I’ve covered the standard Ardbeg 10 and Corryvreckan whiskies on the blog previously. The 10 is a solid performer in the Islay peat stakes and a reasonable $55. They distillery releases some older whiskies and also a range of NAS offerings both on the value and premium and of pricing. The cheap and rascally Wee Beastie and to-be-tasted An Oa hold the low end of the line (under $50). The premium NAS offerings, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, increase the stakes as they are priced here in Oregon at $82 and $92, respectively. Going into this testing I’m expecting a smoother delivery than the 10-year and the signature excellence in robust but balanced flavors I have come to expect from Ardbeg. I’m also very curious to see how the two premium offerings compare, and I’ve got an impressive competitor as well, the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10.
First off, what do we know about Uigeadail’s provenance? Ardbeg has only a few tidbits for us on their site (and the carton):
“Pronounced ‘Oog-a-dal’, it’s a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry casks. Ardbeg Uigeadail was voted by the 120,000+ strong Ardbeg Committee as their favourite Ardbeg.”
That’s not a whole lot to go on but we can read between the lines. Vatting is the last step before bottling where the malt master selects casks of different types, age, and ultimately flavor to design the whisky. We can take from this statement that they have married ex-bourbon casks (of age unknown) and some ‘old’ sherry-casks. Old casks or old spirit, we don’t know. More sleuthing confirms that this recipe (note that WhiskyJug‘s review also has some notes from Bill Lumsden, the man who designed this whisky) and that the ratio is likely 90%-10%, mostly ex-bourbon..
The mostly-bourbon/some sherry or wine cask approach is common with other whiskies, and in fact the Port Charlotte takes that route, using French wine casks as well as ex-bourbon. We have the setup, let’s get to tasting.
The true test of a peated whisky is uncorking. I have a small office, 10 feet square and 7 1/2 high, and a good peated whisky will infuse the place with aroma. The Uigeadail does not disappoint. The nose is rich, the sherry well matched, not overpowering, with a good helping of BBQ smoke. A robust 54.2% ABV, dig too deep and it will sting a little but the nose is remarkably gentle for the strength. I get cherry fruit leather, sherry, caramel, toffee, muskmelon, the faintest hint of old leather, and mineral peat from the water. It’s a very different nose than the Corryvreckan, which is dominated less by smoke, but lots of treacle and chocolate (and it is remarkably smooth). It’s the wrong comparison. The Port Charlotte 10, however, is definitely in the same vein. The noses are similar (wow, that BBQ smoke!).
On the palate, even a tiny sip of the Uigeadail hits first with fruit then blossoms wildly with smoke and phenols, carrying the caramel and muskmelon along for the ride. Wow. It is quite spicy along the fore and sides of the tongue, and finishes with spicy oak and bitter tannins. I found the bitterness quite sharp but not unduly unpleasant as it is accompanied by a gingery spiciness for harmony. Note this was full strength, and quite drinkable at that. With a bit of water, the liveliness of the younger spirit gives way to a smoother delivery of caramel mid-palate.
The Port Charlotte is a bit less fruity but has a really nice vanilla cream sweetness, a less peppery but flavorful spice, equal measure of lovely Islay smoke—and it has more measured and mellower tannins. Those full 10 years in cask do pay off. Nosing the glasses after I drained them, the Uigeadail and PC10 both reeked of BBQ smoke, but the Charlotte was a hair reekier, with sea wrack giving that barbeque extra pungency.
Ardbeg Uigeadail, Islay Single Malt Whisky (NAS), 54.2% ABV
Nose: Full and rewarding. Cherry fruit leather, sherry, caramel, muskmelon, a hint of old leather, and mineral peat from the water.
Palate: A wow factor. Fruit and toffee, a strong bloom of spiciness/pepper and smoke follows quickly; sharp tannins and lively pepper dominate but the muskmelon does ride through.
Finish: Long. The smoke and tannins linger, the latter quite bitter but married to ginger spice that remains pleasing, if sharp. Wafts of toffee persist as well. You will probably be feeling that smoke the next day.
Bottom Line: No mistake, the Uigeadail is a very good whisky with a lot of wow factor. But in the $80-$90 category you have a lot of very good whiskies and hence a lot of competition. Its pricier brother (at $92), the Corryvreckan shows its heels with a smoother flavor, though less smoke. The real competitor is the less expensive Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10-year, which delivers as powerful a ration of smoke with a rich but smoother palate and more balanced tannins. In this case, it is a close decision but I would have to give the nod to the folks at Bruichladdich even irrespective of cost; they take the nod here.