Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Daily Dram #3. Ardbeg Blasda He Says...
Ardbeg Blasda, NAS, 40% abv
So, in an effort to nose and taste whiskies on their way out of our collection at home I will sometimes be discussing what for many will be old news. I’m ok with that; this blog is as much an exercise for myself as it is for your reading pleasure. So, lets go back to 2008 for a moment shall we?
From what I have read in social media, blogs, etc…it would seem the world generally doesn’t like the Ardbeg Blasda release. For those unaware Blasda has been dubbed Ardbeg’s “unpeated” release, not quite accurate but more on that in a minute; first, the revolting masses. The cult following Ardbeg fans seem to have divided themselves in to a few different camps based on where they seem to think things have gone wrong. One common reaction is that it detracts too much from the “way it’s suppose to be” in other words “the way they think it should be” or the Ardbeg they know and love. The next camp seems to hold the opposite view; they attest that if the makers of Ardbeg wanted to make an un-peated malt they should have done just that. The third argument against this whisky is their bottling at 40% abv instead of the 46% abv found in the Ardbeg 10 year old. I’m not really going to touch on the reasons for the 40% abv only to say that I do agree that the dram does seem thin.
Now just a moderately quick comment about the peat levels in this dram. When we talk about peat levels in whisky we are actually talking about Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, an organic compound that is introduced to whisky through the smoke produced from burning peat as a fuel source in kilning (halting the germination of barley during the malting process). Phenol levels are measured in Parts Per Million (PPM) and as you would expect, the longer and more intensely you smoke the barley the higher the PPM. What some people do not realize is that the phenol level that the barley is smoked to will not be the level of the finish spirit. The different steps in distillation and maturation work to remove or tame the phenol level in the final whisky in the bottle.
In the case of the Ardbeg Blasda I have read that the barley was peated to about 25ppm but as the bottle states the final result is a whisky with 8ppm phenol level. 25ppm is just below half that of the standard Ardbeg 10 and quite inline with other peated Islay malts like Caol Ila 12. To call this dram un-peated is certainly a misnomer.
In my opinion this dram becomes an excellent illustration tool for those who may be new to whisky and would like to expand their horizons into peated whiskies. Furthermore I find Blasda is great for those who are keen to expand their abilities in nosing. One struggle I often hear from those who are new to nosing is that they just can’t get past the smoky smell. This whisky has all of the hallmark aromas of Ardbeg without the overpowering peat reek. I know, I know, “But” you say, “its that glorious peated wallop to the senses that really MAKES Ardbeg what it is!” Although I would agree that the peat is obviously important, the nose of Ardbeg 10 is far too complex to be described in such one-dimensional terms. Like all whiskies, it is the sum of its parts. The Blasda gives you a porthole to examine those more subtle aromas that can sometimes be lost behind the glorious smoke such as the citrus and sweetness. For that same reason I am glad this is simply a reduction instead of a peat-free whisky. The smoke is important and should still exist; we are lowering the hurdles for the newbies, not taking them off the track.
Now. Time to seemingly contradict everything I just said. Ahem. For me the bottom line is this: I’m, not a huge fan of this whisky but not entirely for the same reasons discussed above. For me it comes down to the fact that every time I nose or taste this whisky it seems a little lackluster, in the same way that diet cookies and light beer just…well…suck. I love the fact that it exists; I would even buy another bottle for illustration purposes much the same way I buy new make or white dog. But for me this is not a home run.
Ardbeg Blasda. 40%
Lemon Custard/Lemon Cream Sauce. Obvious peat smoke. Touch of brine. Pepper and spice and then creamy coffee. Overall the nose is very typical Ardbeg with all the background notes brought forward and the whole orchestra turned way down.
Palate: Thin yet still quite creamy and mouthwatering. Again, the peat smoke is still obvious followed by the citrus sweet and then bitter lemon pith in the back corners of the tongue. It seems watery.
Finish: Short to medium.