So… for awhile everyone I talked to seemed to love the unpronounceable NAS Ardbeg which launched back before both NAS and unpronounceable names were common in the industry. When I began discovering malts, Uigeadail was often spoken of in the same hushed tones as the original Supernova (which is coming back, by the way). I have a confession to make. As much as I love the peaty power of Ardbeg, and as much as I respect its parent company, LVMH, Uigeadail and I have never seen eye-to-eye. After three or four negative notes from tasting events in my book (none of them long enough for a blog post), I decided to jump on a sale at K&L and get a full bottle. Surely if everyone else loves this stuff, I should be able to figure out what’s so good about it. My bottle has a batch code of L13 245 15:18 6ML – so it was bottled on day 245 of 2013, or September 2nd.
Uigeadail (pronounced, believe it or not, “Oo-geh-doll”) is named after the loch from which Ardbeg sources its water. The whisky is a vatting of standard Ardbeg from ex-bourbon casks (supposedly the 10-year) with some quantity of sherry-aged Ardbeg. The result is bottled at cask strength. Originally, Uigeadail was conceived of to find a home for some old (1970s) sherry casks of Ardbeg left in the warehouse when new owners LVMH rehabbed the distillery after purchasing it from Hiram Walker. By vatting the long-in-the-tooth sherry casks (which would have lost a lot of peat character and become somewhat overly woody) with bright, smoky 10 year-old Ardbeg from bourbon casks, the whisky would become a peaty powerhouse with lots of resiny, old-oak goodness. It worked, and Uigeadail was a big success. Until recently, when they must have run out of vintage sherried Ardbeg and switched to much younger sherry-aged whisky, probably put down after the distillery reopened in 1998, or as late as 2003 when Uigeadail was first released. Internet gossip maintains that the whisky has decreased markedly in quality since those first editions. (Thanks for the info, Jordan!) It should be noted that the price has also decreased.
Update 12/17/2016: I’ve had a chance to sample a newer batch of Uigeadail (apologies – I don’t have the batch number). This time I find an aroma replete with smoke but devoid of fruit, and a palate richly-flavored and peppery. The finish shows ripe red fruits, at last. This batch is much better than the one I last reviewed, although I still don’t see a reason to buy this over Ardbeg 10 (cheaper) or Corryvreckan (better).
Nose: Ardbeg woodsmoke with a smattering of sherry influence: raisin, fig, etc. The effect, while wholly integrated, is two-dimensional. There is little to the peat character besides woodsmoke, and little to the sherry character beyond raisin. Deep as I dig (and get a snoot-full of alcohol fumes for my trouble), I can’t find anything else.
Palate: Mildly creamy body, and an expected amount of tongue-burn. A slight citrus note, but not as obvious as Corryvreckan.
Finish: Long. Sherry-tinged woodsmoke, fading without bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water highlight some of the citrus notes in the nose, and somewhat tame the tongue burn. The water also adds a welcome orange-peel character to the finish. Diluting down to 46% yields an easily drinkable dram with some sweet citrus, but very tame peat. I suggest experimenting with water to find the right sweet spot for your tastes.
Overall: Alas, I’m not a fan. Despite several tastings from my bottle over several weeks (and a few over the last couple of years), I do not see anything redeeming about this malt. For my tastes, Ardbeg 10 delivers all the peaty complexity you could want for less money. For more money, Corryvreckan is better in every way and is very much worth the extra price. That’s not something I say every day.