Ardbeg Whisky: Two-Hundred Years of Perfection

Ardbeg whiskies have been called “as close to perfection as makes no difference,” by whisky connoisseurs. Six different Ardbeg expressions have won prestigious titles including World Whisky of the Year, Scotch Whisky of the Year, and World’s Best Single Malt.

The small, remote Scottish island of Islay (pronounced ‘eye-lah’) is an ancient land. It was a wild and untamed place, where Celtic monks found refuge from raiding Norsemen and early distillers smuggled their illicit “aquavitae” at Ardbeg’s rugged rocky cove.

For over 200 years, Ardbeg whisky has been made on Islay, where abundant soft water, fertile soil, and acres of peat make this island a place of pilgrimage for the single malt whisky faithful.

The population of the Village of Ardbeg numbered 200 at its height in the 1800s. Today, Ardbeg has less than 20 inhabitants. Ardbeg Distilleries calls them “The Lucky Few!”

Formulas and Potions

Making Ardbeg requires a special kind of chemistry – some would say it’s a combination of the process itself and the people who make it.

Ardbeg uses the most phenolic malt in the business (i.e. the smokiest). The water used to produce Ardbeg comes from Loch Uigeadail, three miles up a hill behind the Distillery. The water flows down the hill and runs into Loch Airigh Nam Beist – from there the burn takes it to Charlie’s Dam at the Distillery and from there it is piped into the Mash House.

Wort and Fermentation

The Liquid Wort from the Mash tun is cooled and pumped into the washbacks, and yeast is added at this stage to begin fermentation.

The washbacks at Ardbeg are made of Oregon pine. The wood helps to impart a unique, carbolic flavor to the fermenting wash. Fermentation time at Ardbeg is longer than other distilleries because of the high phenolic content of the original malt.

Distillation

After fermentation comes distillation. Ardbeg distills twice in order to reach the required strength and desired pure spirit.

Maturation

The casks used at Ardbeg come from various sources. The vast amount of whisky matures in ex-Bourbon oak. However, Ardbeg says there is always scope in the future to experiment with different type of oak casks.

Primarily, barrels have been used in the past, but now there is a substantial mix between barrels for Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Sherry Butts (some of which are used for Ardbeg Uigeadail), and new French Oak Barrels for Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Ardbeg’s three core expressions.

Because Ardbeg sits very close to the sea, the whisky receives a certain salty, iodine character while it matures.

Ardbeg Ten Years Old

Now for the best part of the process – enjoying Ardbeg Ten Years Old delivered to Pursuitist!

Aroma

Ardbeg Ten Years Old is distilled to a light gold hue and delivers a burst of intense smoky fruit escapes into the atmosphere, peat infused with zesty lemon and lime, wrapped in waxy dark chocolate. Bold menthol and black pepper slice through the sweet smoke followed by tarry ropes and graphite.

Taste

An explosion of crackling peat sets off flavor explosions: peat effervesces with tangy lemon and lime juice, black pepper pops with sizzling cinnamon-spiced toffee. Then comes a wave of brine infused with smooth buttermilk, ripe bananas, and currants. Smoke gradually wells up on the palate bringing a mouthful of warm creamy cappuccino and toasted marshmallows. As the taste lengthens and deepens, dry espresso, licorice root, and tarry smoke develop coating the palate with chewy peat oils.

The finish goes on and on, long and smoky with tarry espresso, aniseed, toasted almonds and traces of soft barley and fresh pear.

Thank you Ardbeg for adding Ardbeg Ten Years Old to the Pursuitist Top Shelf!

Slàinte!

 

 

 

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Brian Armstead

Pursuitist automotive and lifestyle contributor Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, web and television for over 47 years. Brian has traveled to 79 countries. He is a North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year (NACTOY) Juror.