The Ardbeg 10 Year was the first official bottling from the distillery to be unchill-filtered. It is a true Islay malt, with a classic range of flavors and even a few surprises. It is cask strength, which means that there is more to love. The whisky is very light in appearance, lighter even that I would expect from a 12 Year. This indicates that there is also no caramel coloring added. One thing I noticed about the bottle was that the whisky seemed thick and almost viscous in my glass. I am happy to say that the texture in my mouth was not thick at all; in fact, it was velvety and perfect in every way.
Located on the Isle of Islay, the products from the Ardbeg distillery are considered some of the peatiest malts on the market. Ardbeg uses locally malted barley for a true Islay experience. This bottle is considered the core of the distillery’s range and is an excellent representative of a well-known brand. In fact, this exact bottle won Jim Murray’s 2008 World Whisky of the Year.
I am not one of those whisky purists who hates chill-filtering; it was important in establishing consistent standards in the whisky industry at a time when traditional methods could lead to unwanted clouding, precipitate and off-flavors. However, these are rarely problems with modern distillation and bottling techniques, so there is generally no reason for them. The lack of chill-filtering in this bottle definitely seems to add to the quality of the flavors and the nose, which is definitely a plus in my book. If you like this bottle, you are not alone; Ardbeg is the fastest-growing distillery in Islay.
Nose: 21/25. There is definitely the expected peat smoke here, but so much more. It has an undertone of sea air that is masked beneath layers of bittersweet chocolate and even a little citrus. The citrus is a little bit perfumey and flowery, like lemon blossoms. Anything but dark, the nose is as light and refreshing as any I have smelled. It’s a real treat.
Palate: 22/25. The texture of this whisky is exactly perfect. It is silky and smooth, without the bite that I expected from a cask strength whisky. The taste echoes the nose, with the same chocolate and citrus balanced by peaty smoke. In addition, there is a fresh and fruity taste that sparkles in the background and hints at a sherry taste. Despite the range of flavors, it is well-balanced and intricate.
Finish: 21/25. The wave of peat smoke begins the finish, which is then lightened by a little more of that sour fruit and finally finished by a distinct sherry flavor.
Character: 23/25. While many Islay whiskies have heavy peat, few have managed to blend this element into other flavors as seamlessly and cohesively as the Ardbeg 10 year. It is a great example of how good a 10 year old whisky can be. With all the peat of an Islay whisky and the full cask strength, I expected a much rougher ride. Instead, I found this to be a challenging and yet mellow dram that I will make part of my regular rotation.