I have tried and bought a decent amount of Ardbeg over the years but somehow never discussed them here. This is all the more surprising when I talk about Islay so much as it is!
Ardbeg is another of the Islay peated heavyweights. Situated on the south coast of the Island near its rivals Laphroaig and Lagavulin, Ardbeg was founded in 1798 and began commercial operations in 1815. In these days peated whisky was primarily used as a diluted additive in blends. During the 80’s and 90’s demand reduced and the distillery suffered through years of minimal production and mothballing. It has been steadily producing award winning whisky since its return to full production in 1998 such as the lauded Uigeadail.
Ardbeg like all of the Islay distilleries engage in the annual island festival and have been producing yearly unique bottlings to mark the occasion. The turmoil of the last year with political upsets and international feuding has summoned this years Ardbeg offering in the form of the Kelpie.
The An Oa is the latest addition to the core range at Ardbeg which is achievable to buy. Ardbeg is one of those brands which seems to forever release expensive stuff but never really innovate in the value sector. The An Oa release is a marriage of different casks which are added in batches before a marrying period in the Solera system. Those casks though include Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak and ex-bourbon. All this is bottled at 46.6% and with the usual specification of natural colour and no chill filtering.
This is the entry level bottle from Ardbeg but the price is still a heady 45-50 pounds in the UK. The price is the price and it is set like this because frankly Ardbeg get away with charging these numbers.
Colour – pale
Nose – dry ash, burnt toast and smouldering wood some lemons and a tin of kippers
Palate – There are lovely long legs in the glass with great oily texture with more burning material notes and woody spices. Lots of that ashy dry peat again as well along with butterscotch, honey and vanilla.
Finish – such a lovely long ashy peat finish again with symmetry to the nose on the lemons, kippers and buttered toast. Overall quite drying from black tea notes.
So I have a confession to make. This isn’t my first attempt at An Oa. I tried it just after it was released in 2017 and I really didn’t like it. I thought the virgin oak influence was over powering and ruining the whisky. There was too much of a salty note and then that raw wood note as well. With time and this Solera system though the whisky is much muh better and I would recommend you go get a bottle now for sure.