This review of SMWS 33.143 ‘Thank you and good night!’ is part five of my Ardbeg Assay.
Right in the middle of a series of Ardbeg reviews, my local Scotch Malt Whisky Society chapter releases an Ardbeg bottling. Well, I’d be remiss not to include it here, I figure. It also follows my trajectory of reviewing increasingly obscure and limited production bottlings of Ardbeg. And as a fan of single cask, and cask strength, and SMWS whiskies, it’s a quadruply difficult proposition to refuse. It’s a good time too, to consider the status and future of Ardbeg independent bottlings.
You’ll have noticed that Ardbeg independent bottlings aren’t exactly common. There are a few reasons for that. First, Ardbeg was more-or-less closed from 1989 to 1997. So that leaves a big gap of production in years that would otherwise yield stocks of intermediately aged whisky (though, just this morning, it seems they’ve announced a 21 year old distillery bottling which will be available this month to Committee members). Second, after Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy brought Ardbeg under its chocolate brown monogrammed umbrella back in 2004, cask sales to brokers and independent bottlers were sharply curtailed. The official word from Ardbeg is that since then, cask sales to third parties have tapered off to nil. However, we have to assume that some pre-LVMH contracts are still being honoured, and new, small contracts may have been signed since. Consider ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’, an independent bottler established in 2013, who already have seven Ardbeg releases under their belt. And this SMWS number at hand here, which flowed from Ardbeg’s stills on May 24th 2007. Incidentally, that spirit run would have occurred during Feis Ile 2007, exactly one week before Ardbeg day. Neat.
So, for the time being, under current ownership, independent bottlings of Ardbeg will remain uncommon, and will grow rarer as contracts expire. On one hand, Ardbeg’s core line-up has a pair of whiskies at full strength, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail, so even without independent bottlings, we’re not necessarily deprived of the real, undiluted taste of the distillery[*]. But! Single cask Ardbeg is now a rare thing indeed. Which is really too bad. Every year, no matter what, Ardbeg will need to release Corryvreckan, and Uigeadail, and the 10 year old. OK. But fans of Ardbeg, I’m sure, can’t help but wonder about those exceptional casks – those straight French oak barrels that go into Corryvreckan, or the sherry matured whisky that gets married with Bourbon matured whisky in Uigeadail, surely there are some casks in there that stand on their own, and above the rest?
This bottling is 8 years old, matured in a 2nd fill sherry butt that yielded only 582 bottles. It’s bottled a full cask strength, 59.9%.
Darker than Dark Cove.
Certainly an Ardbeg, though a bit more ‘giving’ in the glass than the distillery bottlings I’ve reviewed for the assay. The first impression is smokiness, coming from kindling and fuming newspapers, lain over top of iodine and seaweed. Deeply caramelized barbecue sauce on a rack of ribs comes to mind. The SMWS tasting note mentions a Bloody Mary, which I think is quite right. The sweet, tangy aroma of tomatoes, the spiciness of Tabasco, the sourness of pickles, and a lick of celery salt. Amazing. These aromas transfer into the retro nasal impression of the whisky, and persist for minutes.
Somewhere in the middle between Uigeadail’s astringency and Dark Cove’s sweet sultry-ness. Shockingly calm at 59.9%.
I’ve combined flavour and finish here, because it’s difficult actually, to separate the first hits of flavour on the palate and the incredibly long finish. Right up front is a burst of sweet, and savoury, and smoky. A blinding punch of such undifferentiated intensity that it’s difficult to put words to it. Then a brief puff of cigar smoke leads into a classic Ardbeg ‘dryness’ that comes through and razes the flamboyant initial blast of flavour. Sour, tannic green olives play on the sides of the tongue, off of sherry sweetness rising through the middle, a cigarillo smoked quickly after an amuse-bouche of salt & peppered water biscuits, warm olives and smoked salmon with capers.
I had a few established expectations before tasting this whisky. I expected it to be powerful, and it definitely is that. As a single cask bottling from an independent bottler, I also kind-of expected it to run perpendicular to Ardbeg’s carefully crafted distillery profile, which for the most part, it didn’t. This bottling hews so closely to Ardbeg’s distillery profile, it could be mistaken for a distillery bottling. It’s also remarkable how deep, complex and rich it manages to be at 8 years old. Excellent stuff, easily rates extra fine, and just shy of superlative in my books.
‘Thank you and good night!’ rear bottle code: L15335 13:20 2
Stay tuned for the sixth and final part of my Ardbeg Assay, ‘What I Know about Ardbeg’.
*: Without independent sources, we don’t have widely available cask strength bottlings of a number of important distilleries, namely Ardmore, Auchentoshan, Aultmore, Balvenie, Clynelish, Dalmore, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Glen Moray, Highland Park, Macallan, and Mortlach. Though you know, I don’t really keep tabs on that sort of thing… (back)