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It's difficult to be critical of Ardbeg without attracting a fair amount of shade from its hardcore fan base, you know the kind of folks who will respond to every lackluster review of a special release with "Yeah but have you tasted the Committee Release bro? Bro... If that committee release is that good, why won't they just bottle that straight up as is and show the whole world how good their whisky is?
There are other who will say Ardbeg is one of the whipping boys of the whisky world and yes it can be too easy to throw jabs their way since the marketing arm of the company seems to think to highly of itself, yes even when they're trying to be whimsical & "groovy" man.
At this point you’re probably wondering what makes me qualified to talk such, nothing other than I am coming from a place of love and respect for this distilleries products. In a recent review of Ardbeg An Oa, I wondered what the point of that expression was, it was enjoyable and technically well-made but felt it was vatting the character out of Ardbeg. Shouldn’t it be time that LVMH/Glenmobeg starts releasing other age stated versions in their line-up besides 23+yr old casks they have bought back from Indie bottlers to sell back as ultra premium?
A return of the 17 or even a 15 yr old Ardbeg showcasing what happens to the spirit as it “naturally” softens up rather than blunting it with oak and PX? How about a cask strength version of the 10, I know I can’t be the only one who wonders what that could be like? Why would they do that when they can continue to serve young NAS malts at inflated prices and they still make a killing doing that, all the while perpetuating tired borderline racist tropes of a fun “Caribbean” theme? Yet I still always approach any whisky on the merits/faults of the products at hand not the hype.
Nose: Diesel fuel, nutmeg,It's sprightly, a kind of fusel note, a very sweet nose that turns to a mineral/coconut oil vibe. A bit of ash and anise and a slight artificial banana note.
Palate: Sweet, ashy, licorice and vanilla. Pears, gum drops and then it gets bitter and earthy. Rough, leaves you with vinyl, new plastics, a creamy eggy feeling, a bit like an overcooked custard. Banana leaves, glycerin, anise, rotting grass.
Finish: Cashews, more of that plastic character, brown sugar. An unpleasant astringency, charred oak and camphor but everything starts to fade out not leaving any lasting impressions. The empty glass has a lot of petit grain, rice pudding and coconut tanning lotion.
Notes: Not great, but that's just my opinion, there are notes I would find pleasant if they were meshed well with the more austere side of Arbdeg but this just flies in all directions. Stick with the superb standard line-up, at least they haven't messed with those too much.