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This particular review is about two years in the making. When this 2012 Fies Ile came out there was a mad rush by Ardbeggians (ArdbegHeads / BegHeads - take your pick) around the world to snag a bottle or two.
Luckily I was able to procure a couple for my self. I had a taste of it soon after and remembered not liking it much. Far too flinty for me, if you know what I mean. Had another taste a year later (from the same bottle) and the flintiness had mellowed a touch. And then finally another sample (same bottle) one more year later and it began to work.
Now I honestly don't know whether the changing spirit was just me or some sort of chemical trickery. Unfortunately I didn't keep notes for the first two times (I wish I had) because they would have made for some interesting comparisons.
Regardless, here's what I think about it the third time around.
The spirit is a mix of eight, nine and twelve year old bourbon casks married in a sherry butt and left to develop.
Nose: There is that initial spent match / flint spark I had been getting the first two times but now with less intensity. I think letting this one breathe is best because that smell dissipates letting the others come through. Quite oily with a thick brine on peat. Brushed with a coastal sea salt. The sweeter notes come through next with an acrid green apple and young grapefruit sharpness. Still not my favorite nose.
Palate: Quite peaty with an earthy bonfire ash quality to it. Not entirely terrible, mind you. I like the citrus on this one; it's like a dark orange covered in melon rind. The coastal sea salt is back and with it some white peppers. If the spirit was weaker these flavors may not have worked but the full bodied mouthfeel lends support.
Finish: Dark chocolates and spicy licorice. I would have liked it to have been longer but if medium is what Ardbeg wants then medium is what I will have to live with.
Is this my favorite Ardbeg? No. Is it worth the mad rush in June every year. I don't think so. Do I want it on my bar, regardless? Yes.
Such is the allure of this distillery.