When you think Islay, you think Ardbeg. One of the most renowned distillers on the island. For some it’s too bold, for some it’s heaven. And there you have it: Dion doesn’t like the style too much, and Dennis can’t get enough of it. So the main question is, will Dion be turned after visiting Ardbeg?
After another fine English breakfast, our taxi picked us up and dropped us off at Ardbeg’s beautiful settlement. Getting ready for Feis Ile, painters were painting the outside of the distillery in bright iconic white and green, plagued by the ever-changing weather. If I were a painter, I’d hope for many showers, so I could sip the time away with all the good stuff. Since we’ve already had two tours, and we were practically alone, our guide decided to not go too deep into the stuff we already knew. It resulted in some great personal stories, about what it’s like to spend your whole life on Islay. We’ve written lots of these conversations down, so we’ll come back to that in a new post later on. Let’s first tell you a bit about our tour.
It’s lovely to hear how much love goes into making Ardbeg, there’s only a small team on site to create the spirit we all love. You’d be surprised by the small number of stills, because by the looks of the distillery and courtyard you would think it’s huge. However, Ardbeg produces an awful lot of spirit with only two stills. And what happens if you have to replace one of these fat bottomed stills? Well… they had to of course, a while ago, and that didn’t go too smoothly. The still didn’t fit on the ferry, so they had to hoist it on with a crane. And if that doesn’t fit, how do you get such a beast inside your small stillhouse? They did it by taking off the roof, it was freezing cold and snow was falling inside. Temperatures dropped far below zero. Hard to imagine, while standing there in the heat of the boiling stills while the story was told. There are plans to expand Ardbeg, so we hope that’ll go somewhat easier for them!
In other news, Dennis stuck his head too deep into a washback and went offline for a couple of seconds, we had a great lunch at Ardbeg and the best part of the tour: the tasting. We were lucky to have tasted the following three: Ardbeg Grooves, Ardbeg Perpetuum and Ardbeg Kelpie. The last one made the biggest impression and here’s why:
Lots of fruits swirling into your nose, mainly tropical fruits like pineapple, an incredible hint of salty fudge on a fresh, mineral foundation
This is some complex stuff, very mineral and tropical again, salty seaweed, charred oak and pineapple
A mouthwatering finish, it’s like breathing in warm tropical air with thick fruity notes, a mineral whiff of clean smoke, very sweet and malty, ending with freshly baked biscuits.
The name suggests that this would be a very salty, peppery and seaweed-y experience, exactly the stuff Dion doesn’t like that much. But we didn’t expect those full, swirly fruity notes which are going on forever. At the tour we asked about who decides the names of Ardbeg’s annual releases, it’s a creative team what taste samples and give it a name after that. If we were on that team, we’d name it: Tropical Cyclone. May we be part of the team now, Ardbeg?
Then: the big question, has Dion turned to the Dark Side? He liked Kelpie very much, and it’s not that he dislikes the other expressions. But.. he sticks to Caol Ila and Bowmore as his go-to Islay brands (for now), which is totally awesome too. As for me, I’m totally loving Ardbeg even more.
Get ready for our next stop: Lagavulin.