Well, it’s time time to take a break from ranting and presenting scholarly research, and discuss one of my passions, single malt Scotch. Tonight, we return to the barren island of Islay (pronounced EYE-la in the event you’ve forgotten) and review the Ardbeg 10-year-old Islay Malt. The Ardbeg distillery has had a tumultuous history since its establishment in 1815. It’s been through several owners and has even been closed on two occasions. But in the year 1997, after the distillery was purchased by the Glen Morangie company, it appears to have hit its stride, launching several new whiskeys and winning the highly-coveted World Whiskey of the Year award in 2008, 2009, and 2019.
But the proof, as they say, is in the whiskey itself, so let’s put our noses and taste buds there.
Once again, you’ll have to bear with my somewhat limited olfactory and taste glands. I don’t seem to smell or taste the same things the experts do. According to its website, www.ardbeg.com, ”Ardbeg Ten Years Old is revered around the world as the peatiest, smokiest, most complex single malt of them all. Yet it does not flaunt the peat; rather it gives way to the natural sweetness of the malt to produce a whisky of perfect balance.” While I enjoy the whiskey immensely, I’m not sure it’s the smokiest or peatiest. I think that title goes to Laphroaig. But Ardbeg may indeed be among the most complex of the Islay malts.Read More
Rather than rant, pontificate or hypothesize tonight, I thought I’d write about something for which Colin Pearce and I have a keen appreciation: single malt Scotch. Today I made a stop at my local liquor boutique and replaced a bottle in my collection that has been missing far too long – a bottle of The Lagavulin, a highly complex, aristocratic and refined Islay (pronounced “eye-la”) single malt. Tonight as I sit at my desk to write this, I have a glass of the amber nectar at my side and as I sip it, I feel like I am being reacquainted with an old friend. It is one of my absolute favorites. Before I discuss the taste though, let’s get through a few preliminaries.
Terminology / Geography
1) Scotch – or Scotch Whisky, is as you would expect, whisky that is made in Scotland. This sounds obvious but it is, in fact, law in the United Kingdom according to Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009 which made it illegal for anything to be called “Scotch Whisky” unless it is produced in Scotland. You can read more than you can stand about the regulations here.
2) Single-malt Scotch is whisky that is produced at a single distillery from only malted barley and water via the process of batch distillation. Most Scotch is blended Scotch and as such features a somewhat generic taste. The fascinating thing about single malt is that each variety has its own unique flavor and character – one of the things I truly love about it. As I write this I have 27 bottles of single malt in my collection, ranging from a cheap bottle of Finlaggan that I picked up in Costco a few months ago to a bottle of 25-Year-Old Macallan that I’ve had for years and is probably worth several hundred dollars.
3) There are several distinct regions in Scotland where single malt is produced. It’s easier to provide a visual depiction than to explain it so I’ve included the map here which you can see in greater detail at http://www.malts.com/index.php/en_us/Choosing-Whisky/Whisky-Regions-of-Scotland#0. Each region lends its own traits to the whisky it produces. Rather than discuss each region and risk boring you, we’ll just focus on Islay for now since that’s where Lagavulin is produced.
Instead of trying to describe the region and its unique characteristics in my own words, allow me to let other, more literate, whisky writers speak for me:
“Located on the southern coast of Scotland in view of Northern Ireland, Islay produces whiskies that are easily identified by their specific flavor profile. These whiskies are commonly described as briny, peaty, seaweedy and medicinal. For some, their intensity may be a bit too much, but for those serious about their whisky, at least one favorite is likely to come from this region” (Lerner, 1997, p. 28).
“Island malts tend to be fuller in body and stronger in peat than the Highland and Lowland malts. Islay malts, in particular, are well known for their heavy, almost oily body, and strong peaty flavor. Some people claim to taste hints of seaweed and iodine….What makes the Island whiskies so special is hard to say. Perhaps it is the island peat. Perhaps it is the moist sea air, perpetually blowing across these islands, which imparts something to the whisky as it ages for years in its porous casks. Perhaps it is the island water, filtered through the fibrous peat” (Harris & Waymack, 1992, p. 123).Read More