Ardbeg (10 year)

In a travesty of blogger failure, I’ve managed to write a whisky blog for SIX YEARS without reviewing Ardbeg 10 year-old. I now right this egregious wrong with the following review. I beg your collective forgiveness.

Ardbeg, that bastion of peat-freakdom, that Mecca of peat-worship, is one of the few distilleries that can print the phrase “not only the BEST of the Islay malt whiskies but THE BEST WHISKY IN THE WORLD” on its label and not be ashamed of the pretension and hyperbole. Of course, there is no such thing. The “best whisky in the world” is a concept that only Jim Murray believes in, because it sells him a lot of books. Still, Ardbeg is a solid contender for membership in the pantheon of best distilleries in the world, and many whisky aficionados would place it high on their personal lists. Many fellow noobs have cut their peat-teeth on this smoky monster, and it has ruined many of the same for other peated drams.

For more, feel free to peruse my other Ardbeg reviews, including one of my all-time favorites whiskies: Corryvreckan.

Ardbeg 10 is a relatively simple dram. It is Ardbeg single malt, using heavily-peated malt (55 to 65 ppm) from the maltings at Port Ellen (Ardbeg’s own kiln-fired maltings closed in 1977) and aged for at least 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels. The whisky is batched and bottled without chill filtration at 46% ABV. I’d like to point out that unlike many other whiskies *cough*Macallan*cough*, Ardbeg 10 has risen in price only $5 to $10 in the last six years, and is still just as good. That’s impressive.

Thanks especially to Laura from The Baddish Group, who both reminded me that I have not reviewed this stalwart dram, and kindly sent me some. Thanks, Laura!

Color: Pale straw

Nose: Pungent. A hint of lemon precedes a torrent of smoky peat. The peat is redolent of campfires, with toasted wood, charcoal, woodsmoke, and smouldering dry grass. Beneath the peat is a subtle layer of vanilla and brine.

Palate: Full-bodied. A tinge of sweetness greats the tongue, of pure malted grains and oaky vanilla. This is quickly obliterated by smoking hay, dry seagrass, slightly bitter charcoal, and dense, woodsy peat. While the flavors are intense, they are also very well-balanced, and the tongue burn is minimal, considering its robust 46% ABV. One could contemplate this smoky complexity for hours.

Finish: Very long (I will be tasting Ardbeg on my lips and tongue throughout the evening). A swath of bitterness is balanced well by a resurgence of malty, nutty grains and a strong spike of anise and black pepper. This all fades together, leaving a fugue of grassy, boggy peat and smoke.

With Water: A few drops of water initially mute the nose, so give the glass a few swirls and a rest before nosing again. The water seems to unbalance the alcohol burn and peat component, making the aroma sharper and more one-dimensional, although I get some buttery oak now. The palate is tamer and sweeter, but the balance still seems off. At 46%, this does not need water. I recommend keeping it neat.

Overall: I’m often struck by the differences between Ardbeg peat and Laphroaig peat. The former is all about smoke, and the impression is of a distant wildfire, pervading everything. The latter is all about the sea, with brine and seaweed and iodine. I can’t say which I prefer – I’m alternatively in the mood for either – and I can’t say that either is objectively better. Still, the essence of Ardbeg is control over chaos – an impressive feat considering the wild force of nature that peat becomes in the glass. Ardbeg is both masterfully constrained and wildly flavorful, the kind of whisky that makes you realize why people like smoky flavors in scotch, and also reminds you that the Scots have been perfecting this style for hundreds of years. If you haven’t had Ardbeg 10, there’s really no point in reading about it. You must experience it to complete your training, young padawan. If you aren’t sure you like peat, though, consider just buying a glass, neat, first. If you find you like peat, you cannot go wrong by owning a bottle.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

East of Lagavulin and Laphroaig on the southern coast of Islay, Ardbeg is known for being among the most heavily-peated single malts made. Their Uigeadail and Supernova (>100 ppm) bottlings push the envelope on palatable levels of peat (measured in Phenol parts-per-million, or ppm). Ardbeg’s water travels a long journey, first from Loch Uigeadail, which is the highest loch (~250m) in the quartzite hills of Islay. The water flows over hard quartzite, via the Ardilistry River, into the man-made Loch Iarnan. Finally, the soft water flows over heavy peat bogs to the distillery via the Ardbeg Burn. Like most [all?] of the other Islay distilleries, its malted barley comes, by specification, from the maltings at Port Ellen. Ardbeg used to have its own kiln-fired maltings, which were unusual due to a lack of a fan in the roof. This caused a heavy, tar-like influence of the peat smoke, which added to the inherent peat character in the Islay water. The maltings was closed in 1977, so Ardbegs casked before the late 1970s should still exhibit that old characteristic tar and smoke.
Ardbeg (10 year)
46% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $45 - $60
Acquired: (review sample) Thanks Laura!

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20 thoughts on “Ardbeg (10 year)

  1. So glad to finally see your take on this monument of affordable scotch. I am the same way: not sure whether I prefer it to Laphroaig, they are similar yet completely different and as you said better yourself: some days you crave Ardbeg, some days you crave Laphroaig (and some days I just want a bourbon or a sherries scotch). I only wish Talisker 10 would play at that price point too in order to have it as a part of my daily rotation…

  2. I’d also add Lagavulin in that same breath as Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Depending on the mood, it’s a pick of one of these three.

    1. I wish it was still possible to find it under $100 here (Colorado), I recently found it in Germany for 55 Euro…. Same story for Talisker and Oban..

  3. For me, these peated scotches are winter drinks. After shoveling or working outdoors in the cold, I can enjoy the nice bite of brine and campfire ash. But in the summer, I tend to favor the sherry style scotches. I have a bottle of Ardbeg 10 waiting the first real cold snap to settle in.

  4. I’m so happy to see that you finally reviewed this great malt. It’s not only the best Islay malt, but is one of the best entry level malts I have ever had period. In addition to tasting this good, it may just be the best value in Scotch Whisky as well. I used to feel the same way when it comes to Ardbeg vs. Laphroaig, but I now only buy Ardbeg. That’s not to say that I won’t drink Laphroaig at a bar, and I would certainly appreciate a bottle as a gift. I really enjoy your reviews and you and I generally see eye to eye (the few exceptions are that I think Glenmorangie 10 is worlds better than Glenlivet or Glenfiddich entry levels, I love every Glenfarclas I have ever had and I think Old Pulteney 12 should be a must try at the least). Isn’t this the thing that makes whisky great? The way that two people who see eye to eye can disagree or see something completely different in a dram. Sometimes two people can even love the same whisky for completely different reasons. Keep up the good work!

    1. Also very different. Talisker is spicy and peppery and brooding, with the salt notes associated with seaside peat, but not the seaweed/iodine notes, which makes it more approachable. I find it less “smoky” than Ardbeg, while still being just as earthy. If I could only have one <$80 peat slot in my cabinet, I would literally rotate it between Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Lagavulin 16, and Talisker 10.

      1. How do you feel about Springbank 10 vs. Talisker 10? I just had an Ardbeg 10 followed by a Springbank 10. In my mind they are similar but having them back to back they are so different

        1. I don’t really think of Springbank as heavily peated, like Talisker and the Islays. It does have an objectively high level of peat, but the effect is more “background”, to me, with the emphasis on the barley, and that interesting sooty quality that Springbank has. Regardless of the actual numbers, Springbank occupies the “half peated” category in my mind, like Highland Park (which is, due to its sherry content and non-coastal peat, much different as well).

          1. I agree with that. I think Talisker is the most peat heavy that was not an Islay I’ve ever had. I see Highland Park as “softer” than Springbank but also similar. Wouldn’t it be great to have unlimited funds to run out and buy a bottle of each for a tasting comparison every time someone poses one of these questions?

  5. Dear Mate,
    I am following your reviews for ages from 2013.. First review which pushed me to ISLAY Laphroiag and Lagavulin.. You did not like super high peaty or coloured version of whiskies.. FInally you have made it.

    Its a 6 year delay right.. I would have had about 20 bottles till now…I drink it neat on a windy rainy day or winter peak in Melbourne with KETTLE CHILLI CHIPS..

    Lastly I Love CALIFORNIA and my sister working EMC too in Cali. Wanna visit Cali and their NAPA & whisky Gallery…

    I always stick on to your MUST HAVE words and I have not bought ABUNDAH ARBELOUR till now.. I am stuck with ISLAY ONLY..

    I am following you in TWITTER- HAPPY NEW YEAR 17.

    Cheers,
    Pradeep
    Preston-Victoria- Australia.

  6. Just curious, what is it about islay’s peat people feel attracted to? I have been a single malt snob for some years now and also I big fan if this site. But I just do not enjoy peat. I find it repulsive. Been drinking my first bottle of laphroig 10 for the last week because it’s been called a good peat whisky here, trying to understand, but just not seeing the appeal. Honestly curious , what is enjoyable?

    1. Hard to say, really. Peat is definitely an acquired taste, and some people just don’t like it. I find a similarity between peated malt and heavily smoked food, like smoked salmon, which I enjoy. I also like the earthiness of it, and the balance between sweet/smoky. Finally, there are a lot of similar flavors with good hand-rolled cigars, which are also earthy but have a good balance of sweetness. Don’t sweat it if you don’t like peat, stick to the whisky you like!

      1. I’m hoping it’ll grow on me. I want to enjoy all scotch evenly and appreciate the differences. Also curious, have you tried any of the Macallan fine oak series?

  7. Per your review I picked up a bottle of Ardbeg 10 ($50) to sip for the new year. Very happy to see they included a sample size bottle in the tin packaging! Holy Smoked peat! I love the strong peat presence and the sweet finish. I usually enjoy food and drink with flavor “potency”. Such as smoked/red and black peppered meats. Chocolate stouts, sardines and anchovies, black chicory coffee ..etc. As a Scotch Noob, the Ardbeg 10 Fits the bill….one of the best I’ve had and tastes like it should cost double what they charge. I like it neat with one ice cube. Cheers!

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