There’s a new whisky in the Ardbeg core range. Note that this is an extension, not a replacement of one of the existing bottlings. The 10 Year Old is here to stay, we can assume, but it is significant that we have a new core range Ardbeg for the first time in a while – almost a decade in fact.
Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced “an oh”) contains whiskies of different cask types including PX sherry, virgin oak (presumably US oak) and ex-Bourbon casks, which are then vatted – according to the marketing material – in Ardbeg’s new “Gathering Room”. What even is a “Gathering Room”? (The Sponge suggests it could be a local dogging hotspot.) Anyway, the whisky is named after the Mull of Oa, which is situated at the end of the Oa peninsula – the most southerly point of Islay. And being a new core range Ardbeg, it came with a new short film.
Well, the new Ardbeg film was greeted with much disdain in the whisky community. It is a curious thing that a brand that was once applauded for some quirky clips has a media output now seen as old-fashioned – perhaps this is more a case of the whisky community moving on, rather than Ardbeg’s creative agency remaining stale. This sort of thing was celebrated a decade ago; now it feels trite, and the real 2017 commentariat (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers) criticised it heavily. Certainly there’s a cheap nod to the spirit of the re-launched Whisky Galore film, and perhaps they slipped the extras a few fivers in between takes, but I don’t think these things are really aimed at real whisky drinkers anyway. Just a bit of hijinks to create some noise; likely designed by committee.
Let’s worry about the whisky instead. Ardbeg An Oa is bottled at 46.6% ABV and will cost you around £50.
Ardbeg An Oa Review
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: very pleasant. Quite un-Ardbegian, at first, but it’s actually very nice. A lovely balance of lemon juice, sweet peat, and vanilla. There’s a slightly aggressive, woody heft that overrides the peat in places. Pine needles, peppermint and pencil shavings. Quite dry and fresh. A youthful breadiness that gives way to dried apricots and sultans; just a touch mind.
In the mouth: the balance between sweet and charred earthiness, for me, is at first spot on. Dry and ashy, this peat, and there’s not so much of the oiliness or viscosity I remember from some Ardbegs. Vanilla and heather honey. Notes of fennel and wood, a spritely lime zing and sweet pepper tang. Curiously spicy, with cloves, yet it hangs about in a lighter territory. The peat becomes really dry towards the finish, which has a nutmeg warmth. Lemon juice with tart grapefruit acidity right at the end.
Ardbeg An Oa can sit nicely in the core range, though it is not – if you ask me – in the same league as the likes of Uigeadail. It’s said that PX casks were involved in Ardbeg An Oa, virgin oak too, but the flavours here seem to centre around the ex-Bourbon casks. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it felt as if the other woods were mentioned (there was a French Oak vat, too) simply to have something exotic to say; as if wood was the only thing that mattered in whisky-making, which it is not.
Anyway, to say this sits at the lower end of the Ardbeg core range is not to say it is a bad whisky. It’s pleasant, and better than some of the other releases like Ardbeg Perpetuum.
But this just goes to highlight one thing only: that the existing Ardbeg core range is actually very good indeed.