Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review - Ardbeg An Oa

The An Oa (pronounced an-oh) is the first permanent addition to the core single malt range of Ardbeg for almost a decade. It is named after the Mull of Oa, the southernmost point on Ardbeg's home island of Islay. The whisky is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Lumsden – the Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks for Ardbeg's owners Moet Hennessy. Ardbeg An Oa is a combination of ex-bourbon barrels, ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry casks and virgin oak casks. These have been married in a large French oak vat housed in The Gathering Room, a new feature at the Ardbeg distillery.

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 the majority of 1996 and 1997, until Moet Hennessy took over in 1997. Since then 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 An Oa joins the 10 years old, Corryvreckan and Uigaedail in the core range and is designed to be the entry point in to the range, sitting below the 10 years old expression. It is bottled at 46.6% ABV and is non chill-filtered. An Oa is available through specialist whisky retailers and the Ardbeg website. The recommended retail price is £49.

Our tasting notes
The colour is lemon yellow and the nose is fresh, vibrant and peaty. The acrid smoke catches in the nostrils and slowly reveals a distinct bittersweet maltiness underneath. The peat has aromas of dried seaweed, moss and bonfire ash. Some sweetness comes through with time - think of vanilla, honey, cookie dough, freshly sawn oak and a pinch of icing sugar.

On the palate their is an instant tang of acrid and ashy peat smoke, mixed with a prominent citrus note most reminiscent of candied lemons. The body of the whisky feels light but the intense smoke, which becomes hotter and more peppery with time, adds its own weight. Through the peat, a number of distinct notes shine through - vanilla, honeycomb, sugar syrup, white chocolate and fresh peach. Underneath these are further notes of bittersweet cereals, freshly baked bread and warming spices (imagine cinnamon, clove, white pepper and a pinch of ginger powder).

Any sweetness quickly fades from the finish and this leaves the peaty and spicy charcateristics to dominate. The whisky therefore becomes slightly hot and dry. There is a lovely ashy/bonfire note that works well with crushed spices such as clove, mace and white peppercorns.

What's the verdict?
The Ardbeg An Oa is light and fresh with lots of peat smoke. It is the lighter and fresher notes that make this different from anything else in the core range of Ardbeg, and therefore makes it a natural fit in that range. The battle between the delicate sweetness, the bittersweet maltiness and the robust and acrid smoke is an interesting one and they work together very well. This is a good addition to the range and one that shows the best characteristics of Ardbeg whisky and at a decent price.