For a distillery that releases premium whiskies at 24 and even 26 years old, and for which a 10 year old is comparatively young, releasing a 5 year old spirit is a bold move. But Islay’s Ardbeg is so confident of its success, though, that they are adding it to their core range, so I guess they think it’s here to stay.
In Scotland a ‘wee beastie’ is any small and irritating insect, though it can be applied to lots of things. Robert Burns used the term to describe a mouse in one poem: ‘Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie.’ There’s nothing cowering or timorous about Ardbeg’s Wee Beastie, though, at a powerful 94.8 proof. The single malt spirit has spent its short life in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks.
As you might expect, it’s fairly light in color, with a dark straw/honey hue to it. On the nose the immediate impact is one of traditional Islay smokiness, which is strong. After a while, however, a little apple and pear comes through, a slight sweetness, maybe from the oloroso casks, a note of straw, black pepper, and the salty tang of Islay. (The distillery sits right on the coast facing the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish mainland.) There’s a bit of a musty muskiness here too — the beastie, perhaps.
On the palate it’s immediately fiery and potent, with smoke, vanilla sweetness, peaches, and a burnt caramel flavor driven by the bourbon barrels, no doubt. There’s a touch of chocolate in there too, and the Scotch has a luscious mouthfeel. On the finish, the focus is on smoke and saltiness. If it perhaps lacks the depth of flavor that longer maturation brings, it certainly doesn’t lack variety in either aroma or palate. It’s a bold experiment, but it works… and it will be interesting to see if other distillers start looking at their younger spirits and following Ardbeg’s example by putting the age statement right on the bottle.