Monday, September 17, 2012
New release - Ardbeg Galileo
This space experiment saw Ardbeg team up with US based space research company NanoRacks to determine how environment effects maturation. Three identical vials of new make spirit were filled in Autumn 2011 – the first is being stored in Ardbeg’s Warehouse No.3 on Islay, the second is at NanoRacks’ HQ in Houston, Texas and the third was blasted in to space and is currently on the International Space Station orbiting the Earth in zero gravity. Each vial will remain in its location for another two years and will then be analysed.
Ardbeg is a multi award-winning distillery, which is located on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland. Ardbeg sits on the south east shore and the distillery was officially founded in 1815 by John MacDougall. However, records show that a distillery was operating on the Ardbeg site as early as 1794. It has an annual production capacity of one million litres and is currently owned by Moet Hennessey. They took over (indirectly) in 1997 following periods of closure by previous owners and have grown Ardbeg in to the cult classic that it is today.
The whisky used in the Ardbeg Galileo was distilled in 1999 and was bottled in 2102 at 13 years of age. The final whisky is ex-Marsala casks from Sicily balanced out with first fill ex-bourbon casks. This whisky is unique given that ex-Marsala casks are rarely used in whisky maturation. It has been bottled at 49% ABV, is non chill-filtered and is priced around the £75 mark. It is only currently available in the UK, Europe and selected Asian markets, although most of the initial stock seems to be already sold out across many retailers.
There is plenty of supporting activity for the new release and the experiment on the Ardbeg website and a special Galileo Facebook page.
Our tasting notes
The whisky’s colour is a rich golden yellow and the nose offers upfront classic Ardbeg phenols and peaty smoke, combined with some luscious sweeter aromas – there is plenty of honey, plus milk chocolate and apricots. Underneath further aromas of buttery shortbread, damp earth and a hint of salty brine are noted.
On the palate, this whisky coats your mouth instantly and feels luscious and creamy. The initial oily richness is accentuated by a lovely buttery note, and is complimented by some unapologetic sweetness. There is a heavy honey note - this dominates, and is joined by further elements of apricot jam, juicy sultanas and a hint of chocolate. The phenolic peat smoke is never far away and has a distinct white pepper-like spiciness to it, along with a moss/damp earth note. All of these expressive characteristics are complimented by a tangy saltiness, which when combined with the earthy smoke is reminiscent of dried seaweed. In short it grabs your attention.
The finish is extremely long and warming, beginning with the very sweet notes again. The honey, sultanas and apricots are particularly prominent. It then turns much drier with the phenolic smokiness leading the way with some exaggerated wood spices, such as nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon bark. A little peppery heat and a pinch of salt finishes things off.
What’s the verdict?
The Ardbeg Galileo is a very interesting whisky. Few whiskies are matured in old Marsala casks and the vibrant sweetness that these have imparted in to the whisky makes for an expressive contrast to Ardbeg’s trademark full-on phenolic peat smoke. Both seem to accentuate the other characteristic.
Looking around the whisky blogosphere, this seems to have divided opinion. Some are hailing it as the most progressive and best release from Ardbeg for some time, while others seem disappointed and declare it as too sweet. Within Whisky For Everyone, we also have divided opinions. However, whatever those opinions are, we agree that it is great to see companies experimenting with different casks and flavours within their whiskies while maintaining their previous high quality.