If there’s one thing I hate more than chasing bottles, it’s the failure to secure said bottles. It comes with the territory – despite my father sometimes wondering if I’m playing whisky Pokemon (gotta catch em all), there are always releases which simply slip through my fingers. Ballot disappointments, a lack of fastest-finger-first or just a failing to keep abreast of what is being released when. Over time, I’ve had to learn to just let these bottlings go. You can’t catch em all – it’s either folly or a full-time job to try to do so. But, that’s not always the case for many people – and it’s part of what fuels the secondary market. Whisky FOMO is very real.
But, when nearly every day sees a new ‘limited’ release, it’s increasingly the strength and good nature of the community that I turn to. There’s a certain sense of contentedness which results from missing out on purchasing a bottle, but of nevertheless securing a sample. Whisky people are nice people. As is the case with today’s review. Thanks Christophe!
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan was launched over the summer and immediately set tongues wagging - it’s pronounced ‘Tri-Van’, but should not to be confused with the 1940s light delivery vehicle.
The release is a permanent addition to the distillery’s expanded core range (with An Oa joining back in 2017), and the first age-statement to be added to the range for nearly 20 years since the introduction of Ardbeg 17 year old. But with one important caveat. Right from the get-go, it has been announced that Traigh Bhan will be an annually produced limited batch release. Ardbeg have had quite the reputation for batch variance and inconsistency across their bottlings over the last 20 years – here, any such allegations are largely moot – there’s no attempt to maintain the stability of the product at least from a profile consistency point of view.
I find this rather shrewd. On the one hand, batching allays the fear-mongers who revel in noting variance – virtually always downward in quality I hasten to add. But, on the other, this annual batch release will no doubt be pitched (and likely received) as a selling point. ‘The whisky’s recipe is set to change with each batch, creating ‘subtle differences’ says the marketing blurb – so, other than always maintaining a 19 year old age statement, each year can, and probably will be promoted as an entirely new whisky and not just another X-thousand bottles. I can see certain folks building collections of these to lovingly gaze at. Though I’m sure that in time, some will do the much more stimulating thing and invite their friends around for a batch flight.
The liquid itself in this inaugural batch (TB/01-15.03.00/19.MH) would have been laid down around the turn of the millennium and is composed of American oak and oloroso sherry casks. It is delivered at 46.2% ABV and had an RRP (past tense) of a fairly stiff £169 (such is the price of a desirable marque).
That said, despite the initial frenzy – auction prices for this bottling have levelled off quickly and considerably – recent online sales have hit the RRP almost dead on at £170 – so with only the auction fees and shipping to pay on top, there’s little money for the flippers to be found in Traigh Bhan currently. I don’t suspect that will last – as soon as more batches are released, maiden ones will no doubt become considerably more desirable.
Nose: Immediate citrus – lemonbalm, lime slices, and grapefruit peels – fruity, and tart. Smoke is similarly quite direct – and surprisingly medicinal – hospital floor cleaner, bandages and antiseptic cream. Running throughout, Bousin creamy cheese – slightly lactic, slightly herbal with rosemary and waterproof jackets, rubberised to the elements. In the background, wild honey and smouldering heather and logs. Reduction reinforces the sense of creaminess and butteriness, whilst expressing smoked fish and seafood booth.
Taste: The arrival possesses an oily stickiness. It’s mouth-coating, but not especially weighty. Fruits are up first and more tropical in nature – pineapple chunks and dried mango slices – reinforced by the array of citrus detected on the nose – sweet, but acidic lemons and limes. Smoke follows – more powerfully than expected – medicinal wipes, germolene, sticking plasters, topical cream – against a heart of burnt oak and roaring log fires. The mid-palate to back palate maintains the peat, but introduces a creaminess from yoghurt and richness from seafood – langoustines, crab claws and briny bisque. Water ups the oakiness – dry, somewhat tannic – whilst also focussing on the industrialness of the peat smoke – iodine, bromine and ozone.
Finish: Medium and combining drying oak with medicinal flavours and touches of coastal minerality.
Ardbeg Traigh Bhan offers an expressive journey that’s more penetrating and dense than you might be expecting from its age-statement. Take any peated Islay and leave it alone for the best part of two-decades and you’d be expecting a considerable mellowing. Here, whilst the character has undeniably altered towards medicinalness, that mellifluousness is yet to develop – this still has plenty of life, soul and peat intensity. I’ve seen a few comparisons made to 70s Ardbegs – but for me, the only real associations to be made are around raw age-statements. This doesn’t possess the bright tropical fruits and soft tranquil peat of that era – indeed, it’s a much more modern affair. But one that's a vibrant, bold, action-packed joyride and also easy to recommend.
With thanks to Christophe (@Coldorak) for the sample swap.