Since I started the week with Ardbeg. I might as well end it with Ardbeg too. This is from a sherry cask and was also bottled by Malts of Scotland for van Zuylen’s Dunes An Oir series. Given how rare indie Ardbegs of any kind are, leave alone from sherry casks, and given how manic the market for Ardbeg usually is, you might expect this to have to sold out double-quick. But as of my writing this is still available. Have the distillery’s own annual shenanigans finally begun to puncture some of its mystique? Probably not, but one can hope. Still, you’d think whisky geeks tired of NAS Ardbeg with tall tales and funny names attached might be attracted anyway to a 17 yo at cask strength from a bespoke bottler. No, I’m not trying to give you the hard sell on behalf of the retailer; just trying to wrap my head around the vagaries of the whisky market.
Anyway, let’s see what this is like.
Ardbeg 17, 1998 (58.9%; Malts of Scotland sherry hogshead #15035 for van Zuylen; from a purchased sample)
Nose: Sharp leafy smoke, quite organic. A lot of salt and lime emerge pretty quickly along with a bit of green olive brine. More phenolic too with time and a bit sweeter with some oyster liquor/sea shells. A few drops of water turns the smoke drier still and knocks back the salt and brine some.
Palate: Sweeter smoke to lead on the palate with the salt right behind. That organic quality is here too, just more muted. The citrus expands on the second sip—lime here too—and the smoke begins to get drier. Very nice mouthfeel. With more time a malty sweetness appears as well. Gets sweeter and more phenolic as it goes and there’s a hint of gasoline too now. Water really emphasizes the lime and drops a lot of salt crystals into it; faint notes of agave as well (or, more likely, my brain is making the margarita association); more depth now too.
Finish: Long. Expanding smoke with chilli pepper and citrus (lime) along with the salt. The smoke gets ashier and then the malty sweetness returns. Sweet smoke with water and the finish goes on far longer with some pipe tobacco showing up late.
Comments: The sherry’s impact seems to be mostly in the leafy quality on the nose (which actually put me in mind of sherried Ledaig). You might expect more from a smaller sherry cask but the colour suggests that this was probably either a refill cask or not very active or both. Anyway, this is very nice but I don’t know that I would pay the price—which, to be fair, is not out of whack with the current market for Ardbeg. In fact, it’s probably a pretty good price, relatively speaking, when you consider what retailers/indie bottlers are asking for Laphroaigs of similar age/profile. If you get one, I’d not hold back on the water.
Rating: 88 points.