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.