On June 2nd we celebrated yet another year of Ardbeg. But what is Ardbeg Day?
For those of you like myself, Ardbeg Day was always something that “other whisky nerds” in “other countries” went to, drinking “otherworldly Ardbeg”. Sometimes literally, in the case of the year with Galileo (yes, the specific whisky that went into space wasn’t Galileo, I know, but that last line sounded fun, didn’t it?)
To understand that, we should start with a brief history of Ardbeg. Because while Ardbeg was (legally) established in 1815, it’s not always been rosey. The 80s, being the decade that hurt us musically, fashionably, and in so many ways it’s hard to count, also saw multiple distilleries close down. More whisky was being made then in demand. Thus in 1983 Ardbeg actually closed down.
Luckily it was opened again in 1989. In 1990 they joined Allied distillers, and remained with them for 7 years. Then Glenmorangie purchased them in 1997.
Ardbeg ran very small runs in this time. While Ardbeg bounced back, we started to see limited runs. These grew slowly, starting with the 17 year offerings. However these were made up of older distillate, and being closed for six years meant they had to experiment. Special editions popped up, with a new twist on each release. Some focused on the experimentation, like Alligator, which was retoasted ex-bourbon casks with alligator like skin to give it char marks. Others, like the aforementioned Galileo, celebrated an interesting experiment on how zero gravity impacted the aging of whisky.
We also saw a free to join group, called the Ardbeg Committee, split these special editions in two: Cask Strength, and a lower alcohol content regular offering.
So what did we have this year? Well, luckily this year Ardbeg Day was celebrated at The Caledonian, a local pub that houses a wide selection of whiskies, as well as the local Ardbeg embassy. And on hand wasn’t just Scotch: No, they made sure we ate like kings and queens.
We started with a smoked Ardbeg BBQ pulled pork, paired with a delightfully summer focused coleslaw to back it up. And a pickle to round it all out. While enjoying that, as well as an Ardbeg Caesar (a signature drink to end all summer signature drinks),
Bry Simpson, Canada’s own Brand Ambassador walked us through this year’s offering, theme, and the background I laid out (as best I can) above.
Once lunch was done, we moved onto the whisky. Our lineup was a view back at what Ardbeg has released recently (reviews to follow in a few weeks):
- Ardbeg An Oa – The newest addition to the Ardbeg standard range, this vatted malt is based on Ardbeg Dark Cove, a very well received special Ardbeg Day release from years past. This vatting is made up of several cask types, including PX, virgin charred oak, and ex-bourbon, as well as others.
- Ardbeg Dark Cove – The Limited Edition release from Ardbeg Day 2016, this release was aged in a combination of PX sherry and ex-bourbon casks. A personal favourite of mine from years past.
- Ardbeg Kelpie – Named for a playful water spirit that may accidentally drown you during a prank for its Youtube channel, this was the Ardbeg Day release for 2017. The brine characteristics came about by using virgin Black Sea oak casks from Russia. An interesting take, not my personal favourite, however, I respect the innovative idea.
- Ardbeg Grooves – What we’re all excited to try, Ardbeg Grooves is the newest Ardbeg Day release. The 2018 whisky is a bit of the new and a bit of the old. Like Alligator, they heavily charred casks. However, in this case, they used ex-red wine casks, something completely new. The design harkens back to when Islay was not just a source of whisky, but also a contributor to the hippie and free love movement.
After sampling this interesting group of whiskies, we were in for a treat. The promise of oysters, freshly shucked, with a spray of Ardbeg An Oa drew us to the picturesque outdoor patio of the pub. However on our way we were greeted by the last Ardbeg to toast the day: Ardbeg 23, the latest release from the Ardbeg Twenty Something limited line.
A wonderful dram to toast a wonderful outing. I’d recommend you visit Ardbeg Day if you ever have the chance. There won’t always be a Twenty-Something waiting for you (as is life), and there may not always be pulled pork or oysters, however, there will be Ardbeg, trying something new, being the peat monster I still enjoy.