The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of Islay and was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records show distilling 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 at that point and renovated and revitalised Ardbeg's fortunes. The distillery has an annual production of just over one million litres per year, although this is currently being expanded, and boasts an award-winning visitor centre and cafe.
"I am in no doubt that people will love this tongue-tingling expression. The casks chosen for its creation make it ideal for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail. It is a monster of a dram… with a formidable bite!"Dr. Bill Lumsden
The Ardbeg Wee Beastie is bottled at 47.4% ABV and is non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It is available in specialist whisky retailers and Ardbeg Embassies in selected markets worldwide. The recommended price is £39/ $48 US.
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is vibrant, fresh and punchy. The peat smoke is the dominating factor and is acrid and peppery with it. A combination of damp leaves, moss, lots of ash and soot plus hints of wood glue, green chilli and lime zest give this strength. Underneath are sweet pears, honey, vanilla, apricot jam, robust malt and a hint of white chocolate.
On the palate this whisky has plenty of power. The vibrancy and freshness from the nose continues with the peat smoke again dominates and has an abundance of heat - this is reminiscent of a combination of hot ash, soot, white pepper, green chilli and a hint of gingerbread. Underneath is a distinct burnt maltiness, which made us think of charred cookies, and the leafy/mossy element from the nose. Sweet characteristics are very much in a supporting role here, but are essential in maintaining some sort of balance. Notes of poached pears with milk chocolate mingle with vanilla fudge and manuka honey. These are accentuated by hints of fresh lime zest, menthol and liquorice.
The finish is very long and fresh as the fiery peat smoke and spices linger for what seems like ages. Underneath the acrid and bitter smoke are notes of cocoa powder and gingerbread that also linger well, especially once the sweet fruits, fudge and honey-like characteristics fade.
What's the verdict?
The Ardbeg Wee Beastie is very good. It packs plenty of power and the peppery hot peat smoke is everywhere. This is exactly what you would expect from a young Islay single malt. But once you fight through that, you find a delicious combination of sweet and fruity elements that create a bit of balance, depth and complexity.
It is brave to put a 5 years old age statement on the whisky, rather than a 'no age statement' as found elsewhere in the Ardbeg range or from other distilleries releasing similar products. Hats off to Ardbeg for that and also for putting it at a higher than required ABV for such a product with no chill filtration. Well done for bringing it in under £40 too, which is good for the current market. You get a lot of whisky for your money, especially if you are a fan of the big smoky style.