If history has repeated itself today will be irksome. It used to be so straight-forward – a simple case of being in the right place at the right time with a modicum of patience. But, over the years the sadists at LVMH seem to take increasingly glee in making the Ardbeg Day Committee release as painful as possible. 2018’s was about as un-groovy as they come – an obvious window where more website bandwidth would be required to sate the demands of a baying Ardbeggian mob - but little bandwidth was forthcoming. Many 404’s were displayed. Many heads were banged against walls. But, here I am once again, locked in my own perpetual cycle awaiting the release of Ardbeg Drum.
I hate scrabbling for bottles – it’s something I rarely do, and it’s just not good for the blood pressure. But, after years of patiently working through a near full-swathe of Committee releases I feel rather bound by my own persistence. I bemoan the excessive (and growing) demand, I rue the spotty IT infrastructure, but like a predictable glutton for punishment I turn up each and every year for more of the same. I’m truly part of my own problem.
I’m far from alone – enthusiasts often develop close relationships with distilleries and their limited releases. In the case of Ardbeg, a huge worldwide fan base has developed since it’s re-emergence at the turn of the Millennium. I’d posit that the general standards of OB releases from the distillery has been quite high - over the years I’ve had everything from good Ardbeg through to amazing Ardbeg, but rarely (perhaps barring Blasda and Serendipity) have I felt that that bottlings have been disposable. Yes, the marketing has become rather strained, but the overall quality remains high. Alas, so too does the desirability outside of the established fan base – Committee and limited releases are a flipper’s paradise. But, I take some solace in knowing that for the most part, these folks have got to work just as hard to secure a bottle as everyone else. Honestly, after all the work you’re going to put in getting a bottle, you might as well crack it open to celebrate.
So, whilst I sit here with morbid trepidation at the eventual state of my ‘F5 finger’ come this lunchtime, I’ll spend the time looking back on a previous Ardbeg Day offering that’s to hand…
2015’s Ardbeg Day release was Perpetuum – a celebration of the distillery’s 200th birthday. The higher strength Committee version sold out in short order (as it always does), but you can still pick up a bottle of the standard edition for a 50% premium from retailers such as TWE.
The more widely available Feis Ile version has an identical composition to its 49.2% sibling – and like many of Ardbeg’s limited releases, it’s far from transparent - a mix of “very old and young” whisky drawn from both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry barrels. Your guess as to what “very old” and “young” mean is as good as mine, but it feels at least in keeping with the theme of the bottling which displays an infinity symbol and talks about some sort of never-ending story.
Nose: The usual and expected sooty and tarry Ardbeg peat is present and correct, but downplayed compared to many releases – far from wispy, but not firing on all cylinders. Honey, vanilla and hedgerow berries provide a sweeter edge and sit with dried meats, salt and vinegar crisps and a bundle of chopped herbs. Reduction should be undertaken sparingly – this washes out all too easily. It introduces both ozone and bromine, whilst allowing sugared lemon peels and menthol room to express themselves.
Taste: The arrival delivers much more punch than the more delicately tuned nose – ashy smoke, burnt meats, tarred ropes and water-logged sea kelp. There’s some more overtly medicinal flavours here. The mid-palate reveals berry fruitiness, but also a fair whack of oak – quite young – sappy, tannic and peppery. In the back palate, milk chocolate and tart citrus is joined by a slight chalky texture – near salty. Dilution brings out a wider array of fruits – mainly of the stone variety, alongside split vanilla pods.
Finish: Medium to long combining sugars and salts with beach fire embers and fading minerality.
Perpetuum offers a fairly modern take on the Ardbeg house style. Whilst young and a touch raw in places, there’s still a good overall sense of balance on offer here – dulled down peat smoke sitting nicely with more cask-forward elements. Perhaps I was expecting more for a 200th anniversary bottling, but nevertheless, I can see where this bottling was heading with its conception – the past (heavy spirit) meeting the future (heavy wood). Overall, this ably pulls together both threads, but at the same time doesn’t blow me away with it.