Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review - Ardbeg Grooves Committee Release

Ardbeg Grooves is the latest experiment in the annual Ardbeg Committee series from Dr. Bill Lumsden (the Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks at Ardbeg) and is inspired by the distillery's community when it was a much smaller and local operation in the 1960s. The release is part of a wider 1960s themed promotion that will run throughout the year, including this year's Ardbeg Day on June 2, which is called 'Peat & Love'.

Grooves has seen a pocket of the whisky included be matured in re-toasted ex-red wine casks, which were heavily charred while still sticky with the residue of the wine. This created deep grooves in the wood and an intense flavour profile.

The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast 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 in the process. Ardbeg has an annual production of just over one million litres per year, which will soon be boosted after recent expansion plans were announced, and the distillery boasts an award-winning visitor centre and cafe.

Grooves is bottled at 51.6% ABV and was originally due to be on sale to Ardbeg Committee members via www.ardbeg.com from 9am on March 14. Even the annual website glitch could not stop it eventually selling out within hours. Each bottle was £89.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep gold and the nose combines a distinct acrid peat smokiness with some expressive sweetness. There are aromas of golden syrup, vanilla, green apple and red berries. There are also hints of tar, sea salt, damp moss and toasted spices - think of cinnamon and liquorice root especially.

On the palate this whisky has some immediate power. The smoke hits first and has a dry earthy and bonfire ash feel to it. This smokiness develops to become even more savoury with time and has a character of coal tar soap, old leather and tobacco leaf. These are all backed up by an increasing peppery note that begins as white pepper but then tends towards green chilli. Much needed sweetness is supplied by notes of over ripe apples and pears covered in golden syrup, heather honey and white chocolate. Further warmth is provided by ginger, cinnamon and ginseng. Hints of brine, cranberry, star anise and menthol round things off nicely.

The finish is extremely warming and long, with an increasing dryness especially towards the end. The earthy peat smoke and spices drive the heat and length, especially once the sweet and fruity characteristics begin to fade. Dry and savoury (think mineralic, almost flinty, and leathery) notes linger for ages and some late white pepper accentuates this.

What's the verdict?
The Ardbeg Grooves packs a peaty punch and is arguably one of the best Committee Releases for some time. The combination of powerful smoke, delicious and rounded sweetness and warming spices create a wonderful whisky. It loses a little of its balance and intensity with the addition of water but this is a must try for any peaty whisky fans.

The only way to get a bottle now is through secondary markets - auction sites, private sellers etc - but the general release will be out within the next month or so, ready for Ardbeg Day on June 2. This is normally the same whisky as the Committee Release but bottled at a lower strength of 46% ABV and in greater numbers. We recommend grabbing one if you can. We will be.