Last week I posted reviews of whiskies from three closed distilleries. First the Japanese distillery, Hanyu, then Brora in the Scottish highlands and finally Port Ellen on Islay. Today I have a review of a whisky from a distillery that is still in business, Ardbeg. But in a sense this whisky is also from a distillery that is long gone: the Ardbeg that once made high quality whisky and made it available at reasonable prices. The irony of this statement is that in fact the Corryvreckan may have been the first in the series of concept whiskies that have brought us down to the permanent state of folly in which Ardbeg now resides. Yes, the Uigeadail and the Beist were released before it—and the Uigeadail was already NAS—but those are fairly traditional whiskies. The Corryvreckan, on the other hand, first released widely in 2009—after a “committee release” in 2008—has a lot of virgin French oak casks in the mix (at least this was the talk when it was first released) and is more of a “designer malt”. My first bottle was a 2010 release and I loved it. I haven’t followed it through the years since but it’s remained a highly-rated whisky. Alas, my review will not speak to its current quality as this is a bottle released in 2011. Let’s get to it.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 2011 Release (57.1%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Big phenolic peat and smoke: sweet and lemony rather than inky and tarry. As it sits there’s some ham brine and some cereals to go with the bright carbolic notes. With more time the smoke backs off and the meaty notes are to the fore, along with some vanilla and crushed almonds. A few drops of water push the smoke back further and turn the lemon to citronella.
Palate: As promised by the nose except not as sweet off the top. Very approachable at full strength with a nice, oily texture. On the second sip there’s a bit of a mezcal note (sign of youthful components) but it works here. With more time the smoke gets more tarry. Not much more change with time. With water it’s first sweeter and then there’s a big burst of peppery char.
Finish: Long. The smoke is the story here. Gets more peppery with time. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Ah, this is almost as good as I remember it being. Can’t Ardbeg go back to making whisky like this? Up there with some of the better Lagavulin 12s of the same era.
Rating: 89 points.