Ardbeg An Oa

The first addition to the core range of Ardbeg in some significant amount of time that I can’t be bothered to look up: An Oa! Despite the fact that you might sound like you’re mid-stroke trying to pronounce it, the whisky is named after a promontory or “mull” called Oa that protects Ardbeg’s oceanfront distillery from the worst of the Atlantic Ocean weather. There’s something on the box about the mull being “round” and the whisky being “round” too… Wow. They’re truly running out of stuff the put on these labels, aren’t they?

A no-age-statement (shock! awe!) vatting of various casks of Ardbeg including new (virgin) charred oak, Pedro Ximénez (PX) sherry, and first-fill bourbon. These are all dumped into a French oak “Gathering Vat” in the new “Gathering Room” at Ardbeg. Note that most other distilleries call this a “marrying vat” or “marrying tun”, but we’ll let them have their cutsey name. The result is bottled at the randomly-chosen 46.6% ABV without chill filtration.

While drinking this, I try really (really) hard not to picture the dump tray at my local bar where all the “various” drink spillovers “marry” in the stainless-steel trap under the bar mat. And now, so will you.

Nose: Unmistakably Ardbeg. Sooty smoke and malty grain sweetness in perfect balance. Vanilla, charcoal, and a very faint jam note that I’m probably forcing myself to detect because of the “PX Sherry” on the label. There is also an overt woodiness that is more obvious after your senses adjust to the smoke.

Palate: Sooty (did I already say that?) with a moderate tongue burn. Campfire (oak) smoke, brown sugar, root beer, and fresh hay. Actually somewhat narrow, despite Ardbeg’s usual complexity.

Finish: Very long. Smoke dominates the finish, billowing and unrelenting. No seaweed or anything here, just woodsmoke and an undercurrent of cereal sugars. No sherry that I can detect, even with the power of suggestion.

With Water: Water has no apparent effect on the whisky. You might consider adding a little if it’s too hot for your liking, but know that it will not dilute the smokiness at all.

Overall: Unfortunately without a vertical of Ardbeg in front of me I can’t make a confident assessment, but I think this is much smokier than your typical Ardbeg 10, but with a little bit less dimension. All the talk about “gathering vats” and PX sherry and French oak is a little overstated, I think, when the peat smoke dominates and outweighs everything else. Could there be a little sandalwood from the French oak, or “aniseed, dates and hints of peach” from the PX sherry? Who knows, I can’t smell or taste any of that. FFS, the official tasting notes include “grilled artichokes”. You can’t make this stuff up.

At the end of the day, you’re talking about paying $60 for NAS Ardbeg that is not obviously better than Ardbeg 10 at $45 (here, YMMV), and is demonstrably worse than Ardbeg Corryvreckan at $70. I think the answer is obvious. Go for one of those instead, unless you have a chance to try it beforehand it and it floats your boat. My boat is firmly at anchor and this metaphor is getting away from me, so I’m just going to stop typing now.

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 An Oa
46.6% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $55 - $65
Acquired: (750ml bottle) K&L Wine and Spirits $60

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  • Thanks for your candid review. I’ve resisted buying this one due to its lack of an age statement. In spite of my enjoyment of their Ten, even. Your nose and palate are telling you there’s little more than smoke present which tells me it contains a large proportion of young whisky still clinging heavily to its fresh phenols. Sounds more like a $35-40 rather than a $60 bottle. For perspective, Ten costs about $53 around here (upstate SC).

  • In my first nose of this review I immediately picked up a bevy of bitter notes riding atop the usual pithy insight. After a rest on the webpage, I delved in further, finding those same bitter notes but now with a smoldering undercurrent of cynicism and … is that jadedness?

    I actually like the edge on your review. But for the sake of your emotional well-being, perhaps reviewing newly-released $50-90 NAS single malts from the big distillers is best avoided for the next couple years.

  • Ardbeg 10 is $100 here in Ontario, Canada. An Oa is $125. Lagavulin 16 is $125. I have yet to read a single review that would compel me to buy An Oa. Thanks for taking the bullet on this one. It’s a hard pass from me.

    Side note: Uigeadail is $180 and Corryvreckan is $205 here. I only purchase those when I’m NOT in Ontario. I like both but they aren’t remotely worth that price.

  • Boy, I must say I have a completely different take on this stuff. Apart from the smoke and the undeniably long finish (I agree about those), it’s so gentle and refined that it’s hardly recognizable as an Ardbeg. I did a side-by-side tasting of this and the Ardbeg 10. The 10 is a straight-on punch in the nose; the An Oa is little more than a slight shove to the shoulder. I agree the whole sherry thing is overstated. This isn’t that sherry-like. But it’s got a subtlety the 10 lacks. That’s not to say it’s better, only that it’s different. Ardbeg loyalists might not go for it. I found it an interesting, if over-priced, change of pace.

  • Dear mate,

    I am Pradeep from Melbourne . Your twitter follower.

    I did not like it..

    Its like half baked OOGIE and half baked corry in Ardbeg 10.

    Ardbeg 10 and OOGIE are much better.

    Kind regards,
    Pradeep Rajkumar.
    Preston,VIC- AUS

  • […] Review of Ardbeg An Oa Single-Malt Scotch Whisky | The. – The first addition to the core range of Ardbeg in some significant amount of time that I can’t be bothered to look up: An Oa! Despite the fact that you might sound like you’re mid-stroke trying to pronounce it, the whisky is named after a promontory or “mull” called Oa that protects Ardbeg. […]

  • Reading this now (October 2022) brings a differential line of consideration to it. At my fave local liquor superstore today, An Oa was $45, Wee Beastie $48, 10 was $53, Oogie $90, and Corry $110. Picked up An Oa as I’d yet to try it, and while it seems that they have dialed down the smoke, it’s still relatively muddled in comparison to their other offerings. I happen to love Beastie for what it is, and if I’m going to have burn in a sipping Islay I would lean there. For a more nuanced pour, the extra few $ for 10 is a pretty easy call. As Oogie and Corry are now basically double what the others go for, one really has to love the expressions to to justify the price jump.