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 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.
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.