Review: Ardbeg Islay Single Malt Scotch 10 Years Old / by Jason Hambrey

10 yrs
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Ardbeg (Port Ellen, Scotland)

Ardbeg is a distillery on Islay, the region of Scotland renowned for its peaty whiskies. They are also (somewhat notoriously) known for many limited edition bottlings which are highly sought after and has brought the distillery to cult status. Ardbeg was one of the first distilleries to use No-Age-Statment (NAS) bottlings as part of their core lineup (Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail), even charging more for these whiskies than for this 10 year old. (However – I must add – despite much of the correctly placed critique against NAS whiskies, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very nice whiskies, if not overpriced). Part of the reason they utilized a no-age-statement is because the smokiness from peat dies down with age, so an older expression of the same whisky will be less smoky.

This 10 year old is bottled at 46%, and does not contain any caramel coloring or chill-filtration – something we all like to see. At Ardbeg they are working to get this whisky up to a target (apparently better) recipe by incorporating more bourbon casks in maturation – but this will still take a few more years. These bottlings, I find, consistently good and actually worth the money - the higher end Ardbegs are very pricy and can have significant batch variation.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L13 175 11:19 6ML

  • Bottling Date: Bottled on the 175th day of 2013

Nose: This is just a brilliant nose – a bonfire in a glass, but it remains light despite all the massive smoke. The first time I had a bottle of this we put our glasses in our dishwasher when we were done and the next morning the entire dishwasher smelt like smoke. Slightly peppery, with lots of wood smoke, the salty tinges of sea air, cucumber, a bit of vanilla and the lightest touches of buttery malt underneath. As the bottle stays open the smoke fades and more of the fruit comes through – orange, lemon, plum, apples, pears. It is light and beautifully clean for such a bold nose. The peat is more smoky than earthy and vegetal, but those characteristics are also very present.

Taste: A sweet entry with smoke coming throughout – fire blackened chickpeas (I used to do this as a kid), burning leaves, slightly nutty, slightly salty, a bit of iodine – there’s a lot going on here! There is some vanilla and creaminess in the middle of the body before the smoke, chickpeas, and wet rooty earth and cinnamon take over the end of the palate. If you add water, more of the sweetness and fruit comes out.

Finish: Vegetal, earthy, and smoky peat, rice crispies, with some vanilla and nutmeg – both slightly tangy and spicy at the same time, but the peat and earth keep playing wonderfully with one another. The spiciness also builds in addictive fashion. It slowly fades, and the taste remains in the mouth for hours.

This is one of my favourite bottlings just because of how beautifully it puts peat forward and embraces it. I can spend hours with this whisky just because of that – casually, in a connoisseur fashion, or leading others into it. Some years ago I gave a friend an intro to whisky with a few bottles, and this was my final one, and he said “now I see why that’s a $100 bottle of Scotch”. Absolutely brilliant.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. This is one of the best peated Scotch whiskies in this price range, if you’re comfortable paying $100 for a bottle of whisky. And some batches are just that slight bit better than others to push this into a higher value buy.

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L14 049 063 6ML

  • Bottling Date: Bottled on the 49th day of 2014

Some nice ashy smoke tempered by creamy vanilla, star anise, oak, orange juice, seaweed, green peppercorn, lemon zest, amarula, and the mineral character of rock pools - brilliant on the nose. The palate has great feel to it with some rising smoke and a touch of watery stale-ness at the end, but rumbles softly into a finish of smoke, spice, almond skins, andlemon rind. Next to its sibling from the previous year (L13 175 11:19 6ML) it is more marine, a bit less sweet, and less medicinal in character with a bit less of an edge to the smoke. The lack of "edge", however, is likely due to the fact that the bottle has been open longer than the L13 bottle I reviewed, so this score might even be up a point or too if it hadn't been open as long. I find I like the Ardbeg 10s fresh. Great stuff, as usual.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. You have to pay for good peat, and after Laphroaig, if that’s your thing, this is one of your better options.