Post image for Ardbeg’s Annual Struggle For More Of The Same

Ardbeg’s Annual Struggle For More Of The Same

by Oliver Klimek on March 16, 2016

Spring is around the corner, and Ardbeg has announced the traditional “Flavour of the Year” for Committee members. Needless to say the Dark Cove sold out in just a few hours.

Once more, Ardbeg has delivered a very good whisky. And once more again all those were disappointed who had hoped for something really special. Like any other year it’s simply Ardbeg with a little extra, a special finish, a special vatting or some other wood trick devised by Dr. Bill Lumsden; always very good but never anything too far off the beaten track of “young Ardbeg with a twist”.

Ardbeg’s dilemma is actually a luxury problem They make such an excellent whisky in the first place that it is very difficult to come up with something even better. The core range of Ten, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan offers some of the best value for money among any Scotch single malts. Good batches of the Uigeadail can be sublime and even surpass the 90 points mark in my book, and even the “lowly” Ten can be divine in a good batch. These whiskies have set the bar incredibly high, and so it is no real wonder that the yearly special bottlings can not consistently manage to jump over it.

In the light of this the enormous profiteering of bottle flippers becomes nothing short of ridiculous. It has become almost a tradition that new Ardbeg special releases double in price on the secondary market immediately after release because there are more than enough people out there who can not wait to spend silly money for these bottles. Wiser people stock up on the core expressions, but of course then they will not be able to show off their treasures in the “shelfies” posted on social media. But this just as a side note.

In June it will be 19 years since Ardbeg has restarted production after years of being mothballed. Many had hoped for a resurrection of the 17 year old, and we will likely also wait in vain for a classic 18 year old. Of course this is speculative but it does appear as if the excellent availabilty of the Ardbeg core range is putting a severe strain on the stock. Ardbeg is only a rather small distillery, and I am always surprised where you can find it. Even my local supermarket stocks Ardbeg Ten, and they only have a rather modest single malt selection.

I am tempted to compare Ardbeg to Arran which as we know started from scratch in 1995, only two years before Ardbeg’s resurrection. Despite being even smaller than Ardbeg, Arran has continually expanded its range with older expressions as they became available. Currently the 18 year old marks the top of the product range.

As excellent as young Ardbeg can be, we all know that this whisky ages well. It was the old whisky in particular that was sold after the re-opening of the distillery which, alongside the Trusty Ten, helped to create the massive hype around Ardbeg that we are experiencing today: the single casks from the 1970s, the “Beast”, the 17, the Lord of The Isles.

But the old stocks are gone now, and in hindsight it was a big mistake of LVMH not to install another pair of stills right away after they had bought the distillery along with Glenmorangie in 2004.

So for the time being it looks as if we will continue to see more of the same year after year: younger Ardbeg with or without disclosed age that has undergone some special treatement. Dr. Bill surely is creative enough to have a few more wood shenanigans in the queue. But if “more of the same” will be ultimately enough remains to be seen.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

John March 16, 2016 at 10:13 am

Enjoyed the analysis. Yes, if only they thought more to the future. The only ones enjoying their predicament is the competition.

Reply

MargareteMarie March 16, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Well written. You’ve nailed it on the head, as usual.

Reply

Bertie March 16, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Your claim of “As excellent as young Ardbeg can be, we all know that this whisky ages well.” is both very subjective and variable in its claim. The older 17yo is a great example of how good a slightly older Ardbeg can be, but the ‘Lord of the Isles’ 25yo was a mess and is mostly regardless as not very good spirit. I don’t think that Ardbeg has to be old to be great, I just wish they’d tone down the marketing mumbo a notch.

Reply

raf March 22, 2016 at 2:33 am

Bertie, It’s all subjective. When I first opened a bottle of LOTI,
it was delightful. Not very Ardbeggy, I suppose, but delightful.
I just wish I’d finished it before it had oxidised too much.

Reply

Carlton March 18, 2016 at 2:23 am

A mighty competition exists between Ardbeg and Laphroaig to determine which can produce more new pointless NAS releases. My money is on Laphroaig if only because they can Select from greater stocks around which to spin their marketing Lore. Ardbeg could still show some Alligator tenacity and win the Day, however, by emerging like a Supernova from its new-release Rollercoaster ride as the king of Kildalton marketing fluff in Perpetuum.

Reply

Jeff March 19, 2016 at 10:54 pm

“Pointless NAS releases” is well put – to subject any of this to analysis in the wider context of an industry, and a wide variety of experts, who pretend to just “not know” about the far more fundamental question of whether age matters to whisky or not is like debating how many angels can dance on the head of pin when no one knows what an angel or a pin is. Not that anyone should be going to the trouble of saying that it’s simply impossible for a whisky’s age to matter in one context but not in another based on its labeling just because age DOES matter to whisky (so much for “expertise”) – because, while true, that’s simply “too anti-industry” and ruins the current marketing game – but if “more of the same” is some kind of criticism of “instant collectibles”, it’s certainly also true of all those who pretend NAS makes sense or who just look the other way when they realize it doesn’t.

Reply

kallaskander March 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm

Hi there,

Ardbeg’s problem is the ownership. Glenmorangie’s as well of course.

The only two whisky distilleries in the group have to cater for the luxury market. As an afterthought there is a standard range which does not fit into the luxury model. But it pays the rent in both cases.

LVMH managed to create a luxury niche by “always never the same”. New Glenmorangies and new Ardbegs follow the same paths and are snapped up in no time because of the prestige and the expectations – which they seldom fulfill.
In principle they are all the same young malts with a twist and a conjuring formula numbled over them in dark warehouses to be bottled and packed in bespoke units for the eager masses.

It works.

There is another group with not quite a handfull of distilleries and brands which wants to caters for the luxury market and ruins the brands in the menatime. First one and now the other with the breath of ice giants and other unbelievable folk-lore.

The pictures are almost the same and when I saw the newest Ice Edition I wondered when Edrington will sell out to LVMH.

Greetings
kallaskander

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: