Sometimes the box is enough to give something of the whisky away: the bright green of a Glenfiddich 12 perhaps betrays its fruitiness. Similarly, the white, clean simplicity of an anCnoc box suggests it’s not going to be too intimidating and, sure enough, the whisky complies. Ardbeg comes in a square black box. And with bold Celtic-esque writing. And with ‘The Ultimate Islay single malt Scotch whisky’ branded across the top. If you’re trying to ease a gentle soul into whisky, steer clear of this one for a bit.
The distillery comes with a reputation for being strong and peaty whisky but, my, what a shock when you actually pour it into a glass. Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Emperors New Clothes’ springs to mind, for it emerges pale, clear and, well, almost naked. Yet whilst you’re still staring at it thinking ‘Is that it?’ the first of the vapours meet your nose. Actually, it’s more of a full-bodied thump than a polite meet-and-greet. It’s a superbly industrious whisky on the nose: masses of peat, masses of wet earth, masses of smoke, but also a delightful smack of that satisfying medicinal aroma. If your nose can stand it, you derive the same sort of pleasure that I imagine a mechanic does smelling a vintage, oily, plane engine. ‘Talk dirty to me,’ its website instructs. Yes, sir.
But underneath all this manliness is the softest of underbellies. Dig through the wet earth, and you’ll pick up sweet zesty fruits sitting beside smokey streaky bacon atop a chalk cliff. And dare I pick out the merest traces of vanilla admist it all? It does feel like cheekily spraying a hardy miner with perfume, but it’s certainly traceable.
The whole whisky explodes when you put it in your mouth: of course, you get a good dollop of peat and a lump of the most gorgeous earth to chew on, but then comes through cough sweets, lemon and pepper. It begins to tang, the smoke accumulates, yet it becomes warm and smooth (am I talking dirty?!). It’s like having thick engine oil in your mouth, except you’re the car (OK, I am). Grief, this is one hell of a whisky. Did I mention liquorice joins the party too? And how the smoke just covers your mouth? I’m lost in a dream world…
The finish is similarly sublime, and everything the taste was before, but it sweetens considerably into a complex and rich blend where everything’s been toasted perfectly: the aniseed lasts and lasts with faint peat lying in the background and the merest hint of barley. I’ve given you a fairly mammoth review but it’s deserving of one. It comes non chill-filtered at 46% but, seriously, don’t even think of putting water in it. You try it as a boy, and emerge as a man with oily hands, hairs on your chest but with a taste for the finer things in life. What a whisky.
Nose 22 Taste 23 Finish 21 Balance 22