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A few brands evoke emotional reactions in the subconscious. The late Port Ellen is one of these (perhaps only because she has been closed, say the Islay version of Van Gogh). Ardbeg already reached this cult status as an active distillery.
A half cask of 20 year Ardbeg is about to be sold by the BFG of Jurgen's Whiskyhuis. It was available for sample at a whisky festival in Aalst (Belgium) I missed out on this sample but I managed to lay my hands on a sample afterwards
Tasting Notes Colour: This is clearly a Fino or Manzanilla matured Ardbeg. Even after 20 years it still is relatively pale. The colour aresembles Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc wine. I even mailed the shop a few times to make sure it was a sherry cask. I have to admit: I hadn't opened the bottle yet and was perhaps a bit rash.
Nose: The nose is – to use an understatement – layered. Peat smoke is dominant but civilised. Hints of tar and asphalt. Nicely seasoned with cider vinegar and a splash of gasoline. I guess this is what Michael Jackson meant with “I like my Ardbeg dirty and mucky”. A bit further up there's some balsamic vinegar and mahogany to be discovered. Let it rest for a while and it gets a little sweeter. Honey-infused grappa. Orange zest and tangerines. Hints of almonds.
Taste: Even the smallest sip opens up a whole new world for the rookie whisky geek I am. Tobacco, sandalwood and pine resin. Again a light sourness from balsamic vinegar and a whole range of toxic products. Gasoline and white spirit are paramount. It will sweeten under the influence of your saliva. Roasted figs and raisins. Towards the end it becomes a bit sulphury. Lighted matches. Have you ever had the feeling of not wanting to swallow something? That's the feeling you get from this Ardbeg, because it is that good !
Finish: The finish is mouthwarming. Raisins soaked in gasoline with roasted walnuts. Evolves to aromatic pipe tobacco. I never knew you could enjoy a whole evening with such a small amount of whisky in your glass.
Conclusion This is whisky hors-catégorie. One to open on special occasions and to enjoy the moment in a Zen state of mind. A lovely complexity, subtle layered and slightly brutal.
The price mark exceeds my bottle budget but € 325 is not even that expensive when you take the competition into account. Independent Ardbegs of this age are easily sold for € 500. The odds are it will be gone in no time are fairly high.
It is an investment that deserves to be drunk, not one to gather dust in a dark safe next to the Port Ellens and Karuizawa's of this world.
PS: My rational mind tells me that it is utterly insane to spend such an amount of money on a single bottle. You should be able to find two to three bottles with an equal wow factor for the same budget. But it was my emotional mind that wrote this review... after one tiny centiliter.