At 46% abv. & non chill-filtered this whisky is supposed to be the peatiest, smokiest and most complex single malt in the world. If I hadn’t tasted or heard about Ardbeg before I would have regarded this as pure bragging. I guess it is still bragging but maybe in a justified kind of way? I mean guys like Jim Murray can’t be wrong. Can they?
If we get a bit nerdy we find out that Ardbeg is far from the most peaty whisky available on the market. As you might know the peating level is expressed as phenols in PPM. The 10 year old Ardbeg contain a phenol level of 52+ PPM whereas the 5 year old Octomore Edition 5.169 of Bruichladdish reach an impressively 169 PPM. Hence there is no question that Octomore claim first place in the smoke category (with at least four different editions). To Ardbeg’s defense the Supernova edition is next in line with 100 PPM. Still you can find Speyside, Campbelltown and Irish whiskies with higher phenol levels than the 10 year old bottling of Ardbeg.
Nonetheless this dram is very close to perfection. While the wide range of smoky flavors develop in my mouth I picture myself standing on a shore with waves coming in with oily remnants entangled in dark brown seaweed. It IS a smokebomb compared to other Islays like Laphroaig which makes perfectly sense given that the most peated Laphroaig (10yo edition) contain 40-43 PPM phenols. It is not all about smoke and peat though. There is a freshness to it emerging as sea salt and different grassy notes. You also find traces of vanilla and citrus vaguely appearing at the end. The finish is short and there is a moderate after-bite which in my opinion is neglectable.
VERDICT: There isn’t anything not to love about this whisky. The finish may be a bit too short but I don’t think this ruins the experience. Is it the most complex dram in the world? I think this is hard to say, especially considering that I have a long way to go before I’ve tasted all the whiskies out there! At this point I will leave this question to the experts.