Ardbeg! Gaelic for “little height”, or the sound you make when you stifle that midnight-toe-stub scream.
Located on the southern shore of Islay, Ardbeg claims to be the island’s (not The Islands’) peatiest whisky. Part of the claim comes from sourcing their malted barley from Port Ellen and the malting distillery there.
Here’s something weird. Port Ellen is named after the wife of the founder of the distillery or town, Frederick Campbell. Port Charlotte, over by Bruichladdich, is also named after… the wife… of Frederick Campbell. A wife that Wiki says was named Mary, daughter of William or Amos Meredith, depending whether you look at Lord Campbell’s page or Mary’s first husband and the last member of the House of Lords to be hanged in England, Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers. Which probably tells you all you need to know about relying on Wiki for details.
Anyway, using Port Ellen malted barley is pretty common, they supply most of Islay with their grains. You can check out this video for more details on the process. Barley is grown on the mainland, shipped over and malted over Islay peat, then carted off to the distilleries. I wanted to know more about the peat part of that equation. Maybe there’s some reason Islay peat is so great?
Peat forms in bogs, mostly as a result of the recession of glaciers, leaving vegetation in a semi-decomposed state, but unable to complete the process because of unideal conditions. Typically this is related to acidity. I think, with some Wiki (above flaws fully noted) that the acidic partial decomposition forms either phenol or the precursors to phenol. Phenol is the smoke taste (also, probably carcinogenic, yay, what isn’t), but what I don’t know is what role combustion plays in that process, and really don’t understand the geographic specificity of it. My high school chemistry and Google Fu are not up to the task right now. So instead, here’s what we thought:
Matt – iodine
Simon – sea, brine, peat, vinyl, pleather
Ryan – smoke, peaty
Goran – chlorine, citrusy, honey, mint
Dan – nice & smokey, getting wood. hard wood, not sweetness.
Matt – gravel dust, bitter finish
Simon – grill, bbq, savoury
Ryan – one of the better, wood, smoke
Goran – charcoal, bitter, one dimensional
Dan – spicy, cherry
Matt – steel wool
Simon – sweetens
Ryan – n/a
Goran – improves but no more complex
Dan – acid & spicy, not campfire, burnt wood, singed
Try it? Sure! Buy it? Less certain…