I have a soft spot for Ardbeg. It was one of the first single malt whiskies that I tried during my personal journey of discovery and while it was a world away from the Macallan, Highland Park, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, I felt that I could relate to it on some level.
It was also rather easy for me to enjoy the smoky sweetness of the 10 Year Old expression (which is a different beast when you compare it to the Laphroaig 10 Year Old expression which I initially did not like).
Over the years, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila have been my most purchased Islay malts (and with good reason, when you consider that these three were the most readily available at Duty Free). However, I always felt that Ardbeg was a safe bet and definitely worth purchasing if the options were rather limited.
As time went by, I delved deeper into the history and offerings of the distillery and sampled the Uigeadail (sherried brilliance), Corryvreckan (Somewhat similar to the 10 Years) and Supernova 2014 (Sherried and sophisticated peat monster). But I’d always find myself coming back to the 10 Years as it was affordable and always represented good quality to me.
Getting back to the issue at hand, I was at Whisky & Alement (yes, them again) back in early July and was perusing their offerings on the wall when the bartender told me that they had just acquired an old bottling of the 10 Year Old expression.
Now, having only tried the current version, I was rather intrigued and asked him if I could have a look at the bottle. He gave me both the old and current bottlings so that I could do a side by side comparison.
The difference between the old and the current bottlings would be the shade of green used in the label as well as the presentation of the words NON CHILL-FILTERED in both labels (the old bottling has these words in a box outline whereas the current bottling does not).
The bartender also mentioned that the old bottling represented a softer style of Ardbeg as it was made with old stocks which were left maturing in the warehouse during the years of intermittent production between 1989 and 1996.
From what information I could gather on the internet, this old expression was bottled in 1998 from those old maturing stocks and the softer style as mentioned by the bartender was a representation of the production practices of the previous owner, Allied Lyons.
For the purpose of this comparison, I have included the review of the core offering which I tried when I was at the distillery back in January. So, let’s dive right in:
Ardbeg 10 Years (46% abv, Current bottling)
Nose: Briny, maritime notes with quite a lot of sweet peat. Strong hints of vanilla intermingled with some citrus fruits. Very inviting.
Palate: Initial peat blast saturates the palate with smoke before subsiding slightly to allow the vanilla and citrus notes to surface. Another wave of peat follows, but not as strong as the initial salvo. Oily mouthfeel and yet somewhat drying at the same time.
Finish: Medium to long finish with the peat slowly fading, leaving behind the briny notes and some ash. Very very good whisky and one of my go-to drams!
Ardbeg 10 Years (46%, Old bottling)
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Soft peat, very unlike the new Ardbeg 10 Years. Some soapy notes intermingled with sweet barley and barley sugar. Definitely exhibits a pronounced maritime nose that is typically Ardbeggian in character.
The strength of the alcohol is also apparent at 46% abv and creeps up the nose. Straw notes and cracked black pepper bringing with it some nice warmth. Hints of tobacco pouch and camphor.
Palate: Wow! Unbelieveably soft on the palate and unlike any Ardbeg I’ve ever tried (even the Uigeadail)! Soft peat, sweet barley and the barley sugar from the nose definitely make an appearance with just a hint of citrus.
The briny, maritime character is also apparent, with a nice sprinkling of sea salt. The cracked black pepper from the nose combines beautifully with the barley sugar, giving it a nice warming sweetness. The sweetness becomes more pronounced with time and the mouthfeel is slightly oily with a drying character as the heat begins to fade.
Finish: Long and lingering finish, which would probably last all night long. Sea salt, cigar ash and some peat towards the very end. Very more-ish whisky and I could definitely drink this on a regular basis!
The old bottling is a testament to a distilling style from a different era and is representative of the quality of old whiskies. This old Ardbeg is a definite winner in my eyes and just about pips the current expression in terms of the overall sensory experience.
It can still be purchased online for a fairly reasonable £89.95, which is money that I would gladly spend on a bottling like this. If you are interested in purchasing this beauty, it is available here: http://www.htfw.com/scotch-malt-whisky/islay/ardbeg/ardbeg-single-islay-malt-old-bottling-10-year-old