Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 6

6 12 2015

OK, fair warning.  I was out until 4 in the morning at an office Christmas party last night.  There was wine involved.  If there was ever a night to question the integrity of my palate and the quality of my insights, this is it; however, I felt bound by advent duty to forge onward with my whisky calendar mission and not be steamrolled by circumstance in week 1.  I just hoped I would open the little cardboard door and find a nice, mild, demure whisky to let my system off easy.  I got Ardbeg Ten instead.  F***.

I believe this is the 2015 calendar’s first visit to the notorious island of Islay, world Mecca of peated whisky and home to many distilleries unafraid to unleash it.  Ardbeg may be the most brazen of the lot, a producer that does not lack for confidence (their website says they are “unquestionably the greatest distillery on earth”) and has been accelerating the recent arms race to develop peatier and peatier whiskies with their borderline absurd Supernova.  Even this base 10 Year bottling (which goes for $80 and which the label calls “The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky”, so again with the self-belief) is peated to between 55 and 65 parts per million, which is a whole hell of a lot; see here for a peat concentration scale for various distilleries, and you will note Ardbeg at the very top.

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You can smell the peat leaching out of the Ten Year as you’re pouring it into the glass.  It is a rather nondescript light straw colour but radiates powerful, greasy, non-nondescript (descript?) aromas of leather, moss, shoe polish, sesame oil and seaweed, with a hint of citrus peeking through underneath.  There is a surprisingly sweet honey-maple attack on every sip that lasts for a millisecond before the peat hammer drops and layers on iodine, liniment, campfire, tar and struck matches, one after another after another.  At the end of that crescendo you get some baked apple and lemon curd fruit and anise and cinnamon spice, but they’re in the chorus line and not fronting the cast.  I will say that this isn’t the total blunt instrument that I partly expected and feared, holding back a bit on the brute force in approach and demonstrating some level of dexterity with how the peat is presented.  That said, there’s basically no way that people who dislike this style of whisky will enjoy this scotch; there’s really no unwinding peat from Ardbeg.  Please have some pity on me tomorrow, calendar.

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