Who you callin’ Uigeadail?

Let’s get the pronunciation out of the way first: it’s said “Oog-a-dal,” per Ardbeg. Those of you who have had the misfortune of hearing me attempt to pronounce Gaelic words will be grateful that any misconceptions have been cleared up on the front end, and I’m certainly thankful to no longer be verbally butchering this name. Plus: if there’s a more amusing syllable in global whisky than “oog,” I have yet to encounter it.

I was shocked that this expression had not yet been reviewed on Malt. After all, there’s been no shortage of reviews of both official and independently bottled Ardbeg expressions, as well as a paean to the distillery by one of its superfans. As the distillery itself notes, “Uigeadail was voted by the 120,000+ strong Ardbeg Committee as their favourite Ardbeg.” 120,000 peatheads can’t be wrong, right? Whatever the reason for its omission heretofore, I am happy to be filling in one of the rare blank spots in Malt’s increasingly encyclopedic review corpus.

The first time I tried Uigeadail was back in 2016, when a dear friend dropped by my flat with a bottle. I couldn’t pronounce it, but I was more than happy to judge it. My sketchy notes from that experience read “Nose uncannily like a hardware store, with petrochemical aromas of rubber and weed killer. The palate is a bit of salty water and a lot of smoky peat, with a somewhat tart finish. Unmistakably Islay, in a way that lets the smoke crowd out any other nuances… this is too brusque and coarse for my tastes.”

I revisited this whisky again in 2019 (still mispronouncing it; I ordered a “wee-guh-dail”) at Grand Central Station’s exquisite Scottish bar, The Campbell. A coworker and I had endured a long day of meetings and something with a bit of “oomph” was required to kick off our evening. Suspending my prejudice, I found my second dalliance with this whisky to be much more fulfilling than the first. I didn’t take notes, but my vague impression was that this brought all the power but none of the uncomfortable imbalances of my prior run-in with Mr. Oogie Boogie.

Stepping back for a moment: what, exactly, is this? Well, it’s a single malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay, of course. The name comes from “the brooding, mysterious loch which provides the peat-laden water for Ardbeg,” per the back label on one of the older bottles. Beyond that, we have Ardbeg’s own description: “a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry casks.” First bottled in 2003 (from whisky produced in 1993), this won The Award That Shall Not Be Mentioned from That Now-Disgraced Whisky Reviewer in 2009.

Setting aside brooding bodies of water and concupiscent critics, I have some idea what I’m in for: a high strength blend of Ardbeg from an undisclosed combination of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks. Peated Islay malts and sherry casks can play very nicely together indeed, but each element has its attendant risks. There’s the possibility of phenolic overload from the peated malt, of course, but also the more general decline in sherry butt quality potentially imparting some less-than-desirable notes. Regardless, I’m cautiously optimistic going into this tasting.

Before I render my own verdict, some final specifics: this comes to us non chill-filtered and at a strength of 54.2% ABV. A 750 ml bottle retails for $80 at my local, or $108.99 via Shared Pour. Closer to home, Master of Malt request £51.49, The Whisky Exchange is £59.95, or Amazon is £57.99, but do shop around. This was a dram kindly shared by Stuart; praise be to him and all our magnanimous benefactors for their ongoing generosity with their liquid assets.

Ardbeg Uigeadail – Review

Color: Medium-pale gold.

On the nose: The initial impression is a fresh and fruity one, as this jumps out of the glass with aromas of spring flowers and ripe cantaloupe. Gradually, this transitions into a whiff of toasted wheat bread, progressing further into a sweet and smoky note of campfire-roasted marshmallows and some spicy scents of cinnamon-flavored candy. Inhaling deeper, I start to get a sticky note of tar and the aroma of meat cooked low and slow in the style of Texas pit BBQ. This continues to evolve for several minutes, with ephemeral notes of peppermint, lemon, saffron, and saline making fleeting appearances.

In the mouth: This is very lean and elegant to start, with a gentle but firm saltwater flavor on the lips. This picks up a bit as it moves further into the mouth, mingling with flavors of salted cashews, ash, and lemon zest, and ripe banana. The phenolic notes bloom gracefully at the center of the palate, coating the cheeks and the roof of the mouth with a gentle smokiness and the persistent flavor of iodine. This fades gradually into the finish, where a drying sensation meets some well-balanced peat notes and yet more salty maritime notes, this time of seashells.

Conclusions

I’m not sure the sherry casks, in whatever proportion, were especially influential here… but it doesn’t really matter. The nose on this is top class, presenting diverse aromas from across the spectrum. Everything is in good balance and the elements are individually distinguishable but also contribute to a unified and cogent whole.

The palate, in contrast, presents itself in more clearly delineated phases. Whereas one aroma would morph into another so seamlessly that they sometimes felt hard to catch, the textures and flavors here are more obviously divided as they progress through front, middle, back, and finish. That said, there’s not an off note or point of disharmony; everything I taste is in balance in its own right as well as with respect to its surroundings.

This ticks so many boxes: it’s presented at high strength, without chill filtration, and is competitively priced (Three diphthongs for $80? In this economy!?!). More than that, Uigeadail gives us all the qualities for which peated Islay malt is revered, as well as feared. However, the scariest part of this whisky is the pronunciation of the name. All the things that could go wrong didn’t, and we’re left with a whisky of distinct character, high quality, and excellent value.

Score: 8/10

Photograph kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange and we do have commission links within this article if you want to support Malt.

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  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    I think this is the key issue with Ardbeg: their core lineup is so damn good and affordable, that there’s really no reason to go after their silly priced limited edition show ponies ( like the overpriced committee releases or the feis Ile ones ).

    1. Taylor says:

      PB, in the grand spectrum of whisky: a solid core range that eclipses the special editions is a good problem to have! I’ll certainly be going back to this one. Thanks as always and GO BLUE!

      1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

        Totally agree. It’s a good problem to have. But it amazes me how they can sell their limited editions, which may not be even as good as their core, quickly and at multiples of SRP. They can bottle a NAS aged in casks that once held snail urine and it’ll still sell out in seconds at 5-6x over SRP.

  2. Anders says:

    Amen! I’ve always felt this way about the Ardbeg core range. It’s probably the best core range in all of scotch whisky that I can think of. I also always feel like scotch Gaelic is like Whose Line is it Anyway, “where all the words are made up and the pronunciations don’t matter,” ha ha. And any mention of diphthongs triggers my inner Tolkien nerd–he had extensive pronunciation guides in the appendices of his books which was how I discovered what a diphthong even is to begin with! I guess we’ll call that a diphthong for every required year in the minimum NAS age of this release. I do wonder if they stick to mostly the same age ballpark in this year after year, or how much they end up playing around with varying ages to blend to this profile. I’ve heard numerous people say that Uigeadail has steadily declined over the past 5-8 years or so, but I still think it’s a banger, same as you. Skål!

    1. Taylor says:

      Anders, lots there, thanks for the comments. There’s certainly batch-to-batch variation in my experience, but this can cut for better and worse. I haven’t had enough of this to make a judgment about the long-term trend but, considered against what else sits on the shelf with these specifications, I’m a repeat buyer of Uigeadail. Skål!

  3. Nick Berolo says:

    This was a 2019 ? Last I tasted this whisky was 2017 snd it was as described. I was ethereal, rich with a beautiful smokey depth. But the 2020 that I recently purchased is anything but that. Young, harsh really nothing like it used to be. My hope is I got bad bottle because this was utterly disappointing.

    1. Taylor says:

      Nick, I am not sure what year this was from, as it was a sample. However, I will concede that my own experience means consumers should be wary of batch variation. Cheers!

      1. RikS says:

        Glad to see an “honest review” of this outstanding and well priced expression. For a moment there, I admit to having a flashing premonition of a negative review… just to divert from the generally high praise for this one. Of course, I should have known better and kept my confidence in Taylor’s objectivity (and yeah, yeah – taste is subjective and al’ that…)!

        1. Taylor says:

          RikS, I only do honest reviews, for better or worse. I really don’t delight in trashing whiskeys, but I’m reluctant to damn with faint praise on the off chance that a reader doesn’t understand the subtext and shells out for a middling bottle. I’m happy to say that certainly wasn’t the situation in this case, though. Cheers!

  4. John says:

    Great review, Taylor. This was one of my 1st loves for NAS high strength single malts. I envy the prices in your are and in the EU as it costs a bit over $100 here. I don’t find it worth it anymore at that price point as I can get cheaper and ,I think, as good or even better (m)atlernatives.

    As for the sherry casks, I’m told the initial releases were aged in old sherry casks which did most of the magic. I’m not sure now. I hope you got to try something from the earlier releases.

    1. Taylor says:

      Thanks very much, John. I’d probably pass on this north of $100. As for the sherry casks, it’s clear that good ones are in shorter supply these days, and perhaps the reason that there wasn’t as much of the overt sherry influence on this?

      1. John says:

        The consensus of more veteran Scotch geeks I knew of back when I was more focused on Scotch is that those old sherry casks are gone now. That’s what they attribute to the decline of the Uige quality.

        I havent had a drop of Uige in a couple of years so I’m not going to form an opinion on that.

  5. Andrew says:

    Oh the batch variations…..I managed to finish a bottle I purchased back in 2018 a few months ago. Under normal circumstances a bottle rarely lasts more than a few moths as its my favourite expression of Ardbeg. This particular bottle however was so bland and disappointing I muddled and struggled my way through it. Fast forward to a May 2020 bottle and MY GOODNESS….my Oo ga is back! With bells, whistles, peat and balanced sweetness in full effect. It was so good I called around most of my usual retail haunts to try and get the specific batch code as I was willing to buy enough to last me for the next 10 years! Unfortunately I only managed to find one other bottle with the same code so I am praying that the 2018 bottle I had was a blip and their expanded distillery is now firing on all cylinders with much smaller back variations! The batch code in question was L2385150 11/05/20 (005663). If you find it, buy it or let me know and I will buy it off you!!

    1. Taylor says:

      Interesting color, Andrew, thanks for sharing. Good to know that it’s not going one direction, and that better batches still come out. I’m intending to buy a bottle soon, so fingers crossed! Cheers!

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