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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Ardbeg Uigeadail Whisky Review!

With Ardbeg Day coming next week (Saturday 30th May), it's time to review 'an oldie, but a goodie'. Most of you have probably tasted Uigeadail before, it's been around for over 10 years, but for those who haven't: Do it. Do it now. Preferably with a Schwarzenegger impersonator.

Uigeadail (pronounced 'oog-a-dahl') was, for a good while, my favourite whisky. These days I've tasted too many excellent whiskies to be able to pick one as a favourite, but this Ardbeg is still up there. In fact, I can still say that this is my favourite expression of Ardbeg. And I base that not only on quality and flavour, but also value for money, which it has in spades. At the time of writing a bottle can be had for around $130 AUD, and unlike many popular whiskies, that price hasn't changed greatly in the last few years. There are better bottlings of Ardbeg out there, I've tasted a couple myself, but when you take the 'Bang-for-buck' factor into account, I think Uigeadail wins it. In fact, this was the first whisky which I tasted a couple of times, then went straight out and bought a second bottle.

Uigeadail (translates to 'dark and mysterious place' in English) is named after Loch Uigeadail, pictured above, which is the distilleries' water source. It's a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry cask matured whisky, with the ex-sherry component making up around 15-20% of the finished product. While it doesn't carry an age statement, it's bottled at 54.2%, and like the rest of the current Ardbeg range, without chill filtration or added colouring. I can easily deal with the NAS thing, as long as the quality is there of course, if all the other boxes are ticked (higher strength, natural colour and non-chill filtered). And Ardbeg are doing exactly that. Excellent stuff.

Having been around for so long, there is undoubtedly some variation between batches. Older bottlings are generally regarded as better, although I've not tasted any older than my original buy, which was bottled in 2011. The one I'm reviewing tonight is a sample taken from a 2014 bottling, which is what you're most likely to find on the shelves.
Ardbeg Uigeadail, NAS, 54.2%, Islay, Scotland.
Matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks, with 15-20% sherry matured content. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Deep bronze.

Nose: Salty fresh seaweed, rich salted caramel sauce. Spiced butter, slightly sour & vegetal peat. Some oak, milk chocolate with spiced caramel, rotting root vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin). Stewed spiced apples in salt water.

Texture: Medium weight, rich and slightly oily.

Taste: Peaty, earthen and slightly salty. Then treacle / toffee sweetness, and a pleasant dab of chilli pepper heat. Smoked and slightly burnt pudding, and a bit of cocoa.

Finish: Long, with earthy peat, slightly tarry, dries the mouth. A bit of spiced butter biscuits and salty water.

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: I definitely prefer the 2011 bottling, there's more richness, fruit and sweet peat in that one. Perhaps some older stock went in back then. This is still a great Ardbeg though, deserving of it's good reputation, in fact I can't see any bottling of Uigeadail being labelled anything less than good. Those Oloroso sherry casks add a lovely touch of richness and spice, but the big peaty-smoky hit is still there, and the whole package is very well balanced.

Ardbeg are constantly striving for consistency, and while they may be forced to use younger stock or less-lively casks, for whatever reason, they're trying their hardest to 'stick to the recipe'. Which is commendable.

Ardbeg Day, by the way, is next Saturday, the 30th of May, (see what I did there?) and this year's special release is named 'Perpetuum'. Confusingly, so is the current 'distillery only' bottling (which you can only buy from the distillery itself), so don't get them mixed up, they're different strengths and likely different whiskies as well.

Anyway, apparently Perpetuum is meant to represent the past, present and future of Ardbeg. It's NAS (duh), the strength has dropped to 47.4%, and there's no specific information on casks or maturation, but it apparently is a mix of old and new Ardbeg whisky, which was matured in both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks. Which isn't very revealing at all.

Personally, I wish they'd done something special for their 200th birthday. A sherry-cask only bottling perhaps? Or a new experimental cask exploration? Given the success of ardbog, galileo and alligator, there's no reason to shy away from trying something new and different. But I haven't tasted this one yet, so let's wait and see.

I'll be tasting the Perpetuum on Ardbeg Day, and all going to plan, will post a review ASAP. I just hope it's far better than the Auriverdes from last year, and at least on par with Ardbog, which I really liked. I'm both excited and concerned at the same time. Watch this space...