On June 3, Ardbeg will release its latest “Ardbeg Day” limited release during the annual Fèis Ìle festival. As usual, the distillery will be celebrating with an oddball special edition: Ardbeg Heavy Vapours.
Why the name? Let’s dive in:
For the first time ever at Ardbeg its whisky has been distilled without a purifier – the apparatus on the still responsible for maintaining Ardbeg’s unrivaled balance between extreme peat and floral fruitiness. This creative experiment by Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, has allowed the heaviest and untamed vapours to rise up the still during the distillation process, before being captured, matured and bottled.
Ardbeg’s Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, commented: “A missing purifier is unprecedented for Ardbeg. This experiment was something I’ve always imagined trying – what would happen to the flavor and character of Ardbeg as we know and love it, by distilling in this unique way? Well, it’s now time for Ardbeg fans to find out; this is a full-blown dram where Ardbeg’s exalted balance has been disrupted in the most fantastic of ways – a truly captivating dram.”
There’s also a fanciful graphic novel about it, if you’re so inclined to read and look at pictures while you drink.
I don’t know enough about the role of the purifier in distillation to predict for myself how the lack of one might impact a finished whisky, but damn if I’m not willing to give it a try. So let’s sally forth. Reviewed here is the standard release at 92 proof. The Committee Release is bottled at 100.4 proof.
Extremely light in color, even for Ardbeg, the whisky looks innocuous enough in the glass. The classic aroma of beach bonfire smoke of Ardbeg wafts immediately from the glass, tempered by light touches of milk chocolate, overripe fruit, and some salted caramel — though these are all difficult to parse in the wake of a moderately intense blast of peat.
The palate does see a more complex complement of flavors coming into focus, including mint, a clearer tropical note — pineapples and some coconut — with plenty of ashy dustiness waiting in the wings. Strangely, all of this works together in a bizarrely compelling fashion, the peat becoming earthy and smoldering, any overt smokiness taking a back seat as fruity sweetness makes a stronger impact. A briny quality offers a surprising level of refreshment on the finish, pairing well with both fruit and lingering smokiness. For my money, this is considerably more classically balanced than the standard Ardbeg bottlings — though what exactly is meant by “balance” in the world of peated Scotch is open for interpretation.
All told, this is a decidedly delicious representation of Ardbeg. I say take that purifier and throw it out, Bill!