Ardbeg Twenty One Review

Ardbeg Twenty Oneimg_3773

46% abv

Score:  92/100


We weren’t in the distillery doors 5 minutes before Ardbeg’s most amazing asset (yes, even moreso than the whiskies), the one and only Jackie Thomson, had poured our little crew of gents a round of the new Ardbeg Twenty One.  Generosity, of course, but also a telling amount of pride, I think.  It simply has to be a genuine pleasure coming in to work each day with the ability to share so much magic with so many.

I have more to say about Jackie, but that will be for another post.  I also have more to say about this particular distillery day, but again…let’s save it.  For now…the Twenty One.

For those that know their Ardbeg, I’m sure just the age declaration is enough to get the saliva flowing.  Not only is it the most mature standard(ish) release since Airigh Nam Beist, but being 21 years old would mean this was pre-Glenmorangie distillate.  Mid-1990s, if you do the math.  Just prior to Allied shutting ‘er down, selling the farm and the new owners pouring buckets of paint, capital and love into getting it all back up and running.  In simplest terms, this is malt of another age.  A time before the boom.  I have my own theories about why whisky from this age (and earlier) was better, but that is discussion for another day, ere this post ends up in essay territory.  Suffice to say, whisky today is different from those bygone barrels.

Now…2016 and finally a new age-stated Ardbeg.  I wish I could say that the sky high price tag was unwarranted or that the hype and hyperbole surrounding this one were unjustified, but the simple fact of the matter is I’d be lying.  This is Ardbeg at the top of its game.  The peat knuckles under in favour of softer, fruitier notes.  The smoke is omnipresent, but never overwhelming.  The subtleties and nuances will have your nose dipping to the glass time and again.  And the unbelievable sweetness will likely make any Ardbeg aficionado mourn a lost age.  To be honest, I adore this dram.  I’ve drunk it on three occasions now and liked it more each time.

Allocation is small and price is high, but don’t miss your chance to try if opportunity arises.  Liquid history.

Nose:  Very Ardbeg, right off.  Orange and melon.  Maybe even a touch of tangerine.  The fruitiest Ardbeg in a loooooong time.  Almost tropical.  A faint touch of leather.  Soft vanillins.  A few minutes in the glass allows a plethora of estery notes to rise; huge sweet fruits and candies.  A slight doughiness (or glue-iness?).  Smells of soft oils and a beautiful balance of freshness and old mature malt.  Love it.

Palate:  Some smoke leads, but it tangs up with some great orange-y fruit notes almost immediately.  Citrus pith.  Lemon and lime.  Green apple.  Rubber and ash and all that Ardbeggian stuff.  Tastes of char.  And some of that pastry/dough-ness about it.  Some licorice and dry tea at the back end.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous nose.  The palate is not quite as spectacular, but still a magic dram.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

3 thoughts on “Ardbeg Twenty One Review

  1. Ol' Jas

    Curt, did you ever do an essay on why you think whisky from earlier ages is better?

    The usual suspects I see on this topic are things like barley strains chosen for yield instead of flavor, loss of direct-firing, loss of true sherry casks, and fancy modern wood. Would those be your themes too?

    I’ve had very little “that-old” whisky (and maybe NONE that came from an outfit doing all those things “the old way”—unless modern Springbank still counts), so I’m personally just listening to opinions on this score. Has anyone done blind side-by-sides with comparable “old” and “modern” whisky to verify that there are differences? Have you done that for multiple distilleries? If so, are there differences that are common among distilleries?

    1. ATW Post author

      Huge question. Couldn’t possibly answer it all here. It would, as you say, require an essay.

      I have tried an awful lot of old whisky. I know it’s better because my senses tell me. Rationalizing why would come down to my belief (and as you suggest) that many of the inconsistencies from early days have been removed from the equation. Those x-factors were probably where a lot of the magic happened. Literally all of those you mentioned. Possibly toss in worm tubs and various maltings (saladin, floor, etc). Most importantly though…whisky was in much less demand. That meant warehouses that boasted casks of all sorts of ages. I have spoken with many industry people that have confirmed that many earlier releases were built on whiskies older than the number on the label. At one point that age reflected the youngest component malt, not necessarily all of the malt within.

      And yes, as regards head to heads. Just as an example, my whisky club (the Dram Initiative) here in Calgary did Springbank a couple years ago. Matched the old 21 against the new. And the old 25 against the new. Not even close.

      1. Ol' Jas

        On the Springbank 21, are you talking about the 2005 v. the 2013? Are those two really that far apart, chronologically, to represent different eras?


        If you’re ever looking for essay ideas, I suggest this “old-fashioned whisky was better” topic be on the list. And if you do it one day, I further suggest that you cordon off “older whiskies were mixed into the younger age-stated batches” point because that’s a really a matter of final cask selection, rather than the intrinsic quality of the spirit produced. Put another way, it’s really something that any producer could also do today without changing their underlying “old v. new” production methods to make (say) their “15-year-old” be awesome. (See Glendronach.) All that other stuff, like the worm tubs and direct firing and so on, is the really interesting part, in my opinion.

        And because I assume you’d like to know what your audience is interested in 🙂 , I’ll add it’d be doubly sweet to see opinions on each “x-factor” exemplified with an “old v. new whisky comparison.” With the availability of sample swaps, I bet it’d be within reach for the more intrepid of us readers to track down the exact whiskies you cite to see the differences ourselves.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s