This review follows on the heels of Ardbeg 10 Year, as the gift pack I picked up also contained a mini of Uigeadail.
I've talked a bit before about Ardbeg's radical shift towards no age statement (NAS) whiskies and Uigeadail was what got the ball rolling. Ardbeg was shuttered for most of the 1980s and all but closed during the 1990s, leaving a large hole in the distillery's stocks after it was purchased and refurbished by Glenmorangie and their parent company LVMH. Uigeadail, named after the loch that supplies most of the distillery's water, was originally put together to utilize a number of ex-sherry casks that were distilled in the 1970s. To balance them out, younger, peatier (peat flavors tend to decrease over time) ex-bourbon cask whisky was blended in to make an expression that combined the mellow sweetness of sherry with the fiery peat of the younger malt. No age statement was added because it was felt that labeling the whisky with the age of the youngest component wouldn't do justice to the old sherry casks added in. First released in 2003, it was an almost instant hit.
However, there was always a limitation to this plan - the finite supply of old sherry casks. While I was never able to sample older bottles, talking to a number of friends who have been drinking it for some time and reading reviews suggests that there has been a significant decrease in quality of Uigeadail releases over the last few years. This tends to suggest that those old whiskies are tapped out and the expression is now made from much younger sherry casks. Let's see how it goes.
Ardbeg Uigeadail (purchased late 2012)
Nose: big sherry with amontillado/oloroso savoriness, cherries, moderate vegetal peat is an accent rather than the main show, salty, creamy malt, vanilla, Christmas cake. After adding a few drops of water, there is more peat and salt, the sherry becomes more savory and integrated, the overall effect is more creamy, raisins (but not sweet ones), malty background, a bit floral, and some barbecue/wood char comes out.
Taste: sherry and peat occupy different zones with a crossover mid-palate, salted malt and black pepper come in the middle, the peat is very earthy, and there are some tannins at the back.
Finish: earthy, tar, a little tangy vegetal peat, oak tannins, savory sherry, salt
I'm going to come out and say that I think this is nothing but young whisky now. I'm not alone in thinking it's a totally different beast than it used to be. To me it reads like a mashup of Aberlour A'Bunadh and Ardbeg 10, which would be totally in line. Ardbeg, and a number of other distilleries *coughMacallancough* are running into the same issues as a lot of microdistilleries - you can't cheat time. Despite the best efforts of master blenders, there is simply no replacement for whisky sitting in casks for many, many years. Young, first-fill sherry casks are fundamentally different than thirty year old sherry casks (which doesn't even cover the fact that Ardbeg's fermentation and distilling practices have changed over the intervening years). With all that said, this iteration of Uigeadail isn't bad, I'm just not sure that the higher price tag is justified anymore. I'd pay $60-65 for this, to cover the higher proof, but the $75+ that they ask for it in many places is just too much for me unless I can find a bottle from an earlier batch that still contained those old sherry casks.
Edit: check out Michael Kravitz's post today comparing a recent (L12) version to an older (L6) version of Uigeadail. The differences sound very apparent, which stokes the notions that Uigeadail is changing.
Lagavulin 21 year old 1991 (thank you, Brett!)
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