Oh, man. If only this were a legitimate road to travel. Back in 2010 Ardbeg released what would become – for me, anyway – the poster child for what NAS whisky could be (if it has to exist at all, that is) without the interference of the SWA and the British government enforcers.
Ok, so the bottle doesn’t say 10 or 12 year old, as you can see, but it does have a curious band of dates dancing across the front label and an even curiouser little bar graph on the back label. Hmmm. What have we here? Long and short of it is that before the folks at Ardbeg got their knuckles rapped for disclosure (well…not exactly), they printed up these labels and 15,000 bottles of Rollercoaster hit the open market. And those aforementioned dates and graph? A breakdown of the vintages that went into creating this careening gem of a malt, as well as the percentage of each that made it into the final vatting. These component casks range from 3 to 12 years of age. Now…if Ardbeg had played by the rules this one would have had to have been labeled a 3 year old. Would that sell? Maybe. Probably, actually, but you’ll never convince Big Business of that. Too much of a gamble.
Anyway, Ardbeg gave us the details, were subsequently given the ‘shame on you’ treatment’ and that was the last we saw of what is – in my mind – a brilliant way of selling a marriage of young and old. Of course, the proof is in the puddin’, as they say, and fortunately this is a hell of a sexy malt, proving that there’s nothing wrong with bridging malt gaps; only with the concept of doing it without being held accountable to the consumer (read: the dreaded NAS).
For those of you interested in the actual barrel breakdown…voila!
1997 Cask: 2nd fill – 9.5%
1998 Cask: Refill Hogshead – 12.2%
1999 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 14.2%
2000 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 10.9%
2001 Cask: Refill Barrel – 6.2%
2002 Cask: Refill Barrel – 8.9%
2003 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 11.7%
2004 Cask: 1st Fill Barrel – 10.6%
2005 Cask: 2nd Fill Sherry Butt – 10.4%
2006 Cask: Refill Hogshead – 5.4%
Great whisky that is now a part of malt lore. Much as Balvenie’s Tun series (early days anyway) and Glaser’s recent online info share will be for future generations.
There’s much more we could say about this one, but only so long I expect to be able to hold your interest, so how ’bout some tasting notes now?
Before we do, though, a big cheers to my mate Voytek for allowing the opportunity to try this one. That was an unforgettable night!
Nose: Ashy and redolent of beachside bonfire. Very juicy and sweet, fruit-rich nose. Ardbeggian through and through. Smoke and black licorice. Chocolate. Charred scallops and seared meat. Warm rubber. A sweet and savoury collision. A slight leathery note in the background. Iodine and apples. Tangy…like a good BBQ sauce.
Palate: Yes! Yes! Yes! What an arrival! If only the stocks existed to make this recipe a staple in the core releases. Big tart, green notes. Black licorice meets blackberry jam. A mouthful of strong, strong medicine. Loads of syrupy dark fruits. Loads of smoke. Lime zest, bittersweet chocolate and a hint of coffee.
Thoughts: I expected a bumpier ride, to be honest, but this is a freaking great build.
– Images & Words: Curt