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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.