Life

Ready For Smoke? The Full Line of Ardbeg Scotch Whiskies, Tasted Blind And Ranked

Ardbeg might well be the Scotch whisky with the most devoted fans in the world. People travel across the planet to pick up bottles at the distillery on Ardbeg Day every year. Their fan base is devoted online as well, where bottles regularly sell out in minutes. What’s wild about all of that is that Ardbeg is one of the most heavily peated Islay whiskies out there. Meaning their releases are smoky and some of the funkiest, weirdest, and wildest in the whole damn industry.

That all makes Ardbeg the epitome of “go big or go home” in a Scotch whisky bottle. Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumdsen and Master Blender Gillian Macdonald take shots and rarely miss. It’s fun to witness (and taste!).

Today, I’m ranking the core bottles plus a couple of special editions double-blind to see what all the hype is about. I was lucky enough to be on Islay for Ardbeg Day this year, so I sampled these whiskies literally a few steps from both the sea and the distillery. Did that inform my tasting notes? Of course. But that’s why technically I did it “double-blind” in that I had no idea what was on the table outside of the core bottles. Let’s dive right in!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of The Last Six Months

Part 1: The Tasting

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a softness on the nose that leans into dark yet slightly tart berries under layers of sharp spice, wet brown sugar, and plenty of sea salt. The palate ups the saltiness as yellow Scotch Broom flowers mingle with creamy dark chocolate, dashes of freshly cracked black pepper, and a light hint of citrus oil. The finish is soft and creamy thanks to that dark chocolate with mild spice cut by more sea salt and a hint of ground mushroom powder with a mossy edge.

This is a great place to start. It’s mild yet balanced. I’d guess this is a higher-end bottle.

Taste 2

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Slow-smoked peaches mingle with soft cherrywood and a bundle of smoky savory herbs — sage, rosemary, ramps — on the nose. The palate is soft and buttery with a sweet burnt toffee vibe next to nutmeg, walnut, Earl Grey, and maybe a touch of woody maple syrup. The end takes its time and meanders through salted black licorice, wild florals, more singed savory herbs, and a hint of black-pepper-covered brisket fat that’s been heavily smoked over sea-soaked driftwood.

This is the good stuff. I’m guessing this is An Oa, which I adore. We’ll see!

Taste 3

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is a little abrasive on the nose with alcohol soaking through dried berries and raisins next to a hint of pear candy, woody vanilla, and dried dirt. The palate has a hint of smoked plums that leads directly into pear candy with a touch of smoked pork belly buried in BBQ ash. The finish is a mix of hot asphalt and soft pear tobacco with a thin layer of salt water calming everything down.

This is obviously Wee Beastie. It’s good but not nearly as refined as the previous two.

Taste 4

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose is classic Ardbeg with hints of BBQ smoker ash that’s full of fat, tart red berries, lemon pepper, and a hint of creamy dark chocolate — Hello, Ardbeg 10! The palate follows the nose’s lead while layering in sea-salt brined pork fat, hints of bourbon vanilla, and an echo of Nutella. The finish has that deep salted black licorice vibe leading to a slow fade through the peppery smoked fat, charcoal ash, chocolate nuttiness, and finally smoked red berries with a sweet/tart edge.

Yeah, this is the 10 and really f*cking good.

Taste 5

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Oh yeah, here we go! The nose is a matrix of smoked plums next to lush Christmas cakes full of dried and candied fruit and citrus with plenty of fatty nuts, dark and wintry spice, and buttery caramel drizzle hit with plenty of sea salt next to a whisper of dried lavender and overripe, almost woody plantains. The palate balances sweet berries and pear candy with smoky salmon fat and dark chocolate malts. The mid-palate adds a hint of dried chili heat while fading towards a finish full of smoked fat, dried fruit, and a buttery dark chocolate sauce bespeckled with flakes of smoked pink sea salt and cedar chips.

This has to be Uigeadail. It’s glorious.

Taste 6

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is much lighter on the nose with hints of wet charcoal meeting notes of raw cacao nibs with a sour edge, a touch of pepper, hints of grapefruit pith, and whispers of dried flowers and sweet herbs. The palate meanders through notes of cigarette ash, anise, savory scones with dark chocolate drops, and cardamon with a small line of Band-Aid and pear sneaking in late. The finish has a note of menthol/chocolate tobacco with a bit of dry asphalt.

I can’t decide if I like that medicinal note or not. It feels both out of place and yet… strangely makes sense for a heavily peated Islay. I’m on the fence.

Taste 7

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

The nose opens with a hint of a stainless steel pan that’s been well seasoned for decades in a pro kitchen next to touches of wet anise, soft cedar ash, worn boot leather, old bars of soap, a whisper of pine resin, and a tiny hint of the bowl from a tobacco pipe. The palate ups all of that while adding in the salted black licorice next to fresh and wet charcoal with a hint of moss and forest floor. The mid-palate opens up with a lemon cough drop with a menthol vibe next to hot tar and sticky anise-infused pipe tobacco with a smoldering edge that feels like the end of a clove cigarette.

This was wildly tasty and complex.

Part 2: The Ranking

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

7. Ardbeg Wee Beastie — Taste 3

Ardbeg
Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy

ABV: 47.4%

Average Price: $55

The Whisky:

This expression from Ardbeg was released back in April of 2020. The juice is aged for only five years in both ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks before marrying for the final product. The idea is to give a sense of the quality of the peaty juice from Port Ellen’s malting house without too much wood influence.

Bottom Line:

This was pretty good but is clearly an entry-level spirit from Ardbeg that, I’d argue, is best used for mixing smoky cocktails.

6. Ardbeg Corryvrecken — Taste 1

Ardbeg Corryvrecken
LVMH

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $106

The Whisky:

This whisky is named after the world’s second-largest ocean whirlpool, called Corryvrecken. The juice in the bottle is Ardbeg Ten blended with single malt that’s been aged exclusively in new French Limousin casks.

Bottom Line:

It’s wild this ranked so low. This is delicious Scotch. That just goes to show you the deep complexity we’re dealing with when talking Ardbeg.

5. Ardbeg 10 — Taste 4

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $65

The Whisky:

This is Ardbeg’s signature bottle and a true gateway to the peaty style of single malt scotches. The real highlight of this expression is the peat smokiness filtered through sherry casking. The phenol count tends to be on the higher end with this expression, so you’ll know you’re drinking a smoky whisky from the first nose. But it won’t absolutely floor you.

Bottom Line:

This is a subtle masterpiece. It’s so accessible while being distinctly Ardbeg and Islay with that peat and fruit. This is truly a nice sipping or mixing whisky.

4. Ardbeg Ardcore Limited Edition — Taste 6

Ardcore
LVMH

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $132

The Whisky:

2022’s Ardbeg Day release is an outlier for the distillery. The juice is made with a mash of peated Islay barely mixed with a heavily roasted barley in the mix. That dark barley imbues a layer of dark chocolate to the juice that lasts through the aging process.

Bottom Line:

This was a stand-out for sure. It just didn’t have the same level of refinement as the next three entries. That said, it’s a unique Ardbeg that will appeal to whisky fans with a love for subtle and slightly tart chocolate.

3. Ardbeg An Oa — Taste 2

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy

ABV: 46.6%

Average Price: $73

The Whisky:

This is a quintessential Islay peaty whisky. The juice is aged in a combo of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak, and ex-bourbon casks before being married and rested again in Ardbeg’s bespoke oak “Gathering Vat,” allowing the whiskies to really meld into a cohesive dram.

Bottom Line:

This is a classic whisky all around. It’s complex, compelling, and comforting. Yes, it’s bold but that boldness never gets in the way of a nuanced drinking experience.

2. Ardbeg Scorch Limited Edition — Taste 7

Ardbeg Scorch
LVMH

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $160

The Whisky:

2021’s Ardbeg Day release leans into the heat. The heavily peated juice is aged in ex-bourbon barrels that have been re-charred with “dragon’s breath” until they’re as charred as they can be without turning into charcoal staves.

Bottom Line:

This is wildly delicious. In the end, it was between this and the Uigeadail for the number one spot. And while this was a clear standout, it wasn’t quite as sweetly comforting as the next dram.

1. Ardbeg Uigeadail — Taste 5

Ardbeg Uigeadail
LVMH

ABV: 54.2%

Average Price: $95

The Whisky:

The mix of peated malts, yeast, and that inky lake water from Islay creates a spirit that’s already full of flavors before it goes into the barrel. That hot juice is then aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. When the whisky in the barrel is just right, they’re blended into this single malt expression, proofed with local spring water, and bottled without any filtration.

Bottom Line:

This was outstanding. It wasn’t a runaway train outstanding today — the Scorch Limited Edtion was damn close — but great nonetheless. This is also the pour I wanted to immediately enjoy again. If you buy one Ardbeg, it should be this.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Ardbeg Blind
Zach Johnston

This was a delightful and bold set of whiskies. What’s amazing is that even with the heavy levels of peated malt involved, my palate wasn’t overwhelmed a single time throughout or at the end. It left me wanting to revisit these whiskies immediately. Trust me, not all peated malts can achieve that level of nuance and accessibility on the palate.

Overall, I wasn’t too surprised by the winner. Ardbeg Uigeadail is one of the finest whiskies that you can still actually find on shelves for a fair price. So my big takeaway is simple — go get some!

×