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I have a couple of Ardbegs kicking around that I haven't reviewed yet; not only am I going to take a look at each one individually, but I'll compare each of them to the standard Ardbeg 10 Year Old.
The Ardbog is Ardbeg's 2013 Ardbeg Day annual release. Some of the malt has been matured in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, and at 52.1% I presume this is cask strength. Thanks to @Victor for helping me obtain this bottle.
The colour is a medium mahogany - the darkest Ardbeg I think I've ever seen. On the nose there is a complex interplay of sweet, savoury and smoky: bacon, salami, furniture polish, Christmas cake, tobacco, stewed prunes and baked apples. Dark chocolate. Burnt caramel and motor oil. A little bit herbal. Some water adds milk to the dark chocolate, and tames the nose. There is a lot going on here - sometimes it gels, sometimes it doesn't.
On the oily palate, things somewhat clash: peat, brine, rum-raisin, milk chocolate and old leather. Very fruity with plum, black cherry and dates. Nutty. Spicy with the high ABV; less so with water. I like many of the individual notes - it's rather mouth-watering and at times delicious - but it is constantly shifting and is woefully off-balance.
The finish is off-putting: cigar ash, sherry and spice with developing leather. This is such an interesting dram, with all sorts of flavours and aromas going on, but it is so all over the place, it's hard for me to really recommend it. Murkier than the 10 Year Old, it doesn't quite achieve that one's near-perfection. It has gotten some great reviews (Dave Broom scored it a 91 and was named Editor's Choice in Whisky Advocate) but, even as a die-hard Ardbeg lover, I find it too challenging.