A rare sighting of distillery 33 – SMWS can’t have too many of these casks left now sadly. This example is a 10 year old from a 1st full ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Herbalness from nettles, mint and lemon balm alongside scorched pine needles and delicate tarriness. Smoke runs throughout – pronounced, but controlled - part sweet and floral, part burnt and charred. Chalky soils and salinity are joined by singed oak whilst lemon peels and juices sit with gravel and fish tanks. Reduction dials things up a notch – tarred felt roofing, bitumen road works and a developing bonfire ashiness.
Taste: Boom. No messing around now. Where the nose was suggestive, the palate is apparent. Rich, fulsome and intensely charred. Beach fires and brick charcoal are joined by penetratingly fired casks (Alligator char levels) and spent hearth ashes. Medicinal cleaners and bandages sit with inland vegetation – moss, fern, bracken and leaves alongside wet soils, earthy mushrooms and a glug of engine oil. The addition of water further enhances the viscosity with olive oils, whilst also amping up the char – incinerated oak and cremated tree bark. The introduction of lemon and lime tempers the composition, but it remains concentrated, powerful and penetrating throughout.
Finish: Long – all on char and burning – smouldering wood, paper and leaves with lime juice and salinity drawn from a freshly made margarita.
SMWS Ardbeg doesn’t require either an introduction, nor a glowing review – this 33 will sell out before you’ve had time to put the kettle on. But, irrespective of the lure of the distillery’s brand, and it’s infrequency of being independently bottled, this 10 year old is nevertheless thoroughly excellent. Alluring and subtle on the nose, an elegant sledgehammer on the palate. Cracking stuff.
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