Ardbeg – An Oa “The baker’s eating Kippers”

This expression is the first to be added to Ardbeg’s regular line-up in many years. A vatting of different cask types (ex-bourbon, virgin oak, px), all finished in Ardbeg’s new European oak marrying tun.

It’s received a fair bit of flack, let’s see what the fuss is all about.

Nose: A hint of Ardbeg’s coal and diesel smoke, then sweeter, cookie dough?Jordan almonds, vanilla, candied fennel seeds, menthol a bit of ginger. It’s nice if a bit subdued.

Palate: Ashy right out of the gate,vanilla. prune sauce some cinnamon. It has some bite, soot, sweet dough, a tin of smoked herring being opened in a bakery. It’s got many of the hallmarks of what makes Ardbeg good but pushed down by the oak.

Finish: Green branches, the astringent lemons show up late to the party. lots of oak, char, vanilla, loads of ginger, a tiny bit or earth.

It’s not neutered like Laphroaig select but it is a more rounded version of the kildalton crusher. They’ve tamed the feisty young Ardbeg spirit, making it sweeter and smoothing over the mineral and maritime edge.

I don’t hate this, it’s well made and enjoyable but at a time when so much Scotch is being homogenized. I would prefer they embrace the challenging nature of their whisky rather than blunt it.

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% ABV

84/100

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Ardbeg Uigeadail

54.2% abv. 

87/100

When one is fighting for access to the fundemental information about whisky (age) there are many arguments for the NAS camp, often one argument is “such and such a whisky is NAS and its great or I don’t mind when whisky is NAS as long as its good.”  There are a couple of whiskys that have become emblematic of this argument, Aberlour A’bunadh is one the other is Uigeadail.

The argument is moot because quality isn’t a function of age, yet it doesn’t make age any less irrelevant. Producers are talking out both sides of their mouths, age doesn’t matter except when it comes to luxury whisky.

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Both the SWA and producers are to blame. If the argument is that in vatting different ages you are punished by only being able to display the youngest age, then let producers display vatting composition details (a la roller-coaster or classic Laddie.) I suspect that hiding the age is convenient allowing them to charge more for young whisky, or change the composition without having to modify price point, packaging or even advising consumers of the change.

All of this is just food for thought, lets taste this icon and see.

Nose: Soy sauce, teriyaki, old leather jacket, latex paint, smoke, kelp, fresh cake batter, hot tarmac, almonds, burning coals.

palate: tires peeling on asphalt, motorcycle exhaust, dried black grapes, savoury, salty, dried shiitake mushrooms.

Finish: sweet, ginger, cake frosting, nut brittle, salted macadamia nuts all with a blanket of smoke and bbq sauce.

This is undeniably good whisky, a great meeting of peat and sweet which is tricky to do right. I don’t know what it is about the Ardbeg profile that takes so well to Sherry.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both these Iconic NAS whiskys are high strength either, a good way to ease a young whisky on the palate is ensuring that it’s provided in full on “its goes to eleven” intensity.

Aberlour have gone one further by doing batch numbers and created a real frenzy, I know Ardbeg has a bottle code but it’s not obvious packaging info.

Franck