Ardbeg's 'theme' for this year's Ardbeg day was 'past, present and future', and I'm going to follow a similar theme for this review. So before we get into the review of this year's Ardbeg day release, let's have a look at the past.
The next (2013) Ardbeg day release is my favourite so far, Ardbog. which was a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, matured for 'at least' 10 years, and bottled at a decent 52.1%. This one was drier and saltier than usual, and I dug it. Ardbog can still be found if you look around, and for quite a reasonable price. Still my pick of all the Ardbeg day releases, to date.
The next (2014) release, was not so good. Named Auriverdes (something to do with soccer, apparently), it was matured in ex-bourbon casks with toasted cask ends/lids, and was down in strength to 49.9%. Much lighter on peat and smoke than any real Ardbeg should be (ahem, Blasda!), too light and subtle, and a little rough around the edges to boot. It was also more expensive than the Ardbog, which hurt a little. There's still plenty of Auriverdes around, but I recommend you taste it before buying...
That brings us to present day, to Ardbeg's 200th anniversary, and to this year's bottling, Perpetuum. Unfortunately it's down in strength again, to 47.4%, but there is basically no other information about it's background. The only official line is that it's a mix of old and young whisky, matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. After tasting it a few times now, I believe it to be mostly young whisky, and I can't see, smell or taste any evidence of a sherry-cask matured component. However, it's a big step up from Auriverdes, and thankfully it's also selling at a lower price.
Also, something else to be aware of, there are two versions of Ardbeg Perpetuum. One is only available directly from the distillery, has 'distillery release' on the label, doesn't come in a box, and was bottled at 49.2%. The other is the Ardbeg Day release I'm reviewing here, and is much more widely available.
Unknown contents or age, supposedly a mix of old and young, and ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask, whisky. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Very pale straw.
Nose: Salty sea spray, very fresh. Earthy, slightly medicinal peat. Milk chocolate, fresh hay. A whiff of smoke in a pine forest.
Texture: Light, soft, very drinkable.
Taste: More peat and smoke than on the nose, earthy peat and dry smoke. Salty smoked bacon / cured meat, milk chocolate, a little vanilla. Definitely mostly young ex-bourbon whisky in this, but it's not rough or hot, very easy drinking. Sherry cask influence barely detectable though.
Finish: Quite long and peaty, switches from savoury to sweet and back again. Some smoke and light spice.
Score: 3.5 out of 5. Would've been a 4 at a higher strength.
Notes: Very 'Ardbeggian', almost like essence of Ardbeg. Very enjoyable and easy drinking. Compared to the regular / core line-up, Perpetuum would be a competitor for Ardbeg 10, but it's not quite on the level of Uigeadail or Corryvreckan. Massively superior to the Auriverdes release though, no question.
I really wish they had done something more different / interesting for their 200th anniversary. The 'day' release used ex-Uigeadail casks, Ardbog used Manzanilla sherry casks, and Auriverdes used toasted cask ends. So why not try something different again, rather than playing it safe? After all, how often does one turn 200!
I don't see why they make a big deal out of the 'sherry cask' component either, when it's barely detectable. They did the same with the 2014 Supernova, and it was barely detectable there as well. If putting 'sherry casks' on the label is a selling point, use more of them in the whisky! I applaud Ardbeg for not adding colouring (and not chill filtering) and keeping it honest, but I'd like more sherry influence too.
Unfortunately the Perpetuum is priced around the same as Corryvreckan, and considerably more than Uigeadail, and without the 'cool factor' of the 200th anniversary thing, I'd still recommend those first, if you had to choose between the three. Regardless, the Perpetuum is a big step up after last year's disappointing release, I'm enjoying it, and it is worth buying.
We've looked at the past and the present, but what about the future? Well, although we're all just along for the ride, I'm hoping Ardbeg will step up the peat smoke and punch factors in the future. The special releases seem to be going down in strength and smoke lately, and that's not what I, and probably most of you, want! I've also heard a rumour, from a reliable source, that there will likely be another Supernova release towards the end of this year. Please, Ardbeg, if this is true, make it a monster!