This will be somewhat of a declaration of love to Ardbeg. It was my very frist single-malt love. It was for the wrong reasons perhaps, but still Ardbeg has special place in my heart. Let me explain why these feelings for this distillery on Islay exist.
Ask anyone who has an interest for whisky (experienced or budding interest) what they associate with Ardbeg and there will be one common word: Peat! This might be a common word for many distilleries from this area. Is this why I like Ardbeg? Partly, but it runs deeper than that. I have a certain emotional attachment to Ardbeg too.
Ardbeg Ten years old was my first introduction to single malt. It’s now around 6-7 years ago. At this point in time I was quite new when it came to whisky. I had been very proud of a bottle of Chivas Regal 18 years with some unique numbers on it. It was great thing for a lad in his early twenties to have such a nice whisky. And yes, I felt somewhat “special” buying a drink from this bottle at a gathering. And the bottle lasted for a very long while because I was so proud. It’s still a good whisky, but not really that exciting perhaps.
But getting back to Ardbeg. The man I owe my whisky interest to was a young lad hardly old enough for liquor drinking like myself (i.e early twenties), and he worked as a shop clerk at the tax free shop in Bergen Airport. I had a few kroner burning a hole in my pocket – like youngsters often have when they go somewhere on vacation. He had some ideas that unfortunately several whisky experts would disapprove of. I stood there looking in the whisky section with a mate when he asked what I was looking for. Well, obviously whisky, or what? But what else I didn’t really have any answer to. After giving a budget the Ardbeg Ten years old came out of a shelf. It appearently had won some sort of highly coveted price that was really impressive to me (it’s only later I have understood that it probably was Jim Murray’s “Whisky of the Year”). And even more “impressive” for a youngster? “If you put some ice in it, it goes cloudy, almost milky in colour!,” the clerk said. I was just made up! I had to buy it!
And the guy was realy right! It was very funny to see what happened. Great big bourbon glasses from Ikea, a couple ice cubes in it, and you would think we were drinking a thin milk with ice. Well, sort of. It was cloudy at least. If my friends and I noticed something else? Weeelll… It was very “smokey”.
And this thing about smoke or peat has long intrigued me after this. Looking for ever more peatier whiskies was long an obsession. It wasn’t “genuine” if the whole room didn’t smell when the bottle was opened. This lead to a long period with lots of Ardbeg Supernova, Lagavulin and Talisker to mention a few. There was also some not directly connected to any destilleries like Big Peat etc. Some it was a real dellight to put a bit of water in and find it started smelling camp fire.
But despite plenty of peated whiskies, I have really always returned to Ardbeg which in my eyes is the “original”. Granted, it has a lot to do with that “first love”, but also the way the destillery has
taken care of it’s brand. The way this somewhat young destillery (started up again in 1997), slowly but surely has released new versions has been amazing. They started with editions like Very Young, Still Young etc. before the ten year old came out. It’s not been often that Ardbeg has actually given us the ages on the bottle – really quite refreshing since they sometimes don’t mean much (link in Norwegian only as of 02. Nov. 15). It’s snobbishness to some degree – it must be the whisky not the numbers on the bottle that surely matters? Now we have the 10 year old together with the two extremes of Blasda and Supernova. It’s quite amazing to me that they can do this. Maybe we also need to get more used to Blasdas than Supernovas with the peat-situation in Islay being so precarious as it is. It’s a good thing that I have got a tast for “lighter” whiskes. And when it comes to peat, Blasda has 8 ppm compared to the norm of 24 ppm.
I know that if someone asks whiskyguru and Oslo Whiskyfestival-organizer Chris Maile what his favourite whisky is, you will get the answer: “The one I am holding in my hand now”. And well, to a large extent I do agree with the idea (even though Chris himself sins a bit here as a gentleman from the Isle of Skye). But unfortunately, this is also a bit like asking “what’s your favourite team”? I just can’t answer “the winning team”. Those who really want my favourite footy teams (in Norway and England), can ask in the comments.
But my favourite whisky? Ardbeg TEN year old!
What’s your favourite whisky? Tell us in comments