February 2, 2013

Ardbeg Uigeadail - Holy Smoke!

Bold Claims and Rich Neighbors
Ardbeg Distillery, Argyll and Bute - Islay

Returning to Islay after last weeks somewhat disappointing excursion to Speyside, we find ourselves at Ardbeg.  Follow the southern coast of Islay from Port Ellen heading west, and you will pass, in this order, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and then Ardbeg.  At the north end of this legendary isle are beastly distilleries like Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Bruichladdich.  So with the richest scotch neighbors in the world, it's quite a bold statement for Ardbeg to claim its title as "The Peatiest and Smokiest of all the Islay malts."

But in our experience, it's not just about being the smokiest or the peatiest.  It's about the balance of the whisky.  The beauty of beasts like Lagavulin and Caol Ila is that they use the smoke and peat flavor to counter the alcohol to achieve amazing smoothness, bringing out all the sweet and unique flavors of the malt.

"Uigeadail" literally means "dark and mysterious" and its namesake is Loch Uigeadail, the enigmatic spring from which Ardbeg's water originates. Uigaedail is a limited release Ardbeg that mixes their standard ten year whisky with an older malt that has been aged in sherry casks.  Sherry cask-aging has been a big hit in our book so far, so we were excited to taste this Ardbeg.

For Christ's sake, it says "The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky" right on the bottle.  One thing the folks at Ardbeg don't seem to suffer from is modesty.  But hey, fortune favors the bold, so let's jump in and see how it measures up.

The Ardbeg Line

The standard Ardbeg bottle is the 10-Year, which is available from KL for $42.99.  They also make the "Corryvreckan" at $73.99 which they describe as "black tarry expresso coffee that coats the palate with rich melted dark fruits".  Rounding out the lineup is the Supernova - which has not been available since 2010 - which is pumped up to a ridongculous peat level of 100 parts per million and was around $130.  The Uigeadail is avaialble from KLwines for $58.99 for a limited time.  There is also a "Blasda" bottle which "removes some of the peat" - i.e. it's an Ardbeg for the faint of heart and doesn't merit further discussion.  Removing the peat from Ardbeg would be like removing the sport from a Ferrari.

Tasting Notes

Nose:   "It smells like I'm on the island of Islay standing next to a smoking heap of peat!"  "Grapefruit, honey, hot pepper."  Very intriguing nose sets up high levels of anticipation for the first sip.

Palate (neat):   Amazingly smooth for the high alcohol content.  Deep rich smoke, multiple layers of peat.  Very rich milk chocolate mocha.  Wow, can this really be 54.2%??  It's far and away the smoothest high-test whisky we've ever tasted.

Finish:  Sweet candy (salt water taffy?), black licorice, even more layers of peat smoke.  Very little burn, the heavy alcohol content is covered almost completely by the serious smoke.  And at the very end, just a tiny hint of raisins reminiscent of the sherry cask.

Second taste (with a dose of water - more than a drop, less than a splash) - Opens up with more of the grapefruit and hot red pepper.  Amazingly smooth now, actually all it needs is a few drops.  Keeping it's body and strength through a splash of water, or a single small ice cube, this is an immensely drinkable dram.


Our only concern in writing this review is how we're going to keep finding whiskies that measure up to the fantastic experiences we've been having the past few months.  At under $60, the Ardbeg Uigeadail is just not even fair.  We're giving it an "A".  Never mind that you're getting ten percent more booze in this bottle.  Never mind that it's basically a cask-strength whisky that's so smooth you can drink it straight.  Just let your first sip linger on your tongue, let the rich Islay breeze and the peat smoke rise through your nose to the top of your head, sit back relax and enjoy the ride.  Pick up a bottle (or a case) of this beauty.  At this price and quality it will go fast.