Continuing an unplanned mini-run of discontinued Islays in their late teens, here is the Ardbeg 17, which was, I believe, the first release from the distillery after it was purchased by the Glenmorangie group in 1997. It was discontinued in 2004. I got this miniature in an unlikely swap. A fellow whisky geek offered it in exchange for the tin of a Port Charlotte PC9. I was only too glad to take him up on it. I can’t be bothered to squint for the bottling code, but this is a 43% bottling for the US market and as per the Ardbeg Project there was only one release of the 50 ml miniature in the US and that was in 2000 (well before I’d ever heard of Ardbeg). I’m not sure how much production was happening right before the 1983 closure of the distillery (it reopened in 1989)–it’s possible that this is from even older distillate. It is certainly the case that those who bought the 17 yo released in 2004 were getting much older whisky.
Anyway, I’m very excited to taste this–let’s get started!
Ardbeg 17 (43%; from a miniature bottle)
Nose: Very mellow, with stony sweetness (clean, wet stones) and vanilla and a briny coastal air. Just the faintest hint of smoke. No phenols to speak of. Gets a little buttery with time, and then a phenolic note does begin to emerge along with a bit of lemon and then some apple. Gets brinier (and even a little sweaty) as it sits and also peatier and more acidic. With a drop of water the lemon gets more musky and melds with the apple.
Palate: Sweet arrival but then here’s the smoke–ashy and dry; still not terribly phenolic. Very nice texture for 43%. Smokier still on the second sip and the smoke mingles nicely now with the stony sweetness. Not much acid on the palate. With a lot more time and air the acid begins to emerge on the palate too but it’s less obviously fruity here. And the smoke is now less ashy and more reminiscent of coals in a cast iron stove (not that I’ve licked very many). With even more time the acid is clearly lemon and there’s an earthy/milk chocolatey note too. With water the earthy notes recede but now there’s very bright lemon with tingling sweetness and ashy smoke.
Finish: Medium-long. Quite ashy. Water keeps the lemon going longer on the finish.
Comments: Remarkable how much more smoky this is on the palate than on the nose, where it seems almost unpeated. I wonder what this would have been like at the 46% that became standard with the Glenmorangie releases later in the decade, but, as it is, this is very drinkable and pleasurable, and it really rewards patience (and I wish I’d added water earlier). Still, unless you’re a late-blossoming Ardbeg fanatic with money to burn I don’t think there’s any reason to pay the hundred of pounds being asked now for the few remaining bottles (originally this was £40 or less, I think).
And reading my notes for the Caol Ila 18 (the review was posted yesterday but the notes were taken more than a week ago) I see that they’re quite similar. However, I liked this one more. I wish I’d tasted them side by side so I could have articulated the differences. As it is, it is probably not clear why I’m giving this a higher score. The development is more interesting here and there’s greater balance, with more mellow smoke and less vanilla than in the Caol Ila 18.
Rating: 88 points.
With a NAS Kildalton rumored, I looked up reviews of the 1980 Kildaton, which I never had, and I saw this in Jim Murray’s 2009 Bible:
While reviewing the 1980 Kildalton he writes, “Many years back, when I helped get Ardbeg back on the road, I selected certain years as vintages and created the 17 year old by using this unpeated version at its heart, with some overly old but highly peaked casks to ensure the Ardbeg style flourished and equilibrium was maintained.” (Murray page 32)
Anyway, I had never heard that about the 17yr..
you probably should try to get hold of the old Ardbeg 10yo 46% that was sold before the cask strength 10yo Rennaisance arrived which heralded the new 10yo Ardbeg under LVNH regime.
That old version was much older than 10yo as well… and could well have been the 46% version of the 17yo you have been asking for.
It was no secret that this old Ardbeg 10yo was much older at its core than 10 years. So if older stock was used to hold the signature 10yo in the market, the 17yo probaly had to go because of overalllimited stocks.
Anyway, the old version 10yo with “non chill-filtered” written onto the label in black letters in an oval field was a much nicer and more ardbegian Ardbeg than the modern one which is composed solely of whisky exactly 10 years old.
A parallel of this older 10yo with the 17yo would most probably be revealing.
That older Ardbeg 10 does sound very good–alas, I’m not likely to have a chance to taste it (or this 17 yo again). I’m not likely to pay auction prices.
Patrick, that’s interesting about the relationship between the 1980 Kildalton and the 17 yo. I confess, I don’t really keep up with Jim Murray–what exactly was his role with Ardbeg?
FYI, I’ve no clue about Murray’s role with Ardbeg.
there have been rumours about a role as consultant.
This wikikpedia (always with a grain of salt) entry is telling in the last paragraph.
Hard facts seem to hard to find. But it would explain critisism in him pushing Ardbeg so high in his Whisky Bilble all the time. Some critics referred to Mr Murray having been on the payroll of – must have been Glenorangie then.