That whisky geeks suffer from OCD (or maybe enjoy is the better verb here) is well known–we chase after and compare batches of Aberlour A’bunadh, Laphroaig 10 CS, Springbank 12 CS etc. etc.. None of this, however, compares to the mania of the Ardbeg obsessives who, in the absence of helpfully provided batch information on the labels, track bottling codes, parsing them not just for the year of distillation but for the exact bottling run. Clear distinctions between years and narrow periods are claimed by many and there are even some who insist on being able to tell differences between batches bottled at different times in the same year. I sometimes idly wonder if Ardbeg would be quite so popular if they just put all the identifying information on their labels. At any rate, it’s very good for their sales as there’s infinite granularity for the collectors this way–instead of just one Ardbeg 10 you can have an Ardbeg 10 from every year for which a bottle code is available, and instead of just one Ardbeg 10 from that year you can have many. It just goes to show that distilleries don’t really need to stimulate mania among geeks; we manage just fine on our own.
All that said, here I am with Ardbeg 10s from two different years: one released in 2007 and one in 2009. I’m not sure, and not very interested in, when exactly in these years these were bottled. Let’s see if I can tell any meaningful differences between them.
Ardbeg 10, 2007 release (46%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Ashy smoke, a fair bit of lime and expanding phenolic/medicinal notes: gauze bandages, antiseptic lotion (Dettol). Quite coastal/briny too with notes of rotting kelp and shells. Gets sweeter as it goes and a little more minerally. Later there’s a little cream/vanilla. The smoke never lets up though. With a drop or two of water the eucalyptus note that develops late on the palate shows up on the nose.
Palate: Hits with a minerally sweetness with the smoke playing all around the sweetness. Some light citrussy notes as I swallow. Less intensely medicinal than on the nose. On the second sip the phenols seem more intense and there’s now more salt as well. After a while the citrus comes out in front of the sweetness–heavily peated lemons. There’s also an eucalyptus-like note now. With water it’s mellower with the minerally sweetness returning.
Finish: Medium. More phenolic but with the sweetness still around. Gets saltier as it goes.
Nose: All but identical to the 2007 release. The citrus is a little less bright, but I don’t know that I’d really be able to tell them apart at all on the nose if I were doing this blind. And yes, I’m nosing them side by side. Okay, I’ll cover this one and leave it aside for a while. Right, here we are again: nope, no difference really worth noting. What will the story be on the palate?
Palate: Not quite as sweet on the palate on first arrival as the 2007 was and it’s a little more sharply phenolic–but again, I am straining to find significant differences. With a lot more time this gets sweeter too.
Finish: More or less the same here too–maybe a touch sweeter/rounder.
Comments: Okay, I have no idea if anyone says that Ardbeg 10 from 2007 and 2009 are utterly different beasts, but I certainly couldn’t find any differences between them worth getting excited about–with or without water. The 2009 was maybe a little rounder on the nose and finish, but then again I have no idea if that would hold up in an actual blind head to head. The Ardbeg gurus may heap coals on my head for saying this, but it’s effectively the same whisky. The real story here is the skill of the blenders who maintain such a close profile from year to year.
Rating: 86 points for both.
Thanks to Michael K. and Bryan F. for the samples.