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A Decade of Ardbeg Whisky

by Michael Orson     23. July 2010 18:08
Ardbeg at The Worx

It’s been a decade since the inception of the Ardbeg Committee (officially founded on the 1st January 2000). It’s also been ten years since the release of Ardbeg 10 Year Old, so 2010’s a pretty momentous year for the distillery - we’re sure you’ll agree.

True to form, Ardbeg have been putting on some fantastic celebrations to mark their reaching double figures. We were lucky enough to be invited to one such shindig at The Worx last Wednesday, and we wanted to recount what turned out to be a cracking evening...

It was a beautiful summer’s afternoon in London, and the sun was pouring into the foyer at The Worx. Party-goers waited in the holding pen, sipping on peaty mint juleps (made with Ardbeg Rollercoaster) and the air was thick with a palpable atmosphere of anticipation (and peat). Head Distiller Mickey Heads welcomed us in before we were let loose.

The venue was suitably bedecked with Ardbeg posters and it had a wonderful carnival theme. A pair of apes roamed about (humans dressed as such, not live animals – that would be dangerous because everyone knows apes don’t like peat…) and we were entertained by a selection of fairground games including a hoopla toss and fishing for plastic ducks – each promised peaty prizes.

Ardbeg Apes

The place was teeming with Committee members and there were even a few celebrity guests as well, including Dr Bill Lumsden, Mickey Heads and Hamish Torrie (Ardbeg brand director) and we would later be talking to all of them and sharing several excellent drams, as well as some tasty Ardbeg cocktails.

We kicked things off with a couple of whiskies outside the Beastie Mobile (Ardbeg’s pimped out VW campervan). We had a Blasda and an Ardbeg 10 (which was great as always), but we found the Blasda much better than remembered – it offers, surprisingly, both peat and flavour; it’s interesting!

The evening wore on, and gorgeous BBQ food and Ardbeg jellies were distributed. We washed them down with a Smoky Shorty cocktail (an eponymously named mix of Ardbeg 10; melon liqueur; apple juice; peach and grapefruit bitters; and lemon juice) and discussed the merits of Ardbeg single malt with a few Committee members – all of whom were top chaps!

There is an amazing sense of involvement that committee members have with Ardbeg. It’s a mid-sized distillery, it’s enjoyed the world over and it’s a part of LVMH – one of the world’s largest luxury super-groups – yet, incredibly, its worldwide committee membership feels completely attached to it. It goes to show that a no-compromise take on everything from whisky-making to social networking is the key; everyone is involved and everyone appreciates it all the more.

Thinking about it, how many other spirits brands send their whiskies out as “committee releases” for judgment prior to bottling?!

Naturally, the most recent committee release, Rollercoaster, was the topic of the day, and noticeably a theme for the evening. Everyone had their own opinion about it, and though it’s not one of our favourites from the range, we thought it was rather interesting. Here are our impressions...

Tasting Ardbeg Rollercoaster

Ardbeg Tasting

Nose: A mix of malt, cold wood smoke and a hint of new make. Has a very young feel - similar to Talisker 10 in this respect. Balanced, striking sweetness.

Palate: Quite big with a peat tingle, though it doesn't quite take off as expected. Instead, it rests on its laurels in a sea of spices, tangy Starburst sweets (we often find these in Ardbeg) and oily smoke. Light new make character remains.

Finish: More coastal at the finish, sweetness, and cool smoke, medium to short.

Overall: Rollercoaster is a good whisky; it's balanced and offers plenty of house style, but it is missing a little oomph and before you know it you're off the Rollercoaster and you're already perusing the gift shop...

As evening became night, we made our way over for a quick Corryvreckan, and then tracked down Ardbeg’s head distiller, Mickey Heads. Here’s what he had to say...

An Interview with Mickey Heads - head distiller at Ardbeg


MoM: First off. Will we ever see an official Rollercoaster?

MH: Instead of a committee bottling? I think Rollercoaster will probably just be this one; for the event, for the committee, for this year.

MoM: It’s just that in the past we’ve seen Committee releases turning into general releases (Supernova, Corryvreckan etc) is there a reason that won’t be the case for this one?

MH: Because this is a special anniversary edition, for ten years, a celebration edition, that’s the reason for this one.

MoM: Is there a core range you’ll be concentrating on in the near future?

MH: The core range for Ardbeg: we have the 10 year old; we have Uigeadail and Corryvreckan - that’s the core range for Ardbeg, so that’s the three whiskies that we will have in as our...

MoM (interrupting excitedly): And they cover every base!

MH: That’s our three main ones. We had Airigh Nam Beist before, but that’s gone, so Corryvreckan will come on and replace that...

MoM: And what’s the reason Airigh Nam Beist wasn’t continued?

MH: It was a 1990, we utilized what we had for Airigh Nam Beist - the main stock came from a 1990 vintage.

MoM: Do you think there’ll be another vintage Ardbeg?

MH: Oh hopefully, who knows, but we’re looking now to develop things, we’re developing things all the time. It’s something we’ll continue to do and try to, you know, we try to do interesting things with it and I’m sure people will be, yeah, pretty happy in the future!

MoM: The next question is utter heathenism we’re afraid! Um, is there ever going to be a wood finished Ardbeg?

MH: Oh, no!


(a note – asking the head distiller from Ardbeg whether he’d partake in any wood-finishing was pretty silly really – we know this with hindsight)

MoM: Recent batches of Ardbeg 10 have been absolutely fantastic, particularly this one (nodding at the glass of Ardbeg 10 in Mickey’s hand), what have you done differently to achieve this?

MH: I think in Ardbeg 10, we’re using the stock now that Glenmorangie and Bill [Lumsden], they put the stock into Ardbeg and started filling. We’ve always had a very good wood policy. We use very good wood for our whiskies and that’s what it is if you’re enjoying the whiskies. I love to make a good whisky, and that’s the policy we’ve always had.

MoM: So talk about Dr Bill [Lumsden – head of distilling and whisky creation]’s influence on the process?

MH: I’m part of his team, we work together. And Rachel [Barrie – Glenmorangie’s Master Blender], Bill and her are the two main people.

MoM: As far as the distillation process goes, have you changed anything recently or is it still as traditional as it’s always been?

MH: We try to keep it as traditional as we can, we make a nice whisky and we try to keep it the best we can.

MoM: So what’s your favourite Ardbeg?

MH: Depending on how I feel. The 10 year old I like, I love Uigeadail as well.

MoM: How about Supernova, how does that measure up for you?

MH: Supernova’s nice as well, it’s different; it’s very different with a much higher smoking level.

MoM: You have to build up to it don’t you!

MH: I think so. Some people love it, because they love that really peaty flavour. But for me the 10 year old, as a 10 year old it’s very hard to beat.

MoM: Well thanks very much!

The Ardbeg Men

We then spied Dr Bill across the way and scurried over to him. With a stogie betwixt his teeth and a dram in his hand, he talked to us about all things whisky-related. We discussed the phenomenal success of some of the recent Ardbeg/Glenmorangie releases; our favourite cigar and whisky pairings; and talked about some legends from our private collections – many of which were created personally by Bill! All in all, it was a bit like talking to James Hetfield about the Black Album…

We hope to post an interview with Dr Bill very soon, and we’ll be covering Ardbeg a lot in the near future to help celebrate an astonishing 10 years. Here’s to the next decade!




- The Chaps at Master of Malt -

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