I suppose for long-term readers, the *dusts off mic* gag has been rather overplayed by me in the past, so we’ll get right into the thick of it.
I bought a whisky! And it was peated. In fact, it was heavily peated and released by Ardbeg as part of their old school committee releases. Truth be told: I never expected to get a bottle. We hear so much about sellout whiskies (which are somewhat manipulated and an old-hat tale), but sometimes it seeps into our consciousness that anything a newsletter announces is going to be sold out by the time we get to the website.
Not so. In fact, this Ardbeg release was pleasingly available and purchased within a few seconds on my phone, without much thinking… and why is that? Why did I do that? Have you ever stopped to question the reason you’re buying a particular whisky?
For me, it was quite simple: Ardbeg was calling. It had been a while, I have peat on the mind. But why this one?
Actually, since I had peat on the mind, I was feeling somewhat nostalgic. Let’s face it: we can try to rationalise what we do with purchases and behaviour toward brands or companies, but most of it is fundamentally an emotional reaction.
Even the I HATE MARKETING whisky people lean towards things like Cadenhead’s bottlings, which – to be honest – are not much better value than a lot of other bottlings these days. And so, these people are… making decisions based on packaging, design (or lack of), and perceived value. Which is to say: perceptions based on marketing.
Which is to also say – quite harmlessly – emotions.
I am just the same. I am no better. I throw money at bottles based on emotional reactions. I want to feel something. If whisky isn’t emotional, then what are you even doing here?
When I first really got into whisky, there was one main distillery that occupied most of my heart: Bruichladdich. It’s well documented around these parts. But, there was also – quietly, at the back – Ardbeg. I loved the allure of the nonsensical Lord of the Isles (forgive me; I wrote this in simpler times) glamour-tat scroll presentation. There was a time when its reputation was unsurpassed, in those halcyon days when people remembered that Port Ellen was, in fact, generally a bit rubbish, and not worth the £100 a bottle you might pay (don’t @ me, as the youth say).
Ardbeg was the peat – I hesitate to say “connoisseur” here – aficionado’s brand of choice. It was a cracking distillery, with cracking whisky. They had that rather amusing tone of voice, the kooky little words. The only shady thing to have been erased from time was the Ardbeg Girls, unfortunately objectified at every whisky show. But most Ardbeg things back then were energetic: good vibes, tasty whisky, hugely well-respected. Celtic branding, but kind of done well. Striking green bottles, old ways; we were all seduced.
The committee stuff back then was cool. You could get previews at higher strength of all the hits. You could buy tat, too, but it was mostly the early access whisky that everyone was interested in. And sure, I visited the distillery about a decade ago, and had a lovely time there (and lunch, if I recall); here’s proof: I even bought the book, which has information in it that seldom gets noticed online. 15 years ago there was a discreet, knowing nod of the head to anyone who respected Ardbeg. Ardbeg, then, meant you took things seriously.
And then I can insert the general narrative of change – that “things were better when we were young…” and maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, but at least the internet community was relatively friendly.
I lost interest in Ardbeg, more or less, over time. No real reason. Priced out perhaps. Hyped out? When they did the whole NFT thing, it just summed up the tone deafness of modern life more than anything specifically about Ardbeg, though I can well imagine the brand meeting in which such a decision was made. Mr T. Cope has discussed the issue at length here. There is, indeed, much to hate about the way things have gone. Yet, as the grey hairs build up, I can say this about many things in the world. Generally, I am with the Blair Bowmans of this world in that sense: clearly knowing when a shark has been jumped with whisky and NFT. Me? I’m interested in flavour only. Can’t do much with an NFT.
As a bad novelist would surmise: time passes. Then, for some strange reason, an email pops into my inbox. Would I like to buy an Ardbeg eight year old Committee release at 50.8% ABV for a mere 57 bones? The one that Taylor hates? It seemed a world away from NFTs: a simple, peated whisky, made by what is still a fine distillery, put out there honestly, “for discussion,” with that old style label. Nostalgic strings were plucked. Flashbacks came and went. Should I?
Yes, I thought. Why not? Why not, indeed. Add to cart, arrived next day, bish bash bosh and here we go. How are those memories holding up?
Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion Committee Release – Review
Colour: Yellow gold.
On the nose: Lapsang souchong, sandalwood, cloves, and woodburner ash. A hint of coastal quality: sea spray, sand, autumn walks on the beach. But then: lovely sweet citrus note, lemon curd… or rather, Rose’s Lemon and Lime Marmalade (for the old farts out there).
In the mouth: There is just about the perfect balance of savoury and sweet. Lemon curd again – and quite creamy, hints of crème brûlée, vanilla custard, juicy, ripe, fresh. Lots of lemon and lime here now to be honest, an awful lot. The peat: a shade too ashy. Mossy, earthy, dry not indulgent and sweet. Hints of smoked salmon, a little hemp. But… it seems a classic Ardbeg, if a little rough around the edges. Nostalgia echoes faintly from the taste. The finish descends into black tea and tobacco; the fruits fade, the peat lingers into imbalance, but… I’m a happy man.
Score: (yes, I’m back into scoring because of course): 8/10
Now then. I know that Mr Taylor Cope over there was not a fan of this. If I was a mystery anonymous person trying Very Hard to be An Honest Reviewer, I could have given this a kicking for the LOLs, or I could have created some manufactured tension with Taylor, but he’s a good egg, and to each their own.
But here I am, open and raw, a real person sharing a few memories from yesteryear and today. You know me. You might even have seen me at a show, read an article here or elsewhere in the past; we’ve maybe been on a Zoom or something. This is me, saying very clearly… I rather liked this.
Does it take me back? Yes, a little. Those “for discussion” labels, maybe just nudge me back. Is it branding; am I emotional? Nostalgia is one of the most powerful things in marketing. The simplicity of that peat and citrus vanilla – dryer than I recall, if I’m honest – by one of the iconic distilleries, just feels about right. A few memories are fired up. Sometimes it’s nice to think back and acknowledge that things in whisky will never quite be as they were, because there are so many of you horrible lot loving this weird barley-based spirit these days.
But, I’m human after all, and I’d happily buy another bottle of this. Oh and for all of you value seekers? £57?