An Ardbeg Double-Shot: Corryvreckan (2013) vs. Uigeadail (2011)

Music: Queen, “Ogre Battle”

This might just be it. I might just have to except that Ardbeg is my dram. Depressing as it may be in Toronto (it is prohibitively expensive here). So much so that my stock of Ardbeg has come entirely from other provinces/countries, by the good graces of friends bringing me bottles. This Uigeadail is a follow up to the 2010 I enjoyed a year or so ago, and the Corryvreckan is a 2013. The rumours that the Corryvreckan has fallen in quality makes me a bit giddy with delight, if something this good could have been much better under the stress of less demand. It means we may see that day again, in the far off, distant future.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (2011)

Nose: More caramel and less sherry than it’s 2010 brethren. Very sweet, actually. The chocolatey bog is still here, though! Peaty goodness. Give it some time and we get a dusty sticky toffee pudding. Smoked mussels underneath it all.

Palate: Creamy, sherried and peated dark chocolate. It really has that elegance that so many other Islays fail to marry with the brute force of smoky peat.  Seaweed and a touch of salt.

Finish: Long, drying, cocoa, brine and charred wood.

Grade: A

Ardbeg Corryvreckan (2013)

Nose: This one is sweet, too, but immediately brighter. Like salted toffee. Of course, “toffee and caramel” are pretty much the same, but the key point is the brightness of hardened, crunchy, SKOR-like toffee, vs. your typically dark and chewy square caramels. The big note after the immediate sweetness is freshly-shucked oysters; that salty, briny, but bright shellfish smell. Peat and smoke hide in the background.

Palate: Peat, tar, iodine, smoke and ash. A real peat monster if there was one. The attack is somewhat sharp, but it’s more an onslaught of Islay than ethanol. As the Islay tidal wave subsides, there is this creamy, sweet and bright toffee from the nose, as well as some marmalade. How in the world does peat just wash away to leave something so delicate behind? Unbelievable.

Finish: Less drying than the Uigeadail, but just as sweet. Sponge toffee (think the filling of a Crunchie bar). Leather, peat and smoke.

Grade: A

What some would call “unbalanced”, I call magic. Ardbeg does this sort of sleight-of-hand so well with their NAS whiskies: it gives you one thing in the nose, but then completely turns the tables on the palate. Sure, there are common themes throughout, but what is bright and forefront in one, is understated in the other. Together, these two provide a complete experience: the power of Islay, with the elegance of more mainland whisky. The Uigeadail manages to marry their brand of peat and brine with what I can only describe as a Glenfarclas 15, whereas the Corryvreckan marries itself to an american oak Highland Park (something like the 10 at cask strength). Ardbeg shows again and again that “Age does not a great whisky make”. Arguably, without the age statement, a whisky has to work just that much harder to sell you, and I feel like the fine folks at Ardbeg take that to heart.

And with this, the Corryvreckan takes my #1 spot. A momentus occasion. Cue the horns!

“He gives a great big cry, and he can swallow up the ocean.”

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Now this is a review through which I won’t be able to help being all gushy. The Ardbeg Uigeadail is just that good. It is the bar that my nose and my palate have set for all other whiskies to attempt to vault; many have tried, all have failed.

I don’t know what they’re doing there at Ardbeg, but this No Age Statement Scotch epitomizes my belief (as shared by Jim Murray, among others) that age doesn’t make a good whisky. Careful thought and expert craftsmanship make a good whisky. Laphroaig has done it with the Quarter Cask. Aberlour has done it with the a’Bunadh. Especially when peat is involved, there are merits to blending the youthful and the matured.

On to the review.

Nose: This has everything. Peat. sherry, whiffs of choclatey sweetness. Swirl the glass and get hickory BBQ sauce. There is so much depth here, and even at its full 54.2% ABV, it’s still pleasant to nose. That said, add a teaspoon of water. It opens everything up just that much more.

Palate: Peat, baby. Lots of it. Deliciously viscous, mouth-coating, and not too hot at all. Smooth, velvety and wonderful on the tongue. It delivers much of what the nose promises, but that’s what I like about it. It delivers them in a no-nonsense kind of way: the flavours are bold, but balanced. The best way I’ve been able to describe the Uigeadail is this:

“Start with a dark chocolate Aero bar, where the cocoa beans were roasted by peat fires. Then, fill the bubbles with peat-infused sherry. Take your peat-infused sherry-filled Aero and wrap it with peat-smoked bacon.”

Finish: Warming. Lasts for an eternity.

Grade: A

While this review doesn’t seem to be as complex as the Auchentoshan 18, I assure you that it is so much more. In that review, I proclaimed that a whisky, to get an A- or higher, should give me two experiences. That is still true, but it’s not an absolute. Sometimes a whisky does a handful of things so spectacularly that adding anything else would only muddy up the waters.

Now, in Ontario, the Ardbeg Uigeadail is a scam. $167 for 70cl. In Calgary, it is $101 for 75cl. Totally worth it. Also, in the U.S (Chicago) it is $70. I had my two bottles brought for me from Chicago, and this whisky is an absolute steal at that price. It’s very likely that I will never find another whisky under $100 anywhere that can compare to this Ardbeg. It’s also possible that, with the stores of Port Ellen around the world vanishing, I will never find another whisky that betters it, period. Of course, I hope that I’m wrong here, because it would be a short journey if this indeed was the summit.

Ardbeg Ten

When I recently took a trip to Germany, I figured that it would be a terrible waste not too pick something up at the duty-free on the way home. Since Ardbeg in general is very expensive in Canada, I decided to journey into Ardbeg with my (roughly) 1L liquor import allowance. The Ardbeg Ten was really cheap at €46 for 1L compared to $100CAD for 75cl here. It was nice to have a whole litre to get to know this dram. Ardbeg is so different from Laphroaig that it seems a shame to force a head-to-head comparison. All in all, the Ardbeg Ten made me really love this distillery, and I thank the good folks at Glenmorangie for un-mothballing the old Ardbeg and getting her going again. The notes didn’t change much, with or without water, but a couple drops makes it more accessible.

Nose: Peat, smoke, peppery spices. Briny, salty, and a little bit of campfire. A sweetness I can’t pin-point.

Palate: Oily, Smoke, peat, with slighty sweet creamy vanilla, and peppery spices all over the palate.

Finish: Long, dense, sweet and smoky finish.

Grade: B+

A really complete peat & smoke dram. At a Laphroaig QC price, or even the Laphroaig 10 price, it’s a definite buy. Sadly, the Ardbeg Ten, in Ontario, is not enough for the price they’re charging now, when you can get great drams like the Laphroaig QC for $30 less.

Much of me wishes I hadn’t shared this one so freely so that I still had some left, but when you have a liter, it always seems like there is so much to share.