In which I start the month with a timely’ish review. The foolishly named Ardbeg Grooves is this year’s entry in Ardbeg’s annual exercise in folly. The regular release comes out on Ardbeg Day, otherwise known as June 2; this higher strength release came out a few weeks ago to whet the appetite of those who cannot get enough of Ardbeg and their folly. Despite being a fool myself, I’ve skipped these shenanigans entirely in recent years; and eventual reviews of their recent annual releases have not made me feel foolish about having done so. However, this year when the opportunity arose to taste the latest “Committee Release” via a bottle split, I decided to go for it. For some reason I thought I’d read very positive reviews of it—though I have not subsequently been able to track down what it is I’d thought I’d read. This whisky apparently contains some significant fraction of spirit matured in ex-red wine casks. The press materials tell me that these casks were charred extensively, producing grooves in them; evidently, Ardbeg’s proprietary cask charring system allows them to produce effects that fit with whatever silly concept they’ve hit on for the year (see also the Alligator). Also, Ardbeg was groovy in the 1960s and whatnot (yes, this is actually part of their sell).
Ardbeg Grooves, Committee Release (51.6%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Not terribly smoky or phenolic off the top; there’s some lemon, quite a bit of brine, some olives and also a not-entirely pleasant sourness. Gets more phenolic as it sits and there’s some cologne-like notes I often get from red wine-finished whisky. Some vanilla on the nose after a few minutes. Rounder with water and the cologne is gone along with most of the sourness.
Palate: Leafy, vegetal smoke on the first sip and a truckload of salt right after that along with other coastal notes. That sharp note from the nose appears as I swallow. The sharpness and saltiness don’t back off with time and nothing else shows up to compensate for it. Let’s see what water does. It pushes back the sharper notes but the salt is still here. Nothing else of interest to report.
Finish: Long. Sharp and salty and then smoky. As on the palate with water; the smoke gets drier.
Comments: This is decent enough—though I’m not a big fan of the sharp stuff on the palate and finish—but there’s no way I’m paying the asking price for a full bottle (it’s still available in the wild). Your mileage may vary. My experience suggests that the lower-strength regular release to be released in a few months will likely be better—but it would have to be half the price for me to consider purchasing it.
Rating: 83 points.
(And thanks to Andrew for quelling the brief moment of frenzy in which I almost purchased a bottle without waiting a couple of days to try this sample!)