Five years is sufficient to age a good bourbon in the American South’s hot, humid summers and mild winters. While Scottish law requires no less than three years maturation, the colder weather of Scotland means that most single malts are aged 10 years before release. There are a few 8-year single malts out there but that is not common.
One wonders why Ardbeg, known for a superb 10-year and a collection of standout NAS whiskies, would release a young whisky like the Beastie, and as a permanent selection at that. Other whiskies are made with spirit as little as 5 years old, but more typically, distillers hide the spirit’s youth behind an NAS label. The Wee Beastie label proudly proclaims 5 years of maturation. I expect economics plays a part. If Ardbeg can figure a way to market their younger spirit in a way that does not sully their reputation, they can increase output and thus market share.
This is the final post in the NAS series for now. I’ll write up a wrap-up article in a week or two.
I read about Ardbeg long before I had a chance to taste it. A distillery raised from the dead, so to speak, it had been shuttered for eight years in the 1980s. Production resumed slowly under a caretaker administration by Hiram Walker in the early 1990s. Glenmorangie bought it in ’97 and resurrected Ardbeg to full production. Blessed with great stocks of old whisky aging in the warehouse, they released notoriously good (and peaty) whiskies throughout the early 2000s. They presented Ardbeg in a craft style – no coloring, non-chill-filtered, higher ABV. Their 10-year is released at 46%, and it is a damn good whisky, as I reviewed here. Despite relatively low production, about 1.25 million liters a year, they have a number of expressions.
Finally, Ardbeg 10. I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this. I’ve had a bottle for almost a year. I drink it, like most of my single malts, sparingly. It’s in a class I call Damn Fine Whisky. So, what’s it got?
First off, Ardbeg is sort of the snazzy new kid on the block, but he’s got some classic threads to back up his bling. Ardbeg is one of those distilleries that was shuttered for years, only to be resurrected by ‘craft’ style distillers. By craft, we mean a few notable aspects to the whisky production:
Non Chill-filtered – proudly declared front and center of the bottle
Higher (than typical) alcohol content, in this case 46%
Attention to detail in production and presentation
Yeah, they have some attitude, declaring right on the label: not only the best Islay malt, but the best whisky in the world. That’s fightin’ words for the folks at Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. So, what’s behind the bluster?
The blog has covered a number of blends, and also eleven unpeated, mostly sherry-finished single-malts (see sidebar for the list and links). They all share similar influences in their flavoring.
It’s the water, and a lot more
Some of those malts, Bunnahabhain* and Glenfarclas, for example, are notable for the taste of what the French would call terroir. Peat bogs, soil and rocks through which their water sources run flavor that water. In addition to the water, the spirit’s flavor is heavily influenced by the ingredients (mostly barley malt) and how they are treated at each step. In the preparation of what will become new make spirit, there is much attention to manipulating temperatures at each stage. The temperature of the wort is chosen to enhance the activities of enzymes converting sugars and later, to encourage fermentation. Variation in stages and their temperatures can affect flavor. One also reads of claims that the shape and composition of tuns, stills and washbacks will influence the flavor of the new-make spirit. Once distilled, the spirit meets the cask, where interaction with the oak (and its preparation, be it lightly toasted or charred) will have the second largest effect on flavor.