Ardbeg Embassy Launch Tasting at TWE Vinopolis

As mentioned a few posts ago we ran a tasting at the end of May to celebrate our shop’s ascension to the rank of Ardbeg Embassy. We were joined by Distillery Manager Mickey Heads and an audience of peat fans eager to try the Ardbeg range. Over to Toby from the shop for a report on the evening’s affairs:

A busy tasting

Once in a while we are fortunate enough to enjoy a rare and pleasurable evening in the company of Ardbeg. This particular tasting was made even more special, however, as we also became an Ardbeg Embassy (one of the six in the UK).

The design team arrived in the morning and began to give our Vinopolis shop a makeover, with the door becoming an 8ft landscape of Ardbeg and wheelbarrows of peat appearing in every spare space. Hallowed turf from Islay was laid and a final thought on leaving the shop now reads ‘You are now leaving sovereign Islay soil!’ So if you are, or want to become, an Ardbeg Committee member please come and find sanctuary with us!

Due to the popularity and rarity of an evening spent with Ardbeg we were swamped with thirsty fans and were left with only one choice, which was to take email addresses and select at random. Emails, in-store customers and telephone calls flooded in and we were left with the unfortunate task of picking the lucky 50.

Excitement built as attendees were greeted by the Ardbeg Land girls – two delectable ladies dressed in a war-effort-esque attire of dungarees, checked shirts and Ardbeg wellies. The thronging crowd were led though to a tasting room decorated with Ardbeg wheelbarrows filled with bricks of peat and brightly lit bottles of Ardbeg restrained in chains.

Head of Mission, Mickey Heads

Once seated we were introduced to Mickey Heads, the distillery manager. After a short introduction and brief history of Ardbeg we were launched straight into…

Ardbeg 10yr old – (Matured in first and second fill bourbon casks) On the nose there was a zesty citrus peppery lemon/lime, which with water turned slightly more burnt orange. On tasting I received a mouth coating sea salt with oily bacon. The finish was long with smoked mackerel and a hint of coffee.

Uigeadail – ‘That mysterious dark place’ (A mix of sherry, and first and second fill bourbon casks) The nose gave me smoky treacle and a sweetness that reminded me of mulled wine.  On the palate I found I was reminded of salty liquorice and heavy orange. The finish was quite long and full of currants.

Corryvreckan – A mix of new french oak & bourbon casks named after a natural whirlpool just off the north of Islay which in turn takes its name from the legend of Prince Breacon, who died there proving his devotion to the daughter of The Lord of The Isles.  A sea-soaked nose of shellfish and chocolate followed by a palate filled with peppery cloves, anise and cinnamon. A long, spice-filled finish.

Supernova 2010 – probably named after the intensly bright exploding star, because on tasting you are hit by the massive levels of peat in this glorious monster. Peated at 100ppm, double the regular Ardbeg strength, the nose has loads of seaweed, prosciutto and an interesting slight fruity herbaceous tea scent. Palate is filled with heavy spice and you can still just about taste a fruitiness hidden behind the intense smoke. The finish is beautifully harsh, long and spicy.

The hugely anticipated latest Committee release was next on our tasting mats:

The tasting mat

The Ardbeg Alligator – although no age statement was given it is roughly between 7 and 12 years old, matured in 90-95% Alligator barrels. Alligator barrels are charred before filling for around 4 minutes, making them Grade 4 charred - the highest level of charring. This level creates a surface like alligator skin on the inside of the barrel, perfectly positioned to impart a lovely oaky character into our whisky of choice.

This Islay-gator has a straw-amber complexion, and a nose of sweet caramel, tropical fruit and a hint of pine. I found the palate to be very different to the house style with lots of chewy oak and spicy rich ginger, caramel nougat and a long elegant finish which gave me memories of rooms layered with clouds of cigar smoke and an open fire. Be quick if you want to snap up one of these reptilian releases as only 10,000 are available now on the Ardbeg website [they've sold out now... -billy] to Committee members. However, don’t worry if you miss out as 40,000 more will go on general sale on the 1st September.

As an added treat, we got to try two cask samples drawn not more than a fortnight before by Mickey himself. The first was a 13 year old refill sherry hogshead, cask #2732, which imparted lovely smoked orange glazed ham on the nose with green capsicum, chewy peppery vanilla and a hint of stone fruits creeping into the extended finish. The second was from a 12 year old first fill bourbon cask, #2117, with a lemon citrus nose. It had a taste like lemon meringue pie that had sat in the oven a little too long giving it a burnt crispy edge. A finish of spicy citrus wood lingered on the tongue.

Toby consults with a Land Girl

As we relaxed, having thought we’d had our fill, suddenly the Land girls elegantly arose (much to the delight of the more nerdy in the room) and attended to our guests with a final taste of the 10 year old. As a way of flavour matching we were asked to dip a supplied tongue depresser into a pot of honey and then into an earth-like mix of flour, nuts, sugar and Fuller’s London Porter – the joy of edible Peat and a taste explosion.

All in all, then, it ws great night and we now await the inevitable clamouring of Drambassadors everywhere looking for diplomatic immunity (or at the very least a fat dram) in our Embassy.  Many thanks to Ardbeg, Mickkey & the Land Girls for such a superb tasting and please make sure to drop by to see us in Vinopolis very soon.

[Many thanks to Toby for this excellent write-up of a truly great night. Stay tuned for more exciting news very soon - Tim F]

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