Earlier this year, the famous Islay distillery Ardbeg announced a new addition to its core range with the Ardbeg Wee Beastie. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened around the launch. That and a surprising launch calendar. Some European countries (Germany and Netherlands) got it first back in March, while it only arrived a week ago in the UK. And for my great sadness, it is still unavailable in France except for a few eligible cocktail bars. Not even my usual whisky bar is eligible (they’ve confirmed me that earlier this week). Why this surprising way (to stay polite) of getting a new release out to the hordes of peated whisky fans? Beats me. But since it’s the first official Ardbeg releases we’re reviewing here (we’ve reviewed a couple SMWS), as usual, let’s introduce the distillery first. After that, we’ll do an Ardbeg Wee Beastie vs Ten review.
The first record of a distillery at Ardbeg goes back to 1794. It was then founded by Alexander Stewart at that time. However, this was not the Ardbeg distillery we know. John MacDougall founded the current distillery in 1815. He was the son on Duncan MacDougall, who was a licensee of Ardbeg for more than 15 years. Fast forward almost 40 years, and in 1853 Colin Hay took over the licence after John MacDougall son and daughters had passed away, after having assisted them run the distillery.
During the second half of the 1910s and the 1920s, the blended market took a hit due to war and depression. Ardbeg’s situation was tough, but the Hay family worked hard to restore the profitability of the distillery. However, the involvement of the Hay family ended when the Lawson family took over. In 1959 DCL and Canada’s Hiram Walker took minority stakes, though significant, with the founding of Ardbeg Distillery Ltd. Twenty years later, Hiram Walker took full control of the distillery in 1979 by buying out DCL’s 50% share for £300,000 and all other stakeholders shares at the same time. Nevertheless, in the late 70s blends were once again on a low tide. Smoky malts demand had dropped, and to compensate, Ardbeg began to produce unpeated make, named Kildalton.
In 1981, the distillery was mothballed like many other distilleries in the early 80s. It restarted intermittently in 1989, helped by the neighbours from Laphroaig distillery, as Ardbeg joined Allied Distillers when they bought Hiram Walker. The distillery went silent once again in 1996 before being bought the next year by Glenmorangie, which paid £7 million for the distillery and its stock. Glenmorangie created the visitor centre in 1998 as well as a café. In 2000, the distillery introduced the Ardbeg 10 years and launched the Committee. From there, many releases appeared. Additions to the core range, with Uigeadail in 2003, Corryvreckan in 2008 as well as a new 10yo, Committee and more limited releases. An Oa joined the core range in 2017, the 19yo named Traigh Bhan joined in 2019, and this year the latest addition to the core range with the 5yo Wee Beastie.
But enough talking, I’m thirsty.
Ardbeg 5yo Wee Beastie review
As I said earlier, Ardbeg Wee Beastie is the latest addition to the core range. For once, a young whisky does not hide its age as a non-age statement but displays proudly that it’s 5-years-old. I honestly think it’s great for the consumer, because it’s more transparency, and it also serves a purpose of educating the whisky drinker, that age is not everything. Wee Beastie is matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It is bottled at 47.4% abv, unchillfiltered and uncolored. You cannot buy it in France for now, as I said earlier, and you can find it for about £36 to £40 in the UK when it’s stocked (which was not anymore at the time of writing).
Immediately, peat and solvent (white spirit) appear on the nose. There are also sherry notes, and you can immediately recognize an Ardbeg, it really has the Ardbeg DNA. Malt and hops give out craft-beer notes. Then peat comes stronger with freshly poured tar, decaying plants, fire smoke and cold ashtray. There is also a fresh fruitiness with plum and pear, and pine resin.
The arrival is thick and oily, with dry smoke and spices (pepper, ginger). The expected citrus is present, completed by aniseed and salt. The ex-Oloroso casks bring dark chocolate and raisins, while the peat brings wood char and a cold fireplace in the morning.
Long, peppery and citrusy (blood oranges), coal smoke and dark berries.
Wow, only five? There’s a great complexity for such a young age, though it’s a very wee beastie, it’s not a monster of a dram scratching your face off. But the most important things are here: great nose, great taste, good price (at RRP, about £36-38), and more transparency than usual for a very young whisky. Definitely getting a bottle to join my Ardbeg shelf and the rest of the core range as soon as I can.
Ardbeg Ten Review
The Ardbeg Ten Years Old is one of the bright stars amongst Ardbeg’s core range. Exclusively matured in first and second-fill ex-bourbon casks, it is bottled non chill-filtered and uncoloured at 46% abv. It is a whisky that you can find almost everywhere, in France for example at La Maison Du Whisky for 52.90€ or usually less than 50€ in the big supermarkets, and in the UK for about £42.50 with its cardboard box, and 4 pounds more with the warehouse tin box, for example on TWE.
Peat smoke and citrus, lemon tea, and then a big whiff of maritime notes: seawater, iodine, oysters and smoked salmon. The peat also brings tar, and if you take your time, you’ll find feint notes of fruits in the background with apple and grapefruit.
Aah, it never disappoints. Sweet and smoky arrival, oily mouthfeel, perfect start. Loads of citrus too, lemon, lime, you name it. There’s also something mineral, with limestone or tuffeau. The ash of a cigarette, a pinch of salt and liquorice sweets complete the palate of this classic (in the best meaning) whisky.
Long, smoky and citrusy, slightly salty and mineral.
A classic one, pure, that never disappoints, and which space on the shelf is never empty, a new bottle always replacing the one you’ve just killed.Maybe a bit less rich than the Wee Beastie, but way more precise and chiselled. And for less than £40 when it’s on special, it’s unbeatable. With this one, the name of the range, “The Ultimate”, is spot on.
Thank you to the German online liquor shop Whisky-Maniac.de for the Wee Beastie sample. Ardbeg Wee Beastie and Ardbeg Ten photos kindly provided by Ardbeg (without their knowledge) and cropped for page setting purpose.