Ardbeg – a cult distillery
The Rollercoaster is one of the most eagerly anticipated new single malt whisky releases of 2010 to date. It is from the innovative Ardbeg distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay. Islay is the spiritual home of the world's smoky style of whisky and Ardbeg forms an important part of the island's history, having been founded in 1815. The distillery is renowned for its production of smoky whiskies and has a large cult following around the world, despite only producing one million litres of spirit per year.
10 years, 10 casks
The release of Rollercoaster is exclusive to Ardbeg Committee members and is released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Committee, which was started in 2000. The whisky is a vatting (or mixture of single malts) of 10 casks of Ardbeg of differing ages. Each cask represents one of the 10 years that the Ardbeg Committee has been running. The oldest whisky included was distilled in 1997, then 1998, 1999 and so on until you get to the youngest whisky, which is just three years old (the minimum legal age for Scotch whisky) and was distilled in 2006. Most of the casks are ex-bourbon but some are ex-sherry. It is bottled at 57.3% ABV, costs £50 a bottle and is released in mid February 2010.
What’s with the name?
Rollercoaster may seem a strange name for a whisky but it fits perfectly with the modern outlook of Ardbeg as a distillery and brand. Take one look at their innovative website (www.ardbeg.com) or marketing material and you will see that it is different from most other distilleries. They combine strong traditions with this innovation and this allows them to combine the two elements in their range. As a result you have whiskies with Gaelic inspired names such as Airigh Nam Beist, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail alongside the Supernova and this new Rollercoaster. We thank Davinia Small from Ardbeg for the opportunity to sample this new whisky.
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden and the nose is powerful and pungent. There is plenty going on here – the rich smoky peat is obvious and seems to be a cross between damp moss, a bonfire and sooty coal smoke. The overall feeling is quite acrid, industrial and mechanical. Underneath this potent smoke are more subtle elements – caramel, dried fruits (think of pear, raisins and apple), iodine, salt and something like menthol or eucalyptus. On the palate, this is powerful and spicy (think of red chilli peppers). The acrid smokiness fills your mouth and nasal cavities and is reminiscent of combination of strong antiseptic, fresh tarmac, coal soot and bonfire embers. Sweet caramel and vanilla begin to come through and these are joined by dried fruit (imagine sultanas, apple and pear), some tangy citrus zest (lime, we think), a distinct saltiness (think of brine or sea water) and menthol. The finish is extremely long and spicy (those chillis again), with the smoke seeming to burn away forever.
With the addition of water, the nose softens and becomes less pungent to reveal more sweet vanilla, fresh green fruits (pears and apples especially) and some lovely malted cereals. The palate becomes creamier with vanilla, coconut, dried grasses and sweet mossy flavours being allowed through. The finish is still long and smoky but is softer, sweeter and less spicy.
What’s the verdict?
Ardbeg Rollercoaster is good but is one for the big peaty smoky whisky fans - most others may find it hard going. Its intense, brash and youthful nature makes it a difficult drink, that only reveals its less obvious characteristics with a bit of persistence and time. In our opinion, the addition of water softens all elements and creates more balance and enjoyment on the nose, palate and finish. It is certainly a very interesting whisky that has a very interesting concept behind it. Will curiosity get the better of you and make you order a bottle?