Day 14 of the 2019 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar – Ardbeg An Oa

by Evan

Friday the 13th is over and now we are onto Saturday. Only 10 days ’til Christmas… Eve. If you open door number 14 on your KWM Whisky Calendar, you will see we are heading from France to Islay with today’s mini – the Ardbeg An Oa.

What to say about Ardbeg? I love all Islay whisky and I do enjoy Ardbeg as well, but I am possibly underwhelming in my relative pragmatism for the distillery. Compared to the childlike enthusiasm for it that Andrew exhibits or the downright religious fervour Curt expresses for Ardbeg, I may come across as a wet blanket.

Of the three of us, I am the least qualified to extol the virtues of this distillery. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy Ardbeg and its bottlings – especially its core range of the 10-Year-Old, Uigeadail and Corryvrecken. I just don’t get as hyped up for the special releases. To hear Curt talk about them, you would think that special releases from this distillery were on the same level as a Ledaig or Loch Lomond. Preposterous, I say.

Now, excuse me while I remove my tongue from my cheek. There we go!

Curt, giving the daily Ardbeggian sermon.

Ardbeg was founded in 1815. It is located on the coast of Islay, makes heavily peated Single Malt Scotch and is within walking distance of Lagavulin Distillery.

Forgive me for being trite. What can I say about Ardbeg that has not already been said? If you need more information on the distillery, check out the 2020 edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook. Or just come into the shop and talk to Curt – just a few minutes ago I heard him recite the entire history of Ardbeg. Parts were in Seussian rhyming couplets, others were downright biblical in verse. It was a powerful moment. Here is part of his oration that I was able to remember and quickly write down:

“…Duncan MacDougall begat John MacDougall, who in turn begat Alexander MacDougall, who died and bequeathed the distillery to sisters Margaret and Flora MacDougall. There, the MacDougall Clan’s reign over Ardbeg ended with the passing of the sisters, and was taken up by Colin Hay…”

As I said earlier, Ardbeg has four bottlings in their core range. Beyond that, they typically create one or two special releases each year. One of these is their Ardbeg Day bottling, which typically focuses on a different cask finish. For 2019, we had Ardbeg Drum, with which Ardbeg whisky was finished in ex-rum casks. We also saw very small amounts of the Ardbeg Traigh Bhan, which is a limited release 19 Year Old that the distillery plans to do a small run of each year.

For me though, the best of Ardbeg is that core range. Ardbeg 10 Year Old is possibly the best regular release 10-Year-Old from any distillery on the island. Ardbeg Uigeadail amps up the ABV and sees ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks married together to create a robust and flavourful whisky. Corryvrecken was the third in the main line to be released, and is a combination of ex-Bourbon and French oak casks married together and bottled at cask strength.

Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced An-Oh) is the most recent addition to the core line, having been released for the first time in 2017. The whisky is married and produced in Gathering Vats where whiskies from several cask types – including; sweet Pedro Ximenez; spicy virgin charred oak; and intense ex-bourbon casks, amongst others – familiarise themselves with each other.

So, An Oa is part of the core range, but how does it stand up to the other three? Those are some big shoes to fill, so let’s see how it sizes up!

Ardbeg An Oa – 46.6% ABV

“An Oa” is named for Islay’s wild Mull of Oa on the south-west coast. The prominent headland offers the Kildalton coast a bit of shelter from the tempestuous North Atlantic. The area was in centuries past the scene of much illicit distilling. The whisky is the first new core release in the Ardbeg range for close to a decade. Crafted to offer a more approachable take on Ardbeg whisky, the spirit was matured in a mix of PX Sherry, Virgin Oak and Ex-Bourbon casks. The mix was then rested in the distillery’s massive Gathering Vats’.

Evan’s Tasting Note

Nose: Salt, brine, and a squeeze of lemon and lime. Hickory sticks and char notes, pork rinds, a touch of pungent truffle oil, dried seaweed, light roast drip coffee, peppercorns and apple skins.

Palate: Creamy and ashy with salt and oiliness on the tongue showing fresh cut pineapple, honeydew melon, apple skins again, cracked peppercorns, chili lime seasoning, dark chocolate, espresso, and black tea.

Finish: Creamy and ashy all the way through, with salt, pepper, and honeydew melon on the fade.

Comment: The An Oa was created in part to be a lighter, more approachable release within the core range, and with the creamy style I feel it does this well. It may not be the bottle I always reach for (for me, that would typically be Uigeadail), but it is a very good whisky and gives many a jumping-on point to land in or another expression of Ardbeg to dive in to.

Day fourteen is now in the books marking the end of week two in the 2019 KWM Whisky Calendar. What will tomorrow and the beginning of week three bring us? Stay tuned!

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*The Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar is produced under license from Secret Spirits, Scotch Whisky Advent Calendarâ„¢
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