Ardbeg Unveils Two Must Have Whiskies

Food & Drink

Ardbeg Drum

Photo, courtesy Ardbeg

The Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Feis Ile in Scotch Gaelic, is an annual festival designed to showcase Islay’s culture and heritage. The event began in 1985, as an effort to revive the Gaelic language by showcasing Gaelic drama, poetry and music.

The first whisky tasting was held in 1990. Since then, the island’s distilleries have played an increasingly significant role. The festival is held at the end of May. This year it will run from May 24 through June 1. The last day of the festival has traditionally been designated as Ardbeg Day.

The distillery celebrates the occasion with the release of a special whisky. The whisky is usually released as two expressions: a higher proof version available only to Ardbeg’s Committee members, the international organization of Ardbeg enthusiasts, and a lower proof version typically released a little earlier, that is made available to consumers for as long as supplies last.

This year’s release is titled ‘Drum’. The Committee version will be officially released on Islay on June 1. The expression carries no age statement. It has been matured in ex-bourbon casks and then finished for an unspecified period of time in casks that previously held rum from the Americas. Ardbeg doesn’t disclose their source of the rum casks.

The Committee Edition carries a 52% ABV, and is sold to Ardbeg Committee members via a link distributed in March. It is priced at $120 for a 700-ml bottle. The regular version carries a 46% ABV. It was released in March, but typically does not become widely available until after the end of the Islay Festival. It is priced at $110 for a 750-ml bottle. Neither expression is chill filtered.

Ardbeg Drum is a powerful, complex whisky. The color is a light gold. On the nose, it offers a variety of aromas. There is a particular note of pine sap, followed by the medicinal elements that often appear in Ardbeg and by aromas of cold smoke and charred wood. There is a wet, herbaceous quality, like a forest after a hard rain, that hangs in the background.

There are additional notes of tropical fruit, including banana and pineapple, as well as green fruits of ripe apple. Dried fruit notes of dates and a bit of fig round out the fruit aromas. Spice notes include cinnamon and a hit of ginger. There are also some cocoa elements.

On the palate, there is the distinctive Ardbeg signature notes of smoke, tar, creosote and some iodine. There is a noticeable sweet, candied element, as well as spice notes of cinnamon, clove, vanilla, chili and ginger, accompanied by some licorice and bittersweet chocolate notes.

Other flavors include some baked apple and some tropical fruit. A pronounced cooked cereal aroma emerges as the whisky opens up. There is a persistent pepperiness that steadily builds at the back of the throat.

There is a pronounced acrid, bitter, drying note, what in a wine could be described as harsh, grippy tannins, only this is at the back of the throat rather than on the tongue.

The finish is exceptionally long and powerful, with waves of cold smoke, accompanied by tropical spices and chocolate and coffee notes and a pronounced lingering pepperiness.

This is an exceptional whisky with loads of flavor and complexity. Ironically, the influence of the rum cask is hard to identify. The Ardbeg pedigree, however, is unmistakable. If you are an Ardbeg fan you need to taste Drum.

Ardbeg 20 Something 22 YO

Photo, courtesy Ardbeg

Late last year, Ardbeg released its latest expression of its “20 Something” bottlings. Ardbeg’s 20 Something 22 is the third release in the series and consists of a blend of selected ex-bourbon casks. It is 22 years old and is bottled at an ABV of 46.4%.

The color is gold. On the nose, the whisky is incredibly aromatic, with pronounced floral and sweet tropic fruit aromas, especially of fresh pineapple. As the whisky opens up notes of wood and smoke also emerge.

On the palate, the whisky is drier than on the nose, though a sweet note steadily builds. It is exceptionally smooth and satiny, featuring flavors of apple, pineapple and some dried mango. There are some tropical spice notes, along with vanilla and some hints of anise. There is cooked cereal, accompanied by some savory notes that emerge as the whisky opens up.

The finish is long, sweetish with smoke and a lingering chili pepperiness.

These are two outstanding whiskies, very different from each other, yet they both reflect the medicinal and tropical character that is often found in Ardbeg. Both are worth a taste. If you want to sample the higher proof version, then join the Ardbeg Committee.

Sláinte

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