Here is the last stop on my little tour of Islay this month. I started at Caol Ila a week ago, Friday and then moved on to Bowmore last Monday. After that I cut across to the south shore, stopping first at Laphroaig and then at Lagavulin. Today I go another mile up the road, to Ardbeg. (My apologies, by the way, to Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich—I will try my best to get to them next month in another whistle-stop tour of Islay.)
As with all the other whiskies from this tour, this is an indie bottling. It was released by Chieftain’s in 2011. For reasons I cannot explain it has taken me till 2020 to get around to opening it. But better late than never, to coin a phrase. I opened this bottle in early October. I was fully expecting to be underwhelmed: a single cask bottled at 46% by one of the lesser indies. But, as you will see, I was more than whelmed.
Ardbeg 12, 1998 (46%; Chieftain’s; cask 1040; from my own bottle)
Nose: Big phenolic smoke—bright and carbolic rather than inky, mixed in with lemon and ham brine. A little sweeter after a minute or two and a little ashier. As it sits the full complement of coastal notes emerges: seashells, oyster liquor, kelp, uni—all laced with that clean, clear smoke. With a few drops of water the smoke picks up the char here as well and the whole gets a bit mentholated.
Palate: Comes in as on the nose with lemon and big phenolic smoke, but it’s got a bit of char mixed into it here. Meaty here too and then sweeter as I swallow. Very nice texture and a perfect drinking strength. Thins out a little as it sits with a leafy quality entering the smoke and the sweetness moves from the coastal complex towards vanilla. With more time still the char expands, becomes more woody and picks up some pepper as well. Okay, let’s add some water. Water pushes back the vanilla, makes the char expand at first and then a big phenolic wave rises up from under it again.
Finish: Long. The smoke takes a while to fade out, leaving an ashy residue as it goes. Develops as on the palate. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is rather nice. It is the kind of whisky it would be easy to overrate now—given the dross regularly put out by the distillery—but what it is is solid, bourbon cask whisky, solidly in the vein of the workhorse 10 yo. Or at least the 10 yo as it used to be—is it still as good? Let me know if you’ve had a recent release.
Rating: 87 points