As we embark on the daunting ice covered festive run in up to Christmas, it is a time for gifts, reflection and generosity. We’ve already covered the gift guide right here and I’ve dispatched 10 drams for Christmas to Mark at Malt Review so that’s the generosity aspect sorted – he has enough tweed, so whisky was the next best thing!
This leaves reflection. I was asked recently on Instagram as to what were my favourite drams and most disappointing whiskies of 2015? The disappointments were easy, as these were the Ardbeg releases during the last year to celebrate their 200th anniversary. Even the slightly higher strength bottling failed to live up to expectations, especially when you looked down the road at what Laphroaig produced.
For the festive period The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has released a batch of Christmas parcels. These come in all shapes, sizes and prices including their first ever cognac. Arguably the star attraction is 33.132 dubbed Beauty and the Beast, which if you don’t know your SMWS codes is from Ardbeg distillery. Available on its own or as part of the better value Heavenly Peaty Trio at £269. The assortment also includes 29.171 at 20 years old and 10.84 with a decade on the clock. I was kindly provided with the sample pictured above by the SMWS and those peaty Islay flavours stirred me into action.
SMWS: 33.132 Beauty and the beast
Age: 8 years old
Strength: 60.9% vol
Cask: 2nd fill sherry butt
Edition: 624 bottles
SMWS Ardbeg 33.132 Beauty and the beast – review
Colour: a glowing cinder toffee
On the nose: dying ashy embers, a ripening compost heap with a helping of sea salt and dulse. Soya sauce, walnuts, bacon bits, orange peel and caramelised sugar flash before me.
In the mouth: there is a conflict between the sherry influence and those peaty Ardbeg aspirations. At first its dark chocolate that shines through, then the vegetative notes rise up with soot and smoked venison, before toffee and green peppercorn take us towards the finish. It’s the chewy texture that I find most memorable in this dram without water.
Bottled at cask strength and 8 years old this demonstrates that Ardbeg is alive and kicking. I can almost forgive the disappointing annual releases in recent years; if only LVMH unleashed the shackles and gave us more of this. Although positive, the pricing here for an 8 year old is difficult to justify in all honesty. Depending where you shop this single bottle is equivalent to 3 bottles of the consistently excellent official Ardbeg 10 year old. That’s a big price tag.
Ultimately you are paying a premium here for the distillery and the fashionable catwalk models of Islay and peat. The pricing is disappointing unquestionably, but from the Scotch Malt Society perspective how many of these bottles will be appearing on auction sites in the coming weeks? It certainly hasn’t stopped this one flying off the shelves or sadly being flipped for profit. Hopefully 33.132 lands snuggly under your Christmas tree on the 25th. Just do us all a favour; open the bottle, sit back and enjoy the festivities with this beast of a dram.