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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A Distillery With A View... Ardbeg- Feis Ile Day 3

Blimey, that went quickly. Usually, after the full force of the Feis Ile we're both feeling absolutely destroyed and ready for the return journey and a familiar duvet, OR totally inspired, thirsty to dig out more peaty goodness. This time around, as we've only spent a short spell on this wonderful island, we're very much in the latter camp and Saturday brings forth probably the highlight of the week -  Ardbeg's open day

Much has been made of celebrating the distillery's cult following around the globe and it's intriguing to see just how many peat'o'philes (is that ok to say?) rocked up at various retailers, bars and whisky events last Saturday, eager to try the new release, Ardbog. We even heard rumours that a flock of inflatable sheep were driven across London Bridge here in London, in homage to the brand's unique sense of humour. But for us, there is really only one place to truly dig down to the core of the brand and that's the Old Kiln Cafe, where by 12pm, hundreds of festival goers were already queuing to get started on the drams and the events that the distillery team had planned.  

Seaview's very own still...
(aka a wood burning stove)
We were fortunate this year to have landed a couple of nights at the distillery's brand new Seaview Cottage, next door to manager Mickey Heads' home from home. As holiday homes go, the place has been designed as the ultimate Ardbeg fan's dream come true.  The location couldn't be more idyllic: With a balcony overlooking the bay and the front door pointing squarely towards the warehouses, one doesn't know which way to look. From the Ardbeg Green carpets to the portraits of Shortie adorning the walls, everything is in-keeping with the irreverence of brand.  You can see for yourself here...

Ardbog Day followed on from last year's elaborate events and the mighty 'hand of destiny' (designed and built by the equally mighty - and all round excellent guy Yogi at the distillery) was once again presiding over the occasion, this time bursting through a giant peat bog in the distillery courtyard.  The events were similarly wacky: bog racing in sacks, a Krypton Factor-style challenge of dexterity and speed to load a wheelbarrow full of peat whilst traversing an tricky course plus excellent tastings from Bryony MacIntyre as well as unique trips to Texa Island with Mickey, to try a few choice drams. And what of the whisky of the day? Ardbog... Bottled at 52.1%, Ardbog is a mixture of bourbon casks with a few that have also been aged in Manzanilla casks, which tend to give a charismatic salty/aromatic note. The 2013 festival bottlings have been excellent (with the Lagavulin leading the way in our opinion) so we had high hopes... Battle of the Bogs? Let battle commence...

Ardbeg  -  Ardbog -  52.1% - 70cl 

Nose: A briney note hits first, with a touch of liniment, a little coal dust and a wee blast of menthol, all bog wrestling for your attention. Underneath, a slight liquorice root develops, with a sweeter tablet/vanilla rich chocolate note, some white pepper and a waft of wood smoke.  

Palate: The coal notes develop, with salt-crusted barbecued pork, some drying oak notes and a hint of sweet tablet again, backdropped by a luscious coating of smoky hickory wood. The mouthfeel is rich and unctuous and very easy drinking, despite its strength. 

Finish: Lengthy iodine and singed BBQ pork give the palate a formidable run for its money. 

Overall: Boom. This is absolutely sterling stuff, raised from the very bowels of the peat bogs, but with so much more alongside. Whereas last year's Ardbeg Day was a little threadbare in places, this is a full on 15-tog-patchwork-quilt of a whisky, bristling with character.  

Although our time on Islay was woefully short by previous year's standards, this Feis Ile has been one of the best yet. Looking at the burgeoning numbers at each of the distilleries, it could well be the most successful yet too- and proves that although the waft of peat is undoubtedly drifting on the breeze around the globe, the allure of actually visiting the island itself burns as fiercely as ever.