A kelpie is a mythical sea creature that Scots say can be found in the lochs and bays around the island. It’s also the name of Ardbeg’s latest annual, limited-edition Committee Release, which arrives in general distribution in the coming weeks.
As always, there’s a twist in store for Islay fans: Kelpie is the first expression of Ardbeg matured in Black Sea (Russian) oak casks, an extreme rarity for barrel usage. These Russian oak casks are then married with traditional Ardbeg, which is aged in ex-bourbon barrels.
The smoky-sweet nose of Kelpie belies something unusual and non-traditional that is maddening hard to place. Ripe banana, nougat, and coconut find strange counterpoints in light notes of acetone, petrol, and oxidized white wine. The weird dichotomy continues into the palate, which kicks off with some traditional peatiness before diving headlong into a heavier petrol character that is somehow blended up with notes of sweet cream and Mexican vanilla. The finish showcases a wholly new flavor — coffee grounds — before letting the background radiation of peat smoke and barrel char linger for quite some time.
I’m typically a fan of Ardbeg when it goes “off script,” but Kelpie is so weird that it defies easy categorization and, unfortunately, unbridled enjoyment. While I appreciate how truly unique this whisky has turned out — and figure that different palates may find some of the more unusual flavors enchanting — the Russian oak has really done a number on the underlying malt, rendering it simply a bit too strange for me.