This is the long awaited new release from the famous Islay distillery. When Ardbeg was bought and started up again in 1997 by Glenmorangie PLC (who were then later themselves taken over by drinks giant Moet Hennessy), the idea was to produce a series of whiskies using only spirit distilled after this date. Currently, all other Ardbeg whiskies contain spirit from before it was previously closed. This series has consisted of the 'Very Young' (a 7 years old whisky), the 'Still Young' (8 years old) and the 'Almost There' (9 years old). The 'Renaissance' is a ten years old whisky and is the completion of the series.
This whisky smells amazing. It is full of peaty smoke (it reminds me of a damp bonfire) and has lots of grassy, herbal notes and an interesting zesty hint (think of lemon peel). On the palate, this is full bodied, creamy, warming and intense. Your taste buds are caressed by the peat and smoke and underneath this is a great malty sweetness, some vanilla and a hint of toffee or caramel. 'Renaissance' is bottled at cask strength (around 55% ABV) but despite this is very smooth and easy to drink. I decided to add some water, as this tends to release more flavours and characteristics that can be masked by the high alcohol level in cask strength whiskies. This released more grassy smoke and more pleasant bitter earthiness. It revealed a further complexity by opening up some gorgeous sweet summer fruit (reminding me of red or blackcurrants and blackberries) and this was mixed with some menthol (a classic smoky Islay characteristic), some liquorice and a dash of salt (think of sea spray). The finish is long, smoky (think of that bonfire again), a bit dry and also a bit spicy (nutmeg or cinammon, I cannot decide). This is an excellent example of an Islay smoky whisky. It is a full on experience that offers great complexity from beginning to end but is not for the faint hearted. I think it is not quite as sweet as the regular 10 years old bottling and is extremely smooth considering it is bottled at cask strength. 'Renaissance' is readily available but is a limited release so grab a bottle while you can. It should cost around £40-45.