Whisky sells and in today’s market it has become a very profitable commodity. Ardbeg has carved out a niche for itself with the annual release and all the promotional madness geared around the launch. But what about the actual liquid within? The contents? The real reason for the existence of such a bottle?

Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has created a new direction and brand for this once decrepit Islay distillery. This French powerhouse is extremely adept at such things and fostering a sense of luxury. We must be thankful that Ardbeg is thriving and set to expand in 2019, with a new traditional style still house built upon the site of a former warehouse. This will feature 4 stills, effectively doubling capacity. The original still area will be lost to washbacks and whether you see this as an improvement, progress or whatever spin you want to put on it, is entirely down to you. Personally, I’m slightly worried by the prospect.

It is a roll of the dice from the owners, intent on meeting demand and expanding a limited core range. As Adam speculated in his excellent New Zealand Double Wood 18 year old review, you are tinkering and trying to recreate things not entirely within your control. Yes, this applied to the lost distilleries that Diageo is reviving in a mad Frankenstein experiment with no expense spared. Not because they care about the sites or heritage, but there’s money to be made and for all the corporate power the giant can call upon. It was in danger of losing illustrious names such as Brora and Port Ellen to the history books, which is where they belong. After all, it was a rash and brutal series of decisions that closed these distilleries in the 1980s. You reap what you sow.

Ardbeg lives and breathes. Upping the equipment and adding more to the equation in a new location, is not without its risks. We’ve all heard of the problems around Clynelish after the total internal refurbishment. For all the planning in the world and preparation, there still remains a slight sense of alchemy when it comes to distilling. Questions also arise around this self-proclaimed traditional style still house. The influence of technology within, compared to the fairly hands-on approach at Ardbeg currently. Another issue, and now at Clynelish operatives are reduced to merely watching computers do most of their former responsibilities. Is this truly progress? Only time will tell, but I remain apprehensive.

I really enjoyed the original Ardbeg Day release that brought a sense of fun to the whisky calendar. Since then it has been repetition rather than evolution, with each year heralding a different cask or trick to justify its existence. Mark was a big fan of the Ardbeg Kelpie although he refused to pay the price and this is a trend that runs throughout many of our Ardbeg reviews. Many of you out there clearly love these limited expressions, whether to hoard or flip at auction within weeks. The actual art of drinking the whisky and sharing seems lost. The market becomes saturated in all things Ardbeg and the whisky takes a berth.

For 2018, Ardbeg gave us the Grooves release. The concept behind this is that the whisky has been matured in ex-wine casks – which wine casks I hear Mark & Adam ask? – that have been heavily charred. Fact fans know that a cask can give you around 200 flavour compounds but these are determined by the type of cask and the level of charring. For this release, the mysterious ex-wine casks so charred that grooves formed on the surface of the wood. It all sounds like a possible Metallica whisky called Blackened, oh wait a minute…

Ardbeg Grooves is bottled at 46% and is a time-limited edition. Let’s not start on what constitutes limited in whisky nowadays as the outturn is closer to a 6 figure number than 4 figures. Speaking of numbers, this would have set you back in the region of £98. That’s a big figure for a No Age Statement whisky with very little detail about the contents or processes involved. These have all been smudged in favour of a 1960’s summer of love marketing theme. A social experiment that was killed off at Altamont during the Rolling Stones set. There was no Islay or whisky on the running order that day.

Ardbeg Grooves – review

Colour: So bored of gold.

On the nose: Chocolate fudge with an earthy core and coastal driftwood. Burnt toast, heather honey and cinnamon bark. There’s a mustiness with charcoal and a sense of dampness. A milky coffee, a walnut whip with caramel and dried orange.

In the mouth: A bit watery in all honesty and a murky pond water with a peaty tang. There are some typical earthy, autumnal peat characteristics. Honeycomb, more coffee notes and dark chocolate. A bit flat in reality. More of a concept than an actual finalised experience.

Conclusions

The only winner with this release is Ardbeg or the parent company in reality. I’m not really sure what this brings to the party. It is all a bit average and meh in my humble opinion. Too young for either the spirit or the cask implementation to form a harmonious marriage. Instead, it comes across muddled and halfhearted.

A perfect example of a very average whisky. A modern whisky if you will, created to fill an annual requirement. Why bother with all this gimmickry? Just give us Ardbeg in a solid cask at a higher strength. An easy recipe and job done. For the asking price of this Ardbeg Grooves, which feels more like a £45 bottle, a point is deducted for sheer nerve.

We can remain optimistic that 2019 brings us less marketing and more substance in whisky as a whole. That’s my wish, resolution and dream.

Score: 4/10

Lead image from the Whisky Exchange. The sample from Noortje – Queen of Instagram.

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  1. Avatar
    David says:

    Lucky escape for me on this one then!
    Whilst I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ardbeg, I hadn’t really tried any for several years except for a taste of some in the Cadenhead’s warehouse.
    After hearing much fanfare upon the release of Grooves especially on certain social media channels, I almost considered buying a bottle as quite like red wine cask matured whisky.
    I think it must have been a Cadenhead’s outturn that got in the way of making a purchase of this, and then just didn’t bother to seek out a bottle.
    The Committee release of this was a higher ABV wasn’t it?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi David, yes it was a slightly higher ABV and from memory more openly received. This is an average whisky nothing more, but I do know of some who did enjoy it and others who went the opposite way. Speaking to an Ardbeg fan even he wanted more information about this release but the reps didn’t seem to know much whatsoever. Here’s hoping we get a little more detail next time. Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Nick says:

    I heard from a national brand ambassador the the wine casks used/recharred were the ones used for the Glenmorangie Milsean.

  3. Avatar
    James Allsop says:

    Nice to see an honest review! This bottle in particular fell foul of the “I paid £90 for it so it must be good” style of reviewing.

    I tried a dram of it in a pub not long after it was released. It cost £11 for a 25ml measure and honestly I couldn’t really get any more out of it than the Ardbeg 10yo which is £35 for a full bottle. I’d have felt pretty ripped off if I’d have bought a full bottle of Grooves in all honesty.

  4. Avatar
    Juju says:

    “The actual art of drinking the whisky and sharing seems lost.” Indeed. My friends and I get together regularly to share bottles and give samples to one another. Then there are those who collect the Macallan No. releases and purport to know – like an expert, mind you – what’s in the bottles without even tasting them. Scary times we’re living in.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Juju, opening and sharing is key. Without those steps, it isn’t whisky or whatever the saying is. Certainly, something I want to do as much as possible of nowadays. We may take longer to get around to reviewing some releases but we get there and post-review I’m quite surprised how different our stance is compared to other resources.

  5. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    I’m done with the Ardbeg annual releases. I didn’t bother with the Kelpie or this one. I had the Perpetuum and Dark Cove and at £100 they were twice the price they ought to be. I like my Ardbeg, in general, but I’m sick to death of this garbage annual release nonsense. First of all comes the Committee Release, which you can’t find in the U.K for less than £400 but our friends over the pond pick up for $100 without any bother. This is followed by the 46% which is no better than the core range. I can’t bear the cynical marketing flannel that surrounds it and the Ardbeg groupies that see no wrong.

    Even the core range has gone downhill, apart from the wonderful (age statement) 10 year old. It’s very unlikely I’ll drink this expression and I don’t care. My apologies for another grumpy response but you know how to pick em. Cheers Jason. WT

    1. Avatar
      Whisky_gav says:

      I’m with you WT, I’ve been buying the annual committee releases since the Supernova ones. I began to realise that I’d been buying them out of habit rather than any actual real enjoyment. I’m bored and done for now thanks Ardbeg.

  6. Avatar
    Chris J says:

    This is one the “influencers” loved to hype. Colorful (hideous) bottle, pretty pictures, tasting notes from an office chair at Moët Hennessy. Why anyone would pay money for Grooves when there are brilliant choices available in the same price range remains a mystery. Just like what Ardbeg puts in the bottle.

  7. Avatar
    Jessica says:

    Supposedly the fastest selling release they’ve ever had. Im not sure why there is such variation in pricing, even regionally in the USA (where I am) but I happened to find this one for $100. Typically, Im a cheapo and prefer a 10 year old whisky aged in one cask over some cask “finished” older bottle. But I couldn’t resist. I like Ardbeg. I had to try it. And ok, it’s not worth big bucks. But I also would’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers. If you werent so miffed, would it really only rate a 5?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Jessica, yep a 5 which means it’s solid, average, middle of the road . That’s what it comes across as. Nothing higher in my mind was even on the agenda after tasting it. Shame as I do enjoy Ardbeg.

  8. Avatar
    Newckie says:

    The chance to get a committee bottling when Ardbeg release them is much like their whiskies, very hit and miss. With more misses on acquiring one and it tasting great .
    Ardbeg need to improve, just look over your mash tuns fellas there be new boys riding onto Islay shortly.
    See what I did there, cowboys and all ?
    Exactly.

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