Ardbeg An Oa Review

Recently I received a nice little care package from Ardbeg Australia; a bottle of the classic Ardbeg Ten year old and the brand new Ardbeg An Oa along with a simple request – ‘please host a gathering of five people to enjoy this new release’.

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Unsurprisingly, it was pretty easy to find a whole bunch of people who were more than happy to get together and drink whisky, so that’s exactly what we did. Before we get into that though, a little bit about the whisky itself.

A new addition to the core range

With their annual Ardbeg Day releases and other special bottlings (such as the Committee bottles and the recent Ardbeg Twenty One) you’d be forgiven for thinking Ardbeg’s core range is massive, but it’s actually not. Since the official release of Ardbeg Corryvrecken in 2009, the core range has consisted of just three bottles – the Ten year old, Uigeadail and Corryvrecken, which makes An Oa the first permanent addition to the Ardbeg range in over eight years.

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Named after the Mull of Oa, it joins the latter two in having no age statement and is made up of whisky matured in a range of different cask types including new charred oak, PX sherry and first fill bourbon. These casks are then married together in what Ardbeg are calling a ‘gathering vat’ (sometimes commonly known as a marrying vat or tun), before being bottled with no chill-filtration at a very respectable 46.6% ABV.

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Some will no doubt criticise the enthusiastic marketing and story-telling, whilst others will have a whinge that it carries no age statement, but the only thing I really care about is whether An Oa tastes any good! I’ve always looked forward to new Ardbeg releases and even though I’ve enjoyed some more than others, for me their strike rate is pretty high. I find it hard to fault the value for money equation of their core range offerings, especially when you consider that their prices have hardly changed over the last ten years.

Ardbeg An Oa – The gatherings

So with two fresh bottles in hand I had a great time in joining forces with a couple of good whisky friends including Whisky & Wisdom, Dramnation and Sydney Cocktail Club to really put the new Ardbeg An Oa through its paces.

The first gathering had a group of us tasting the new An Oa against the Ardbeg Ten, which really highlighted the contrast between the two.

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The Ten year old – especially a freshly opened bottle – is a big, fresh and zesty beast. It’s got loads of crisp dry bonfire smoke, almost as if someone has thrown a bunch of firm lemons and citrus onto a blazing hot grill and has charred the crap out of them. There’s nothing shy about it and that’s what makes a freshly opened Ardbeg Ten so much fun! When put up against the Ten, An Oa can best be described as a softer, more subdued, mature offering – but part of me feels as though it’s a bit hard to really get to know it when drinking it alongside the brash Ten year old..

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Still yet to make up my mind on An Oa a second gathering was in order and this time it rather extravagantly involved a harbour-side studio, some deliciously smoky Ardbeg cocktails and more seafood and late night shenanigans than you could poke a stick at!

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As we settled in for the evening – with the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic playing in the background – a round of An Oa was poured and as a group we heartily recited the oath:

“I swear this oathing stone to be true to my untamed spirit. To stand with peat beneath my feet; smoke on my lips; a dog by my side; and Ardbeg in my heart. Slainte!”

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Ardbeg An Oa review

Both nights were loads of fund, though perhaps not the best environments to really get to know the new An Oa, so I’ve since sat down with it a few more times and here’s what I reckon.

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On the nose it’s softer and subdued. Instead of big bonfire and citrus I get lots of oily maritime notes like charred oily fish, herring, prawn heads, caramelised salmon skin and liquorice. There’s smoky earthy weed in there (kelp/ seaweed?), cured meats, citrus and creamy vanilla custard.

On the palate it’s certainly softer on entry where that balance continues; smoked oily sea notes, saline, and pepper, but with a warming hidden sweetness of runny honey and vanilla. You definitely know it’s an Ardbeg on the finish when that dry smouldering ash note appears.

Some final thoughts

The new Ardbeg An Oa unmistakably carries the Ardbeg DNA. To me, it’s the most composed offering in their core range; it’s got the peat, maritime notes, citrus and ash, but it has been put together in a restrained way. I can imagine this appealing to a lot of people, including those who may have previously found some of the other Ardbeg offerings to be a bit too big and brash. It fills a gap that I didn’t know existed and does so in a very classy way.

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The Ardbeg An Oa is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range and can be found on shelves now for a recommended retail price of around $120.

A very special thanks to the team behind Ardbeg Australia for helping us host our own gatherings to celebrate the arrival of An Oa. Check out The Whisky Ledger on Facebook for a full gallery of images from the two gatherings.

Ardbeg Night, Sydney

The back-story to this year’s Ardbeg Day whisky – the Dark Cove – is one of smuggling, mystery and illicit activities. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ardbeg Day event in Sydney was well and truly shrouded in a big cloak of mystery.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

In the lead up to the event I received a ‘save-the-date’ email simply with a date in it. No further details. Nada, zip. A week later, a credit card-sized golden token arrived featuring a number and an RSVP email address on the reverse side. There aren’t too many things in this world I would blindly RSVP to. But a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets James Bond gold card Ardbeg Night invitation? Yeah, that’s certainly one of them!

Boat

At this stage I knew I’d be catching a boat and that I had to be at the wharf for a 4.45pm departure. Beyond that, I had no idea what would be in store.

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Arriving at the wharf, Steve Zissou and I boarded our Wes Anderson-esque pleasure craft bound for the rocky shores of.. somewhere? We braved the chill on the upper deck, keeping an eye out for our destination. A-ha, thar she is! Good ole Goat Island!

Goat Island

Our Ardbeggian warehouse was decked out with back-to-back bars serving a trio of different cocktails prepared by the crack bartenders from The Whisky Room and Stitch Bar.

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All three offerings showcased the Ardbeg 10 year old, but the coconut fat-washed Ardbeg, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple concoction was a highlight for me.

Oysters

An oyster bar, roving waiters with canapés and a few different game stations were positioned around the space. As with previous years, the latter offered punters the chance to win themselves some pretty awesome loot like this Ardbeg Night t-shirt!

Ardbeg T Shirt

Well into the evening a smugglers soundtrack rang out and the caged Ardbeg stash was busted open, revealing the new Ardbeg Dark Cove. Cellarmaster of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Andrew Derbidge, talked us through the dram and with a hearty cheers we got to sample the new general release of the Ardbeg Dark Cove.

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I previewed the Committee Release here and now having sampled the general release I’m genuinely surprised at the difference 8.5% in ABV can make. The Committee Release hits you with that smoky cask strength oomph, whereas the standard release has a finessed balance to it that makes it almost too drinkable. Both delicious in my opinion and one of my favourite modern Ardbeg Day releases.

Ardbeg pouring

Returning to shore we shook off those sea legs and made a bee-line for Stitch Bar, one of Sydney’s official Ardbeg Embassies, where the after party was in full force.

Stitch

Another Rehaboam (4.5 litres) of Dark Cove was behind the bar at Stitch, along with more great cocktails and fun times.

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Another truly epic Ardbeg Day (Night) celebration in Sydney. The crew at Moet Hennessey and EVH PR somehow manage to out-do themselves every year (see here and here). I dare say this was the best one yet! A sincere thanks goes to you both for smuggling me in.

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

Plus Ardbeg Day 2016.. or should we say, Ardbeg Night

It’s that time of year again when Ardbeg start to tantalise us with cryptic clues of their yearly celebration that is Ardbeg Day. Last year they took us to the future. The year before that saw a human foosball tournament and that infamous golden bottle. They’re always bucket loads of fun and the team are promising that this year’s event will be like no other!

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee

Things will be done a little differently in 2016 though. For starters, Ardbeg Day is now Ardbeg Night and to keep it exclusive to true Ardbeg fans, only select Ardbeg Committee Members will be lucky enough to attend. To be in the running to score yourself tickets, you first need to be an Ardbeg Committee member. It’s simple and it’s free, so if you’re not one already, what are you waiting for!? Visit this link and sort yourself out post-haste!

Secondly, you need to purchase yourself a bottle of the new, Ardbeg Committee exclusive Dark Cove, only available through the Moet Hennessey Collection site (hint: you’ll need your Ardbeg Committee details handy to make your purchase). Each bottle purchased up to 17 April will put you in the running for tickets to Ardbeg Night 2016 and the lucky recipients will be notified by 20 April.

If you happen to miss out, or if your hip pocket doesn’t permit a bottle purchase at the moment, fear not! Other events will be held at Ardbeg Embassies nationwide and you can find your nearest embassy here.

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release 55% ABV

This year’s celebratory Ardbeg Day bottling is Dark Cove, which is said to pay homage to the shadowy past of Ardbeg’s coastline. Traditionally, the Ardbeg Day celebrations have been the launch pad for the annual celebratory bottling, with all bottles being well and truly embargoed against early release.

As you’ve probably gathered from the opening though, Committee members have been a bit spoilt this year and can actually purchase the special Ardbeg Committee version of Dark Cove now! That being the case, let’s see how it tastes.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

The second that sample bottle was cracked I had an ear-to-ear smile. Sweet, smoky peat notes waft out of the glass immediately. Campfires, sweet sooty embers and savoury smoked meat served with quince paste and sweet onion jam. There are some caramelised berry notes, but the sherry doesn’t dominate. Nicely integrated.

Sweet, sour, salty and peppery on the palate all at once. It has that drying herbal Ardbeg backbone, but with a certain zesty fruitiness. There’s hay smoke, more aged meat notes but with a drying, crisp smokiness to the finish that lingers for a long time.

Too often these days whisky fans online get a bit too caught up in the numbers game. When any new release comes out the same questions come thick and fast; how old is it? How many bottles were produced? How many bottles are available in our country? etc. I’ll be the first to admit that I too wonder about these things. But the one question that people don’t seem to ask nearly as much is ‘does it taste any good?’. At the end of the day, isn’t that the most important thing? It is to me and the new Dark Cove is a winner in my books. Very, very enjoyable.

Dark Cove Tag

The Dark Cove Ardbeg Committee release (55% ABV) is available exclusively to Committee members through the Moet Hennessey Collection now. The general release of Dark Cove (46.5% ABV) will be available from 28 May at a recommended retail price of $169.

I pounced on a Committee bottle the day it was released and after tasting this sample generously supplied by Ardbeg Australia, I’m so very glad I did. Here’s hoping my full-size bottle comes with a winning ticket to Ardbeg Night 2016!

Ardbeg Day 2015: Sydney

Ardbeg Day in Sydney is always a feast for the senses, so strap yourself in, pour a dram and get ready for a pictorial onslaught. Here’s a little glimpse into how Ardbeg Day 2015 unfolded in Sydney.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Rocking up to the passenger ship cruise terminal at White Bay in Sydney, a small group of keen Ardbeggians – clad in their best tartan – had gathered ahead of the starting time in anticipation. The eager group didn’t have to wait long before passing through the glass doors and approaching the metallic silver curtain we’d been eyeing off from outside.

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Our event was guarded by a duo of intergalactic hostesses and a gang of awesome little space Shorties.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Welcome to the future.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

The future greeted us with cocktails – a berry, rosemary and tonic concoction, or a peach, agave and citrus number – whichever took your fancy. I sampled both (purely for research purposes, of course), but just like last year, the peach + peat combo won hands down in my book. Very moreish stuff.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I soon found some familiar faces, plonked my bag down and surveyed the room. In keeping with the 200th anniversary theme, the vast space was dotted with glimpses into both the past and the future. Anyone who was alive in the 80’s cracked a big smile at the site of this stainless bodied DMC-12 DeLorean, which acted as a photo-booth (of sorts) on the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Release the inner child, pretend your Marty McFly for a few minutes then collect your retro polaroid as a memento.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

How about a quick punt around a circuit on a Segway? A game of space invaders, or perhaps some robodog racing?

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I had a shot and eventually coaxed my little plastic friend over the finish line, which entitled me to a pick from the generous prizes on offer. I scored myself a classy Ardbeg umbrella (perfect as we’re coming into winter here in Sydney), choosing it over what I thought was just an ordinary t-shirt..

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..but ordinary t-shirt it wasn’t, these things were loaded with futuretastic LEDs! Looking past Tron man, I soon noticed a queue forming in front of an interesting little gazebo. Inside, the Ardbeg Haar, a crowd-pleasing contraption that vaporized Ardbeg, allowing you to inhale the peated fog.

Ardbeg Haar

If you needed a short sit down, guests could pull up an egg chairs and have a quiet chat or sit back and contemplate. These things looked like they were straight off the set of Men in Black.

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LVMH ambassador Garth (centre) was on hand, looking sharp as always in his Broadway/ Daft Punk/ welding get-up!

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

DJ Ardbeg Day (I’m quite sure that wasn’t his name..) kept the beats going throughout the day and queued up Sprach Zarathustra to ring in the hero of the day, the new Ardbeg Perpetuum.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Waiters stepped forward out of the mist and Andew Derbidge (of the SMWS) was on hand to do the official introductions. Andrew informed us that Perpetuum is almost like a collection of Ardbeg’s greatest hits. Made up of classic ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, in Andrew’s words, it also contains “a smattering of new French oak casks from Corryvreckan, some un-bottled Alligator casks, a few Manzanila sherry casks from Ardbog, the odd Marsala cask” for good measure.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I’m hesitant to attempt any sort of comprehensive notes myself, as I only tasted the smallest amount on the day. In terms of first impressions though, I found Perpetuum to be a lighter, more summery Ardbeg. Soft peat on the nose, some sweetness and citrus followed, but far punchier on the palate, especially from the peat and smoke point of view (which should keep the peat-heads happy!)

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

As with last year, there was no shortage of good food on offer, with plenty of canapés and small bites.

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As well as a team of chefs cooking up a mother load of mushroom gnocchi

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As the day drew to a close, a complimentary shuttle bus ferried us back across the bridge into town and we had a choice of two points of departure. The train station. Or the after party at Sydney’s Ardbeg Embassy, Stitch Bar. Tough decision indeed..

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Descending the stairs into the train station, it soon became apparent I got off at the wrong stop and was indeed at Stitch. How that happened, we’ll never know.. I found myself in an Ardbeg den, where the party was still going strong and the Ardbeg generously (but responsibly) flowing!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Stitch team were all kitted up, getting into the fun spirit of the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Ardbeg Haar made another appearance, keeping plenty of people entertained at the bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Good mate Wonder & Whisky was on hand to share in a Perpetuum boiler maker

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Before Stitch dynamo, Mattia, cranked out a special Dark Side of the Moon cocktail for me, a science experiment of peach ice cream + Ardbeg Ten + Liquid nitrogen

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Come early evening, I said my farewells but I’m fairly sure the party was going to be cranking well into the night.

Here’s to the next 200 years

Sydney Australia might be some 17,017km from Ardbeg’s home in Islay, but hey, what’s a few kilometres between friends. It’s not going to stop us celebrating with you. Sláinte mhaith Ardbeg, here’s to the next 200 years!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

If you like the look of this and want to be part of the fun next year, head on over to Ardbeg.com, sign up to become a committee member (it’s free!) and you’ll be the first to hear about exclusive Ardbeg events happening in your neck of the woods. They’re really not to be missed!

Ardbeg Day, Sydney

With Ardbeg Day 2015 rolling around in less than a month (May 30th to be exact), I thought it was about time I recapped last year’s festivities in Sydney. Pictures speak a thousand words, so I’ll let them do most of the talking.

Ardbeg Bunting

Sydney’s 2014 Ardbeg Day celebrations were held at The Mint, Sydney CBD’s oldest public building that once operated as a coin producing facility. Walking through the 19th century wrought iron gates, we were greeted by Shortie and his relatives. Pretty sure I’m in the right spot.

Ardbeg Shortie

Two steps further inside. Ah yes, I’m most definitely in the right spot.

Ardbeg Cocktail

I’m not generally a huge fan of whisky cocktails, but there were two variants on offer and one of them was a cracking, moreish concoction of Ardbeg 10 year old, pear nectar and simple syrup with a dash of vanilla and orange bitters to boot. I’m sure it had an official name, but I’m simply going to call it delicious peaty breakfast juice.

Ardbeg Cocktail

We all know what happens when you drink on an empty stomach but thankfully there was no chance of that happening with ample canapés doing the rounds, including dozens and dozens of freshly shucked oysters. If you’ve not yet samples oysters + a drop of peated whisky, take my word for it, it’s a stellar match.

Ardbeg Oysters

Before the day’s festivities even rolled around, we knew 2014’s Ardbeg Day release was called Auriverdes (meaning gold and green). We also knew 2014 happened to be the year the FIFA World Cup was being held in Brazil, so it came as no surprise to find the day heavily soccer themed.

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If you could drag yourself away from the Ardbeg, edible delights & live music, there were a bunch of soccer themed games and activities setup.

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I must admit that I didn’t really pay too much attention until I noticed some mates return with a loot of prizes. Then it was game on!

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I managed to score some Ardbeg coasters, a fob key ring and this neat cardholder – which is rather astonishing considering I have two left feet and zero sporting ability. If there’s a similar setup this year, mark my words, I plan on being a walking Ardbeg merchandiser by the end of the day.

Ardbeg Cardholder

The small Ardbeg-branded foosball table was good fun, but from the moment we first walked in, we all really wanted to see was this one in action. That’s right, a human-sized inflatable foosball table!

Ardbeg Football

Yes, we got to have a go at the end. Yes it was loads of fun. Yes, we all thought we were elite athletes when we were strapped in there. Speaking of which, former Socceroo, Chelsea and Man. United goal-keeper, Mark Bosnich, was on hand to award the winners with their trophy and help officially introduce Auriverdes to the crowd.

Mark Bosnich

And that’s when things really kicked-off!

Ardbeg Day

I don’t think I could ever tire of this sight – enjoyed responsibly, of course.

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Just in case you needed a top-up at all, there was an extra bottle on hand.

Ardbeg Auriverdes Gold

All this sport made many rather hungry, so this was a welcome sight to all. Spit-roast, salads and sides – all generously on the house.

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If you liked the look of this, then you really, really don’t want to miss Ardbeg Day 2015!

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Head on over to Ardbeg.com, register your details, become an Ardbeg Committee Member and be the first to get notified when Ardbeg Day registrations open. See you on the 30th… in the future.

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