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This is a bottle I opened on 10/10/2008. This was the first release of the Airigh Nam Beist from 2006 (so the sixteen year old version) made from a mixture of first and second fill ex-bourbon casks (no sherry here!) When I tasted it the bottle had been open for 3 years and then decanted into a smaller bottle. I tasted it next to the Ardbeg 1977 and the 17 year old.
Nose: Very delicate peat on a very complex bed of flavors. This easily seems like the most dense nose of the night where the 17 is the lightest. There is a beautiful smoky peat here that is both old and rich. There are orchids here . . . there are some thick velvety notes with hints of cinnamon, all spice, brown sugar, caramel, nutmeg, and cloves. There is an elusive sweetness that is just out of reach of the minds eye. It hints at sweet and hints at dry, but it doesn’t seem to be either. If the 17yo is Ardbeg at its most appealing, then this is Ardbeg at its most seductive. That peat is just so damn sexy. It is a peat fire in an old dark woods where the trees are so close together that light doesn’t shine on the forest floor. You are drawn to it like a moth to the flame all the while knowing that things in these woods could devour you whole. There are also some iodine and strong maritime notes from the ocean: seaweed, sea salt coated rocks, and sea soaked drift wood. Now the sweet bourbon almost makes an appearance . . . but then jumps out of frame before the camera can focus. OH YAH . . . once you dial in on the bourbon (this is a mixture of first and second fill “bourbon” casks from Jack Daniels – I know “not bourbon”) you can really pick up on that influence. Just about one of the best Ardbeg noses ever! A top 5 “all time” whisky nose for me. Water actually releases some of the Beist within. It just becomes more muscled peat and smoke.
Taste: Sweet arrival with velvet cake, dates, plumbs, vanilla, oak, and peat. There is also an interesting note or two that are reminiscent of the 77 where you have hints of pine and diesel oil.
Finish: There is that intake of breath with some green pine notes . . . and then an assault of sea salt and iodine. It is a slow building of smoke, peat, herbal, and citrus. It carries along pine, smoke, mint, eucalyptus, and mango while still leaving a trail of salt and soft peat embers. A very nice and sophisticated Ardbeg. This is a medium finish as well as the 17 . . . while not being as impressive as the 1977 . . .
Complexity, Balance: Certainly one of the most complex and well balanced Ardbegs I have tasted. There is such an amazing balance from the peat, smoke, fruit, sweet, and dry flavors. That power, depth, and complexity extend over the entire span of this malt – nose to finish. Hard to fault it
Aesthetic experience Light gold . . . possibly a shade darker then the 17yo and the 77. Medium to medium full bodied. First, I have to say I love Ardbeg. Second, I love the name. However, I wish they would have used the name for a real “Beist” of a dram (like the Corry or the Supernova). It is odd that neither the Beist nor the Alligator are as ferocious as their names lead you to believe – they are in fact rather tame Ardbegs. Back to the bottle: Love the NCF while the 46% is just ok. 48% would be better and anything between 50-58% would be amazing. Then again it wouldn’t be the same dram. Love the vintage idea, but why would Ardbeg consider this being a standard release? There was no way to keep it up for long . . . However, I love the sophisticated feel of this dram. Hope the new 17 or 18 year old is like it. But, I hate the label with the name breaking out of the boarder. So huge points with a few taken away for persnickety reasons.
Conclusion: Hands down better then the 17 year old. I really can’t love this nose any more. Truly fantastic. But I don’t love the taste and the finish . . . they leave me wanting. Maybe it needed to be at Cask Strength . . . or maybe that is just me . . . Either way, this just had too little power for my taste. Comparing this to the 1977 the ’77 wins on taste. This catches back up based on the fact that you can still find this guy on shelves . . . if you look hard enough. I have passed on buying more of these bottles for $100 on several occasions. I think I paid $120 for this bottle over 6 years ago in Seattle . . . for my money the lack of power doesn’t make up for the wonderful nose. I now have only one 50mL sample left from my original bottle . . . I can nose that for ages.