Today we had an advance sniff of a special limited edition Ardbeg (that’s available later this year) inspired by the enormous number of sheep in New Zealand so it’s aged in Pinot Noir casks. How bizarre! 

Some distilleries have fan clubs. Arbeg has the Ardbeg Committee which was founded in 2000 and now has 120,000 members in 140 countries around the world. It functions as a testing board for new expressions as well as a highly engaged organisation with members who attend tastings, give feedback, visit the distillery and generally spread the word. Last year when we spoke with Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks for the Glenmorangie Company, he said: “the purpose of the Ardbeg Committee is to make sure that the distillery never closes its doors again. It’s had a complicated turbulent history, opening and closing its doors. It’s the Committee that will keep the doors open way into the future.”  

Brendan McCarron Ardbeg

Brendan McCarron. always on brand

To celebrate 20 years of the Committee, Ardbeg is launching a new limited edition expression. It’s inspired by the country that’s about as far away from Scotland as its possible to get, a country where there’s seven sheep for every one person: New Zealand. And what else is New Zealand famous for? Rugby! Yes, but also wine. So this latest limited edition is finished in Pinot Noir casks. It’s called Ardbeg Blaaack in honour of all those sheep though why didn’t they call it Ardbeg All Blaaaack and get the rugby in there too? Missing a trick there Ardbeg. 

Mickey Heads, Ardbeg distillery manager, said: “In every corner, of every far-flung place, you’ll find an Ardbeg Committee member. For 20 years they’ve been proudly demonstrating their black-sheep behaviour. Ardbeg Blaaack is the best possible way to pay tribute to our tearaway fans who, like us, are shorn to be wild!” 

McCarron wouldn’t share the exact cask make-up of this new expression when we contacted him, only to say that the core is aged in Pinot Noir casks for a good long time. This isn’t no short dip. Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg director of whisky creation, commented: “Ardbeg Blaaack knits together velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, with a deeper edge of soot and Ardbeg’s hallmark smoke. It’s the perfect dram for toasting our legendary committee.” 

That’s the Committee edition. Fancy!

Two versions have been made, a Committee version bottled at 50.7% ABV, and a general public one at 46% ABV. Both will retail for around £94. Initially it will only be available from 3 March for Committee Members (there is still time to join before this date). Everyone else will have to wait until Ardbeg Day, 30 May, when it will be launched at Fèis Ìle and available from Master of Malt. So, you’ll have to wait to taste it, we’re afraid. But lucky us, we were given a tiny wee sample to taste, so here to tantalise you is what we thought:

Ardbeg Blaaack Tasting Note:

Nose: You can really smell the cask influence. The first thing that comes off are dark cherries with some peachy notes underneath followed by classic Ardbeg aromas of smoked meat and old fireplaces. A splash of water brings out cedar and some volcanic notes.

Palate: Fiery and spicy initially, then those cherries again with limes lurking underneath with wood smoke underlying it all.

Finish: Lick of dark chocolate, single espresso and wafts and wafts of wood smoke.