My final entry in this rather random series of posts (and only a couple of weeks after 12th night!) is a 1974 half bottle of Ardbeg 23 Vintage 1974, 23 Years Old, cas nos. 606-609 (43% ABV) from independent bottler Signatory (nowadays owner of Edradour).
I acquired this probably 13 or 14 years ago from the Aladdin’s cave that is J. Wadsworth in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. This was a time when I’d recently discovered Ardbeg and interesting older bottlings – especially from pre-1977 when Ardbeg had its own floor maltings – were becoming scarce.
I don’t know why this was released in half bottles only (not much of it, perhaps?) but I’m thankful it was. I paid about £30 and my budget stretched no further. The fact that there was a similarly-aged full bottle (but different cask) on the shelf at Wadsworth’s that I had to pass up at the same time remains a painful recollection.
But it’s not the only such memory I have related to old Ardbegs. I also failed to acquire (more than once) the 30 year old Very Old Ardbeg distillery bottling from before the Glenmorangie takeover in 1997 and before the cult of Ardbeg really took off. This I could have had for £100, a bargain considering it can now sell for closer to £1,000! And there are others. Ah well.
Nonetheless, I do have a few other members of the Ardbeg clan in my stash, or at least remnants of them. These include:
* Ardbeg 17 Years Old (40% ABV), the first Glenmorangie bottling, acquired from Milroy’s of Soho at release and probably the second full bottle of whisky I acquired as a “serious” whisky drinker.
* Ardbeg 10 Years Old (46% ABV), the first bottling of this now obligatory malt.
* Ardbeg 1990 Airigh Nam Beist (46% ABV), a 16-18 year old malt whose name means “shelter of the beast”. This was bought for me by work colleagues for my 40th birthday in the mistaken belief that I already had a bottle of the super-peated Ardbeg Supernova. I didn’t but this is still immense stuff and was a great choice.
* Signatory Ardbeg Vintage 1991, 8 Years Old, cask no. 616 (60.2%). I think this came from The Vintage House in Old Compton Street, Soho, no doubt in 1999. It’s, shall we say, raw.
I also have a couple of noteworthy Ardbeg miniatures.
* Signatory Ardbeg Vintage 1974, 23 Years Old, cask no. 696 (53%) – from a sister cask to the half bottle.
* Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1975, no age statement (40%).
Finally, I also have a couple of heavily Ardbeg-influenced blended malts:
* Serendipity 12 Year Old (40% ABV), an official bottling apparently created when some young Glen Moray was accidentally mated with a vat of old Ardbeg. Hmmm.
* Cadenhead’s Canongate Reserve Islay Malt Aged 9 Years (51.5% ABV), a 2003 (half) bottling from Cadenhead’s rumoured to be a very old Ardbeg (possibly 30 years plus!) blended with young Caol Ila to bring it back over 40% ABV but also dramatically lowering the age statement. I can only assume there wasn’t any other Ardbeg available to blend it with at the time…
So what do we have here? As with my Cadenhead’s quarter bottle of cask-strength Talisker this is a once-a-year treat at best. To nose, it’s classic Islay: peat, seaweed, lint and maybe a little turps all against a slightly sweet barley background. The peat keeps building on the palate, but it also becomes richer, with heather, a little bitter orange and some restrained fruitcake notes, which expand the whisky’s parameters considerably. It’s big but also rather gentle. And very moreish. It’s just a pity I can’t indulge myself further.
Nowadays there’s an almost endless stream of new Ardbeg expressions, both official and independent, which I can neither mentally or financially keep up with. So I don’t really try. Still I’m happy with my little selection, which should keep me in the spirit of this most elemental of distilleries for some time to come.
Now, time to get on with 2014…