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Ardbeg 10 and Wee Beastie

I’m a bad customer. Rather, I’m not the type the industry wants.

What I mean by that is that I’m not the type to buy repeat or multiple bottles of the same expression, distillery bottlings or not. Of course, really good bottlings and good deals are exempt. Douglas Laing’s The Gauldrons is an example. But this mostly applies to distillery bottlings as they’re usually readily accessible, thus more basic.

This is my way of thinking because I mostly see a brand’s core expressions as stepping stones to learning. Reading a review or opinion online is a way to learn. But the best way to learn about a brand and more about whisky and other spirits is to taste it. Mainly because to taste is to experience and believe. Everyone also has their own unique senses of smell and taste, to the point that I believe no one tastes the same expression exactly the same. Also, I’d rather not completely knock something until I’ve tried it.

In my two plus years of contributing to Malt, I’ve never re-reviewed an expression. This is largely due to my not being a repeat buyer. A lot of what I’ve reviewed on Malt are bottles I’ve killed since or are still nursing. Pre-COVID, if I wanted to refresh my opinion on a certain brand’s expression, I’d just order a dram at a bar. But with the local government being known for its ineffectiveness, a lot of good bars have either closed or only just started re-opening. So, it’s been hard for me to just set aside time to try common expressions and risk getting COVID at the same time.

With that said, I’m going to do my first re-review on the Ardbeg 10 and Wee Beastie, both of which I’ve compared with other peated single malts in the past.

Like the An Oa which I just recently reviewed, the 200ml bottles of the Ardbeg 10 and Wee Beastie came from the “Monsters of Smoke” sample set meant to celebrate Ardbeg Day. The bottle of Ardbeg 10 I bought in 2018, so I’m curious whether the quality has changed or remained the same with all the flack the brand has been getting recently.

Ardbeg 10 Year Old- Review

46% ABV. £45.95 from The Whisky Exchange. USD $70 locally. USD $54.99 from K&L Wines.

Color: First steep white tea.

On the nose: I get medium floral and fruity with a bit of sharp peat and smoke. The floral character makes me think of a white flower. Being the Philippines’ national flower, the sampaguita comes to mind. With it is a lasting aroma of lemon water and lemonade. After it are a quick and a little more pronounced aroma of nougat and nuts. At the end are quick aromas of flower stems, vinegar, and more nuts.

In the mouth: I get light tastes of ashiness, peat and grilled lemon. After it is a floral note that makes me think of sweetened chamomile tea. Maybe a bit of elderflower or honeysuckle in there too. More ashy and peat notes come out with a bit of nougat, crushed nuts and Japanese nori chips with almonds. At the end is a light taste of diluted ginger candy with something like elderflower or honeysuckle.

Conclusions:

Did Ardbeg bottle the wrong whisky? This doesn’t taste like the Ardbeg 10 I know. The peatiness is nowhere close to the level I’m familiar with. I wonder if this is a batch variation or just how contemporary Ardbeg tastes like now, since they’re showing strong signs of their pandering to the more ridiculous side of the market.

I was so surprised by this that I tasted it again the next day to make sure that my glass was clean and my senses weren’t acting up, but the results were still the same.

Score: 5/10

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 Year Old – Review

47.4% ABV. £37.95 from The Whisky Exchange. USD $60 locally. USD $49.99 from K&L Wines.

Color: Pale ale.

On the nose: I get sharp, light, stable and lasting aromas of weak peat, lime and nori. Behind it are subtle and just as lasting notes of toffee, creaminess, Japanese nori almond chips, salinity and ginger candy.

In the mouth: Very similar to the nose. I get light and lasting tastes of ginger candy, toffee, weak peat, Japanese nori almond chips, lime peel, honey and vanilla.

Conclusions:

The profile of the Wee Beastie isn’t as familiar to me as it’s a newer product. But it isn’t as peaty and smoky as my first taste of it. This also lacks the salinity and citrus notes from when I last tasted it.

Like the Ardbeg 10, I had to re-taste this the next day to make sure there was nothing wrong with my glass and senses. The results were the same.

Just what is happening with Ardbeg? I hope this is an isolated case. I guess the best take away from this is the lack of ethanol bitem which makes this easier to drink.

Score: 5/10

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  1. Arild says:

    Sadly Ardbeg is on a steep downhill in quality like many other Scottish distilleries. I compared old bottles of Ardbeg 10 and Uigeadail to new bottlings and I was blown away with the huge difference in quality. Another old favourite distillery to avoid for me. Seems like profit from a good reputation is more important than getting good casks and keeping up quality of production. This will only last so far tough. In today’s economy with everything essential becoming so much more expensive bad quality whisky will be suffering rather quickly.

    1. John says:

      Hi Arild,

      I agree with you. The old bottles of Ardbeg Uige were really something else. I bought a recent bottle of it to compare with the old. Since Corry is currently still pretty good. I think Ardbeg really showed their intentions when they did that most expensive cask thing.

      I think they can still get good casks. It’s just that they’re not putting much effort in quality in fermentation and distillation compared to before.

    2. Dave Williams says:

      I agree with the other comments. Ardbeg used to be a blistering tonic , so vociferous that non other Islay whisky could touch ….now ….bland

      1. John says:

        Hi Dave,

        Yes. It’s sad to learn that the beloved Ardbeg is no longer as good as it used to be. Good thing there are other single malts to be had!

  2. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    I always wonder if the SWA is aware of the ambiguity of the following:

    “Protecting Scotch Whisky
    It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We disagree.
    The popularity of Scotch Whisky means that there are many people who want to take advantage of that by selling fake Scotch or trading unfairly on its reputation. Imitations threaten the integrity of Scotch Whisky and the reputation it has built up over many years. It also undermines consumer confidence in genuine Scotch Whisky.”

    The SWA is protecting the integrity of Scotch whisky against the outside with much effort and fife lawyers in their staff. They neglect and fail to keep it integer at the home front.
    Reading the features here on your page and seeing the downslide of quality as described above and not only with the Ardbeg brand but over the category Scotch in general one wonders about the state of “consumer confidence in genuine Scotch Whisky” and in what way the current offerings of Scotch whisky correspond to the reputation and integritiy that must have been acquired with differen kinds of whiskies.

    Tell us: What is genuine Scotch whisky? The bottlings from the past or the stuff you sell us today?
    A leading figure of another brand that lives from the reputation it once had said some years ago it was about re-educating the customer to like what today passes as Scotch whisky.
    What do you do when the original is so altered that it has become its own fake? When it has turned into an as-if product very remote to its roots of quality and integrity? We know the answer: Nothing as long as the money comes rolling in.

    The SWA surely should start to watch the threat to the integrity of Scotch whisky that comes from greed and cutting corners in the production process and the way this industrial product is manufactured today.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    1. John says:

      All great questions and comments, Kallaskander. The sad truth is the SWA, being run and managed by the conglomerates, is a cartel. They hide behind their honeyed words and army of lawyers.

      To be fair to this these two single malts, these aren’t bad. What annoys me are the lies brands prattle about consistency and how things have been unchanged over the years. Just plain dishonesty backed by marketing meant to fool the regular consumer who are easily fooled by it.

  3. Nielsen says:

    I think there are many variables at play

    The obvious is cost, producing large amount of something cost a lot of money, now put that product away and wait 10 years to get money back in the bank. So perhaps they at some point 10 years ago had to cut a corner somewhere, the result first showing now.

    Another thing is, the elements in the whiskey are a natural.
    The taste of the elements would change has it been a wet or to little water, to much or to little sunshine anything can change the outcome og crops and peat etc.

    Not trying to make any excuses for not trying the best, only it’s hard to deliver consistent product when everything around is constantly changing, who knows, the batch they made in 2013 is spot on and gives a perfect 10

    1. John says:

      Thanks for the comments, Nielsen. I get what you’re trying to say. But if the stylistic change in Ardbeg is unintentional, then that means Ardbeg has a problem with production. They cut corners just to barrel-age and bottle a 10 year old product that did not pass standards.

      On the other hand, IF this isn’t a batch variation, I think this is an intentional stylistic change to appeal to more consumers. Which I think is more likely. Since distilleries are now high tech enough for the specs of production to be consistent.

      1. Nielsen says:

        I guess you are right on compensating when the ingredients aren’t consistent from each batch.

        I read a lot about the taste has changed the past years.
        Would love to hear someone (you?) call out their master distiller, sit down with a new and a older bottlen and compare and discuss the difference.

        (I’m pretty happy that the first uigeadail was from last year, love it, so at least i don’t know would what I’m missing from previous years)

        1. John says:

          I don’t think it’s the people who work at the distillery are to blame in this case. It’s highly likely that intentional changes are a directive from the board.

  4. André Cassis says:

    Hello, Thank you for this review. It confirms I am not crazy. I completely agree with you that Ardbeg 10 is no longer the same wonderful, peaty single malt that I used to enjoy. Bummer.

    1. John says:

      Hi Andre,

      It’s also nice to know that someone else agrees with me on this. A part of me is hoping this case is a matter of batch inconsistency. But my cynical/realistic side thinks this is Ardbeg just selling out more.

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