomes more austere and philosophical.
Taste: Super sweet arrival of malt and peat. Some of that mechanic engine degreaser, and other cleaning products. Certainly there is an impression of metal, diesel oil, and pine. (Pine fresh diesel oil with soprano peat). With water more balanced and smoky.
Finish: Very interesting . . . starts off strong, then takes a breath like you are waiting for the huge Ardbeg tsunami we have come to expect. There are a few waves of peat but nothing like the cascading attack of the Corry, or Supernova . . . or even the 10yo. However, as you are looking for the wave in one direction the real peat attack creeps up on you and consumes your mouth while you are distracted. It is a fairly long finish, but nothing really stands out. Mostly you are left with tons of impressions: herbs, pine trees, green things, diesel oil, mechanic equipment, peat, ocean brine, sea salt, drift wood . . . With water it becomes more smoky and subdued. But still lovely.
Complexity, Balance: Very complex and well balanced. The Beist might be slightly more balanced between peat, smoke, etc. Here the ‘77 really has about 4 or 5 gears: peat, auto-mechanic garage, pine tree forest, iodine ocean, and finally fruit.
Aesthetic experience: The bottle with the vintage age looks amazing on the shelf. (and I am sad to see it go). Somehow a 72, 75, or 76 seem more mystic and old. The 77 feels strangely new and modern in its ancientness . . . I LOVE that they gave it 46% ABV in 2002 and ncf.
Conclusion: This was a wonderful gift from my wife. I am so glad to have had it . . . but I doubt I would pay the money required to obtain another bottle (currently going for well over $600 a bottle). While it is extremely complex (with old school Ardbeg notes) it is also very subtle next to the Corry or the Supernova . . . too much so on the finish for me. The finish is really where it lost points for me. Maybe I would have loved this at Cask Strength . . . it might have been pushed up to 96 or 97. However, it is still a wonderful old Ardbeg that I recommend.
Only Islays can make us salivate even when the tasting notes refer to motor oil, gasoline, and the like. Wish I had a bottle of it myself.