Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Ardbeg. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Ardbeg is an Islay distillery founded in 1815 and today owned by Moët Hennessy/LVMH. Production dwindled to nothing under Hiram Walker’s ownership between the 1970s-1990s. Fortunately for us, Glenmorangie purchased and reopened the distillery in 1997. Today, they’re known for stunts including aging whisky in space, a V8 tractor that’s toured the world, and being named World Whisky of the Year four times. Recently, a 1975 cask of Ardbeg sold for a record-breaking $19 million, so they must be doing something right in attracting a following.
The Ardbeg Ardcore Limited Edition Islay Single Malt Whisky was officially released on Ardbeg Day, June 4th, 2022, during the Fèis Ìle (Islay Festival) on Islay. In 1986, locals founded the festival to celebrate the island’s unique history and heritage within the wider world of whisky. It is a ten-day event of tastings, tours, and festivities, including traditional Scottish dances (ceilidhs).
Each of the island’s distilleries has a featured day during which they host tours, offer entertainment, and even release new whiskies. COVID led the festival to be held remotely in 2020 and 2021, so there was plenty of pent up demand and excitement surrounding the 2022 in-person events.
This whisky takes the name “Ardcore” as a shortening of “hardcore” in homage to punk rock and the roasted black malt used for this release. It’s probably appropriate to describe black malt as malt roasted all the way up to 11, or until “practically incinerated,” to quote Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden in the official launch video. I highly recommend the video to those curious. It’s a sheer delight to watch Dr. Lumsden and Master Blender, Gillian Macdonald, tasting the whisky in straight faces, heavy makeup, and full punk gear.
In it, they describe how the typical Ardbeg heavy peat profile was toned down to better showcase the aromatics of malt so dark, it turned the mash jet black. The whisky was aged in first-fill and second-fill American ex-bourbon barrels to add a contrasting sweetness to the finished product. The Committee release, offered to Ardbeg email newsletter subscribers in select countries, was bottled at 50.1% ABV but not reviewed here.
Vital Stats: Aged for nearly 10 years in mostly first-fill and some second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, 46% ABV, mash bill: 75% distilling malt, 25% black malt, SRP roughly $130/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This whisky is a pale straw yellow.
Nose: There’s a moderate peat aroma when first smelling, showing a touch of sweet corn and iodine. It seems very fresh with a bracing aroma like newly fallen snow that I attribute to the saline aromas. Time in the glass brings forward notes of caramel sauce and melted white chocolate, probably from the bourbon barrels. There’s an earthy undertone of wet autumn leaves and fermented pu’er tea that distinguishes it from a typical Islay whisky.
Palate: This is sweet and delicate on entry, with an oily texture and moderately rich body. There’s a savory quality not unlike Worcester sauce and roasted peanuts. The pepperiness builds on finish, showing lasting aromas of steamed corn, peat, and baked fish. I’m left with a lasting impression of salty licorice and char. Water brings out a delicate caramel note like milk powder, but does not further enhance the experience.
I tasted this against Caol Isla, which I often use as a benchmark in tasting lineups for Islay whiskies or Scotch in general. Coal Isla has a more oceanic nose. The Ardbeg comes across as darker and earthier aromatically, as though filtered through composted autumn leaves, yet somehow more lifted, perhaps due to the sweetness. This doesn’t hit you over the head with peat, but it’s certainly present.
Overall, I found the aromatics an unusual mix of savory and sweet. Though not my cup of tea, there’s plenty to appreciate for those that enjoy dark malts and earthy aromas.
Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...