Ardbeg the Islay [‘i:lə]


Today, the sun was barely out – a common Seattle spring day.   Being that it was Sunday, what a perfect reason for grilling some meat, don’t you think?  Out comes the grill with lots of charcoal briquettes, and after reverting to a ten-year-old boy for a few moments and playing with fire for a little while, the grill was ready for the sacrificed meat and I smelled of the cologne of forest fire.  I smelled like Ardbeg.

A few years ago having first being exposed to Scottish whisky, telling a Scottish friend that I liked Scotch, he rose an eyebrow at me for a second, stared for that moment and wryly replied in his thick Scottish brogue, ‘Scotch is what happens when I piss in a bottle mate, what you’re talking about is Scottish whisky‘.  Yes, I was talking about Scottish whisky, and today, we’re talking about Arbeg, the Islay whisky.

Isle of Islay

Isle of Islay

In my last post, I talked about Laphroaig, another Islay (pronounced ‘eye-luh’ or[‘i:lə]) whisky, so I won’t bother you with the difference between the different classifications of Scottish whisky described in that post, except to say that the most peaty and smoky whiskies in the world are made on this one small island, and Ardbeg does not mess around.

While I may smell like fire and smoke as I type this missive, my clothes smell nothing next to the smoke of a nice wee dram of Arbeg.  Off and on since 1815, the distillers at Ardbeg have always found pride in making one of the most heavily peated and delicious whiskies available, and they have never mess around.

There are whole books written about the history of Ardbeg – but here’s the sure-shot version:  Started in 1815, Ardbeg produced single-malt Scottish whisky until 1981, when the market for Scottish single-malts had dried up and the distillery was carefully put to rest and mothballed.  To make a long story short, a short time later, the world had again remembered that they love single-malts, and the Ardbeg distillery was re-opened for a full production run in 1997.

Now with Port Ellen (themselves having stopped distilling in 1983) doing the malting and peating for Ardbeg, things have changed a bit since Ardbeg did this themselves those few years and many bottles ago, but the taste has stayed true to what any Ardbeg drinker expects, and Ardbeg has four main whisky releases that are commonly found.  These are:

ardbeg10 Ardbeg 10yr – The 10yr is the most fresh of the Ardbegs that I have tasted.  And, by ‘fresh’, I mean all of the different tastes are daringly and proudly obvious.  At 46% alcohol (92proof), the malt, the peat, the smoke, the sweetness and the citrus notes are brash.  Your mouth, from the lips to the roof-palate will all at different times be treated to different tastes, each strikingly obvious.  The 10yr is a good place to start.

ardbeg17 Ardbeg 17yr – the 17yr follows the trend of the 10, but at 40% (80proof) all the fore-mentioned tastes have started to join each other, producing a more balanced and gentle islay whisky, with less peat evident, but it’s still an Ardbeg, still full of peat and stands tall against most other single-malts.

ardbeg_uigeadial Ardbeg Uigeadail – Named after the loch that provides the distillery their water, the Uigaedail joins the great single-malts to define what constitutes great Scottish whisky.  The Uigaedail is wonderfully full.  Still peaty, still smoky, but smooth as a fine cognac, and at 54.2% alcohol (108.4proof), I’m not sure how this is possible, but it’s a fact.  When you taste this Ardbeg, the flavor just coats the tongue with a sweet, nectar-like flavor.  Again, all the smoke and peat is there, but what surrounds these flavors is this fine almost fruit-like reminder of your nip that will happily last for a long time.  This whisky is a treat, no doubt.

ardbegBeist Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist – the “Beast”, as this bottle is affectionately called, is a fine representation of it’s name, holding strong at 46% (92proof).  This bottle seems a bit more obvious than the Uigeadail, to me, less balanced but obviously still a close relative but still wonderful, almost with a light spicy chocolate finish that for my taste ended quickly.  Again, very enjoyable, but in a bratty little brother kind of manner.

Bourbon is still my favorite whisky, but I’m starting to feel like I’m reliving a pleasant deja vu every time that I drink Scottish whisky, and each time this single-malt reminds me of what I am missing between these happy occasions.  Until I again enjoy a single-malt, I forget that I really do love barley-malted whisky. I forget that I like some peat and smoke, and I forget that there’s a world of whisky out there to drink, and I almost subconsciously do not drink it that often in order to enjoy this experience over and over again, I do believe.


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