Today being International whisky day , honouring the late whisky writer Michael Jackson, I thought I'd review a special dram. You probably will not be able to find this whisky, and it may be far above your budget (it certainly is for me), so you'll probably have to live vicariously through me for the next few minutes. Jealous?
This unicorn of a whisky was distilled 40 years ago, was matured for 22 years, and was then bottled 18 years ago, making it by far the oldest Ardbeg I've ever seen, let alone tasted. The 1974, '75 and '76 vintages are some of the most highly esteemed amongst Ardbeg fans, and includes some phenomenal bottlings, including the frankly ridiculous 'double barrel' distillery release.
I was recently (and extremely generously!) given a sample of this Gordon & MacPhail independent bottling of 1975 Ardbeg, which was bottled in 1997 as part of their 'Connoisseur's Choice' range, at 40% ABV. If you can find a bottle, you'll likely be looking at over $1000 AUD to own it. This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime dram for me.
The only Ardbeg I've tasted which has had an age statement, independent or otherwise, is their standard 10 year old, and I don't believe and of the rest of their current range to be significantly older than that, so I really don't know what to expect with this one. We know that peated whisky loses it's peat and smoke intensity during maturation, and this malt has had 22 years to mature, so it's not going to be a massive peat bomb, but will the cask influence overpower the spirit? Will it still taste like Ardbeg?
Distilled in 1975, bottled in 1997. G&M 'Connoisseur's Choice' range. Assumed chill filtered.
Colour: Medium gold.
Nose: Yes, even after 22 years in a cask, and being bottled 18 years ago, it's still Ardbeg. Salt, mild earthy peat, and oak. Mild coffee grounds, ripe pineapple and stone fruit, very subtle smoke, salted caramel.
Texture: Super silky and buttery, even at the low strength of 40%. Gorgeous.
Taste: Coastal peat, more coffee grounds, damp earth. Toasted and slightly bitter oak, raw sugar/coffee crystals, sweet toffee and salted butter. Delicious.
Finish: Very long, oaky and earthy. Subtly peaty but now slightly medicinal, wood-fire embers. Dies out eventually with herbs and soft sea water.
Score: 4.5 out of 5.
Notes: A suitable dram for World Whisky Day! I do wish it had been bottled at higher strength, but given the increasing rarity of these old Ardbeg's, I can understand why it wasn't. Amazing whisky, very well balanced, and certainly one I'm not likely to taste again in a long time, if ever.
A huge thanks to Mr. Dan Woolley for generously providing this sample, I owe you one! I hadn't considered even seeing an Ardbeg of this age and reputation in my lifetime, let alone getting the chance to taste it.
P.S: Coming up next - An early review of a new Laphroaig release, the first in Australia, to my knowledge. Let's just say it's aged more than 10, and less than 18 years. Excited? Me too.