Ardbeg 10 Year: 46% abv
Background: Here we stand at the face of another peat juggernaut, the Ardbeg 10 Year. This is their flagship product, being big, affordable, and unique, but still upholding the ideals of Ardbeg, being 46% and unchill-filtered. There is no reason to scoff at this Scotch as a potential mainstay, because unlike Lagavulin, you can still afford a bottle of this without missing next month’s car payment. It is a peaty Islay, and it certainly test your passion to a smoky Scotch. It is not common to see an Ardbeg with colorant, and this one is absolutely the same case. Ardbeg will tell you on their packaging that their whiskies stand alone as the most delicate of all Islay whiskies. In fact, Ardbeg is delicate like a stampede of elephants running through a china shop built on a thin layer of ice. Nonetheless, as Jeremy Clarkson would say, the time has come to show it some corners and see what it can do. Here’s what we found:
Nose: Hey, guess what?! You might find yourself greeted by a nose of oily, smoky peat. This nose is thick in a leathery, even road tar-like character. It doesn’t overbear you with the smell of asphalt, but you certainly will smell something earthy and hot. Keep digging, and you’ll start to find a briny, salty intensity coupled with a charred wood smell and passive savory notes. There is even a slight toasted nuttiness involved in here. On a more subtle note, there are suggestions of vanilla and slightly floral notes that unravel with more exploration. After the whisky opens up, a sense of gin botanicals does make short cameo in this whisky. As a counterbalance, fruitiness akin to fresh apples comes through. It is absolutely an engaging nose.
Arrival: The arrival starts with an awesome spiciness of cinnamon and ginger, along with some mild sweetness of vanilla and apples. Unfortunately, the arrival doesn’t hold up over time, because the alcohol content masks the flavors pretty quickly. There is a slight maltiness that comes through and is counterbalanced by the saltiness and peatiness that starts to creep in.
Body: There is a combination of peat smoke, maltiness, pumpkin spices, brininess, and even some bitterness that comes through in the body. The body follows the arrival quickly and moves into a fairly dry and spicy body. The body is a lull in the flavor, but black pepper can be found (probably a contributor to the bitterness that is seen in the whisky), along with other spice notes to compliment the smoke and maltiness.
Finish: The biggest residual flavor found is the long, dry smoky peat flavor that carries on for what seems like an eternity. Unfortunately, the rest of the whisky doesn’t carry that same length. There is still a lot of salt, black pepper, cinnamon, pumpkin spices, and other spicy notes. It is hugely earthy in the finish, in an unmerciful way. This is definitely a finish suggestive of a novice drinker. It is hot, but not terribly prominent in the sense of burn. There is some light, dry fruitiness that can be found as well, but it is subtle.
Nose: Seeing as this whisky is 46% and made by Ardbeg, we were a little more liberal with adding water, which did significantly open up the nose. There was more maltiness and balance than before, taking out some of the more obtrusive notes, albeit it still stood as a hugely intense nose.
Arrival: The arrival starts off sweeter, with more malt sugar character than before, and even some honey. The spiciness backs off slightly, and allows a floral, slightly citrusy flavor to come through. A sense of pear rind starts to come through after some time.
Body: The new found citrus in the arrival carries through into the body, representing light orange flavor, maltiness, and still a huge chunk of peat. There is a phenolic character in the body, which is still exacerbated by the peppery bitterness that we found before. The body is short, and finishes rather quickly as well.
Finish: The phenolic, peaty, and rather medicinal finish is pretty standard out of an Ardbeg, but comes to light more after adding water. This Scotch doesn’t get much gentler after water, that’s for certain. The finish just holds an ashy character, with a seaweed saltiness that keeps in the mouth as well. Although most of the complexities of the finish are short, the peat flavor still takes its time and sticks around.
Final Comments: This is a bold whisky, and like Laphroaig it is not for the faint of heart. Where this differs from Laphroaig is that it is drier, less fruity, and has some more “oily” notes. I wouldn’t generally introduce a new peated Scotch drinker to this as their first dram, but it is a relatively enjoyable dram for somebody with experience. That aside, some of the complexity is lost after the arrival, and the flavors don’t seem to pop like they do with some of the other peated Scotches we’ve tried. This is a minor criticism, and there should be no reason not to try it. The biggest thing Ardbeg can do for themselves is to continue producing single malts at good proofs and natural presentation. Also, if you are looking to grow some hair on your chest, look no further. This’ll make you look like Austin Powers in no time.
Why you’d buy it: You like an oily, peaty Scotch with complexity, or you aspire to be Austin Powers
Why you wouldn’t: You don’t like drinking liquid smoke.