If you’re a peat-head then you know Ardbeg. If you’re an Ardbeg fan (Ardbeggian?) then you know Ardbeg Day. Since 2001, the Ileachs have celebrated their wares as part of the Islay festival, and since 2011 a special release has been made to mark that day. At first it was the infamous Alligator release, which set a precedent on landmark NAS bottling, then it was followed by Day, Ardbog, Auriverdes, Perpetuum, Dark Cove, Kelpie, Grooves, Drum, and now, for 2020 Blaaack.
As touched on above, this is a no age statement whisky and this bottling stands out as it has been aged in pinot noir casks from New Zealand. The initial committee release was captured at a hearty 50.7% ABV, with this regular edition caught at a still-tantalising 46% ABV. Little more is said about the malt, but we know to expect playful peaty punches, so here we go…
Yep. It’s an Ardbeg. There’s the signature peat at first but it’s far from the full-on smoky attack that the Ardbeg core releases ordinarily show off. There’s a lot of sweet, summery and zesty fruits in there – strawberries, raspberries, and oranges – as well as some baking smells, which together make for some sort of delicious pastry experience. This does not ever become too sweet though as it is always offset with that earthy peat.
The peat is front and centre here. It takes over from first sip and displays the different types of peat smoke too: dirty, earthy and sooty. A dark caramel and toffee penny sweetness coats the mouth and the citrus and orange fruit notes from the nose do appear but they are far more muted that the nose would indicate.
Malt and oak spice make small appearances on the finish, but it’s the Ardbeg earthy peat that re-emerges as the primary taste and finishes it all off. It’s still not the peat brick experience that you’d anticipate from an Ardbeg though as there is a definite jammy aftertaste too.
Well, this is not as much the peaty thrashing of all 5 senses that you would ordinarily associate from Ardbeg but it is definitely a celebration of peat and where different casks can take the house style. That said, it is still recognisably an Ardbeg nonetheless.
It has a soft body and texture that makes for an easy drinking experience and I know that the reference to “Jammy notes” will probably make a wine fanatics’ eyes roll as that descriptor comes up all the time for red wines but there really is a little strawberry jam / raspberry jam flavour afterwards. It’s certainly one of the fruitiest Ardbeg releases that I’ve tasted. From this release and some of the other Ardbeg day releases that I’ve tried, it seems that the peat has to take a step back to allow other flavours in, and the Pinot noir casks have brought in the berry and fruits that you would expect.
I like the playful branding that this release has. The New Zealand sheep reference to the Pinot noir casks’ origins is good, and the black and white imagery makes for an eye catching experience – not that the last few years’ releases have been understated at all.
As this came out several months ago, I’ve seen that die-hard Ardbeg fans have not exactly been too fussed about this release and I can kinda see where that comes from if you were very much into the peat. Maybe longer maturation would make this an even fruitier explosion, but then, the peat smoke would fade with time, so you’ve got to trust the whiskymaker’s decision as to where to draw the line. I can imagine that a bottle of this would disappear very quickly. I mean, that has certainly been the case for this sample. It is very tasty and it is so easy drinking for an Ardbeg, that it slips down very easily: whilst you chase the Ardbeg peat dragon, the sweet and fruity elements just makes it even more… more-ish.
Sample disclosure: this sample was received as part of an Instagram giveaway completion win from @washhousewhisky – many thanks for the opportunity and the swift and stylish delivery. All notes are intended as honest, fair and independent reviews of the whisky and not as a a promotion. Please remember to drink wisely and responsibly.