There are a number of classic drams staring us all right in the face each time we peruse the Scotch whisky section of our local spirit retailer. Of course, the various aspects of what qualifies any whisky as a “classic” could be up for debate. As far as I am concerned, this is where price, availability, individual identity, quality, and reputation over time all come together in a reliably pleasing package. When a readily available dram is affordable while also providing a perfect example of a specific region of malt, that, to me, is a classic. Enter Ardbeg 10-Year-Old.
Ardbeg 10 Years Old is the opening bottling to what Ardbeg terms their Ultimate Range. The releases which follow in this series are Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, neither of which feature age statements. Ardbeg 10 is also the lowest-priced and most widely available Ardbeg bottling today. This peaty dram is bottled at 46% alcohol by volume (92 proof) and is non-chill filtered.
Whereas the Ardbeg name has become synonymous with (or infamous for, depending on how you personally see things) annual limited releases, Ardbeg 10 Years Old stands apart. Within a rotating lineup of bottlings featuring daring finishes and marketing to match, the tried and true 10 has found more sure footing for itself.
As a release that is available year in and year out, the price per bottle avoids the ever upwards creep of the secondary market. Additionally, Ardbeg 10 Years Old enjoys a position of forming almost a compass bearing type of reliability when it comes to introducing the newcomer to the world deep, heavy, soggy peat. Of course, all of these qualities are for naught should the individual drinker find the bottle less than enjoyable.
Vital Stats: 46% ABV (92 proof), aged 10 years, 100% malted barley, widely available around $45-$50 per 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Light golden straw in color. Medium-thin legs.
Notes: Peat smoke and bandages right off the pour. Opens up to reveal more peat, more smoke, and more bandages. Menthol and eucalyptus lozenges. A hint of white grapes with more bold notes of peanuts, brine, grass clippings clogging a mower after cutting a wet lawn that had grown a little too long, a bit of sweat, and butter.
Palate: The palate still showcases the collision of lightness and smoke that Ardbeg is striving for. Light mouthfeel. Delicate on the tongue with powerful flavors. Salt takes the lead ahead of the full force of the smoke, which follows in very short order. Salted whipped honey, dried mango and papaya, fresh chopped parsley on buttered pasta, a bit of Thai sweet chili. The finish is ushered in by the smoke, which takes centerstage after the swallow. Lingering notes of salt and vanilla cream with persistent smokiness.
Final Thoughts and Score:
Ardbeg 10 Years Old is on the short list of whiskies I would personally recommend for stocking a home bar — any home bar. In my opinion, either this or the 10-year-old release from Laphroaig would fit the bill nicely for the bare essentials in representing heavily-peated drams and the Islay region in any modest collection.
For the more experienced sipper, Ardbeg 10 remains a solid and enjoyable example of heavily-peated single malt. What is more, the whisky is relatively free from gimmicks which may otherwise interfere with one’s enjoyment, if one is bothered by such things.
When not sampling whiskey, Joshua St. John can most likely be found running the trails of the Pacific Northwest surrounding his home in Portland, Oregon. A lifelong world-traveler, Joshua was first introduced to single malts while visiting distilleries in Scotland, and continues to explore the world through the countless interpretations...