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.