Fermentation is key to the taste of a distillate. Distillation mostly highlights and pontentiates aromas that already exist in the wash. Nothing to play around with, so to speak. However, over the years of effectivity, many whisky distilleries reduced the hours of fermentation to pump out more spirit. Temperature, yeast strains, chemical surroundings etc. can be adjusted, so it is not simply ‚longer is better‘ – yet longer fermentation means more intensity and funk most of the time.
Consequently, this new Ardbeg is of great learning effect. It represents a taste stemming from much longer fermentation due to a broken boiler in November 2007: three weeks instead of 72 hours, the longest in Ardbeg history! I don’t know if the yeast stopped working for a while during the cooldown. The Ardbeg team, led by Dr. Bill Lumsden, opened the washbacks to allow Islay air penetrate more intensively. An experiment was born. Dr. Bill always wanted to find out the effects of longer fermentation and the boiler accident presented itself as the chance to see. Fitting the long fermentation, a longer maturation time was granted (13 years). Ardbeg fans, be excited for this one.
Comment: This is a typical spirit-driven Ardbeg of the good kind, to start out with. The nose is a stunner, very balanced and old-school Ardbeg, sweet peaty joy. I am getting a smouldering forest fire here, loads of pine and beech smoke, soot, resin, tar, sweet BBQ-sauce, sulphur and big iodine (which I love in such drams). Of course, tires, leather, coffee roast, milk chocolate, chalk, aloe, menthol, lemon drop and herbs are there too. Also some food analogies: A burnt steak with black pepper and chili rub comes to my mind somehow. Despite the discrete wood (I guess mostly refill) there is vanilla creme with toffee sauce for dessert, some orange and apple slices on the side. All this is so enticingly sweet, harmonious and well-integrated. I expected way more funk, but this is a fine and pronounced smokiness with deep iodine and phenols.
On the palate, this has the slim and drinkable profile that is so typical of Ardbeg. Mild start on spritely, minty and acidic tones, then it builds itself up towards spice and burning embers. Round again, quaffability is king.
It finishes on depth! Iodine! Peat, tanned leather, old wood, salt, soot and chalk – and this great sweetness again.
Altogether I think the longer fermentation resulted in a profile from older days of Ardbeg in parts. Iodine, a spice-laden maltiness and round integration of all aromas are to mention. I am getting a bottle and drink it with an old friend!
Join the Ardbeg Committee to get your bottle (in Germany, this is 8th February 2022)!