This week we’re dipping into what for many is a difficult and challenging area in the world of whiskey: Islay single malt Scotch. This stuff is not for the faint of heart. But if we’re going to taste an Islay whisky, it should be the award-winning offering from perhaps the peat-iest distillery in the world: the Ardbeg Uigeadail. (It’s pronounced ‘oog-a-dal,’ in case you were wondering.)
Distilled on the western Scottish isle of Islay, the abundant amounts of peat found on the island and in the water, as well as the incorporation of peat in the production process, give these whiskies a smokey and almost medicinal characteristic. Like hopheads in the world of beer, Islays have their devoted fans (Ardbeg boast a worldwide Committee with more than 100,000 members), but they’re not for everyone, either.
If you’re new to Scotch I wouldn’t recommend starting with Ardbeg, or really any whisky from Islay. However, if you’re a fan of Islays and are looking for the good stuff, Ardberg might be the best. And for $75.99 at your local liquor store, it better be.
Color: Dark honey, almost amber in hue.
Aroma: The peat is very understated compared with other Islay Scotch. The smell is a vibrant combination of leather and earth, raisins and other dried fruits.
Taste: While there’s a nice blast of sweetness in the beginning, peat and leather characteristics take over, and this smokey, rich bitterness might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The mouthfeel is light though, hitting the sweet spot between syrupy and watery.
Finish: At first, the heat from the alcohol is dominant, but this fades quickly and is replaced by a nice, gradual warming sensation that makes Ardbeg go down easy.
Overall: Despite the fact that this was hailed as the Best Whisky In The World by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2009, I find myself somewhat torn about what I think about it. Is it the most complex and interesting Scotch I’ve ever tasted? Absolutely. Probably the best Islay I’ve ever tasted. But it all depends on what you look for in your drink. In terms of something you can sit down with, crack open and nurse all night with a group of friends, Ardbeg Uigeadail probably doesn’t fit the bill. To me, its complexity doesn’t lend itself to extended drinking and socialization, which is something that I want in my booze.