Islay. It has a special meaning for scotch whisky drinkers. What can be more special then, than a week celebrating all that the island has to offer?
The last week of May / start of June marks the annual Feis Ile – the Islay Festival of malt and music. Each of the distilleries on the island get a day within the week to celebrate their wares and open their doors with ever increasing flare and bombast. What also gets Ileach lovers’ hearts pumping – whether able to visit the isle or not – are the special release bottlings that the distilleries now regularly put out to mark the occasion.
After two years of (understandably) virtual celebrations, the island has re-opened to visitors and Ardbeg are having a scotch-soaked, fun-filled Ardbeg day on Saturday 4th June 2022 and are also putting on events throughout the week including bbqs, boat trips, and walks amongst numerous tailored tastings.
Of the Islay-based whisky makers, it is fair to say that Ardbeg have probably had more fun with these annual releases than anyone else. Whilst some stuffy sods might turn their nose up at the playful twists, each year, Ardbeg have toyed with a theme and have really leant into it. This year is no exception as the Ardbeggians have led with punk rock! And so, here is their 2022 special edition bottling ready for Ardbeg Day: Ardcore.
As with most special releases this was initially made available to Ardbeg Committee members at a higher ABV (50.1% ABV) than the non-Committee release (46% ABV), and describes itself as “like biting on a spiky ball” leaving your “tastebuds PUNKtured” – a drink for the “most Ardcore of fans!”
What differentiates this from other releases is that it has used a mash containing 25% “Black Malt Barley” – heavily roasted barley grains – at the start of its peaty life before aging in primarily first-fill American oak. Beyond that, we know little else about this no age statement release, and so we again put our faith into Dr Bill Lumsden and Co for this £105 RRP limited release. On that note… let’s stop with the liner notes and crack on with the music itself…
It’s a classic Islay nose for sure. There’s a sweet, drying, sooty smoke that brings tarry ropes and beach campfires to mind. Beyond that though there a lighter and more floral grassy notes and a whole host of light/white fruits: apple, white peach, white grapes (almost white wine-like), and they develop and give more citrus fruits with time too: orange zest, lemon, and grapefruit.
The Ardbeg smoke continues to take charge and leads with a familiar charcoal, barbecue, and ashy flavour. Once acclimatised then you get a good dose of malt and biscuits, before those white fruits and citrus fruits return again, even joined by some stone or tropical fruits – I’m thinking pineapple without being too sweet or puckering. Maybe even a little herbal.
Chocolate, smoke, and cracked black pepper meld together on the way down with a drying finish.
A superb Ardbeg. This tinkers with the classic Ardbeg formula and delivers those heavy flavours with lots of layers of sweetness and malt beneath without ever being too heavily bodied or cloying. Come to think of it, it is the body of this whisky that makes it. Much like The Dude’s Rug, it really brings the room together, and brings about a great balance of all the smoky vs sweet flavours.
As for the name and branding around this. Yes, it is gimmicky. But hands up: it appeals to me. As touched on during the intro: I don’t care much for whisky taking itself too seriously and this punk angle is right up my street. At its very least, it is some tremendous pun work. Maybe next year they could put out a cheap bottle called Ard Up? Maybe a peated water collab with Larkfire: Ard Water? Maybe a library/literary theme with Ardbacks? Maybe I’ll just leave the marketing to them.
Back to the whisky and, of the Ardbeg day releases that I have tried to date (and sadly not enough of those) this is the most reminiscent of the Ardbeg that I know. It has all the right elements dialled up a touch without compromising balance or flavour.
Sample disclosure: this sample was received as part of a paid whisky subscription through Becky Paskin’s OurWhisky club. Available here: OurWhisky. You can also click the following link to a guided tasting of the May box including an interview with Ardbeg’s Distillery Manager Colin Gordon here: Tasting. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky itself and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly . Please drink wisely.