Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: The Ardbeg Project

Are you an Ardbeg nut? Do you love and obsess over the peat-a-licious Islay distillery? Well, no matter how much you love Ardbeg, chances are you aren't quite as obsessive about it as Tim Puett. Tim is the founder of The Ardbeg Project, the go-to website for Ardnuts (Tim's name for hardcore Ardbeg fans).

Tim's goal on the site, which he started in 2009, is to create "a comprehensive list for all Single Malt Whisky ever produced from the Ardbeg Distillery." The Project is even more detailed than it sounds in that description. Tim not only catalogues each expression of Ardbeg but each bottle code on each expression. For the uninitiated, the bottle code is a 12 digit code stamped or etched on each bottle which shows the year, month, day and time that the bottle was filled. This allows you to compare Ardbeg 10 year olds from different years, different months or even different days. This has created a whole new obsession for Ardbeg lovers who can now track down specific years and dates.

Tim was kind enough to give me some samples of different Ardbeg 10 year olds ranging from 2001 to 2010. I have to say, the differences in these whiskies (all Ardbeg 10, mind you), were vast. Some had young, raw flavors, others tasted mature; the levels and character of the peat flavor differed quite a bit as did the sweetness and nearly every other characteristic. While they were all distinctly Ardbeg and all quite good, I was shocked by the variation.

After tasting through the batch, I followed up with Tim and asked him a few questions. It's not just Ardbeg 10 that shows variations between the codes; the other Ardbeg expressions, including those that are no longer produced, all have codes and can differ from batch to batch. And other distilleries' bottles also have codes which can be used to track batches.

The variety in batches found in Ardbegs probably relates, in part, to the fact that the distillery was closed for much of the 1980s and then again, briefly, in the 1990s. Lacking casks of ten year old whisky, Ardbeg had to use older stocks in its ten year old. My guess is that given that we are now more than ten years into Glenmorangie's ownership and stable stewardship of Ardbeg, we may now see more consistency from batch to batch.

Tim notes that batch variation is always present but is just one more element in the tasting variation that we all experience:

There are so many variables that exist during the whole whisky making process. From distillation, filling, maturing, evaporation, warehousing, vatting, bottling, etc. that it would be virtually impossible to keep them completely identical. Not to mention, each time we taste a whisky, there are even more variables that our own palate and environment bring into the mix. How is our health? What did we just eat? Do we smoke? What type of glass are we using? Do we properly clean the glass? How is the weather? Are we inside or outside? Did we have a bad day at work? Or a good one? I believe all of these factors (even if only slightly) weigh on our sensory perception when we taste a whisky, and now we add in batch variation. It can be a game to pinpoint if the variation is in the whisky or in the drinker. Obviously, when there is a color difference, our mind can convince us that there is a taste difference, whether there actually is one or not. In my opinion, there are batch differences, but I try to keep myself grounded to the likelihood that the problem is usually "between the keyboard and the chair." After all, I'm not a professional, and I am tasting something made by a professional.
For my part, my favorite versions of the ten were the bottle codes L3 316 (bottled November 12, 2003) and L7 143 (bottled May 23, 2007). Tim's favorite of the group is L1 045 (bottled February 14, 2001).

So spend some time with The Ardbeg Project. You may not ever look at a bottle of Ardbeg the same way again.


Ardbeg Project said...

Hey Steve! Thanks for having fun with the different batches. One of the many ways you can have fun tasting whisky.

Now, did you see a difference with the PLOWED Benriach from a freshly opened bottle versus one that was opened for a year?



Anonymous said...


Have you or any of your society members try the Ardbeg Alligator?

Do you know if they will ship some here to the US?


sku said...

Tim, thanks again for the batches. I definitely noticed a big difference in the BenRiachs, and preferred the one that had been open for a year; it seems that the time open softened some o the rough edges. I wasn't blown away by either of them though (you can see my notes on the LAWS site).

Anon, I don't have Alligator in hand yet, but I will. It's dropping as we speak in California, so I would call your local retailer, as I don't know how many we will get.

Anonymous said...

Hi sku,

Do you know which stores in CA? I've been calling everywhere and they don't have it or haven't even heard of it.

sku said...

Anon, K&L announced on their blog that even though they sold out of their initial offering, they will likely see some more. I would also try Hi-Time Wine and Mission Liquors in the SoCal area.

sam k said...

I'm intrigued by Tim's idea that WE are part of the variability of the tase of whisky, and I absolutely agree. Many times I've noticed that the same bottle has the ability to taste different, and sometimes not slightly so, from day to day, and this may explain part of that variability.

I had the Alligator as part of an eight whiskey flight at WhiskyFest Chicago, during a seminar hosted by the eminently qualified, energetic, and charming Rachel Barrie.

I was well into the event itself, and combined with the aforementioned eight dram flight, I recall all of the Ardbegs being excellent, but couldn't tell you now what attributes the 'gator had that the others lacked. Looking forward to tasting it again on a clear head.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sku!!!

US pricing should be $99-$119 according to the Ardbeg Project's site.

Ebay has it at $199 already.

Anonymous said...


I've heard a rumor from 2 reputable stores in LA area that Mission Liquors is under "federal investigation." Is this true or just a nasty rumor?