Ardbeg. The very name conjures up evocative images, flavours, and pre-conceived ideas. For many, it means a big, peaty, smoky, Islay whisky. For others, it represents complexity, refinement, sweetness, and quality. Some link the name to the decline and downturn of the Scotch industry in the 1980’s, resulting in distillery closures and cutbacks. Many of those same folks also link the name to a Phoenix-like resurrection, given the distillery came back from the dead in 1997 and now struts the roost with style and finesse.
For me, it is all of those things, plus one more: Fun.
Ardbeg is a fun brand. The distillery and its blending/creation team can produce some of the most refined, stylish, and unbelievably-good drams on the planet, but the brand has never become stuffy or weighed down under a Rolls Royce-like persona. Rather, Ardbeg presents itself as being fun, vibrant, innovative, inclusive, cheeky, and left-of-centre. If Ardbeg was a style or a fashion genre, it would definitely be a hipster! And its whiskies are all the more endearing as a result.
The Ardbeg Committee adds another string to the bow – a global club for Ardbeg drinkers, fans, and enthusiasts. It started back in 2000, originally delivering special once-off releases for its members that blitzed the competition. (One of the early Committee Reserve bottlings in 2002 was one of the whiskies of the decade and still rates up there on my list of all-time greats!) Today, the features and activities of the Committee have grown and expanded, including the now annual Ardbeg Day, which continues to gain traction and attention each year.
Ardbeg Day this year falls on May 30th. But 2015 is no ordinary year for the distillery, because this year marks Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary! Ardbeg Day is built around a different theme each year, and it seems that its 200th birthday has inspired the distillery to take an Ardbeggian voyage 200 years into the future! More on that in just a moment. Who knows what Ardbeg will look like in another two centuries, but providing they don’t run out of peat, I’m confident my descendants will continue to enjoy Ardbeg’s goodness.
The distillery produces a new, special Limited Edition whisky to coincide with Ardbeg Day each year, and 2015 is no different, with the forthcoming release of Ardbeg Perpetuum. Each year’s release is eargerly awaited, and fans of the distillery can look forward to something very special this year: Perpetuum is vatting of casks across Ardbeg’s broad spectrum of flavours, and the result is an exceptionally tasty and successful fusion. The vatting includes both young Ardbeg (contributing strong peat and rich smoke); old Ardbeg (contributing ozone, oak, and maritime notes); Ardbeg from ex-bourbon casks (contributing sweetness, vanilla and citrus); and Ardbeg from ex-sherry casks (contributing spice, cured meats, and sweet, dark fruits). By the way, those notes and descriptions are my own, so don’t go looking for them in the official tasting notes!
Thanks to the good folks at Ardbeg and EVH, a wee sample bottle of Perpetuum arrived this week (see pic at top!), and I knuckled down after a long, hard day to go on my own Ardbeggian adventure and discover what the future holds. So let’s check it out…
Colour: Very pale!
Nose: Wet, mossy peat. Like walking along the dank floor of a rainforest. But it’s also a sweet peat – there’s still a good whack of malt, and the enticing aroma of sugar-crusted black jube lollies. Burnt, charcoaled toast comes more and more to the fore, before developing into a more intense aroma of creosote or hot-mix bitumen.
Palate: It’s less sweet than the nose prepared me for, and it took me a second or two to realise that one of the reasons the sweetness is so subdued is because the peat and the smoke is so heavy! It’s dry, it’s slightly bitter (as in dark chocolate), a bit green (mossy or vegetal), and it has me wondering if I’ve just put a lump of charcoal in my mouth and started sucking!! And, in case you were wondering, yes – in the context of this particular product – such an analogy is good and positive!
Finish: Intensely peaty now. Salty, seaweedy, Fisherman’s Friends, drying, and soothingly long.
Comments: For those who thought last year’s Auriverdes release was a bit subdued and not intense enough, Perpetuum will hit all the right notes on the peat-o-meter. It offers a dry but rich smokiness; plenty of maritime saltiness and seaweed notes; and all the earthy, mossy, and organic notes that come hand in hand with an intense, rich peat. The light colour suggests that the portion of ex-sherry casks in the vatting is relatively small (certainly when compared against the Ardbog release of 2013), and I didn’t pick up much in the way of sherry influence. But there is something on the nose that hints at something else in the cask “recipe”. Some virgin oak casks, perhaps? I’m only speculating, but I reckon there’s something else in the mix.
Perpetuum is bottled at 47.4% ABV; it’s non-chillfiltered; and it will retail for $169. It’ll be available globally from Moet Hennessy Collection (here), at Ardbeg Embassies, and at whisky specialists around the country from May 30th.
Now, back to Ardbeg Day. As per previous years, the distillery likes to do things in style, and some pretty major events are taking place around the world. The major event in Sydney is already fully booked, but if you want to participate in the day, get along to your nearest Ardbeg Embassy, where you can try Perpetuum for yourself and raise a toast to the distillery. The Australian Ardbeg Embassies are:
Queensland – The Gresham Bar (3pm-late)
Victoria – Whisky & Alement (3pm-late); 1806 (7pm-10pm); and The Kilburn (6pm-late)
NSW – Stitch (4pm-late); World of Whisky (12noon-4pm)
WA – Helvetica (3pm-late)
Finally, if you’re not a member of the Ardbeg Committee, then you should be! The Committee is made up of over 100,000 followers worldwide in more than 130 countries. Committee members are regularly consulted on new bottlings and expressions, and are offered exclusive Committee bottlings. Members also receive invitations to special gatherings, tastings and events. The Committee is free to join at www.ardbeg.com
For those in Sydney, I look forward to seeing you at the White Bay event with your Boarding Pass and enjoying Perpetuum with fellow Committee members.