This whisky is the latest single malt for the Islay distillery's annual Ardbeg Day bottling, which celebrates the final day of the Feis Ile festival on the island. The 2021 edition is named Ardbeg Scorch and is inspired by a mythical dragon that is said to live in one of the dunnage warehouses at the distillery. The whisky has been matured in heavily charred American oak ex-bourbon barrels. This heavy char makes the wood crack and is often known as 'alligator char' as it looks like reptile skin (or dragon skin in this case ...). The Scorch (Committee Edition) is bottled at the natural cask strength of 51.7% ABV. It was available exclusively to members of the Ardbeg Committee but has now sold out.
However, there will also be another version available for general release, which is bottled at 46% ABV. Ardbeg Scorch will be available via specialist whisky retailers, the distillery shop and Ardbeg Embassies globally from May 27. A bottle will cost £100. For further information, please visit www.ardbeg.com.
The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of Islay and was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records have distilling on the site as far back as 1794. The recent history shows numerous changes of ownership from the 1950s right through the fallow period of the 1980s and 90s, until The Glenmorangie Company (now Moet Hennessy) took over in 1997. This signalled the rebirth of Ardbeg. The distillery has an annual production of just 2.4 million litres per year and boasts an award-winning visitor centre and The Ardbeg Committee, which has over 100,000 members worldwide.
Our tasting notes
The colour is deep gold and the nose is sweet, spicy and peaty. Aromas of heather honey, golden syrup and cinder toffee mingle with a bonfire-like peat that has elements of charcoal ash, damp moss and seaweed. Then comes a big hit of white pepper and wood spice with a late floral aroma of honeysuckle and twist of grapefruit.
On the palate this whisky follows a similar path - sweet and juicy at first, then smoky and spicy before everything melts together very nicely. The sweetness has a confected and old fashioned sweet shop feel. It is full of cinder toffee, butterscotch, honey lozenges, fruity boiled sweets and candy canes. Then comes the smoke almost immediately after. This has a burnt biscuit-like quality and then becomes ashy, hot and drying. This is reminiscent of charcoal embers and coal tar soap and has a definite salinity to it. This tends towards damp seaweed and coastal moss.
The spices increase with time - first come a good pinch of white pepper and fresh green chilli, and this is followed by developing woody baking spices. A further note of gingerbread also appears late on, along with that twist of grapefruit zest from before.
The finish is long, warming and quite ashy. This gives a delicious drying quality but with an underlying sweetness. Notes of fresh honeycomb and candy floss are particularly evident, along with a hint of slightly tart redcurrants. The punchy peat smoke grips and holds on to the tastebuds.
What's the verdict?
Ardbeg Scorch packs a peaty punch and we would not expect anything else to be honest. But it also has plenty of depth and a delicious confected sweetness that marries together well. The extra charred casks seem to have exaggerated the peat smoke and vice versa.
Scorch should keep the fanatical Ardbeg fans happy while also showing any new drinkers attending any forthcoming Ardbeg Day events exactly what the Islay distillery is all about. Neither will be disappointed we think. Hopefully the lower 46% ABV version that is on wider release maintains the power of both the smoke and the sweet characteristics.