Ardbeg Day is the annual celebration of all things Ardbeg, occuring the Islay festival (Feis Ile), when most distilleries have an open day of sorts, hosting various events at the distilleries, and also usually releasing a special bottling.
Ardbeg have taken this a step further, incorporating their worldwide 'Ardbeg embassies' by having them host tastings and special events, so you can get in to the celebration without flying to Scotland. You can also buy their festival bottling online, which is unusual for these special releases, normally being sold from the distillery only. Fantastic news for those of us who can't get to Islay each year!
While some see all of this activity as marketing hype and collector-baiting, I see it as a way of keeping excitement and freshness in the distillery, there can be no argument that each release is very different from the last, with the distillery trying something new & different basically every release. This one definitely fits that bill, since it's been partly-matured in Manzanilla sherry casks, which is a pale, light and dry fortified wine that typically has a fresh, dry and yeasty saline flavour. The remainder and majority of the vatting is your more typical ex-bourbon cask Ardbeg. It also carries an age statement in the text on the back label, which says that both components are at least ten years of age. The name Ardbog of course is a nod to the peat bogs that make up a good chunk of Islay's landscape.
Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1% cask strength, 'at least 10 years' aged, Islay.
Un-chill-filtered, a blend of various 'standard' Ardbeg whisky aged in Bourbon casks, and Ardbeg aged in Manzanilla (dry, salty) sherry casks, all aged for at least 10 years.
Colour: Beautiful deep, dark bronze. How the sword on the box (found in a peat bog) probably looked in it's heyday. I know colour shouldn't be a major factor, but this stuff looks fantastic.
Texture: Oily, buttery, nice legs with slow movement.
Nose: Sea spray, dry sherry, smoky oak, peat, a bag of salted potato chips (crisps).
Taste: Extra salty sea spray, peat, hint of toffee, drying. Quite smooth for the ABV%, buttery & oily, salty dry sherry, smoke, hint of oak. Much less sweetness than other bottlings, more dry, but still well balanced and enjoyable, very more-ish.
Finish: Sea spray and salt remain clear, warming and long finish. Smoky oak & peat.
Score: 4.5 out of 5.
Comments: While easily recognisable as Ardbeg, it does have less of the vanilla sweetness, and more salt & maritime flavours than most Ardbeg's I'm familiar with. Although it wouldn't be your first choice if you prefer your whisky sweet, it is very well balanced and thoroughly delicious.
Having tried the 2012 Ardbeg Day whisky (named simply 'Ardbeg Day'), and being yet to try the upcoming release (Auriverdes), this is my pick of the two, and indeed my second favourite Ardbeg whisky tasted to date. As you can probably guess, I had to get two of these bottles, one for drinking, and one for keeping. And yes, I'm thinking the Auriverdes will warrant the same thing.
Interesting how different it is to the Bunnahabhain Toiteach I reviewed recently, given that they are both aged in Manzanilla sherry casks. The Ardbog is definitely more complex and balanced than the Bunna, with less smoke, and more dry, salty sherry influence. Fantastic stuff.
Ardbog can still be found in online whisky specialist shops, and for a reasonable price, I don't think it will stay that way for long. For example, the 'Ardbeg Day' bottling from 2012 is now near-impossible to find, and is selling at ridiculous prices (think at least three or four times what it sold for on release), if you can find it.
So, if you like this Ardbog bottling, or just have to have it, get it now! It's currently on special HERE at SM Whisky Australia, for around the same as the release price, and with free shipping as well.