The celebration was free and included a nice spread of Asian cuisine, samples of the core Ardbeg range, some sort of hoop toss game, and a toast of the Ardbeg Day limited release whisky. I've given high grades to all of the Ardbegs in the core range, but here are additional impressions from the tasting:
- Ardbeg 10 (review and update): oily smoke and peat, some sweet malty thickness, most straightforward of the range
- Ardbeg Uigeadail (review): great balance of sherry and peat, dynamic, tastes oldest and most refined of the range
- Ardbeg Corryvreckan (review): peppery and spicy; the biggest of the range
All of the Ardbegs have the same core oily peat. The peat is distinct from the styles of the other Islay distilleries. With those, I am more likely to use ocean, farm, or swamp metaphors, but Ardbeg strikes me as more industrial. I think of nineteenth century coal-powered trains with their greasy black wrought iron parts and spewed clouds of dirty smoke. Each of the core range has a place in my whisky cabinet. The 10-year-old is accessible enough to drink any time but with enough complexity to return to. The Corryvreckan is a wrecking ball of a whisky when you are demanding a thrill from your glass. Uigeadail, meanwhile, is more enigmatic and a higher maintenance tipple, to be sipped only when you can invest your full attention and palate.
The Ardbeg Day release was distributed to the 125 or so attendees, and an Ardbeg official told us about it. From memory (which means this is almost certainly wrong): a cask strength vatting of 8, 9, and 12 year-old barrels, finished for 6 months in ex-sherry casks. The sherry influence was slight but noticeable, but not nearly as strong as in Uigeadail. Otherwise, I thought the release tasted a lot like what I would expect from a cask strength 10-year-old Ardbeg. A great tasting whisky, but in a limited release I expect something a little more distinct and interesting, such as last year's Alligator.
The tasting celebration was a great idea, but (as I expect from Ardbeg these days) it walked the tenuous line between "fun" and "gimmicky". I don't need to be hip. I just need to taste really good whisky.