It was a long time coming, but Ardbeg Wee Beastie has finally hit the shelves at MoM Towers. We had a taste to let you know what to expect.
Last year we welcomed the arrival of the eldest expression in Ardbeg core range, Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with the youngest age statement bottling to joining the ranks. Ardbeg Wee Bestie was matured for just five short years in a combination of ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks before it was bottled at 47.4% ABV.
The distillery says it set out to create the “rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever”, with much of the marketing labelling it a “monster of a dram” while the recently retired distillery manager Mickey Heads described it as a “ferociously good wee nip”.
Which is all very exciting, because we do love a young, raw and bold Islay bottling here at MoM Towers. But we don’t often get the chance to indulge in this fancy, because lower age statements tend to be saved for some new brands rushing out something sellable or the occasional independent bottling. Bigger brands and distilleries have only recently begun to issue releases as young as 5-years-old.
Perspectives on age are changing and people are becoming more open-minded about what makes a great whisky. Further education is still required, however. Among the average consumer, there’s still some work to do in challenging the notion that well-aged single malts reign supreme. There’s plenty to love about blends, grain whisky and drams on the youthful side of the spectrum.
So, it’s great to see that notable distilleries have been waking up to the potential of young whisky in recent years. If Wee Beastie continues to receive the acclaim it has so far and retains its high demand, it could open the floodgates. Although a word of caution: nobody wants rushed booze. Making whisky that young which also tastes good requires a fine balance of cask management and outstanding distillate. But I’ve noticed that Islay and other islands have a knack for getting this right.
Talisker has arguably stolen the spotlight in two of Diageo’s most recent Special Releases, with a pair of 8-year-olds in 2018 and 2020 that were absolutely sublime, Bruichladdich has received plenty of plaudits for Port Charlotte and Octomore bottlings under 10 years matured and Ardbeg fans will remember the distillery has its own share of success in this area with the highly collectable Ardbeg Very Young, Still Young and Almost There expressions from the early 2000s.
In the case of Wee Beastie, it was interesting to read one of Heads’s comments in the press release, that bottling a younger whisky means they were able to get “as close to the still as possible”. He’s teasing that we can expect a display of distillery character here, which is exciting, but one thing to note is that Ardbeg does things a little differently. On the Lyne arm of the spirit still at Ardbeg there is a purifier, an apparatus no other Islay distillery uses, which is designed to capture heavier compounds and feed them back down into the main pot of the still to add extra reflux. This should make for a lighter spirit with ample fruitiness that means the young whisky has character.
It’s also intriguing that Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, said that the casks chosen for Wee Beastie’s creation makes it “ideal for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail.” Which demonstrates another approach from Ardbeg inspired by modern trends: to embrace whisky in cocktails. I’m sure this will make a beautiful Sour or Penicillin, but, as you might expect, the distillery has suggested its own signature serve, the Bloody Rob Roy, the recipe for which you’ll find under the tasting note (it’s lovely).
When you’re not having fun playing mixologist and you want to sample Ardbeg Wee Beastie neat, then I hope you find it as pleasing as I did. Expect plenty of the complex meaty, peaty, coastal, citrusy goodness you want from Ardbeg. However, I’m not sure I’d describe this as particularly beastly. It’s more like Shortie, the distillery’s resident dog, in that it’s familiar, charming and lots of fun. This may pose some issues for those who want a dram to blow their head off, but don’t dismiss it too readily. The sherry elements add a welcome contrast to the outstanding 10 Year Old, the freshness of the fruity notes are delicious and the I love the nose, it’s smoky and musty and like standing by a seaside bonfire.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie Tasting Notes:
Nose: There’s sea spray, rock pools, smoked malt and damp bonfire wood initially which waves of sweet and slightly vegetal smoke powers through. Hints of brown sugar, pear drops, a little vanilla and cooked apple add sweetness among notes of spare ribs, lemon sherbet, black pepper and wood shavings.
Palate: I was expecting a punchier hit but actually the palate is very pleasantly sweet and salty. Citrus oils and orchard fruits are present along with an unmistakable dark berry tartness which is joined by plenty of damp peat and dry wood smoke. Adding depth there’s pepper steak, creosote and then some touches of clove and liquorice. In the back-end, there’s a juicy sweetness from lychee and peaches as well as just a touch of salted caramel.
Finish: The finish is exceptionally long and oily. It’s a bit like sucking on a lemon sherbet and taking a great big whiff of some freshly cut peat, to be honest. While standing on a beach. Lovely.
Suggested serve: The Bloody Rob Roy. Combine 50ml of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, 20ml of sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura Bitters in a mixing glass and stir for dilution. Strain into a coupe glass, garnish with an orange twist and a Maraschino Cherry and serve.