By Franz Scheurer
There are currently quite a few 10-year-old expressions of Ardbeg available on the Australian market and I have singled out the best three in a direct comparison:
Ardbeg 10 y/o, 46% a/v
This is the standard, easily available expression, solid as a rock. It never fails to allure!
Colour: signature Ardbeg pale straw, almost translucent.
Nose: iodine, smoke, seaweed.
Palate: It attacks your palate with a rush of iodine and seaweed reminiscent of fresh sea urchins. Although smoke and peat are there they donít overpower strong undertones of malt, heather and sweet almonds and hints of French nougat.
Finish: Quite hot with a long, dry, complex and slightly acidic finish.
Comment: A terrific Islay, a serious single malt and fabulous value for money.
Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Ardbeg, 1993, bottled 2003, 50% a/v
A very successful independent bottler with many years of experience, specialising in cask strength whiskies.
Colour: quite dark for an Ardbeg, akin to an oxidised Chardonnay.
Nose: biscuity, malty, maritime and Angostura bitters.
Palate: Quite sweet at first with definite Sherry notes and mouth-fillingly oily. As the sweetness dries floral and cereal notes assert themselves and eventually gain the upper hand.
Finish: long, dry and satisfying.
Comment: this is an interesting Islay; itís sweet and pleasing without ever being in Ďlolly landí.
Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Ardbeg, 1994, b. 2004, 40% a/v
A well respected independent bottler with a long history of and reputation for finding terrific single casks, with a good nose for Islay whiskies.
Colour: Light yellow gold.
Nose: Closed, a little more floral than the other two, with a hint of brine.
Palate: The meaty, briny notes are confirmed on the palate with lots of salty shortbread and biscuity, almost Spanish brandy-like notes. This is the least maritime expression with an almost Highland dryness.
Finish: long, meaty and very dry.
Comment: Very much the aperitif style Islay, enjoy it with green olives and salted almonds.
What is really interesting is the fact that the distilleryís own expression costs about half as much as the other two and not only holds its own but also clearly wins in my book. I noticed the exact same result when I compared a Gordon & MacPhail 1978 bottled in 2005 and an Ardbeg 1977 bottled in 2004.
The boys at Ardbeg get it right! Every time!