I had held off in putting pen to paper on this one for quite some time. A couple of years, in fact. The simple truth is that those reviews for that small select handful of whiskies that are simply stratospherically better than all others out there are much harder to write up. Much harder to express in sentiments that won’t come across as nothing more than gushing praise and salivation.
It’s no small secret that Ardbeg is my favourite distillery, and up until recently, when I was able to taste both 1974s from the Ardbeg Double Barrel release, this 1977 was arguably the greatest Ardbeg I’d yet encountered. That should tell you something as to its inherent quality. This one was a sort of a ‘where do we go from here?’ type thing. Once I’ve laid down the word on this one, I had wondered, is everything else a mere shadow? Maybe something akin to Plato’s forms? Well…here’s hoping not. And I like to think the Double Barrel releases from this Hebridean distillery are proof positive that that perfect dram…that holy grail of malt whisky…is as elusive as ever.
A certain whisky writer once opined in his sermons that 1974 and 1977 were special years for Ardbeg. While I may not agree with everything he says (or even much of it, to be honest) he was dead-on accurate in this case. Those looking for the snarling ferocity of recent Ardbeg cask strength giants need to approach this one with a completely different mindset, or simply look elsewhere. This is no Beastie, nor Supernova, nor ferocious ‘Gator. This is class, elegance and refinement.
Further…this is a sublime example of beautifully aged peat, vibrant fruity notes and almost unfathomably excellent composition. The balance struck here is simply magic.
Nose: Fruit with cream. Bordering on tropical. Melon…maybe peach. Chocolate. Vanilla and old cinnamon. Distant echoes of peat. Grains are noticeable, but sweet and bearing a faint fields-o’-barley nostalgia. There’s a gorgeous mild paint or rubber latex note here that you only find in well-matured casks. Cadbury’s chocolate. Oranges and other sweet orange fruits. Butterscotch. Aged and balanced smoke. Some more citrus.
Palate: Bright, very bright, with an absolutely great mouthfeel. And oh, man…the fruits! A lot of orange, and a mix that borders, again, on tropical. Mild peat and a building wall of smoke. Some smooth chocolate. Lingering and delicious.
ABV does it justice, at a respectable 46%, but man…to have this at cask strength…
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
The problem I’ve seen with write ups of really good whiskies is that the verbiage abandons the sense of proportion which the score hopefully maintains, or at least attempts to impose. Folks go reaching for ever more exotic ways of expressing the quality they find and, when they’re done, I’m sure that they must be talking about something that’s a 98 or 99, yet I hardly ever find it to be so. It’s the average case vs. the exception which proves the rule for me that adjectives simply aren’t to be trusted outside the context of a score. Writers can depart on their descriptive flights of fancy, and some are very good and worth reading, but it’s the scores which keeps things anchored to earth and which provide the frame of reference for comparison.
On another point, however, this review is good evidence that a Golden Age for single malt did exist, but is no longer with us, regardless of the hype about “all the exciting things” the industry is doing (including making you guess about what you’re drinking, even as you pay more for it – excitement abounds!).
Nifty. I was born in 1977. I hope I get to try this some day! I am still mourning the loss of the Beist.
I’m with you in mourning.
Brilliant review. I’ve not had the chance the chance of tasting either the 74 or the 77 but your review is forcing me to do something silly – like buy 2 of them – one to keep and the other to savor…
If only this was still available around here. If you can find it…I would definitely recommend stocking up.
Just received my bottle today in the mail. Excitement abounds in my anticipation of cracking this bottle open as I’ve read so much about it. It pains me to say this but I believe I’ll be keeping this bottle sealed for at least the next four to five years until my palate can truly appreciate it. Until then I pray my self control remains strong.
The longer you wait, the more special the bottle becomes, and you’ll have more excuses not to open it.
point taken. perhaps I should set a date or occasion with which to enjoy this. Unfortunately I have no friends who’re whisky enthusiasts and I would like to enjoy at least part of it with others who would appreciate it. But thats the least of my problems,finding the bottle and convincing myself it was worth the money was the real problem
I would never know when to open something special (and I have several bottles in that situation) if I didn’t set a date. That’s why I bought batches of A’Bunadh that were said to be excellent and decided to open them when my age matched the batch.
I recently came across a Glendronach single cask 17 YO. My brother in law got one and I got one. He opened his and I tried it. It was fabulous. I couldn’t get anymore so I decided this one would be opened for a special occasion. Since it was distilled in ’94, the year I started Medical school, I decided I would open it upon my retirement.
I’d better go through my other bottles and schedule openings, otherwise I may die with them intact…