Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review - Ardbeg Twenty Something

Ardbeg Twenty Something is a recent limited edition release that was one of the Islay distillery's oldest and rarest ever bottlings. It was exclusive to Ardbeg Committee members and is a 23 years old single malt, which was distilled during a time when the distillery was just ticking over and producing just a few casks of whisky each year. This period in the 1990s saw a downturn in whisky production across Scotland and almost closed Ardbeg for good. Ardbeg Twenty Something has been matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks and these were selected by Dr. Bill Lumsden, the Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks for Ardbeg.

The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of famous whisky island of Islay and was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records show a distillery operating on the site as far back as 1794. The recent history shows no production for large parts of the mid-1980s and 1990s, plus the majority of 1996 and 1997. Moet Hennessy took over in 1997 and they have renovated and revitalised Ardbeg, creating a cult brand and range of single malts. Ardbeg has an annual production of just over one million litres per year and the distillery boasts an award-winning visitor centre and cafe.

Ardbeg Twenty Something is bottled at 46.3% ABV and is non chill-filtered and of natural colour. The exact 'limited edition' number of bottles was not declared but each cost £430. They sold out quickly and are now only available within secondary markets, such as whisky auction sites. If you are not an Ardbeg Committee member, then you can join via www.ardbeg.com.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep gold and the nose has a tantalising aroma of dried peaches and apricots, golden syrup and soft but savoury peat smoke. This smoke has hints of damp earth, spent bonfire and dried tobacco leaf. Underneath are further aromas of beeswax polish, old fashioned boiled sweets and whiff of earthy wood spice.

On the palate this whisky presents it sweet notes first and the smokiness second. This smokiness is also noticeably subdued compared to younger expressions of Ardbeg. Upfront are notes of caramel, golden syrup and dried tropical fruits - think of pineapple, peach and mango. This, in addition to the beeswax characteristic from the nose, gives a mouthcoating and thick texture to the whisky.

Then comes the smoke. This has a similar feel to the nose - earth, bonfire and tobacco - but with a slightly enhanced acrid edge. This is backed up by increasing and distinct spices such as cinnamon, clove and ginger. It almost has a mulled feel. Some late citrus, especially dried orange peel and candied lime, adds even further depth and is joined by hints of marzipan and a tiny pinch of salt.

The finish is pleasantly dry, especially once the sweeter elements begin to fade. The spices are warming and earthy, possibly even a little dusty. The peat smoke smoulders away and is bittersweet. It comes to the fore seemingly more than at any other point now.

What's the verdict?
The Ardbeg Twenty Something is a sublime whisky and one that makes you thankful that a few hardy people kept the distillery operating for short periods during difficult times. Anyone expecting the signature heavy peat of the regular Ardbeg range will be disappointed, but this shows how good aged smoky whiskies can be.

The problem is getting hold of one. You will have to pay significantly more that the original price. But in reality they could have charged even more than £430 in the first place, given that it is a small piece of liquid history. Twenty Something, which got its name after someone could not remember the exact age in a development meeting, is one of the whiskies of the year. Simply exquisite.