As far as the Ardbeg special releases go, this impossible-to-pronounce beauty (sometimes referred to as ‘The Beast’) is pretty much gone. There may be a few dusty bottles left on shelves, but as the world has moved on to whirlpools and alligators, this post betrays that I am once again late to the party. I found this one on offer at a bar outside of Boston, MA for some exorbitant price. Knowing that it’s soon to be a relic, I sprung for a glass.
One thing I love about Ardbeg – although peatier than a mouthful of Scottish fen, the special releases often show a dizzying range of eccentric flavors. While I’m not a huge fan of the standard 10 year (I think it’s overpriced and not as good as Lagavulin 16 or Laphroaig QC), the special releases almost always blow me away and The Beast is no exception. It’s around 16 years of age, and named for one of the lochs above the distillery and means ‘Valley of the Beast’ in Gaelic.
Nose: Starts with a typical peated nose. This evolves quickly into nuanced citrus and spice notes: laden with blood orange peel, coriander, salty morels in a wine reduction, and delicate oak. Water sweetens but very much dulls the nose, while coaxing out a little caramel with smoked salt.
Palate: A torrent of smoke and peat. Meaty and salty. Charred pork on the barbecue. Smouldering wood chips. The char grows in the mouth, turning from charcoal and tar to muddy moss and burning underbrush, and finally to sweet roasted peaches and toasted pine nuts. A few drops of water brings out a fudgy brownie note, at the expense of some of the intensity of that peat blast.
Finish: Predictably long (you’ll be scrubbing it out of your teeth in the morning), with some surprising dark chocolate nibs, freshly roasted coffee beans, and a fading marshmellowy malted milk, which coats the walls of the mouth. The finish is totally foreign to the palate notes, and is the best part. As the last notes fade, there is a little wintergreen and, of all things, sour apple.
Overall: Like Willy Wonka’s Three-Course-Dinner Gum you get a salty, nutty appetizer, a main course of roasted barbecue pork, a dessert of roasted peaches, a cup of chocolatey coffee and an after-dinner mint! Amazing. As you’re unlikely to find a bottle outside of auctions, I suggest keeping an eye out for a lonely bottle at a bar or a sample to bum off a friend. It’s an experience.
Don’t bother with the drops of water: tackle this one in its full, undiluted glory first.