Monday, September 16, 2019

Review - Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 years old

This is the first permanent age statement single malt from Ardbeg since the 10 years old first appeared almost 20 years ago. Traigh Bhan (pronounced tri-van) is the name of a famous beach on the Hebridean island, known locally as The Singing Sands. Here the wind and sand combine to create a strange and haunting soundscape. The new whisky will be produced in annual batches and has been created by Dr. Bill Lumsden - the Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks at Ardbeg using a combination of American oak casks and ex-Oloroso sherry butts.

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.

"A new, permanent aged Ardbeg is a rare occurrence, and cause for celebration. We hope that, by slightly tweaking the batch recipe year-on-year, Ardbeg fans can have some fun exploring the finer details of this ever-changing dram." 
Dr. Bill Lumsden.

This first batch of Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 years old has been bottled at 46.2% ABV and the packaging features the jagged black volcanic rock structures that line the beach. It is available from Ardbeg Embassy stores, and specialist whisky retailers worldwide. A bottle will cost £169.

Our tasting notes
The colour is deep golden yellow and the nose is impactful and highly perfumed. Powerful peat aromas lead the way and give an earthy, sweet and slightly acrid feel (imagine a combination of seaweed, damp moss and coal tar soap) with depth added by further aromas of golden syrup, vanilla essence and candied citrus (especially lemon and lime).

On the palate this whisky is initially viscous and silky but with a late bitter and peppery bite. There are plenty of malted cereal notes evident early on and then other elements begin to layer themselves on top of this to give a great depth and complexity. The peat is never far away and again has a lovely mix of earthy, acrid and sweet qualities - it feels particularly damp and mossy to begin with, then evolves to become more coal tar and bonfire smoke-like. Then come obvious sweet notes in the form of golden syrup, vanilla fudge and sultana. Hints of tropical fruits (think of tinned fruit cocktail especially) and mint are also unexpected and sit alongside some candied lime.

Warming spices follow and these include cinnamon, all-spice and a hint of clove. Late pinches of cocoa powder and white pepper give further warmth and increase the dryness, along with an interesting chalky/flinty feel.

The finish is long and grips the tastebuds and seems unwilling to let go. The sweet and fruity notes slowly fade to leave the cereals, spices and peat to fight it out. This creates a wonderful dryness and warmth that leaves a great lasting impression.

What's the verdict?
This is a great new whisky from Ardbeg. It ticks every box for us that we want from a smoky/peaty whisky - it is full bodied, rich, sweet, acrid and smoky. The robust cereal and peat qualities really shine through, alongside some excellent and sympathetic cask maturation.

Ardbegs from the turn of the Millenium are still rare as the distillery had only really been back in production properly for a couple of years, so it is encouraging to see such good quality coming out and as a core range permanent product. Now we just need to get back to Islay and sample it again at The Singing Sands ...

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