Just as autumn puts in motion a craving for hearty red wine, when the temperatures drop and start to signal the onset of winter, I’m suddenly put in the mood for Scotch. For the wine drinkers out there who haven’t explored what a dram of Scotch is truly capable of, I beg of you to give it a try. A good glass of Scotch deserves your full attention. Take a quick series of small sniffs at the rim of the glass, allowing your senses to acclimate to the initial burst of heat. Then take that next full sniff, and suddenly all of the aromatics are open for you to enjoy. Add a few drops of water (literally just a few drops), and watch it open up even more—I’ll make a believer of you yet.
Do you prefer smokey, or sweet?
This is a very personal question. My preference is right down the middle, but it’s the smokey category where I find the most interesting examples where I can spend the most time indulging in them. Which brings us to finding the right Scotch. Single Malts and high-profile blends continue to flood the market, and as demand increases, prices follow suit. However, there are still some great values to be found. Ardbeg is a true to character, Islay single malt. Islay, being a small island off of Scotland’s coast, is known for the precious peat which is instrumental in the production of the Ardbeg range. Ardbeg is also a name steeped in history, but it wasn’t until the late nineties, when it was acquired by Glenmorangie, that this 200-year old distillery received the credit it deserved; being named Distillery of the year in 1998 and World Whisky of the year in ’08, ’09 and 2010.
Awards aside, when I started to get into Scotch and asked around to build a collection to taste through, Ardbeg came up repeatedly as “The Peaty (smokey) Scotch.” However, what makes this so attractive goes beyond that meaty, smoky character; it’s the balance that Ardbeg manages to achieve, coupled with a fantastic briny / mineral character, which imparts amazing depth.
Last week was also the first time I was able to taste the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, and what an experience. All the intense mineral-laden smokiness you could desire, wrapped in a package of sweet spice and rich textures. Each of them were highly-enjoyable, but the Uigeadail was a beguiling dream, which kept me coming back to the glass over and over. Ardbeg may be an old name, but their reserves are still quite new; having tasted what they’ve done with the ten-year range, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future.
Ardbeg 10-year is a remarkable value. In this price range, I usually don’t expect too much depth, and yet here it is, all on display. A wonderfully peaty Scotch, yet not over the top. The nose shows smoked meats, hints of citrus, menthol and seaside minerals. It’s smooth and pure on the palate. This is my “go-to” peaty Scotch.
Ardbeg Uigeadail is beautifully influenced by the sherry casks it’s finished in. A Scotch of remarkable character and beautiful silky textures. The nose is rich and deep with an initial smoky presence, which gives way to dark chocolate, toffee, spice, and a mix of woodshop notes. It’s a balanced whisky that will please both camps of whisky drinkers and keeps you coming back to the glass over and over.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan kicks it up a notch in the intensity department, yet balances that intensity with rich, velvety textures. The nose is a mix of roasted nuts, linseed oil, caramel, raw honey and spicy herbal tones. It dominates the palate and won’t let go with a mix of pepper, espresso bean, and minerals. Dark fruits seem to saturate the senses as its weighty textures slowly recede from the senses. This opens up beautifully with a few drops of water. It’s a scotch to enjoy slowly over time; quite an experience.
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido