By Franz Scheurer
Drinkers of blended Scotch whisky demand and expect consistency from their favourite tipple and usually stay very brand loyal. Single Malt lovers however revel in the diversity that each distillery and every single cask brings to their nose and palate. The appeal of Single Malt Whisky is the fact that each one is so different and most Single Malt lovers will try as many different ones as they can get their hands on.
Although, in general, a Speyside Single Malt can be expected to be more elegant and an Islay dram more peaty and robust, every area is capable of producing such a variety of flavours and styles that it is very hard to pick a specific whisky in a blind tasting. With a lot of practice you will eventually be able to recognise certain distillery styles but just when you reach that point of false security, then a Single Malt comes along that changes everything.
Personally, I adore Ardbeg from Islay. The most often sold 10 year old is a lot more potent than you would expect judging from the pale colour and it is very peaty indeed. If you like smells like wet bandaids, hospital disinfectant, iodine and salt mixed in with your floral aromas you will adore this whisky. So when I found out about two new releases from the Ardbeg Distillery, the ‘Lord of the Isles’ and the ‘Uigeadail’, I immediately exercised my credit card and ordered a bottle of each. They arrived yesterday…
Despite everything I said above, I would never have believed that two such different Whiskies could come out of the same distillery!
Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounce Oog-a-dal) takes its name from the loch, which provides the peat-laden water for Ardbeg. It is a special vatting of 1993 Ardbeg matured in bourbon barrels and many older sherry casks. The older casks bring luscious, sweet, raisiny tones to the Ardbeg taste. This dram is non chill-filtered and bottled at traditional strength (54.2%) to preserve maximum flavour and body. Note that on adding water a little cloudiness may occur, which is perfectly natural and no cause for concern. (Chill filtering does remove some of the solids that make a whisky turn cloudy when water is added, however, many terrific aromas and flavours are removed at the same time.) The Uigeadail is intensely smoky, yet sweet, with hints of bitter marmalade on the nose. On the palate it is powerful, rich and concentrated with slightly tarry undertones with a touch of star anise. The marmalade flavour is still there and the finish is very long, hot and a shock to the system. This is a very powerful whisky and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Some dram!
The ‘Lord of the Aisles’ is the total opposite of the Uigeadail. This is the most delicate and complex whisky from Islay I have ever tasted. Sure, the tarry rope, smoky leather, salt and peat characters that are so typically Ardbeg are there, but they are softened by sweet honey and mellowed by floral flavours. I detect heather, lily of the valley, violets and roses with an afterglow of matured bitter orange marmalade and dark chocolate. This is heart and soul warming stuff. The whisky has been matured in oak barrels for 25 years and is non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% alcohol. On the palate it confirms the nose and exhibits an extraordinary mouth-feel with an impossibly long finish. This is a sophisticated, layered, textured and beautifully aromatic dram, as satisfying as any I have ever tasted.
A little bit of history:
The Lord of the Isles ruled the western isles of Scotland from the 12th to the 15th century. The Celtic / Norse warlord Somerleò, founder of the lordship dynasty, through his three sons Òugåll, Rånålò and Ångus was thus the progenitor of the two great clans of MacDonald and MacDougall. John MacDougall founded the Ardbeg distillery on Islay in 1815. The Ardbeg Distillery is situated on the rugged, windswept Atlantic shores at the southern tip of Islay. It is in one of the most beautiful areas of the world and Ardbeg remains a great distillery to visit.
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