Ardbeg Kelpie – The 46% Retail Release

With Ardbeg Day now an entrenched part of the whisky calendar, it seems unnecessary to go into great detail about the day itself and what it entails.  Of course, whilst the day itself is a great hive of fun and activity, most people’s  focus and attention is on the special release bottling.  This year’s release, Kelpie, is a belter, and an Ardbeg to make the purists happy.

The Committee Edition release – bottled at a higher strength of 51.7% – was released earlier this year and found many friends.  The commercial or retail bottling, bottled at 46%, will be released on June 3rd to coincide with Ardbeg Day.

Of course, many people make the mistake of simply dismissing the retail version as being a “watered down” version of the Committee Edition.  Chemically speaking, they’re correct, but from a sensory perspective, there’s so much more to it than that.  Yes, whilst the retail version simply has more water added to it to bring it down to a lower strength, the effect of this on the whisky is very pronounced.  The influence of the ABV is huge when it comes to how our palates react to the whisky.  Master blenders and independent bottlers often carry out multiple tastings or samplings to establish whether a special release should be bottled at, say, 46%, 48%, 50%, or 51.5%.  The different ABV’s influence how the alcohols and flavour compounds are balanced, and thus a different bottling strength will pronounce (or, in contrast, diminish) certain aspects of the flavour spectrum.  For example, a whisky bottled at 46% might seem saltier, or sweeter, or fruitier than the same spirit bottled at 48%.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove & Ardbeg Day 2016

Ardbeg Day is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to shake off the Autumn blues (or dust off your Spring hat if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and gear up for all the fun and excitement of Ardbeggian delights.

I’ve written much about Ardbeg’s history, the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day in the past.  So rather than fill up space by repeating it all on this page, you can re-visit those pieces here (Ardbeg Day 2015 report), here (Perpetuum review) and here (Ardbeg Day 2014 & Auriverdes review) if you need to fill in any blanks.   For the purposes of a concise read, let’s cut straight to the chase and get stuck into Ardbeg Day and the annual release for 2016.  If you’re here just to read the review on the Dark Cove release, scroll further down.

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Ardbeg Perpetuum

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.

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Ardbeg and Auriverdes

Ardbeg Day and Auriverdes


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 small

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.   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 31st and is themed around the Football World Cup. Ardbeg Embassies all around the globe will feature Ardbeggian celebrations, and whilst Australian events are yet to be announced at time of writing, you can join the Committee and keep up to date at www.ardbeg.com

The distillery produces a new, special Limited Edition whisky to coincide with Ardbeg Day each year, and 2014 is no different, with the forthcoming release of Ardbeg Auriverdes. The name comes from auri (gold, representing the colour of the whisky) and verdes (green, the colour of Ardbeg’s bottles and brand). Join the gold and green together, and you get the link to this year’s World Cup, being hosted in Brazil.   The whisky itself was matured in American oak casks (quercus alba) that were produced with specially toasted ends or heads. Toasting the oak typically results in more lignins and vanillins being released and made accessible by the spirit, imparting richer sweetness to the spirit, and – not surprisingly – vanilla flavours.   The whisky’s creator, Dr Bill Lumsden, has pioneered new wood treatments and cask maturation techniques and finishes over the years, and this effort is – once more – a winner.

Ardbeg warehouse

It would be dull or boring if the Auriverdes was just another shade or two away from the regular Ardbeg releases on the flavour spectrum, and Auriverdes is certainly a different Ardbeg. The nose is sweet, intriguing, and inviting; throwing off the textbook Ardbeg smoke, with traces of vanilla, citrus, and spice. On the palate, the peat is not as intense as regular variants, and it reminded me a little of Blasda, a lowly peated Ardbeg released several years ago. However, turning down the peat allows other features to shine brighter, and I found marzipan, almonds, vanilla, custard, sweetness, and a delicious creamy maltiness that left a wonderful footprint on the finish – with even just a nip of salt to round out the experience and remind you that this is from Scotland’s west coast.

Auriverdes will be available through good whisky stockists from next month, retailing for roughly $190. And if you can’t wait to get to your bottle store, get along to your nearest Ardbeg Day event on May 31st.

Slainte,

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