This is not a very timely review. The Alligator was Ardbeg‘s special release a couple of years ago and is very much day-before-yesterday’s news, having been displaced first by the Ardbeg Day release, and then by the controversial Galileo—and we’re less than two months away from the 2013 special release. Ardbeg, if you don’t know, currently has three whiskies in their regular lineup—the Ardbeg 10, the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan—and, in addition, release, with a great deal of fanfare (or nonsense, if you prefer) one or two special bottlings every year. These releases are usually experimental in some way. Last year’s Galileo caused a great deal of underpants twisting among a large segment of whisky geeks. This was on account of it being a vatting of bourbon cask matured Ardbeg (so far, so good) with some marsala cask matured Ardbeg (apparently, worse than genocide, if you go by the outcry in some quarters). To my mind, the objections were largely religious in nature, coming from those who object to wine casks on principle, even if they might not in practice be able to tell a vatting containing marsala cask matured whisky from one containing unobjectionable sherry cask matured whisky. I said as much on a prominent whisky forum and this led to a whisky blogger, who doesn’t seem to have matured at all, calling me an “arsole”, which is accurate but not good spelling.
Anyway, I don’t know why I am talking about the Galileo when I am in fact reviewing the Alligator. The Alligator’s gimmick—which did not, as far as I can remember, lead to mobs advancing on Islay with pitchforks—was that a portion of the vatting was matured in highly charred bourbon casks. (All casks to be used for bourbon have to be charred by law, but an alligator char is a particularly high char.) As charring releases vanillin etc. from oak this was expected to be a somewhat unusual Ardbeg.
On to my notes!
Nose: Tar, brine, rotting kelp, ripe green olives—all with a mild sweet coating; then some charcoal smoke emerges along with some delicate floral perfume. A lovely nose. With a few drops of water the brine recedes somewhat as does the sweetness. Sour but not unpleasant smoke; a few minutes in, salty notes return with a vengeance along with a minerally note (almost like a very dry sauvignon blanc). Salt intensifies as it sits. After 10 minutes or more the salt recedes and the nose settles down.
Palate: Tarry bitterness at first, quickly giving way to sweet then sharp smoke; ink; bacon drippings; with water, as before but with increased salt.
Finish: Long and salty well after the smoke is gone, and gets even saltier with water.
Comments: The nose was my favourite aspect of this whisky, but I thought it was quite good on the whole; though not the epochal whisky the hype might have led you to believe it was. It’s still available if you didn’t get a chance to try it when it was first released (which is also a reminder that you don’t need to chase every “event” whisky as soon as it is released; not in the US anyway; I bought two bottles right at release time and now rather wish I’d bought another Corryvreckan instead of the second). A very nice whisky for a cold, winter night, which, thanks to this April snow, tonight is.
Rating: 86 points.