Ardbeg Galileo

Ardbeg certainly loves their special releases. I have always enjoyed the Corryvreckan (which is actually a regular in the lineup, not a one-off release), and I thought Alligator was intriguing. I’m starting to wonder though if these bottlings might be more marketing stunt than cutting-edge whiskymaking. I mean, a rocket? C’mon. And just look at the silliness on the Galileo webpage. Do they mention the whisky? What’s in it? No. But you can upload a picture of yourself with a spacesuit helmet on! Anyway. Continuing with the theme of their one-distillery space race, Ardbeg has released a ~12 year-old vatting of ex-bourbon Ardbeg and (cool!) Sicillian marsala wine cask-aged whisky at a bold 49% ABV. I am actually a big fan of marsala, so I was hoping those nutty oxidized-wine notes would translate.

Nose: Lot of vanilla. Light brown sugar. Cereal. Very mild peat – this is Ardbeg?

Palate: Sharp, piquant peat. Vanilla & caramel. Hefty burn. Some wooksmoke (fruit wood – like applewood chips smoking). A little lime juice on the tail end.

Finish: Not too bitter. Peat shows through (finally) on finish.

With Water: Becomes very perfumey, like a room full of vanilla beans drying.

Overall: Lots of vanilla. Easy drinking, for an Ardbeg, but not much else to recommend it. I was 100% unable to identify the marsala. This is a particularly sweet, aromatic whisky with a very muted peat profile. If someone handed me a glass, I can honestly say I would enjoy drinking it. Alas, the total mistranslation of the marsala cask (I would have said this was 100% ex-bourbon), and the special-edition hoopla seriously undermined the experience for me. I would say this whisky is not worth the (exceptional) effort required to secure a bottle. (Although K&L still has some in stock for $95, while it lasts.) My low rating shouldn’t be taken as a denouncement of the flavor or quality of this whisky – but as a statement on the value for the money. A self-conscious $50 pricetag would have warranted a Recommended score.

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 Galileo
49% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $95 - $105
Acquired: (1/4 oz pour) K&L Spirits Tasting

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  • I was at K&L a few weeks ago and picked up a bottle. Ya it is pricey, but I’ve read some reviews that suggest it improves in complexity as the level drops and a little oxygen gets in there. I dunno, I guess I’ll see how it goes.

  • I’ve sure seen a lot of varied reviews on this new Ardbeg. That being said, it’s still Ardbeg and probably still going to be delicious, even if it doesn’t live up to the full Ardbeg potential. Having so many great bottlings may actually be hurting them at times…

  • Just picked up a bottle for $64 BT and hope it is as good as the other Ardbeg’s. I love Corryvrecken and Ten and like Uigeadail, so I’ll soon see where it fits with these. I wouldn’t have paid more than $80, unless it had stellar reviews, as there are other really good whiskies that are below that price.

  • Well, I have to agree with The Noob. Definitely “Try Before Buy”. Will let it sit a month or more and check for any improvement. Very different palate and nose reminded me of Laphroaig.

  • I guess this shows the differences in tastes. I tried this two weeks ago and think that it is not only the best Ardbeg I’ve got, it is on my top five list for all Scotches. I love the evolution that it goes through in the glass and I really like every stage of that evolution. I agree that the peat seems missing at first but after a few minutes it comes on. Like I said, just a difference in tastes…

  • I will chime in with a “differences in taste” comment here. This is one of my all-time favorites, and I enjoy a wide variety of scotch from the heavily peated through the honey and heather range. For me, the balance of the vanilla/fruit and the signature Ardbeg peat really works, and I agree with Jim that the evolution in the glass is fascinating. It’s a chameleon dram that others have called “un-integrated,” but that I just call “amazing.”

    YMM *definitely* V, seeing the strong variance in opinions on this whisky. “Try before you buy” indeed.

  • I think most whisky drinkers would be more curious about the time in the Marsala cask (mentioned in tiny print at the bottom of the box) than they are in the association with space travel. I’m as fascinated by space travel as anyone, but unless we’re talking about a certain starship engineer named Montgomery Scott, I don’t associate space travel with whisky. This was a very odd marketing move by the normally polished LVMH, but I suppose it worked – I just picked up a bottle.

      • Finally got around to cracking this open. It starts out tasting like a typical Ardbeg and then you get this weird (but tasty) fruit blast – I tasted tropical fruits like pineapple, mango and citrus. The smoke comes back a little on the finish. It’s like it slides along the whisky taste spectrum as it’s on your tongue – it doesn’t give you all its flavors at once; it gives them to you in sequence. You’re absolutely right; it tastes nothing like Marsala wine. I liked it enough to wish a) it were cheaper and b) it would be come a permanent part of the Ardbeg range.

        • Eric,
          Awesome! I think I was predisposed not to like this one, but a lot of folks enjoy it. I’m glad you liked it. I wonder why the marsala doesn’t translate through the oak… weird.

  • Oh, by the way, I was reading an interesting interview with Bill Lumsden about this one:

    The two most interesting things from this interview, at least to me, were the fact that 1) there was a failed attempt at a Glenmorangie Tokaji finish, and 2) he tried to finish a whisky in a non-oak barrel. The Scotch Whisky Association wouldn’t let him do it. His argument for why he could was that the applicable regulations only require three years aging in oak barrels, but that they don’t say you can’t age them in some other species of wood after that. Apparently, that didn’t fly with the SWA.

    • Ah, interesting. I know nobody’s ever successfully released a scotch aged in non-oak, and I haven’t heard of any such whisky outside Scotland (where it would likely be easier to do). Maplewood-aged bourbon… hmmm…

      • I have tried Crown Royal’s “Maple Finish” whisky. I thought it was finished in maple wood, but it sounds like that’s not the case – it’s more likely they just dumped maple syrup into it or something. It’s kind of gross.

  • Just tried some Edradour Ballechine #5, which is not marsala-finished – it’s matured entirely in marsala cask. Never expected to see that. It’s not as good as the Galileo unfortunately. It’s too heavily peated – I’m a big believer in peat playing nice with other flavors (with Lagavulin being a great example of peat harmoniously integrating with everything else). This stuff just lets the peat take over and you can barely taste the fruity tartness buried beneath the smoke flavor. You can tell it’s similar to the Galileo, but it’s not as good. And it costs just as much. If Galileo disappointed you, you may want to pass on this one.

    • Good tip, thanks Eric! The irony is that I *love* marsala wine both in cooking and (occasionally) as a dessert sip. I wonder why it doesn’t impart its character on whisky as readily as port, madeira, and sherry do.