It’s rare for a distillery’s character to remain completely unchanged over generations. New managers put their own spin on things, production regimes and casks availability changes, and the desires and tastes of the market shift and adapt. Since I began my whisky journey some 20 years ago, the overarching profile of Ardbeg has developed during that time - from fruits supported by peat, to peat, possibly supported by fruit.
Expressions have become more intense and more cask-forward. Surely, this is as much about listening to the cues from the market (who seem to want more and more peat) as it is about stock and image management.
Corryvreckan was the first Ardbeg I tasted that I felt hinted at this newer modern slant. Released in 2009 following a small (5,000) Committee edition the year before, the bottling edged out the much loved (and arguably more subtle Airigh nam Beist). But, a decade on, it still sits as the most expensive bottle in the distillery’s Ultimate range and has developed its own loyal fan-base. Indeed, in terms of the modern Ardbeg drinker, I often find a schism between those who love Corryvreckan and those who prefer Uigeadail.
Of all the Ultimate range bottles, Corryvreckan is perhaps the most opaque. Despite possessing the most amount of marketing verbiage, virtually no information is given on what makes up this NAS bottling. A parcel of first fill French oak supporting ex-bourbon seems to be general consensus, but then views here are similarly diverse....I read one fellow commentator suggesting a composition of 100% Pinot Noir casks - no, just no.
Corryvreckan is delivered at the high strength of 57.1% ABV (the strongest of the distillery’s core range) and can be purchased for around £65 here in the UK.
Nose: Opening with heavy brine, log fires and touches of molten rubber and TCP. There’s a good level of freshness here with apple peels, pine needles, and cask-forward vanilla. Running throughout, salt water native oysters, coal dust and tingly white pepper. With water, things are sweetened - icing sugar, zesty citrus fruits and vanilla cream. If anything, smoke is even more prevalent.
Taste: A big punchy arrival with plenty of oiliness. There’s more expected Ardbeg character here now - sooty smoke and engine lubricants alongside tarred ropes, surface disinfectant and burnt barbecued ham. Coastalness runs throughout - seashells and tart biting citrus alongside some cask forward pepperiness. Reduced, things are once again sweeter, and smokier - honeysuckle with ash and wafting coal dust.
Finish: The linger side of medium and presenting salinity and citrus fruitiness with deep, sooty smokiness.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan is an impactful, bold interpretation of the distillery’s current DNA. There’s no complaints to be had regarding the intensity of flavours here. That said, I find some elements overexposed to the oak influence to the point where it feels rather like the wood and the smoke fighting for the limelight. Nevertheless, this is still very good - I just personally feel that Uigeadail is more consistently harmonious, and at the same time better value at £10-£15 cheaper.