With so many different special releases of Ardbeg that catch everyone’s attention each year (i.e. the annual Ardbeg Day releases such as Kelpie, Dark Cove, Perpetuum, Auriverdes, etc, or the limited release of the 21yo), it’s easily to forget that Ardbeg’s actual core range consists of just three bottlings: Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, and the 10yo.
Of course, a decade or two ago, a distillery with multiple expressions in its portfolio usually showcased its core range via a diverse spread of different age statements, for example, a 12yo, an 18yo, and, say, a 25yo. However, as is widely reported and acknowledged these days (see here), distilleries today are increasingly turning to No Age Statement releases to manage their stocks and inventory. (Talisker is a classic example – arguably one that has gone too far – with core range NAS releases such as Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Neist Point, Port Ruighe, and 57o North). Given Ardbeg’s chequered history, with such small and sporadic production between 1983 and 1997, it’s no surprise that Ardbeg must also make a virtue of NAS releases. Fortunately, as anyone who’s tasted them can attest to, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are two very good whiskies. But what if you’re a huge Ardbeg fan and you still yearn for something more? Relief is now at hand…
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.
Ardbeg. That wonderful Islay distillery with a cult following so devoted, over 120,000 fans from over 130 countries have pledged their allegiance to ensure the distillery never closes its doors again. Again? Yes, Ardbeg has quite a tale to tell…
Ardbeg has a weight, a brand, a persona, that is bigger than itself. It has a reputation for huge, bold, peaty whiskies, and its name travels so far and with such reverence that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the biggest distillery on Islay. In truth, it’s actually the second smallest! With just one pair of stills churning away, its potential annual production capacity is just a trickle over 1.1 million litres.
As is widely known across the whiskysphere, 2016 sees the Lagavulin distillery celebrate its 200th Anniversary. No one celebrates a 200th birthday lightly, and Lagavulin has been widely praised for the release of its limited edition (but widely accessible and affordable) celebratory 8yo in honour of the occasion. Whisky & Wisdom had an early taste of this, and wrote up a piece about the distillery and the whisky back in April. You can read that piece and the review on the 8yo here.
However, more recently – and closer to home – the 8yo had its local launch in Australia just a few weeks ago. Held at The Wild Rover in Sydney’s Surry Hills, the launch was not just the unveiling and tasting of the whisky, but it was also an incredible virtual reality (VR) tour of the distillery.
Over the years, I’ve had countless discussions with whisky enthusiasts from all backgrounds about that magic moment in their life: When did they first try a single malt, and which one was it? It astounds me how often people tell me their first single malt was Lagavulin. And, for the record, it was my first single malt, too.
It was the early 1990’s. I was drinking and enjoying Scotch whisky, but had only been exposed to blends. (For recent converts to the world of whisky who may not appreciate the context, bear in mind that in Australia at this time, the very best liquor outlets in the country stocked, at most, no more than perhaps nine to 14 different single malt expressions, representing perhaps only six to ten different distilleries). UDV had recently launched “The Classic Malts” range and my father-in-law-to-be returned from a trip to Scotland with a bottle of Lagavulin 16yo in his luggage.
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.
It’s the bicentenary year for Laphroaig – no mean feat for a little distillery on the coast of Islay to churn out the world’s most “richly flavoured” whisky for 200 years! And that means some special events and ambassadorial work for the distillery team as they mark the occasion.
It was a treat for all Australians then, when the good folks at Beam Suntory elected to send John Campbell, Laphroaig’s Manager, to our shores for a promotional tour. On a two week trip that saw him involved with endless tastings, appearances, interviews and events – including the epic “The Great Whisky Rumble” (read all about that one here), John spent his last night of the trip in Sydney to conduct an intimate Laphroaig tasting at Grain, one of the city’s newest whisky bars. It was a ticketed event, and yours truly wasted no time in shelling out $85.79 to book a seat.
Back in 2003, I hosted and presented my first “Whiskies of the World” tasting. It was an educational affair; an introduction into the different whiskies being made around the world; and an opportunity to taste the different styles and flavours on offer. More importantly, it was an opportunity for punters to learn how and why, for example, bourbon tasted different to Irish whiskey, and why Scotch and Japanese whiskies were reasonably similar. And I threw in a Canadian whisky and a Tennessee whiskey for good measure. (Don’t ask “What about an Australian whisky?” Lark’s whiskies were scarce, and Bakery Hill had only just launched its first ever release that same year).
The format and lifespan of that particular tasting event didn’t last long – I wrapped my up last Whiskies of the World event about two years later in 2005. Truth be told, there wasn’t much interest or a market for it. Can you believe that? Everyone was super keen on Scotch, and the other categories (or countries) failed to get anyone excited. That probably seems hard to comprehend in today’s environment, but – as I continually preach to people – we’re presently in a heightened time of whisk(e)y enlightenment, and it hasn’t always been like this. Back in 2003–2005, the choices and products available to Australian whisk(e)y enthusiasts were pretty thin, and brand campaigns or tastings for non-Scotch whiskies were non-existent.
Ardbeg Day continues to grow and build momentum each year, and on a truly global scale. It is now one of the highlights of the whisky calendar, and the main events that get held around the planet are spectacular occasions.
Each Ardbeg Day has a theme, and this year’s was an entertaining mix of both retro and futuristic. 2015 marks Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary, and it was therefore fitting that we mark the past and acknowledge the distillery’s long and colourful history. But the modern Ardbeg brand has never been one to look backwards, and so a glimpse of the future was also very much at the core of this year’s theme and this year’s festivities.
And so it was that the good folks at Ardbeg took over and transformed the International Cruise Terminal at White Bay on Sydney Harbour. Walking in to the venue, one was instantly captivated by the set up – sharp, clean, sleek, and with some fantastic attractions and activities around the place to both amuse and entertain. And, of course, to renew acquaintances with Shortie the Ardbeg dog!
All whisky drinkers are on a journey. You may be just starting out and discovering the world of whisky via some casual drams of Johnnie Walker, or you may be an über-enthusiast who doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than a Macallan 50yo.
I’d been giving this some thought lately, as I’ve seen and read a bit of chatter on various whisky forums and discussion groups that hinted at there being some sort of series of conquests or achievements that you’re supposed to tick off as you continue your whisky journey. It’s almost as though you’re expected to graduate from blends; transition across to mass-produced single malts; upgrade to limited edition releases; stop by Islay to collect your Peat Badge; gain a promotion to take on cask-strength whiskies; and then make the leap into the industry as either a brand ambassador, a blogger, or set up your own distillery!
Of course, I don’t support or endorse such an observation for a moment, but I can’t deny that there does seem to exist some unwritten, barely-whispered gates or “checkpoints” that some folks feel you need to pass through if you want to assert or display a heightened sense of creditability as a whisky drinker. And by “checkpoints”, I mean drams. In other words, there are some whiskies you probably need to have tasted and conquered if you want to demonstrate you’re taking this caper seriously. And it seems like one of those whiskies is Port Ellen.