With multi-tasking all the rage these days, this piece combines two distinct happenings involving Ardbeg. The second of these relates to Kelpie, this year’s new release to coincide with Ardbeg Day. But before we try and conquer that wee beastie, have you heard of Ardbeg Untamed?
The last three decades have seen the distilleries and the whisky brands take ever increasing and impressive steps to bring us into their sanctums. Once upon a time, importers and distributors simply held a tasting event and poured out their whiskies for the punters to taste. Then came the brand ambassadors, who did more-or-less the same thing, except with the assistance of slide shows, which then morphed into the “multi-media presentations”. With the advent of live webcams, distilleries took us into their production areas and you could get a sneak peek into the workings of a distillery without having to leave your own home.
So, short of hopping on a plane and making your way directly to Scotland, what was the next step and development for distilleries to bring us ever closer to their heart? The answer is Virtual Reality. Ardbeg Untamed is one such undertaking. Courtesy of VR, Ardbeg has launched a series of visual experiences that take you across the water to Ardbeg and through the distillery. As the fly-through whizzes through the warehouse, you’ll see and hear Mickey Heads, distillery manager, talking to the lads as they go about their daily routine.
Given that so much about a distillery is now available online in the form of pictures and virtual tours that you can enjoy whilst sitting at your desktop, the VR experience is pretty special and certainly adds both a layer of realism and a tangible feeling of being within the space. Surely this is as close as you can get to Islay without actually being there.
The Ardbeg Untamed experience was unleashed in Melbourne recently, with Ardbeg hosting a special event at the new Melbourne Whisky Room – a very, very special whisky venue located above the already-famous Whisky & Alement. MWR is a fantastic space, and with a selection of whiskies that is worth crossing town for. Or crossing state lines for. And with Whisky & Alement being an official Ardbeg Embassy, it’s certainly a place to enjoy an Ardbeg or two. (You can click on each of the images to enlarge them on your device).
The venue played host to about 25 attendees – perhaps a who’s who of the Melbourne whisky scene – and were welcomed by Mick Formosa, Ardbeg’s official Melbourne-based Ambassador. With generous drams of Ardbeg 10yo being poured and some delicious food circulating the room, small groups of six at a time went into a little separate area where they donned the headsets and were whisked off to Ardbeg. Once everyone had experienced the VR magic, Ardbeg’s unofficial Ambassador…er, that’s me…took the room on a verbal tour of Ardbeg, enhanced no less with two now-rare bottlings of Ardbeg: Ardbeg Rollercoaster and Ardbeg Galileo.
Ardbeg Rollercoaster was released in 2010, featuring a vatting of 10 different casks, one from each year filled between 1997 and 2006. Galileo was a 1999 vintage, released in 2012, where a number of the casks used in the vatting had previously held Marsala wine. Both were wonderful and very unique expressions of Ardbeg, showcasing how diverse and delicious this ruggedly peated whisky can be. Thanks and kudos to the Melbourne Whisky Room and to Ardbeg Australia for making these available on the night. Any whisky event is all the more memorable when you’re drinking a bit of history or a release that was bottled long ago.
Photographs on the night were taken by the very talented Emily Weaving and are supplied courtesy of Ardbeg Australia.
Ardbeg “Kelpie” is this year’s annual Ardbeg release, with both an Ardbeg Committee Edition at 51.7% ABV, and then a regular release at 46%. For the production of Kelpie, a number of the casks used in the vatting were virgin casks sourced from the Adyghe Republic in Russia. These have been coined “Black Sea oak casks”. The spirit from these was then married with traditional Ardbeg from ex-bourbon barrels.
It’s amazing how quickly each year comes around. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Ardbog was still front and centre, and yet Auriverdes, Perpetuum and Dark Cove have already come and gone since. It’s also easy to forget that Ardbeg has just three expressions in its core-range – the 10yo, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan. As such, each year’s annual release is a fantastic opportunity to try Ardbeg in a new light or in a different shade. Debate often rages over the annual releases as die-hards argue the merits of each release or the lack of an age statement. I’m no apologist for any brand, but I think such arguments miss the point. If you’re a fan of the distillery and you like peated whisky, the annual releases showcase Ardbeg in new and exciting ways.
Whisky & Wisdom sat down with the Committee Edition and penned the following notes. However, before diving into the minutiae of sensory perceptions, I’ll summarise with this: I’ve been privileged to visit Ardbeg Distillery on five separate occasions over the years. Of all the Ardbeg releases to have come out in the last decade, Kelpie is the release that most instantly transports me back there. The aromas from the glass and the chunk of peat in the spirit resonate the most and trigger the hippocampus in ways unlike others. If you want to know what the distillery smells like; if you want to imagine what it’s like to drink Ardbeg whilst standing in one of its warehouses or whilst standing on the pier, then Kelpie is the whisky you need to drink. And if you can drink it whilst plugged into an Ardbeg Untamed virtual reality session…you’re as good as there.
Ardbeg Kelpie, Committee Edition, 51.7%.
Nose: Signature Ardbeg, although perhaps a bit more youthful then we’re accustomed to? It’s hasn’t entirely lost its overly phenolic new-makey origins, but then added to this are the scents of caramels and toffee, wine gums, seaweed and rockpools by the beach, and – on the citrus side – perhaps a wee spray of lime.
Palate: Exceptionally tarry. Creosote; hot-mix bitumen; and then charcoal and ash the morning after the camp fire the night before. It’s a BIG Ardbeg. The mouthfeel is exceptionally juicy and filling. Compared to previous annual releases which have been on the sweeter side, Kelpie certainly leans more towards the dry. There are hints of vanilla in the picture, but the vanilla and oak is the decoration around the edges, rather than the subject or main focus. Peat is the hero here.
Finish: High quality, bitter dark chocolate. Ardbeg has often been a fine match with dark chocolate, but this expression simply exudes it.
Comments: If you want an Islay malt that blows peat up your kilt, look no further. This is a massive Ardbeg – big, bold, and brash – and it crashes deliciously on your palate. Compared with previous annual releases, it probably leans closest to Perpetuum, yet with the volume a little louder. The Black Sea virgin oak casks have obviously influenced the whisky’s final character, making for deeper, possibly rougher flavours than you might associate with the more refined and sophisticated 10yo. And, frankly, the whisky is all the better for it!
The Committee Edition is now sold out in Australia, but the regular release at 46% will be available in the lead up to Ardbeg Day, which is on Saturday 3rd June. As always, details about Ardbeg Day celebrations are tightly under wraps. Sadly, Whisky & Wisdom will miss the official Ardbeg Day event this year, owing to being in Scotland. Stay tuned for a special Ardbeg Day post from the west coast of Scotland. 😉