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Ardbeg

Ardbeg 10 Year Old (70cl 46%)

€55.22 $63.42 £48.99

Peat

Smoke, barbecue, medicine, farmyard aromas

By far the most polarising of all whisky flavours - and in some ways, that most distinctive of Scotch whisky. Peat is a type of fossil fuel, halfway between soil and coal, which produces a very aromatic smoke as it burns, and is widespread in the Scottish Highlands and islands. It has long been used to dry out malted barley in preparation for making whisky…and the aroma of the smoke lingers throughout the whole distillation process and the subsequent years of maturation.

The resulting flavour is often described as “medicinal” - associated with disinfectants such as TCP, especially by its detractors. Those who enjoy the flavour may be more likely to compare it to the scent of a barbecue, or a welcoming fireplace on a cold winter night.

Peat is almost universally associated with the Islay region - although some Islay whiskies have no peat, while many non-Islay whiskies do. As the flavour derives from the malted barley rather than the cask, it is generally more upfront in younger whiskies than in older expressions, where the cask has had more time to influence the overall style - this is why most Islay whiskies, renowned for their peaty flavours, are bottled at 10 or 12 years with relatively little spirit kept for older ages (Lagavulin is a notable exception). The most notorious of peaty whiskies is probably Laphroaig, while the crown of the “world’s peatiest whisky” is held by Bruichladdich’s Octomore series. At the other end of the scale, those flavours produced by relatively light peating levels are described by the earth flavour tag.

Because of the distinctiveness and the sheer intensity of peaty flavours, they can be difficult to pair with cigars: generally, the fuller-flavoured the cigar, the more likely it is to complement an intensely peaty whisky. In this sense, Bolivar, Partagas and certain Cohibas are safe choices. You may like to experiment a little more and try other cigars that are marked by flavours of leather, pepper or toast, however.

Salt

Brine, seaweed, cured meats, oil, vinegar

Any distillery tour guide will tell you of the importance of the environment for maturing whisky. After all, it takes only a couple of days to distill the spirit, but it will be slumbering in a warehouse for a minimum of three years, and often more like ten or twenty. The local environment is often described as a key factor in the particular flavour profile of any given distillery’s produce. For many, this may have more to do with romanticism than fact: but for those distilleries situated by the coast, it has a very real effect. When the waves of the tide lap against the warehouse walls, as they do at many distilleries from Islay to Orkney, the spirit inside can hardly help but absorb some of that sea air.

This explains the distinctively salty flavour present in many coastal drams. For some, such as Tobermory or Old Pulteney, the salinity forms one of the most immediately recognisable characteristics. For many of the peaty Islay whiskies, it mixes with the smoke to produce a very distinctive seaweed flavour, or notes of smoked ham and cured meat. In each case, it is unmistakeable, and absolutely unique - there is no comparable flavour in the world of wine, beer, cognac, bourbon or any other drink.

Although salty flavours are mostly associated with island whiskies (including but not limited to Islay), they may be found in many mainland distilleries located on the coast. The aforementioned Old Pulteney is one, as is neighbour Clynelish and perhaps Glenglassaugh; the Campbeltown region is also marked by a strong salinity. Some island drams are as notably lacking in salty flavours (e.g. Highland Park) as others are marked by it (Tobermory, Talisker).

The unusual savoury quality of such flavours make them a good counterpart to some of the more spicy or peppery cigars - Por Larrañaga or El Rey del Mundo might be good examples, while Cohiba and Partagas complement the bolder Islay styles very well.

 

Spice

Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, herbs

Aged Scotch whisky is often much softer and easier on the palate than its alcohol strength would imply. So much so, in fact, that sometimes you need something to liven things up a bit. Luckily, a good number of single malts possess lively spicy flavours, some of them in great enough quantities to challenge tequila (naming no names). Others are a little more restrained, but still with the warming tingle of Christmas pudding and mulled wine.

A lengthy maturation, particularly in a large cask (e.g. ex-sherry), generally means more oxygen is allowed into the cask to react with the spirit and develop more complex flavours. These may include spicy flavours - lignin compounds break down over time, releasing more intense spicy notes into the spirit, while the high acidity and relatively low alcohol content of sherry often serve to bring out spicier notes from the cask wood. Clove and cinnamon flavours often derive from eugenols produced via toasting - that is, firing the wood of the casks over a medium heat for anything between 15 to 45 minutes (to be contrasted with charring, where the wood is fired for a very short time over a much hotter flame). Some of the most intense spicy flavours come not from the cask at all, but from the still: a lighter spirit (such as that produced in a tall still) will often have more kick than something more rounded.

Spicy characteristics are generally used to complement other strong flavours, such as dried fruit (e.g. Aberlour) or peat (Ardbeg), but the style is probably best showcased by the expansive and varied Highland region. Highland malts generally eschew excessive subtlety for bold and full flavours, and so often showcase strongly spicy styles. The best examples by far are in the Northern Highlands: Glenmorangie has a light spice that is perhaps better described as herbal; but a small distance to the north, Clynelish and Old Pulteney provide a salty, firey yet still sweet style that prickles all over the palate. Their eastern counterparts, such as Glen Garioch or Glendronach, retain a gingery warmth that it is not so much restorative as elixir.

The strength and spark of such potions pairs very well with similarly lively cigars: Partagas is an obvious match, as is Ramon Allones; but the peppery notes of a Cohiba or Bolivar will also go very well.

Ardbeg 10 Year Old Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky

Enormous, monstrous peat, but with a freshness its competitors can only dream of: there is...read more

Product Info

Ardbeg 10 Year Old Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky

Enormous, monstrous peat, but with a freshness its competitors can only dream of: there is sweet vanilla, lemon and lime, sea salted caramel and smoked fish. For those who worship Islay whisky, this is the altarpiece: it manages an even higher peating level than Laphroaig 10-year-old (in terms of phenol parts-per-million), yet offers far more lightness of body and subtlety of flavour behind its raging bonfire ash: you can smell tree bark, freshly-caught fish, potatoes just dug up from the ground; taste coal tar, white pepper, tequila, spearmint toothpaste; after a moment’s breathing there is the scent of a warm leather sofa, and a dash or two of cocoa has been added to the recipe. It is exceptionally well-balanced, wonderfully complex, and tremendous value. Not for nothing is this is the youngest Scotch whisky to have received Jim Murray’s much-sought-after “World Whisky of the Year” award (in 2008). To think that a 10-year-old can sit alongside the very greatest whiskies of the world and come out on top is almost unbelievable…until you try this. Its subtle balance of savoury peat smoke, peppery spice and light citrus sweetness makes it one of the best single malts in Scotland to pair with food: try it with grilled fish or a seafood platter. For many, Ardbeg 10 is the definitive taste of Islay, perhaps even of Scotland; and if you have a taste for wild, untamed peat, you are likely to come to join them.

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