The marketing campaign behind the launch of An Oa drew much derision - possibly unfairly. Whilst certainly twee and old fashioned, it at least felt somewhat grounded. Perhaps having seen an Icarus-like birdman (frankly missing a trick not employing Brian Blessed) from Macallan, folks might look back on An Oa’s promo a little more kindly. At the very least, it got people talking.
The bottling was introduced to the Ardbeg Ultimate (core range) in 2017 - the first new addition for nearly a decade. But, rather than edging out the much loved Ten as some feared, the expression sits between the distillery’s entry-point Ten, and Uigeadail - which we’ll be taking a look at tomorrow.
An Oa is created from a combination of ex-bourbon, charred virgin oak and PX. The three and married together in a so called ‘gathering vat’ - an arty farty name for a marrying cask or tun. The result is an NAS whisky bottled at 46.6% ABV and costing around £50.
Nose: Sweet campfire embers are bolstered by some trademark Ardbeg soot, axle grease, seaweed and tarry ropes. Zesty lemons and sea breeze add some coastal bite, whilst hessian cloth and nutmeg provide depth. It’s the ex-bourbon and virgin casks leading here - vanilla custard and freshly sawn planking rather than any overt influence from either PX or French oak. Reduction ups the phenolic levels a few notches with rubber, iodine and smoked bacon. It also reveals some green forest aromas of mosses, bracken and damp soils.
Taste: The arrival is suitably oily and coastal, but still somewhat restrained when compared to the other Ardbeg stablemates. Soot, ash and coal dust are livened by citrus (sweetened lemons rather than particularly tart and biting ones), grapefruit and minerality from granite and chalk. Smoked fish, chocolate malts, ginger and saltiness extend through the development. The addition of water adds a fruitier dimension with pineapple and lime marmalade, as well as some ham hock and delicate cinnamon spicing.
Finish: Medium, with ash, sweet lemon and briny water.
Ardbeg An Oa represents a softer, more accessible side to the distillery’s established character. There’s still plenty of oomph here, but when compared to other bottlings in the Ultimate range, everything feels more muted.....and therefore possibly more approachable to some.
Despite the variety of woods/vats highlighted, you shouldn’t be expecting anything remarkably divergent from the known Ardbeg DNA here. The point of difference is that this is modern, cask-first whisky. Indeed, this perhaps boxes An Oa into a bit of a corner - the distillery’s well established range is exceptionally high quality - An Oa sits uneasily, between the great value Ten and the more sherry-forward, higher strength Uigeadail. It has elements of both, but sadly doesn’t excel in either direction.