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Ardbeg Kelpie Committee Exclusive Release

It doesn't suck

5 2286

@MaltActivistReview by @MaltActivist

7th Oct 2017

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  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Finish
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  • Balance
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  • Overall
    86

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

Back to back Ardbegs! That’s how we like to live our life. Especially if there’s not much to complain about. After the funny sounding An Oa it’s the equally ludicrous Kelpie.

Jackie, over at the visitors centre at Ardbeg, was kind enough to set aside a case of the Committee bottling before our trip to Islay on account of them disappearing off the shelves well before the Feis rolls around. We had a couple of wee sips while at the distillery but nothing formal.

Last night was the first time I actually sat down with it.

So what is it? To be honest it’s just another cool story that’s trying to conceal how young this whisky is. Really. Look, I appreciate all the endearing tales they come up with – who doesn’t – and more than that I appreciate each and everyone who works at the distillery. They are the absolute best.

And it’s because of that we all smile and nod our heads as they tell us tales about monsters covered in seaweed that emerge from the depths of the sea or listen attentively to brand ambassadors as they explain what virgin oak from the Black Sea is. I’m still not quite sure, to be honest.

But I don’t want the age of the whisky to detract from the fact that this is a perfectly acceptable tipple. Nothing much wrong. Nothing much spectacular either but then the industry has been letting us down so often that we’re rather happy when something is not absolutely horrendous.

Oh, the pain of living in a world where we crave adequacy.

“Stop being melodramatic” says my brain.

“Shut up” says my heart.

Anyway.

Bottled at 51.7% my sample is from a brand new bottle.

Nose: Rather sweet and citrus-y. Custard like sweetness. Lemon like citrus. Then the signature tones. Ash. Soot. Seaweed. Wait! Not seaweed. Kelp. Of course I smell kelp. Grapefruit. Eucalyptus (finding a lot of this lately). Let it sit and it becomes more grainy. Barley. Quite a sharp and piercing nose. Not in a bad way. In a young way, maybe. Some olive oil. Some balsamic vinegar. My wife makes a salad dressing like this. I like the salad dressing. I like this nose.

Palate: Good delivery if a little thin. Ash. Soot. Charred banana leaves. Spices. Lots of spices. And here are some more spices. Nutmeg. Clove. Cinnamon. There’s something a touch bitter here. None of the sweetness found on the nose. With water it turns more grainy. More chalky. More limestone. I wish it was sweeter.

Finish: Decent. Oily. Citrus. And that soot.

Overall Comments: It’s an Ardbeg. It’s a good Ardbeg. I wish it was a smashing Ardbeg. But that’s ok. I’ll settle for a perfectly adequate Ardbeg. The story is cute. Something about monsters. The casks are weird. Black Sea and all. I’m just happy it doesn’t suck.

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22 comments

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

Nice review. Do you think you smell kelp because of the name? Have you smelled Kelp in other Ardbegs? I can't believe it's because of the wood...

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@newreverie
newreverie commented

I've got one of these and think your review is spot on.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

Not sucking is hardly a ringing endorsement for more of the same from the mythical land of Ardbeg. If this was from anywhere else but Ardbeg it would probably score closer to 80 than 90.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

I think 86 means it's better than OK, and I interpreted the "it doesn't suck" to be more of a relief than the judgement itself.

3 years ago 3Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@Nozinan You are probably right. I seem to be a bit negative on Ardbeg lately. I was also in a bad mood after reading all the bad news in the Globe earlier.

3 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor commented

@MaltActivist, don't you ever wonder why Ardbeg doesn't just bottle single casks and small vattings of 5 or 10 casks, name each one, attach a big price on each one, and say, "Here they are: 5,000 unique expressions of Ardbeg! Boys and girls, collect them all!"

I lost enthusiasm for chasing new Ardbeg releases a couple of years ago, though I am always interested in tasting them. Thanks for doing the public service of reviewing this new product.

3 years ago 2Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@Victor That's what comes from having so much stellar Ardbeg. The mundane stuff doesn't make you go crazy anymore...

3 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor commented

@Nozinan, I am inclined to agree with @MadSingleMalt on this issue, viz. the real question is whether or not there is sufficient difference among the offerings to justify a special release. Overall I'd have to say that I think that Ardbeg has put out a few releases which were unnecessary by virtue of their being fairly similar to other whiskies in their standard line, e.g. Perpetuum seems to me like an NAS above average batch of Ardbeg Ten. I have a generally high opinion of Ardbeg's standard line, so being like the Ardbeg standard line of products is for me not a bad thing at all.

It seems that Ardbeg feels the need for regular publicity bolstering by way of continuing to put out a steady stream of special releases. For some of us, this seems a bit, or more than a bit, manipulative.

3 years ago 3Who liked this?

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge commented

@Victor, I agree with your sentiment concerning Ardbeg releases. I have owned only three expressions of Ardbeg: Corryvreckan, Uigeadail, both of which I have enjoyed countless times, and Ardbog, which awaits my impending arrival in Maryland. The overuse of special releases by Brown-Foreman with their Jack Daniel's product line is second to none.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@Victor The fact that they can sell something as good as the standard line for twice as much is reason enough not to be excited.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@paddockjudge I tried the Ardbog at SOT.

I think I'm happy to try many of these but not own bottles. It's too overwhelming. I really wanted to try a Supernova. I got to. I'm satisfied.

3 years ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@Victor I agree that Ardbeg is very good at building a sense of excitement around each of their special releases. They are also very good at instilling a sense of fear in their fans of missing out on something vitally important. I also agree with @Nozinan. Try to satisfy your need to taste the stuff without having to commit to an expensive full bottle purchase.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@BlueNote I say that but if I had access to Dark Cove committee release at an affordable price I would get 3...

3 years ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@Nozinan I probably would too, but once again the key words are "affordable price."

3 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@BlueNote Yes, to think I was 10 years late to the party...

3 years ago 0

@Frost
Frost commented

@BlueNote you have nailed it. Making customers feel they are 'missing out' if they don't keep up.

I do find some of the packaged art endearing, like the little dog with a space helmet on the Galileo box. But I've been getting fed up with Ardbeg for a while now and have checked out with the special releases, especially this nonsense of two different ABVs for expressions of the same name.

To clarify, I'm yet to meet an Ardbeg I didn't like - but I'm off the marketing train.

3 years ago 2Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt
MadSingleMalt commented

To me, it feels like Ardbeg suffers from internal corporate expectations of maintaining the successful status quo.

Someone there cooked up their annual one-off strategy. Given that they've been doing it a few years now, that person might no longer be in charge of it, and a newer person's been promoted into that spot. In any case, it's a successful program that everyone there probably expects to continue—plus, they all know how to do it. Think of an annual project plan that includes flavor design, naming, packaging, distribution, silly videos, all the rest. It's easy(ish) and again expected that this annual program will continue on. For someone to pull the brake on it, even if they wanted to, would take a lot of balls. And why should they want to? Especially for a marketing person, being in charge of Ardbeg's annual one-offs is probably one of the best gigs in whisky.

So, as a guy with experience in corporate life, that's my speculation on why we keep seeing these releases instead of the "batch o' the day" releases that @Victor proposes. (I like @Victor's world better.)

3 years ago 0

@Nozinan
Nozinan commented

@MadSingleMalt I think one has to be wary of keeping up something just because it has been successful in the past.

Best case study is Forty Creek. They started annual special releases in about 2009 or 2010 (give or take... my experience with then started with Confederation Oak). They had fantastic releases annually until a peak in 2014 with Heart of Gold. then, as the limited number of bottles increased, and John Hall sold to Campari, and then eased out of the picture, and the special releases are only special in their rarity, not quality.

3 years ago 0

@casualtorture
casualtorture commented

I wasn't overly impressed with the distillery release Perpetuum I was lucky enough to try. Not for $400 a bottle anyway. The Oogie is fantastic, but other than that I think a lot of these ardbegs are over hyped.

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@MaltActivist
MaltActivist commented

@Victor it's hard to determine whether you're being cynical or genuine. I'm going to go with cynical relaxed

But to answer your question what makes you think they're not doing that already? Apart from the core range being sold to us peasants there is a parallel world where these single cask bottlings are sold through premium retailers (TWE, Harrods, etc) which also get snapped up. Why not benefit from both worlds?

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

@MadSingleMalt
MadSingleMalt commented

@MaltActivist: "...what virgin oak from the Black Sea is. I’m still not quite sure, to be honest."

What part of that needs more explanation?

If you want to know more about the species, here's some info found through a quick bit of Googling, copy-and-pasted shamelessly:

•"The Adygejtsy oak used to make Kelpie is most likely of the species Quercus sessilis (aka Q. petraea,) which is common across Europe and a traditional choice of French vineyards. It is not the same species of French oak from the Limousin forest that provides most cognac barrels (Q. robur.) Rather, it tends to grow farther north, and the porous grain of Q. sessilis is preferred for aging both red and white wine."

•"To be clear, Black Sea oak is not a specific variety of oak. It is a generic term for the oaks that grow in the Black Sea region. Among the principal oak varieties found here are the Sessile oak (Quercus polycarpa), the Hungarian oak (Quercus frainetto) and the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris). Sessile oak is also known as Quercus petraea, one of the principal oaks found in the oak forests of France, and is extensively used in barrel making. Along the eastern flank of the Black Sea, Quercus petraea grows slowly producing a particularly dense, fine grained wood. Barrels made from this oak species have long been used by wine makers from Bulgaria to Georgia and Armenia. This wood is known for imparting an intense spicy character. Although the distillery did not specify the actual variety of oak used, it is most likely Quercus petraea."


Or if you want to know more about the character produced by that wood, well, your first and best answer is in your glass. (Apologies for stating the obvious, but that's really the best answer.) I've had only the 46% version, but I'll chime in to add that I found it high, sharp, bright, and totally distinctive.

Beyond that, we can dig up some hearsay about what the unadulterated Black Sea casks supposedly tasted like. Rumors scattered across the whisky web say that it was pretty fierce and possibly downright bad, and that they had to cut it with a high proportion of the standard Ten stock to make it palatable. Based on what the final product tastes like, I could see that: When my club recently tore through a table full of Ardbegs in a single night, the Kelpie 46% was one of the least popular ones.

Even so, I couldn't help but wonder what a 100% Black Sea cask version would be like. If we're gonna bother with special releases and paying out the nose for different and special, then I'd really like the product to be really different and special. As it is, the Kelpie 46% just tasted like a somewhat weird Ardbeg.

3 years ago 0

@RianC
RianC commented

An Oa is exactly how folk from my part of the world pronounce 'I know'. That is all relaxed

3 years ago 0

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