Ardbeg 10, 2016 Release


Three relevant whisky reviews in one week: who am I and what have I done with myself?

Like the Old Weller Antique, the Ardbeg 10 is not a special release. Unlike the Old Weller Antique, it’s actually available everywhere whisky is sold. Amid all the shenanigans that Ardbeg have gotten up to since they re-opened, their 10 yo has been the mainstay of their range, Unlike the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan (which came later), there have not been many reports of changes in its character or even of decline. I’ve previously reviewed bottles from 2007 and 2009 and liked them a lot; more to the point, Serge V. gave the 2015 release 89 points. That should bode well, in theory, for this bottle which was released in 2016. By the way, it’s become much easier to read the bottle codes on Ardbeg bottles (see below): I don’t know how the Ardbeg obsessives are coping with the loss of their special codes. 

Ardbeg 10 (46%; 2016 release; from my own bottle)

Nose: Lemon, phenolic smoke, oysters and some vanilla/cream. The sweeter notes build in the glass but so too do the coastal notes (oysters, kelp, brine) and the carbolic/disinfectant notes. Water brings out some sackcloth and cereals.

Oh, you’re no fun anymore.

Palate: The first thing that strikes me is how thin the texture is. Then there’s the vanilla and smoke and lemon from the nose, pretty much in that order of arrival and initial emphasis. Gets sweeter as it goes and, after a while, almost cloying so. With more time it gets more phenolic and the sweet notes recede a bit. With water there’s more of a bite—more lemon but also some mustard. The texture is improved a bit as well.

Finish: Long. The smoke expands again, getting ashier and there’s some white pepper too. Spicier on the finish too with water.

Comments: Sweeter and less phenolic (on the palate) than both the 2007 and 2009 releases. It’s the thin texture that’s the most disappointing part—it seems to emphasize the sweet notes. Even though it improved with water. I’m afraid this very much feels like a decline. However, not having tasted Ardbeg 10s from the intervening years, I can’t say if this is a one-off or a steady decline. Still very pleasurable but it’s no longer the punch in the mouth it used to be. With fewer casks available to become eligible for the 10 yo—given all the NAS nonsense—is this pretty much an inevitability?

Rating: 84 points. (82 if tasting only neat.)

20 thoughts on “Ardbeg 10, 2016 Release

  1. Yeah, this was unexpected. I’ve tasted it a few more times since I took the notes, hoping it would change my mind but no. Have you had a recent release of the 10 yo?

    And sorry to hear that about the Corryvreckan. The original release was a beauty. I have a couple on my shelf that were bottled in 2011—I’m hoping the decline you’ve noted is from well past that year.

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  2. My club drank ten Ardbegs last night, and the current Corryvreckan was my personal favorite. More lively and powerful and fun than anything else on the table, which included most of the special releases from the past six years.

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  3. I recently had a pour from a friend’s A10 from last year that I found very ho hum. Those powerful phenolic typical Ardbeg notes were tamed down considerably. I have a few Corryvreckan headed my way, but these recent reviews of ithave me a tad nervous.

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  4. My open bottle of the 10… was the 10, maybe a little thinner, but certainly no better than it ever was (and fantastic isn’t a word that comes to mind). With all the casks now going to An Oa (premiumizing what must be younger whisky) I can expect the availability of the 10 to decline so… prices must, of course, go up there as well – all in the name of the harmless fun of people not knowing (or indeed caring) what they are paying for and powered by Ardbeg fanboyism. People are in the process of loving this distillery into the shitter.

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    • Mine was thinner and more vanilla-sweet than from half a decade ago. It would not surprise me if this is because the overall Ardbeg profile is skewing in the direction of the young NAS machine. That is to say, it’s probably not just the case that some of the 10 yo stock is moving to premiumize the An Oa etc. as you say, but that the 10 yo itself may be becoming more like an older NAS whisky, if that makes sense. Then again, this was one bottle so maybe not enough foundation for a theory.

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      • Sure, pressures on cask time and quality casks are probably having their effect on the 10 in that both are probably being cut to the bone – I think that this has been happening with Talisker for some time – and this is a separate issue from where current (and future) 10 stock itself goes… except potentially in the current short term, where getting An Oa off to a solid start might have meant using better rather than worse 10 stock (best foot forward and all that). Apparently, Black Sea oak wasn’t the godsend that it might have been for Kelpie and a lot of 10 went in that direction to make it more appealing as well – the difference, of course, being that An Oa will be made on an ongoing basis, not as a special release. Although it has yet to be seen, the upward effect on 10 pricing through sheer attrition from all of this 10 stock redirection is, to me, as unavoidable as it was planned and predetermined.

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        • I expect the prices of the Ten are a deliberate CHOICE made by the marketing team as part of an overall profit maximization strategy, rather than an EFFECT of free-market supply-and-demand pressures on scarce stock.

          Meaning, it’s $50 because they chose that price. They can just as easily choose $75 if they think that will serve them better. They don’t need An Oa’s attrition effect to choose a new price. (Yes, US prices here.)

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          • But prices aren’t just whatever a marketing team chooses them to be (or we’d be paying far more for Ardbeg 10 than we are already) if those prices aren’t supported by adequate demand.

            “Meaning, it’s $50 because they chose that price. They can just as easily choose $75 if they think that will serve them better. They don’t need An Oa’s attrition effect to choose a new price. (Yes, US prices here.)”

            If that’s true, then you’re left with the question as to why you’re not already paying $75 as that would most certainly serve them better. Reduced supply for an established product creates increased consumer competition for that product – if there’s less of it, and it disappears off shelves quicker, it leads suppliers to believe that there would be consumer support for higher pricing. They don’t need An Oa’s attrition effect to choose a new price, but they might need it to see that price supported.

            That will probably happen with the 10 but, in my case, they’ll end up losing a sale rather increase their margin on one – not on principle, but just because I don’t need the 10 that badly at a price higher than I’m paying now. Current pricing on An Oa, an unestablished product, seems to be tapping into current popular opinion that everything new from Ardbeg must be premium/better/vaguely collectible because, although I don’t know about its supply/availability, nobody says its better than the 10 either, so I don’t know why anyone would pay more for it beyond the fact its “new and Ardbeg”.

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          • By the third paragraph I meant “if they can just pick a price, why haven’t they already picked $75?” or “if they think they can dump current supplies at $75, why did they ever ‘pick’ $50?”. Reduced supply for the 10 among its current audience will mean increased competition for what remains, thus what remains will disappear from the shelves that much quicker, which would also lead one to believe that higher pricing might be supported by some segment of that current audience. Now, this could, in fact be wrong, with the great majority of 10 buyers supporting its purchase, but ONLY at current prices. It’s true that another option is artificial scarcity (“we’re only going to make 1,000 bottles of 10 this year, the bidding starts at….”) but then the problem for the producer becomes what do you do with all the whisky that you’re intentionally not selling (and profit you’re not making on it) and can any profit generated from artificial scarcity compensate for that. The problem, however, resolves itself when the scarcity is real – casks diverted from the 10 (presumably at ages 10 and younger) ARE already going to An Oa, a product that already has a higher price, even as “an introductory(?!) expression” – so if people don’t bite on higher pricing for the 10, maybe all that will mean is more diversion (and higher profits) to An Oa or some other Frankenwhisky yet to be named/created/spawned.

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          • Alright, Jeff. You make some good points here about scarcity (natural or manufactured), but allow me to focus us again on a point you made in passing: The An Oa is priced higher than the Ten. Why? ‘Cause that’s the price they picked! They can—and do—pick ANY price for ANYthing.

            I don’t think I’m telling you anything new, and I don’t think this contradicts much or any of what you’re talking about, but it is important to keep in mind as we backseat-drive these distilleries’ marketing operations.

            So back to the Ten, they’ve priced it at $50 because they think that serves them best. Maybe they believe the market just won’t pay $75. Maybe they’re planning a slow price creep over time. Maybe (my guess) they’re using the Ten as a solid, accessible entry point, from which buyers can subsequently “upgrade” to things like Oogie or, god help us, An Oa.

            Point is, whisky isn’t like iron ore, where one producer’s product is the same as the next and pure competition then sets true supply-and-demand—based prices like in Econ 101. Each seller has a degree of monopoly power to set their own prices. (We’re in Econ 202 territory here!)

            By all means, let’s speculate on what a seller like Ardbeg might be doing to convince people to pay the price they set. And maybe your wild theories about manufactured scarcity and inducing BUYER competition at the retail shelf are true. But they seem unlikely to me.

            What seems more likely to me is that Ardbeg just wanted to see if people would pay 133% the price of the Ten for a younger and no-better product.

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        • Let’s see if this makes more sense:

          The 10 yo used to be the entry-level whisky and most of Ardbeg’s aged stock was going into it. So, what they wanted the profile of the 10 to be is what determined their maturation program for that spirit. Now, Ardbeg has so many young NAS whiskies being made to offer profiles not that of the old 10 yo that it is possible that the 10 yo is being made increasingly from spirit leftover from the various NAS programs. If less aggressively peated, more vanilla/oak-driven spirit is going into the An Oa or whatever, then more of that stuff plus a few more years of age may be what’s coming into the new 10 yo’s vattings. As to whether this is true, I don’t know, but this bottle of the 10 yo seemed a little light compared to what I remember it being in a time when Ardbeg was putting out fewer whiskies.

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          • Thanks. I’m starting to follow you a little better now, but let me ask you this: Is your speculation that…

            •Ardbeg is SHIFTING THEIR OVERALL PRODUCTION toward the style of these NAS bottlings and that the Ten, therefore, is also getting pulled toward those styles?

            •Or that these NAS bottlings ARE STEALING the barrels that fit their particular styles and that the Ten, therefore, is made from whatever’s left over?

            Maybe the comprehension problem on my side is that I don’t know what you mean by “lighter.”

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          • The important thing to note is that it’s all speculation.

            Your first option is closer to what I mean. My suspicion is that Ardbeg does not have a large range of maturation programs fit to every new release’s needs. Thus when the 10 yo was what they were focused on they were able to consistently produce a punch-in-the-mouth peated whisky. If the newer whiskies—that were presumably planned for some time—have softer, more oak/vanilla-driven profiles then the maturation regime may have shifted in that direction a while ago. Meaning that the spirit now making it to 10 yo contains more of that profile.

            Of course, the opposite is equally/more likely true: that Ardbeg just makes one dominant ex-bourbon profile and some of that is diverted before the age of 10 to the NAS lines and cask selection is the only other thing that accounts for profile differences.

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      • Coming up with an initial price on a new product, like An Oa, even in the context of other releases, is, sure, a bit of Ardbeg whistling in the dark, as it has to be, but the ability to pick a price doesn’t guarantee sales at that price. I won’t buy An Oa for completely different reasons, but I am curious as to how An Oa sales are going and what the hell folks at Ardbeg were thinking in creating a higher-priced competitor for their own Ten (unless it’s only to create a “price correction” in the Ten as outlined above). That Ardbeg has a monopoly on things Ardbeg goes without saying – and, like Macallan, Ardbeg seems quite content to trade heavily on its own reputation as of late – but it’s still in competition with other single malts so, that’s why, good as it is, the Ten currently commands a price of $50 instead of $75 and it isn’t just a case of picking prices for it. Econ 101 is the prerequisite for Econ 202. But, if there’s less Ten to begin with, consumer competition for the Ten isn’t a theory, much less a wild one – the question is how much of a bath, if any, will Ardbeg have to take as it creates it though attrition. What is the real alternative provided by Ardbeg to participating in such competition – buying An Oa, an arguably worse product at an unarguably higher price. Maybe Ledaig and Laphroaig have better answers.

        Two other points I also find interesting, however:

        “What seems more likely to me is that Ardbeg just wanted to see if people would pay 133% the price of the Ten for a younger and no-better product.”

        I think this is very true. Just what are the limits of Lumsden’s ability to baffle and confuse in terms of sheer profitability? It’s a big question, even in the context of Ardbeg’s storied reputation. Certainly the special releases (expensive as they are and, in most recent cases, not all that much better than the Ten – if at all) have been successful, so An Oa is a continuation of the trend of Kelpie – pay through the nose for you know not what on the basis it’s Ardbeg. The envelope needed to be pushed and Ardbeg, experimental as always, isn’t shy about going where no whisky (except Macallan and the others) has gone before.

        “Maybe (my guess) they’re using the Ten as a solid, accessible entry point, from which buyers can subsequently “upgrade” to things like Oogie or, god help us, An Oa.”

        This, however, will prove to be the key point – will Ardbeg be able to sell anyone on the idea that An Oa is an “upgrade” in the context of relatively cool reviews on this product and on this very question? Will Ardbeg be able to define the new “good”, much less the new “better”, by simply making its products younger and playing with casking? How important CAN that casking be, given that no one wants to leave whisky in casks for any real amount of time anymore and even then not want to talk about how small that time is? Will people wake up to the fact that they’re being given at least two messages on the aging that everyone (in theory) knows is vital to whisky development but that it’s currently fashionable to say they “don’t care about”, mostly because industry reps said it first?

        The answers will be forthcoming in some form, but I think that, positive as they were, many An Oa reviews might have surprised Ardbeg in that they didn’t really endorse the “new and improved” model that the pricing seemed to want to sell. All smoke cleared, reviews seem to leave the impression that An Oa is very much an introductory-level whisky at a very much not introductory-level price… so your move, Ardbeg. When the question becomes “why buy this” offset against the only answer of “because it’s Ardbeg”, you’re using your reputation to generate value rather than the other way around and it can only go so far.

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  5. Coming back to this review to note that at the end of this bottle’s life the texture has improved and the vanilla is less pronounced on the palate. If reviewing from this end of the bottle I would probably have given it another point or two.

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