Taste Review #108 – Ardbeg 10
When you look at all the whiskies that are available on-line, there is a stunning array of bottles available. The mind boggles with all the different options when you consider age statements, cask finishes and different strengths. We’ve never had it so good. Often it is just a case of buying something that appeals to you based on flavours in the tasting notes, which incidentally may not be that accurate according to your palate. One such distillery with a large range of different bottlings over the years is Ardbeg. There is an annual release that generates a fuss as people flock to buy it in a feeding frenzy that would put a piraña shoal to shame. However there is a bottle that is cheap, easily available and reliable – the plain and simple 10 year old.
I used to be a fan of Ardbeg 10, though at one point I felt it became a bit inconsistent; far too medicinal and with this it put me off. I still loved peat but I’d become unfaithful to one of my peaty loves by deciding it was time to elope with Laphroig 10 instead. I would even abandon my first peaty crush, Talisker 10. All of a sudden my whisky morals had developed into that of a randy alley cat. These were the days well before I got totally into collecting and drinking whisky and hadn’t developed the inquisitive wunderlust that was to come in later years. Even once I had extensive dalliances with other whiskies, I wasn’t ready to return back to Ardbeg 10. I knew she would have me back, but I just wasn’t ready.
My peat journey continued. I eventually discovered the young but mega peated Octomores. Eventually, the time came to pass that I was ready to return to Ardbeg, but I still couldn’t. Unfortunately for me (and this may seem weird) Ardbeg had just become too popular. I had been on the mailing list (aka known as The Committee) but the postings were coming less and less relevant to where I had been heading on my whisky journey. In my mind I’m one of these ‘cool kids’ who rejects mainstream, and the constant promotion of product to my inbox with more and more outlandish claims was getting to be a bit tiresome. But most likely in reality, I’m not so cool, but a cynical, bitter Scottish curmudgeon. When I decided to cull the membership of things that pushed their propaganda into my private online space, Ardbeg and Macallan were the first to go. There’s only so much you can take of seeing the bottles you fail to win in the ballots appear on the secondary markets within a week of release, putting them out of reach of those who really valued them for more than the financial benefits selling them could realise.
If you want to gauge my measure of disgust and disappointment, you only have to look on websites selling the Arrrrrrrdbeg release to commemorate the retirement of Mickey Head. Released at £150, days later appearing on re-sale sites for £250+. And that’s just a recent example. There are scores more if you care to look.
But then, surely the 10 deserves another look at? For years it has been a stoic soldier on the shelves of supermarkets and whisky shops. It is almost invisible in full sight as I look to make my choices. But I have a ten year old Ardbeg unopened at home, though with the number of open full sized bottles I already have, I wasn’t wanting to open another one just to remember that there was a reason why I left my peaty love behind in the first place. It was a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop on my way through to Aberdeen on work business that saw me buy a miniature to take away while in quarantine before heading offshore. It is in this environment that I decided to take my former peaty mistress away to a Buckinghamshire hotel and see if we could have a little fun together during my 10 days quarantine.
Region – Islay Age – 10 years old Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sweet, Phenolic, Brine, Lime, Honey, Lavender Palate – Honey, slightly oil mouth feel. TCP, Nutty, Walnuts, cherries, creamy, smoky, brine. Finish – wood smoke, iodine, buttered toast, drying in the end with a hint of cinnamon bun and brine.
The fact that I brought only a miniature with me didn’t really amount to a rekindling of the romance with Ardbeg. It was pretty much a one night stand (wham bam, thank you mam). But it was one of those dangerous ones where passions that have been suppressed for so long rapidly come back to the surface. Did we have fun? Well, seeing as I’m no Jim Murray and I realise that I have readers of both genders and do not want to incur the biblical wrath of a certain female whisky writer and her personal crusade, all I will say is that I have been foolish in ignoring this whisky for so long. And it brings me to a serious whisky topic – what has changed – me or the whisky?
Not all of my reviews are going to give you a twee tourist guide of the local area around the distillery, and as I have not been to Ardbeg or even Islay, it will be obvious that I’m not the best person to give this information. But I can give you food for thought, and today I hopefully present you with at least a midnight snack of cerebral sustenance. I don’t really think that the whisky has changed that much, as all the notes I remember are still there. I’m surprised that I remember any, as one of the reasons I tend not to attend any virtual tastings is my memory of flavours is pretty shocking. I can taste things, but often can’t place them in a decent time frame. One dram can take a whole evening to discover the flavours for me. The Ardbeg 10 had nowhere to hide in this instance.
However, this whisky leopard can’t change it’s spots. The spirit is highly peated to a specification of around 55 ppm from malted barley obtained from the Port Ellen Maltings. Kilchoman Machir Bay is peated to the same specification and I wasn’t fond of that at all. However there is something magical still about the Ardbeg that is beckoning you in. This supermarket whisky is the ‘Plain Jane’ that turns into the dominatrix in the bedroom once you taste it. I’m liking it, yet still not taking to the iodine tastes, yet the aroma from my glass is wafting across my nostrils and I know that I am going to have to take another sip and it tells me that “I WILL ENJOY IT!”. Pain for pleasure.
If this dram was a song, then it would without be a doubt be ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground. You need to listen to this song lying still in the dark to understand it – trust me. And the louder the better.
The whisky hasn’t changed. I have. Since I’d dumped Ardbeg in favour of other drinks, I have dallied with other much peatier whiskies. I had leapt onto the young Octomore spirit with reckless abandon; the different experiences maybe tuned my palate in new directions. No matter how long you have been in whisky, exposure to different whiskies will educate your palate, and when you return to things that you may have not been so keen on in the past, being a wiser, older dog you’ll know that you can learn new tricks to rekindle affection of your mistress or master. This will only benefit your whisky journey.
But coincidence has the last laugh. Only 3 days after I drafted this review, Matt Mckay published an interesting article which touches on how taste perception changes. Matt, for those of you who don’t know is the head of marketing and communications at Bimber Distillery in London. He’s also the main writer for The Dramble Blog that I often mention. Click here to take a read of his article which includes a great Glen Scotia review. Goes to show that my Peaty Mistress never changed and remained faithful until I returned.
Still prefer Laphroig though….
Yours In Spirits
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All Photos – Authors Own