Thursday, 8 May 2014

Ardbeg 10: it's a salty sex party in your mouth.

Purchasing whisky has become increasingly difficult over the last year or so, as I widen my tastes and extend my budget. For my most recent single malt acquisition, I decided to restrict myself to around £40. I had just gotten back from holiday after all, so some of that still needed paying for…

Oddly though, when I put out a call for recommendations on Twitter, I got nothing  - and with all the whisky people who follow me… very strange. Well I wasn’t waiting forever, and despite the fact that I didn’t want to get an Islay malt, I couldn’t really decide what else to get.  I decided then that it was time to right a wrong and make a dream come true. I had wanted to buy a bottle of Ardbeg when I visited Islay last February, but had been unable to do so because the distillery was closed on the Saturday, when I had planned to make my purchases.

I won’t be making these kinds of mistakes again, I assure you. Next time I visit any distilleries, I’ll check when they’re open. And for next time I need to decide what to buy, I’ve actually come up with a very geeky system that alternates between all the various styles, regions and ages… I’ll be telling you about that another time.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this short post that is all about the Ardbeg 10. Apologies in advance that there are no photos in this one. Somehow I forgot to photograph it during its short lifespan, no doubt believing I had already done so. Ah well.

Ardbeg 10 is bottled at 46%, as it should be (at the very least) and is non-chill filtered. You can pick it up for between £35 (if you’re very lucky) and £45 (if less so).

I had to have mine delivered to work, which I’ll never do again since they had it in the post room three days before finally bringing it to my office. I’d started to get paranoid because the courier had confirmed they’d delivered it – what if someone liberated it? What if they stored it inappropriately? Hurry up and bring iiiiiit…

I delayed fulfilment (the moment of opening) just a couple of weeks, until a Friday night when all I had to look forward to was a weekend of DIY. If I wasn’t going to get to relax this weekend, I was going to start it off right.

What you’re talking about when you get the Ardbeg 10 is absolute value for money. It is already renowned as one of the finest whiskies in the world, and it is certainly one of the best I’ve experienced. It pushes towards those heights of surely being about as enjoyable as it is possible for a whisky to be, and whenever I try a new spirit, that is what I’m looking for.  You open the bottle, and it jumps out at you (like releasing a genie from a bottle as one particularly good review on Master of Malt puts it), even instantly transports you somewhere else – in this case Islay, of course. If you’ve never been, this is the smell of Islay; thick, sweet peat – if you visit the various distilleries at least. Pour it and you can sit for ten minutes just inhaling those fumes from the top of your glencairn glass, no rush, no need to actually taste it yet. I took one sniff, and just passed it straight to Mrs Cake, check this out. Amazing. Nosing this whisky alone is as enjoyable as drinking so many other whiskies.

The colour is very pale, putting many cheaper, artificially coloured whiskies to shame with its bare-faced cheek. I ams what I ams, it says, and what I ams, it goes on, is very lightly coloured and even a bit cloudy – that’ll be the lack of chill filtering, don’tchaknow. Yes, deeply coloured whiskies look nice, but I’m not buying them for their colour. Having said that, I do tend to be put off at the point of purchase by pale, urine-hued whiskies, but Ardbeg doesn’t need you to entertain such concerns because it comes in a dark green bottle, that it might give you a surprise:

Aw, it’s yellow!

Worry ye not.

When you do get to the tasting, it is everything a whisky should be; sweet and warming. The flavour doesn’t dissipate, it envelops the tongue and embraces it like it’s a salty sex party in your mouth and everyone’s on ecstacy (except they do get to achieve completion. All of them. Repeatedly).  Every drop radiates and demands you prise everything you can from each molecule. Forget about all your vanillas and your chocolates and your green apples and whatever else you look for to convince yourself whatever you’re drinking has quality and complexity, just savour the intense richness, the rich intenseness and the tense rich in-ness.

So, what about the finish? Well, the Ardbeg 10 has an afterglow that lingers like a night of strenuous love that slowly dissolves into the dawn. You open your eyes and peer at the morning, creeping through the blinds and think, what a night; let’s stay in and do it again.

If you were to wait for it to fade completely between each sip a double measure could last you hours. Even better - and what I consider to be the mark of a truly great finish; there will be occasions the following evening (even the day after that) when you can taste it almost as clearly as the night before. As one reviewer on Proof66 notes, “You know when you spend the night next to a camp fire and your clothes smells like smoke the next day? That's what Ardbeg does to my mouth. “ And that, of course is a good thing. My analogy would be… dirtier, but I’m going to resist the temptation.

If you want to pass an entertaining ten minutes, you might like to have a look at the reviews of Ardbeg 10 on Master of Malt. Opinion is divided between the extremes with (at the time of writing) 25 five star reviews, 14 four and a half star reviews and 6 four star reviews on the one hand alongside 6 reviews where only half a star is awarded and a smattering of other low scores on the other. Sure, the weight is clearly in favour of this being a quality dram, but it is fascinating how much it offends some people. One of them says, “I’ll be giving this away” – how I wish I could be the lucky recipient – while another poured it down the sink, and more than a few were overpowered by iodine.  Pussies.

Of particular note is one reviewer who ‘always takes his dram with Irn Bru’ - because it adds more flavour to whisky – though with Ardbeg the combination is ‘awful’ – well, I know Irn Bru’s all right, so it must be the Ardbeg that is the problem...

I suppose that’s like a restaurant critic who professes to eat everything with ketchup and then complains that it doesn’t work with the duck – as if it’s the duck that ruined the ketchup. I don’t think you’d give their reviews much credence. Sorry for ruining your Irn Bru with my fine single malt… you fucking idiot.

Another reviewer attempts to qualify his half star review by stating “I am very open minded”, which you could compare to starting a sentence with “I’m not a racist but…” or “I’m hot homophobic but…” or “I’ve never hit a woman but…”

Seriously; thanks for coming out.

Just because some of the negative reviews are ludicrous, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t heed what they say. The fact remains that some people don’t like Ardbeg. You might be among them, so be warned. Either way, I’m firmly among Ardbeg’s admirers, and I don’t care if you don’t like it.

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