Ardbeg is as loved by it’s fans as it is detested by those who have no taste for the powerful, peat-heavy expressions it produces.
The 10 year old is their entry-level whisky but being un-chillfiltered and bottled at 46% ABV, is no watered-down effort and packs more of a punch than anything else in its class.
‘Full on’ is the best description and it definitely wakes you up.
Coal tar, salty smoked fish, a hint of lemon rind and a little vanilla.
With water, vanilla cream becomes more apparent and the underlying maltiness comes through.
More intense than the nose; neat the whisky coats your mouth like a medicinal mouthwash. Pungent smoke is dominant and it takes a little time to detect anything else.
Once you calibrate your tastebuds, there is a little dried fruit and malty sweetness, some sour lemon and dark chocolate and coffee.
The finish is long, dry and smokey with just a hint of dried fruit at the end.
Water does reduce the peat intensity and reveals more of the underlying flavour.
To its credit, it can take a good glug of water without washing away the flavours – very good spirit for a 10 year old.
Like some others I expect, Ardbeg was my first experience of Islay whisky and it’s almost one of those litmus tests which will put you off the spirit forever, or make you want to explore more.
Despite the mentions of fruit and vanilla in the official tasting notes; these are definitely secondary flavours behind the dominant peat and coal tar; this should not be given to a novice withoout prior warning!
That said, Ardbeg 10 is a fantastic whisky with a quality and complexity which belies it age. The decision to bottle at a higher strength and without chillfiltration sets it apart from almost every other ‘standard’ 10 year old on the market and it definitely benefits from this.
It’s a modern classic and everyone should try this whisky once.