It’s been fun watching the newest and youngest Ardbeg spreading out across the world, as Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) deployed a staggered geographical approach. Eventually, finally, and long overdue to some, this 5 year old Ardbeg has stomped onto UK shores.

The wait has come with unexpected fringe benefits. Watching the usual blogger and YouTube stampede, to be the first to review this release is always entertaining. But it underlined the desire to welcome, wholeheartedly, this young Islay malt – was there actual much thought as to the price tag? A fair critique of the contents? The reason why this Ardbeg actually this exists? After being told for years of shortages of Ardbeg and enduring a stream of No Age Statement releases? No, not really, in reality, it transpired. For instance, sales of blends have taken a knock in the last year, meaning that more casks are in need of a home and revenue needs to be maintained. I’ve already heard talk of Diageo touting huge amounts of whisky on a scale that only a handful of indies can consider. Still, we’ll have some releases we weren’t anticipating in the coming 18 months and if that means an Ardbeg with a refreshing 5 on the label, what’s so bad about that? Nothing at all, if a certain standard is maintained and the whiskies are priced accordingly.

So, you might say thank goodness Malt is here not to give a more thoughtful approach? No, not really. Personally, I wasn’t up for reviewing this whatsoever, despite some prompting from friends. My schedule is full enough with samples and articles, but a generous sample from a neighbour partially unlocked the door. Then, the wait for the full UK debut, revealed another issue with the staggered release programme, and one that I think would be beneficial to consider right here, right now. The bane of all blenders, masters or otherwise. Yes, we’re talking about consistency.

There’s been an initial tsunami of praise for this Ardbeg release; quite daunting in fact, and had me believing this could be the bargain of the decade? Sure, some of it is camouflaged in the industry-friendly 100-point scoring system, but the general vibes were really, really good. Friends who know me, understand I favour the long game and a patient approach before striking. Time is quite rightly labelled as a healer, but it is the provider of opportunity and validation. And it’s becoming more apparent that we’re starting to see variations in the batches of this Ardbeg, noticeable differences.

The best place to track whisky thought is always Whiskybase and you can see there’s a huge range of scores from the mid-’70s to the mid-’90s, which is unusual so soon into the lifespan of a product. The best approach is to cut the top and the bottom, but that still leaves a huge degree of variation on this scoring system. So, what’s to blame? Personal preferences? Possibly, we all have our favourites and the brand of Ardbeg itself is something you either love or hate. And some out there just don’t like peat, although why go to the trouble of making a purchase and review, when there’s more whisky out there?

A strong root cause contender is batch variation and the difficulty of achieving consistency. As a fan of the Ardbeg 10 year old, I’ve noticed this in recent times. And it’s not just a LVMH issue, as I’ve noticed it more so recently, with the Mortlach 16, the Clynelish 14 and no doubt you’ll have your own examples as well. To gauge the issue at hand, I reached out to Phil in Northern Ireland and Rose in California to give their verdicts on the Ardbeg Wee Beastie. Obtaining the batch numbers etched on their bottles. I also had the pleasure of asking a bemused neighbour as to what code was on his bottle and appearing to be some whisky geek. Things we do…

The Wee Beastie is bottled at 47.4% strength, matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. You’ll have to shop around for a bottle, but I know that Amazon has it for £39 and Luvians did have it until very recently. Keep looking, and for now, let’s check out this beastie from Islay. But first, let’s have another great photograph from Rose aka From Where I Dram.

Ardbeg Wee Beastie – Jason’s review

Bottle code here is L2394268 06/05/2020 005927.

Colour: light gold.

On the nose: fresh stroopwafels and peat. Memories of a herring dish I had on Skye, honeycomb and driftwood. Salty, cardboard, talcum powder residue and apples. There’s also pond water, withered saffron and mace.

In the mouth: weak flaccid peat in need of some Viagra to make it a beastie, or beastie-lite. Salty, but also strong connections with Pimientos de Padrón, or salted green peppers almost blackened from the heat of the stove if you’re not familiar with Spanish cuisine. Cracked black pepper, ash, more pond water and bacon on the finish.

Conclusions

A strong initial impression on the nose falls rapidly apart on the palate. At 5 years old, you’d expect some shortcomings in the complexity realm, but what disappoints is the peat is fairly benign. This isn’t a Wee Beastie or even the droppings from a Wee Beastie. It’s fairly pedestrian and inoffensive as far as Ardbeg goes.

I’m also questioning the price point. At £40 in the UK, this is almost stepping on the toes of the more illustrious and established 10 year old. It’s like visiting a local bakers, where they have the standard loaf priced at XYZ, or for a wee bit extra, you can have the larger loaf. You’re gonna go for the bigger version every time. And that’s the problem with this Ardbeg. It’s too close to the 10 to warrant serious consideration in my book. The older version offers more on every front as it’s the better whisky. So, a point knocked off for the asking price.

Score: 4/10

Ardbeg Wee Beastie – Phil’s review

Bottle code here is L2394268 06/05/2020 005293.

Colour: light gold.

On the nose: immediate hit of sweet peat and coastal bonfires. Then green apples, mint tea and tar. Wood shavings, espresso and cracked black peppercorns.

In the mouth: On arrival I’m greeted by honey and spun sugar with the green apples appearing again. This is followed by a wave of smoke, ash and tar with a menthol freshness behind that. The finish is short but dominated by ash and smoke.

Conclusions

The 10 year old this is not. Very one dimensional with little flavour development being mostly about smoke and tar. The nose is actually pretty good but the palate isn’t really appealing at all and considering it retails close to the 10 year old it doesn’t really represent value. If you love sucking lumps of peat I assume this will be right up your street…if you want complexity look elsewhere. Certainly for a young peated whisky nowhere near as good as the Bill Phil from WD O’Connell or even the Dark Silkie which is a much better bet for less money.

Score: 4/10

Ardbeg Wee Beastie – Rose’s review

Bottle code here is L2384946. 01/05/2020 01 904.

Color: Pecan sandies.

On the nose: The zestiness of a mild salsa verde. Stanky and sulfuric like hard-boiled eggs. Sea sprayed ashy wood. Pine sap fragranced face astringent, likely something marketed to men with beards to make them feel more manly. Insert the image of a lumberjack resting an axe on his shoulder. The sweetness of a dark honey with mineral notes and white chocolate come through. There’s something like salted ham, I think the Scots call that bacon? I call it fakin’. At the end a hint of faded Spanish saffron.

In the mouth: Diced green bell pepper and white peppercorns. An old crusty barbecue grill, the metal, the dried-up bbq sauce, all of that. Lots of iodine, capers and brininess. Throw a piece of fake bacon off the aforementioned dirty grill into some warm seawater and I think that sums it up.

Conclusions

I‘ll just preface this by saying I am not an Ardbeg enthusiast, but I also do not dislike it by any means. This whisky offends me, I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes me angry. It’s not like I had high hopes for this bargain-priced Ardbeg that has been added to their core range. It just comes across as the ghost of Ardbeg. Maybe thats it, they sucked the life out of it. Limited, muted and very thin. Now just ash, sulphur and salt remain prominent, even at 47.4%. I feel like 50 bucks can be better spent and honestly cannot imagine a repeat purchase.

I can usually respect a whisky for what it is, or compartmentalize it somehow. But this leaves me feeling a bit empty. Someone send some Kilkerran quick to fill the void growing inside of me. My best bet for finishing this bottle is to throw it in a cocktail that needs a little filth infusion. Or, I suppose, have it alongside a meal, that way there might be more contiguous flavors.

Score: 3/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
Tags
  1. Avatar
    mark p says:

    In Australia this is retailing for the exact price of the 10 year old. I wrote on social media last week that if it was going to retail for the same they needed to up the ABV on the Beastie to 50% to make that reasonable. Why buy an unproven 5 year old over the trusty 10 year old for the sake of an extra 1.4% alcohol? The allure of something new I guess.

    I wonder as well if extra ABV might’ve boosted the taste? Couldn’t have hurt it any.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Mark

      Yeah, exactly. A bit more strength would have brought out more ‘beastie’ rather than this flaccid creature. Tapping into the need for something new? I know the wait has put many friends off here in the UK.

      Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Rolf says:

    Great batch of reviews! Yes initially I thought it was cool that they put the five year age statement on it, and it was quite pleasant at first, but average and certainly no beast. Here they had the the opportunity to create something powerful and interesting. As you all point out, the step up in price to the Ten is not that high, so why should I buy another bottle. The Ten has been one of my favourite peated Islays for a while. So I don’t understand who they are aiming with this release. I watched Ralfy do an episode on chill filtration recently and he pointed out that allthough it states “non chill filtered” on this bottle, it doesn’t seem to get much “scottish mist”. I tried myself with a teaspoon of ice cold water and sure, there where almost no haziness. It seems to be very engineered product aimed for the masses.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Rolf

      Thanks, this one came together quite well and none of the writers knew the verdicts (other than myself) until publication. So, there are some common themes above, which is reassuring.

      On filtering, I have heard rumours of ultraviolent/laser light being utilised within the industry, but it seems a grey area (much like the process to lift whiskies that are below 40% back to minimum strength, by removing water content) and there’s nothing concrete to suggest it’s here. However, as you rightly point out, it has an engineered element much like the Aisla Bay releases from William Grant.

      It’s going to be interested to see what happens with this release.

      Cheers, Jason.

  3. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    the last three Ardbegs I tried were the An Oa the Wee Beastie and the Blaaack 46%. In that order.
    The Blaaack had a wonderful nose to start with and I thought wow, a real good Ardbeg again at last. Only it didn’t last. For the other two they were Ardbegian at first nosing but not very impressive.

    The longer they stayed in the glass the more all three fell apart. All thee of them. After 30 minutes pure desintegration and weakness.
    It seems Ardbeg can not even hold on to consistancy in the glass and not only from batch to batch of a bottling.

    All three were disappointing and would have been more so if I had bought the bottles.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Kallaskander

      Thanks for commenting, there seems to be a common theme developing here!

      Always try before you buy, if we can. Saves a great deal of disappointment.

      Cheers, Jason,

    2. Avatar
      Brad V Bellomo says:

      I did like the Wee Bestie. I agree the 10 is a better value, but question if we drank the same dram. Wee Beastie is a fruity, heavily Sherry smoked whisky, compared to the drier, smokier and sherry free 10. 1 dimensional it is not, but 2 dimensional could be fair criticism. This is great value for those looking for lots of Sherry and Peat in the same bottle, something I am unaware of under twice the price.

      1. Jason
        Jason says:

        If you like it then Brad, that’s the main thing. As much as someone else might not enjoy it. I think one of these comments suggested it was over-engineered, while it floats your boat.

    3. Avatar
      Aidan Craig says:

      I got mine for practically half the price of the ten, and i was very happy with it. Granted im definitely more of a bourbon drinker but it comes across as bacon wrapped fruit for me. Very fruity, and a surpisingly good mouthfeel. For the cheaper price i got id give it a 7-8/10

  4. Avatar
    Matthew J Ryan says:

    I enjoyed the 5 indeed. But yes at my local Shop the price difference is only 9$ between the 5 and the 10 and I prefer the 10 so I will always reach for that. Unless I add some bucks and get the 19yo haha

  5. Avatar
    EsaB says:

    Wee beastie, young rascal, teenagers compared for example to 10yo which is serene and more mature in his 25’s 🙂
    I appreciate distillery taking risk with this young release. Enjoying different Ardbegs, I laughed and smiled after initial taste. By far higher points than in reviews given here. IMO, maybe have been good option to GoT series with different approach, with surprise.
    Price is so good here in northern europe. Price/quality is perfect.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi EsaB

      Thanks for commenting that’s its a good price and you’ve found perfection!

      Cannot argue with that except have you tried the Tormore? Perfection indeed.

      Cheers, Jason.

  6. Avatar
    Andy says:

    Have enjoyed our bottle of the 5yo so far, finding as we progress down the bottle the better it’s getting … the initial neck pour was very poor. Nowhere near the peated beast we were all led to believe we were getting, but an enjoyable dram nonetheless … the 10yo and other core range drams, along with what’s left of our bottles of The Blaaack have nothing to fear from this new interloper. Could’ve been so much better …

  7. Avatar
    Apple Wino says:

    It’s nice to get a review of something I can actually buy, even if I have already bought it and you trash it! Forty quid wasted but no worries. (Yes, I have not opened it yet. But it is quite nice to have some balance in anticipation of tasting. I will probably like it just to contradict the consensus here.)

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi AW

      Let us know how you get on. I’m not in a rush to go back to the bottle. I’ve been working on some other Islay’s and need to head to the mainland!

      1. Avatar
        Apple Wino says:

        Thanks Jason! I will open it tonight and get back to Malt after I get the chance to have some samples over the next few days. My bottle has a date code of 06/02/2020 so I am hoping I have an early batch that is different in quality from the ones tasted here (assuming DD/MM/YY for the date code would make it about three months away from the bottles tasted in the review).

          1. Avatar
            Apple Wino says:

            After loving a craft rye and going back for a second bottle that tasted nothing like the first, I have always been keenly aware of batch variation. I have to wonder if the early batches of Wee Beastie were much better than the later ones.

            My bottle is L2380872, so it was from early February (06/02/2020) while the ones reviewed by Malt are all from May (and have higher lot numbers).

            I was trying to remember which reviews I had read that led me to make the purchase, and I finally recalled that Noortje’s was the one that pushed me over the edge. Her bottle was from mid-March (19-3-2020).

            I sampled my batch the past three nights. (Last night after Glenfarclas 21, just for fun.) With my bottle, the palate is not a disappointment and aligns with the nose: the citrus elements are well integrated with the peat. The finish is fairly long and interesting with an oily mouthfeel. Definitely a young whisky, but that is not a surprise given the age statement. But the freshness of the fruit flavors, are appealing. My experience tracks pretty closely with Noortje’s.

            Wee Beastie is not an earthshattering or especially complex whisky, but I find it a very enjoyable dram. I paid USD41, which is a great price for a drinkable Scotch these days, State-side. The only ones that I recall paying a similar amount for are a Benromach 10 and an Aberlour 12. (I would much rather drink this than the underpowered Aberlour {40%, ugh}, though I would take an A’bunadh any day). It has been a long time since I sampled Ardbeg 10, so I cannot really make a comparison, but the best price I usually see is around USD50.

            Without considering price, I would rate this a 5 but I might bump it up to 6 on value, especially after rereading the scoring bands.

            But I guess the only real way to tell whether this is a case of batch variation would be to make a head-to-head comparison with one of the later bottlings.

  8. Avatar
    Stuart Allison says:

    I think I was the last to review it on YouTube
    For me, they are asking too much as I reckon £30 is more realistic.
    If they are thinking of replacing the 10 with this then they will most likely lose me as a consumer. Yes, its nice enough but it doesn’t merit any more than a 4 from your scoring system – its just not anything special apart from clever marketing.
    Cheers

  9. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    I’m sorry Jason but another comment. I was hostile to this before it arrived on our shores because it took so f….ng long to do so. plus the price. Got a bottle recently and it’s finished. It’s interesting and I think there is a space for it in Ardbeg’s line up. There’s a lot of hype but I quite like it. I never thought I’d be so pernickety but it’s £5-10 to much and that’s annoying at this price. I’d give it 82/100 on that scale – 5 out of 10 on that scale.

  10. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Peat can be a great masker of youth but, for me, the hot, ester notes dominate and the peat isn’t as raw and full blooded as one would hope. Despite the bravado of the 5 year age statement, this whisky is simply too green.

    Personally, I once couldn’t get enough of peaty whiskies, non-peated expressions were the minority in my cabinet. Now the opposite is true. Not sure if that is progression or regression but, for me, peat can distract from and occlude the finer aspects of a spirit. It’s an additional flavour layer that has its delights and only works with older whiskies if it adds finesse and balance. If not it’s extraneous.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Bifter

      Green is a good summary and as for the peat it’s a reflection of our times when many want it in the face, up front and brash.

      Peat used to be a great stage for other characteristics. Nowadays it’s swamping the orchestra.

      Cheers, Jason.

  11. Avatar
    Austin says:

    Couldn’t agree with these reviews more. At 46 dollars US for me, down the street, I can get the Ardbeg 10. It is superior in every measure of whisky possible. IMO this isn’t even more of an elemental ‘peat monster’ than the Ardbeg 10. This differentiates the wee beastie from something like the lagavulin 8, which I think offers a much different type of experience than the 16.

    Anyways, the only thing that came of my purchase was a deeper appreciation of just how good the 10 is.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Austin

      I need to return to the 10 soon, the failings of the Beastie have underlined that gap.

      Good that it’s $46, it’s £46 here and a premium option in the supermarket.

      Cheers, Jason.

  12. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    well the world is full of colours….

    “Ardbeg 19 Year Old Traigh Bhan Batch 1 Review
    Note that this is a review of the outstanding Ardbeg 19 year Traigh Bhan Batch 1 and given Ardbeg’s record for consistency and quality in their core range I would be confident Batch 2 will match it for quality but as the is the very nature of single malts it will likely vary slightly in its flavour profile but I wouldn’t think by much.”

    Ardbegs record of consistantly high prices…. but everybody is entitled to see the world as it fits. And we will see about that batch 2 soon.

    https://www.scotchmaltwhisky.co.uk/ardbeg19traighbhanbatch2.htm

    Whereas my experience with recent Ardbegs is more like this
    “Thoughts: The name and design are brilliant and the nose continue the trend with lovely combo of Ardbegness and red fruits. But frankly – it falls apart grandiosely on the palate. The palate feels so reduced and watery comparing to the nose. I didn’t try yet the Committee version which is a tad stronger so there’s hope the palate there won’t disappoint so much or at all.”

    https://whiskygospel.com/2020/08/30/ardbeg-blaaack-ardbeg-day-2020/#more-6360

    Each to theri own.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  13. Avatar
    kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    the LVMH shop Clos19 is offering the new Ardbeg Traigh Bhan batch 2 and discloses an open secret.

    Blend and Origin
    This is the second batch of Ardbeg 19 Years Old to be released by the house and it’s no less sought after than the first.
    Aging is not common practice at the Ardbeg distillery so this consignment is considered very rare.

    https://www.clos19.com/en-de/ardbeg-tra … e-p-101369

    for as long as the linkd lasts. And you have to enjoy it the right way.

    How to enjoy

    The perfect serve – Enjoy neat, with a little water or two or three large rocks of ice
    Service temperature – Room temperature
    When to drink – Ready to drink
    Storage advice – Store vertically in a cool (10-15°C), dark place, and away from vibrations
    Health warning – Contains sulphites
    Alcohol by volume – 46.2% Vol.

    We knew for a while now that aging is not one of the strong points of recent Ardbeg bottlings. But good to find that confirmed.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *