Sitting proudly on the rugged coastal rocks of South Islay lies Ardbeg distillery. It could have been confined to nothingness not so long ago. Ardbeg has a long and esteemed history on the island, having produced whisky commercially since 1815. Having shut its doors in 1981, it reopened in 1989 and has recovered and flourished ever since. Since their resurgence in 2000, they have quite literally pushed the boundaries of whisky production by sending vials of Ardbeg-crafted molecules into space. Some of their stunts have been slightly less crazy, such as including a BBQ smoker in their bottle packaging for one of their releases.
Islay isn’t short of distilleries, but each distillery has a unique characteristic that makes it what it is. For example, Bruichladdich have the peatiest whisky. For me, Ardbeg’s Committee releases make it stand out from its esteemed company.
Since 1998, Ardbeg has produced some ambrosial and wide-ranging whiskies, considering the central theme is peat and smoke. Most recently, the Blaaack utilising pinot noir casks from New Zealand and the Arrrrrrrdbeg, which was matured in ex-rye casks, have shown the versatility and creativity of the distillery. Sure, being a member of the distillery allows you all the standard fan group extras like committee bottlings, VIP events and ‘exclusive content,’ but one thing I find wholly refreshing is the ability to discuss the future of the releases of Ardbeg. This isn’t an Executive Director type responsibility but the ability to taste and discuss Ardbeg whisky before it potentially reaches the shop floor with the committee’s blessing. Arguably, the 1997 for discussion release of the ‘very young’ could have been a precursor to the ‘Wee Beastie.’
I was interested to see that Ardbeg was releasing an 8-year-old ‘for discussion.’ This prompted me to think, ‘why?’ Ardbeg currently have the 10-year-old as their flagship whiskey; less recently, they developed the 5-year-old ‘Wee Beastie,’ into the range and no less than a month ago released their latest Ardbeg Day committee release, ‘Scorch.’ But in typical Ardbeg flair, Master Distiller Bill Lumsden pondered: what if, in an alternative universe, Ardbeg Ten Years Old was not the distillery’s “flagship” aged expression? This is what I like about Ardbeg, the desire to keep titivating and the aspiration to make themselves, as they quote, “unquestionably the greatest Distillery to be found on earth.”
The whiskey itself boasts flavours of eucalyptus, menthol, and creosote, which doesn’t sound massively appetising on the face of it. Still, in agreement with Distillery Manager Colin Gordon, we committee members are “whisky-mad and up for anything.” Ultimately, the 8-year-old, balanced by ex-sherry casks, could be the centrepiece of an ever-diverse core range and, as such, gave birth to the Ardbeg 8-year-old – For Discussion.
As mentioned, the whiskey is an 8-year-old expression matured in ex-sherry casks before being bottled at 50.8%. Sherry cask finishes are nothing new to Ardbeg expressions, and if anything, they’re popular. The Uigeadail, voted as the committee’s favourite Ardbeg, utilised sherry casks. The information regarding the whisky is relatively scant, so let’s get to the reviewing.
Nose: A real smoky sweetfest on the nose for me. Sure, you have the standard initial hit of tar, creosote, smoke and cigar ash, but it appears to be balanced by the sweetness of caramac bar, salted caramel chocolate and liquorice. There’s also some eucalyptus plants, dried seaweed and sea salt just to top off a pretty exquisite nose.
Palate: The sweetness on the nose is nearly lost, there are remnants of it there with salted chilli chocolate and treacle, but there’s a more distinct concoction of black pepper, menthol, smoked oysters and ginger that make it ever so slightly complex but the myriad of notes feels quite unbalanced in my opinion.
Finish: long and warming. Lots of smoke and ash, black pepper and sea salt. Classic Ardbeg.
For me, this is quite unlike many of the Ardbegs that I have tried. Not as refined as the ten-year-old, but not as unrefined as the ‘wee beastie’ 5-year-old expression. The nose is really intriguing for me, and if the palate had as much promise as that, then I think we may have been talking about an excellent score instead of a good score. I find the palate lacking balance and slightly overpowering. Could I see myself buying this if it came into the core range? Probably yes, although the price point (£57)leaves a bit to be desired, sure it’s a limited edition, but it should be priced somewhere between the ten and 5-year core expressions, not on the same level as the likes of the Uigeadail. As this is ‘for discussion’, it is quite the conversation starter and has a lot of promise if Ardbeg ever considers adding to their already diverse and ever-expanding core range.