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The Ardbeg Alligator was the first whisky I rated as expensive that I bought. It was a few years back a couple of weeks before Christmas, when, in a busy store, my friend and I probably looked too young to be taken seriously as whisky drinkers. I had a taste however and went home with a bottle (haven’t shopped there since, though…) And now, a semester is over, which calls for a celebratory dram. Also, I feel an illness of the throat coming on (no, I’m not learning Dutch), so I thought I’d send down the Alligator to kill whatever is trying to kill me.
Nose: First impression is peat on a bonfire. Phew, this is good stuff. Freshly ground coffee beans are sprinkled over a savoury barbecue sauce and seaweed with fresh citrus and lemongrass complete the dish (doesn’t really sound appetising in my opinion, but the folks at Ardbeg are a silly bunch). Mint leaves and candy slowly creep out from the background with touches of heather, and a crisp, fresh green apple mixed with sweet pear punctuates the whole ordeal.
An interesting little side note here: Many Islay distilleries (Ardbeg more than most) pride themselves on high levels of phenols in their whiskies, as this relates to how peaty the whisky is. But did you know that the phenol primarily responsible for the peaty smell / taste is a compound called guaiacol? What’s more interesting, this phenol is derived from hydrolysis (basically a type of molecular breakdown, if you’re not chemistry savvy) of lignin, an integral part of plant cell walls. As such, guaiacol is also found in things like wood smoke and (and this is my favourite part) roasted coffee! Did you ever wonder, why your peated whisky had those delicious coffee notes? Anyway, so much for a ‘little’ side note.
Palate: What can this little beast do? As you drink it in, you’re walking along the water in the bog, tasting the sweet peaty water – there’s no alligator here! But wait- what’s that? And snap! it emerges from the water and bites you without as much as a by your leave before you have time to call out “mum!” Alligators in a temperate climate!? Chewy, spicy, smoky and savoury, this is to be treasured. After a short while, sweetness prevails over spice, and the apple and pear of the nose truly shine, now mixed with juicy peaches, and – what’s that? Coffee? Could it be?
Finish: The sweetness persists for a surprising amount of time into the finish. It’s like a tarte tatin prepared on the grill. Delicious fruit and soot.
The alligator (as any new expression of Ardbeg) has sparked many different opinions across the web. Some hate it, some love it. I place myself in the latter category.
This is my second review, and also my second review of an Ardbeg. If I told you there would be no more of these, I would be lying, but I promise to renew myself at some point. At some point. But for now: This is smart stuff.