Ardbeg is a distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay (pronounced eye-la). It is located on the south eastern coast of the island and produces some of the peatiest, smokiest whiskies in the world. Islay is the home of the smoky style of whisky and has some of the world's most famous distilleries, such as Laphroaig and Bowmore. Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records show that a distillery was operating on the site since 1794. The current owners are drinks company Moet Hennessey and the distillery has a capacity of approximately one million litres per year. Most of the whisky produced is released as single malt, although Ardbeg also appears through independent bottling companies or in blends, such as Black Bottle.
The Corryvreckan is a new expression of Ardbeg that will hit the shelves on 21st September. This follows on a popular limited edition bottling that was released to Ardbeg Committee members in 2008. This new bottling will replace the Airigh Nam Beist in their core range. The whisky takes its name from the famous whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay in a fast flowing channel of water between the islands of Jura and Scarba. The Corryvreckan is the world's third largest natural whirlpool, behind one in Norway and one in Japan. The name is derived from the Gaelic 'Coire Bhreacan' which means 'Breacan's Cauldron'. This relates to the legend of the Norse Prince Breacan, who sailed into the whirlpool for three days to express his undying love for a local princess before being dragged in. He was rescued by the guardian of the whirlpool, the Goddess of winter named Cailleach Bheur, who in turn falls in love with him. For the full story, click on the video clip below to watch the excellent animation produced by Ardbeg to celebrate the original Ardbeg Committee release of Corryvreckan.
The colour of Corryvreckan is honey gold and the nose is robust and aromatic yet inviting. There is smokiness and sweetness in abundance (think of earthy peat for the smokiness and sugary caramel for the sweetness). Under these is a distinct grassy note (imagine fresh grass), some dried fruit (think of sultanas and candied orange peel) and a whiff of bitter iodine. On the palate, this is rich and full of character. Again, there is initial powerful smokiness (this is a little more like damp earth or moss now) and a burst of sweetness. The sweetness is more than on the nose but also has a slight bitter edge, like burnt sugar. The dried fruit note (those sultanas and orange zest again) from the nose is present and is joined by a hot spicy element (this is quite peppery and fiery, like a red chilli) and an interesting salty tang. The finish is very very long and full of peaty smoke and the hot, spicy heat. It feels drier than the sweeter nose and palate and is balanced well with a larger dose of the bitter iodine. Corryvreckan is being released at 57.1% ABV, so we then tasted it with some water added. The nose and palate became sweeter (think of brown sugar) with more fresh crisp green fruit (imagine pears and apples). The finish was also sweeter but shorter, with the overall feeling being still very good but less complex and younger.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan is a very impressive whisky. You expect quality whiskies to be made by Ardbeg and this one certainly does not disappoint. It will be a welcome addition to the distillery's core range and will without doubt gain Ardbeg further admirers. It will be available in specialist whisky retailers and from Ardbeg's online shop. A bottle should cost £60-65 (or $85-90 in the USA). A special thanks must go to Davinia Small from Ardbeg for supplying our sample of Corryvreckan. An excellent, complex and enjoyable dram.