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.
When I nose the whiskey, peat or smokiness isn’t the first thing my nostrils detect. Instead, there is a distinct aroma of fruit with just a hint of smokiness in the background – barely even detectable. The nose of this whiskey does what it is meant to do, it beckons to your tongue after the slightest whiff of the aroma.
The first sensation I feel as the whiskey hits my tongue is the taste of pepper. Then, as it seeps further back on my tongue, I get a general taste of fruit, not one so specific that you can pinpoint it, but a general, citrus-based taste. And that’s when the peatiness and smokiness make their presence known, encasing the fruit with a definite sensation and easing it into my palate.
Some whiskeys linger on the tongue and others don’t. Ardbeg, in my opinion, does not. There is a fading sensation of pepper once again, a trace of fruit and then it’s gone.
In a previous review, I called Lagavulin the most civilized or regal Islay malt. I might indeed term Ardbeg the most complex of the Islay malts. Every time I bring the glass to my lips, I expect a burst of smokiness in my nostrils and on my tongue, yet that’s not what occurs. Instead, I get the fruit, the pepper and the peat, each in delicate, deliberate proportion. The whiskey makers at Ardbeg have indeed crafted a whiskey of delicate balance. The Ardbeg 10-year-old is truly a work of art.