If there was ever the possibility of subjectively & emotively over-scoring [Ardbeg] whisky at a tasting session, this was surely it – with Mickey Head’s in his [former] back garden on the last day of Feis Ile 2018 in the middle of a heatwave! So to compensate, I kept one eye on myself whilst getting carried away with the other.
Ardbeg 1974/1975 33yo Ob. 1815 Anniversary (400 bts) 50. 1% WB93.29
As I understand it, we start with a double-vintage Ardbeg consisting of bourbon cask-matured juice from 1974 and sherry-matured juice from 1975, both years’ spirit made from Ardbeg’s old floor maltings.
- N: Certain OBE [sherry] vibes that translate as the most amazingly concentrated adult-only fruit juice. Other descriptors include [deep breath]: pickled onions & other pickled delights, violets, leather, washed & cleaned sheep wool, soot [distant but there], sweet tobacco, furniture polish,… oaky~quirky notes,….. get the picture? Cracking!
- T: Compared to more contemporary peated drams [of which I’ve had a few this week], the peat here is decidedly light and integrated with the rich & gentile sherry oak, coupled with a sweet spicy saltiness. Subjectively, I began thinking of outdoor dusty markets – all sorts from every corner of the globe in fact – before focusing back to a floral aspect and an overall fragility [from the whisky].
- F: Long-yet-whispery sweet ashy sooty oaky fruitiness, and for the first time today, oiliness!
- C: Fabulous and emotional. Tears are shed.
Scores 92 points
- N: Ex-bourbon cask-matured, this is another bottle filled by Mickey Heads himself. I first pick out a Bowmore-esque floral aspect and a keen likeness to Port Ellen with its solid-yet-subtle smokey farmy distillate, soft pears, melon, sweet lemon trees and spicy aromas. You’ve got to dig that sublime sweetness and overall softness.
- T: Farmy & coastal – so surf n turf – the mouthfeel oozing softly with poetic smoky wisps that make their way up through a soft spicy layer.
- F: Port Ellen-esque once again with a medium-length finish and soft fade on a barley-moist ethereal sweet peat smokiness with all number of varied layers through & through
- C: An Islay best-of perhaps, great for a Feis Ile-themed blind tasting. I wouldn’t dare add water to this one however as it’s quite delicate, especially towards the tail.
Scores 91 points.
- N: Noticeably more mineral-led/more contemporary in style than the 21yo, whilst tempting us with its well-loved bourbon-light fruity honeyed buttery-earthy dunnage style.
- T: Certainly a more contemporary coastal style with beautiful underlying barley spirit. Top notes talk of a fizzy sweetness, a sugary sweetness, salty sizzle-y lemons and oysters.
- F: Sweet fresh and salty, the abv strength carrying this one far and wide. Easily the smokiest of the lot yet it’s no smoke bomb compared to uber-smoke-driven contemporary malts from the last decade. Super form.
- C: One that stylistically treads the line between then & now. Right up there with the stalwart standard 10yo.
Scores 88 points.
Ardbeg Grooves is poured as the dessert dram, though I’m more than happy without it after those three beauties. Hey ho!
Cask grooves were formed after heavily charring red wine barrels, hence the name.
- N: Looking for meatiness, pickled onions, light fruity peat smoke, barley and saltiness? – roll right up.
- T: A mushy malty salty chew, the cask charring more prominent than the vegetal peatiness. Add water for a seaweed appearance early on.
- F: A dryer lighter smoky style compared to the previous three, but where’s the ‘beef’/body?
- C: The nose appears faithful to the house style but the finish is indicative of a contemporary young hollow smoky style. I wasn’t bothered about finishing a dram.
Scores 83 points
Backstage, friends & professionals alike were pouring the Grooves Committee Release. If I may?!
- C: More distillate-slick/less dry than the standard release with a slightly longer form, all helped no doubt by the abv bump. Overall though, there’s very little in it in comparison to the standard release.
Scores 84 points
Whilst much of Ardbeg’s Feis Ile focus was made over the Grooves, far less fuss was [intentionally] made over their single cask 2005 vintage 13yo [WB] – Ardbeg’s first single cask release in 8 years. Having resisted all Feis Ile purchases until now, I’m encouraged by friends new & old to join the queue to buy a 13yo whisky for £250. Am I mad? Definitely a little!
It’s right what they say about Feis Ile. These aren’t normal queues.
I shall be at Campbeltown only this year. On my return I shall be reflecting on a visit to the Cotswolds Distillery and the second TWE Cognac Festival that happened a few weeks ago, as well as catching up on some bottling polishing activity since my last instalment in January 2019. Here’s wishing everyone involved a superb Feis Ile 2019.