The last two weeks or so i have been feeling rather bad: a cold and a throat infection made me stay home, take antibiotics and hence, i was Alcohol free for almost a fortnight: pretty annoying. I was longing for a wee dram, and was so happy that last Wednesday while my wife was out celebrating a friend’s birthday, i had Kfir popup and share some drams with me.
Kfir and i have discussed comparing the two Ardbegs for some time now. We both adore that amazing distillery , and we are both peat lovers. We put off the meeting time after time as Kfir was away on vacation (playing poker at Vegas!, the lucky dog!), and then me being sick, didn’t help. Now it was a done deed – let’s get on to some Ardbeg sipping, tasting and comparing.
the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist (pronounced “arry-nam-bayst“) is a 16 year old Ardbeg expression. It takes its name from a folk legend which tells of a monster or beast which lived in Loch Airigh and frightened the nearby inhabitants. In ancient Gaelic Airigh Nam Beist means “shelter of the beast” or “valley of the beast”. the “beastie” as many refer to it, was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2006, at 46% , and has been Ardbeg’s main older expression in recent years.
The Corryvreckan (named after a dangerous whirlpool in the seas near Islay), which is the successor to the beastie, is quite a different “beast”. It’s much younger, is composed from batches of spirit matured in first-fill French oak casks. also, the Corry is bottled at 57,1% alc. which is much stronger than its predecessor.
Ardbeg 1990 Airigh Nam Beist (46%, OB 2006)
Nose: The nose was quite a surprise for me, as it was so floral and sweet for an Ardbeg. I was expecting more peat, and smoke, and could hardly detect any. after some more nosing i got a bit of vanilla candy, some fruit (but not the Ardbegian “zesty” lemons). Very feminine nose. Refreshing. Had this been handed to me on a blind tasting i would have guessed it’s a Bruichladdich, but certainly not an Ardbeg.
Palate: Quite different than the nose. the fruitiness is out. Enters Peat. not huge peat. definetly not an Ardbeg 10 peat, but am ample amount to please the old taste buds 🙂 . smoke(bacon?) , some Pepper also, and a wee draft of seaweed wind. It is obvious that the 16 years in those barrels have definitely have toned down the peat, to create a milder, yet complex dram.
Finish: Long, but not as long as one would expect. Smoke is there, some cocoa notes too.
Summing it up, i would say it’s a good Ardbeg but not a great one. i know many people love this expression, but for me, its too delicate an Ardbeg.
Comparing it with the Corryvreckan
After tasting the beastie, we poured ourselves a wee dram of Corry, and then my smile became much wider.I wont repeat my detailed tasting notes here as well, but a comparison is in place.
Nose: The noses are really very different, the corry has none of the fruitiness and vanilla candy, whic are replaced but the much stronger peat, and kumquats. also the isntensity of the nose Alcohol wise is much sharper, due to the 57,1% alcohol content vs the 46% of the beastie.
Palate: Again, it’s like David and Goliath peat wise, and impact wise. The Corry starts with a boom of flavours and intensity due to the cask strength, and totally overwhelms the laid back feminine beastie. Also, the Corry does hit your first with sweeter stuff, then off to peppery notes, while the beastie maintains a steady smoky/peppery profile.
Finish: The Corry’s finish, is much longer, in fact one of the longer finshes i’ve had in the last few months, so again, no real competition here also.
Its easy to see that i do prefer the Corry to the Beastie from every possible angle. While i do usually prefer younger peaty malts, i really wanted to like the Beastie better. it had a nice nose, but too fruity for me on an Ardbeg. I do prefer my Ardbegs tougher, peatier and carrying more Oomph. While complex and “older” , the beastie does not tickle my fancy enough.
Price wise, if you can still get the beastie (it’s been replaced by the Corry, but some shops still carry it today) , it’s cheaper than the Corry and is a good bang for the buck. [ I hear that in the US prices are much steeper, around 140$]
I would love to try it at Cask strength and see whether it stands better at above 50%, but i guess this will never happen as stocks at Ardbeg are gone. (hence the new Corry’s introduction).