Let’s close Islay week with another classic, this one from the third of the South Shore distilleries: Ardbeg. I’ve previously reviewed three releases of the once-beloved Uigeadail: the 2007 and the 2011 and 2014 releases (the latter two side-by-side in a blind tasting). As with the Lagavulin 16, there’s been a narrative of decline for the Uigeadail for a while. And it’s true that the rich sherry character of the early releases faded after a while. That said, back in 2015 I quite liked the 2014 release, and liked it more than the 2011. But that was almost a decade ago. This 2020 release will bring us more or less to the present day and might help me decide whether to give in to the voice that has been telling me for some months now that I should really take a flyer on the current Uigeadail and Corryvreckan releases. So far it’s been losing to the more rational voice that reminds me that I still have unopened bottles of both from the early 2010s and should get to those first. But if this one is very good I may have to thumb my nose at rationality yet again.
Ardbeg Uigeadail, 2020 Release (54.2%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Sweet, meaty smoke—think barbecue as much as peat. Saltier on the second and third sniffs and a touch more phenolic. The smoke gets ashier as it sits and there’s some oak under it now. The oak becomes more prominent with more time. Water pushes the oak back and brings out more of the sweeter smoke (pipe tobacco in there too now)
Palate: Comes in with ashy smoke and bitter oak extract leading the way. Tastes a bit hot at 54.2%; decent texture. Gets sharper with each sip (sulphur) and there’s some pencil lead along with the bitter oak. A few drops of water and it’s as on the nose: sweeter, meatier smoke and much less of the bitter oak (and the sulphur).
Finish: Long. Dominated here too by ashy smoke and cigarette ash and bitter oak extract in the early going. And in the middle going too. Let’s see if water fixes any of that. Not as much as on the nose and palate. It’s saltier now here but the bitter oak comes back at the very end.
Comments: This started out well on the first sniff but then things didn’t go so well, especially on the palate. It tastes like there’s a lot of over-active oak (and probably aggressively charred) casks in here and that many of them held young whisky. Water brings some improvement but this still remains in disappointment territory. Which is not to say it’s not drinkable. Okay, I no longer need to buy a bottle of current Uigeadail.
Rating: 81 points. (Pulled up by water.)