Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Whisky Review: Ardbeg 10 Year L7

One of the biggest debates among Ardbeg fans in recent years is whether the whisky has fundamentally changed since Glenmorangie purchased and refurbished the distillery in the late-90s.

Their reputation was rebuilt largely on whiskies that were much older than the numbers on the labels because of gaps in production that I've discussed before. The switchover came in 2008, when they released Renaissance, which was purportedly the first ten year old spirit distilled after Glenmorangie bought the distillery. This corresponds with L8 releases of the standard 10 Year, which began to utilize the same spirit, rather than the "Old Ten" L0-L7 releases which were exclusively spirit distilled before 1997.

This whisky was bottled on November 19th, 2007 at 46% without coloring or chill filtration. Thanks to Michael Kravitz for the sample of this now long-gone whisky.

Ardbeg 10 Year L7 323 21:19 4ml

Nose: rather green, light herbal peat, graphite, seaweed/seashore, a touch of decaying vegetation, clean malt, solid bourbon cask influence, fresh oak, overripe berries, rubber cement, burnt orange peel, gingerbread/baking spices, a touch of ham. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes more Highland-ish with increasing floral character and slightly diminished peat, which becomes more smokey and charcoal-like, losing some of the vegetal character.

Taste: sweet malt and barrel notes up front, bourbon cask fruit esters and heather on top, balanced by oak tannins, ink, graphite, and leafy peat smoke in the middle, which fades a bit at the back for another bump of malt sweetness. After dilution, the peat integrates and subsides a bit, letting the sweetness and bourbon cask character shine plus revealing some citrus peel (mostly orange with a bit of lemon), and there's a fruit-y thickness around the middle that makes it seem almost sherried.

Finish: sweet malt, browned apples, herbal/leafy peat, gentle oak,

I don't know that this version of the 10 Year is better than more recent releases, but it is noticeably different. I tried the last of the bottle of 10 Year I purchased in late 2012, which was likely an L11 or L12, side by side and found it to be more aggressive, both in terms of sweetness and smoke, with a lot of barrel char plus some iodine and oily character. In terms of similarities, I found strong gingerbread notes in both, which was a nice touch and reminded me of younger bourbon cask Kilkerran. So there is definitely overlap between the pre- and post-Glenmorangie spirit, and they appear to be the same color even without caramel, but they are also distinctly different from each other. In many ways this reminds me of Bruichladdich (whose former owner, Mark Reynier, coincidentally considered buying Ardbeg), which has also dealt with the changing nature of the spirit distilled before and after the distillery was rebuilt.

L12 on the left - L7 on the right
For me the biggest lesson from this tasting was getting a better sense of how older Ardbeg can evolve out of the younger stock. While most of the spirit is probably from the mid-90s, I suspect that this release still has some older casks in the mix, so it has more of the lighter aged character that comes from well-aged refill casks; the L7 had some overlap with the 1994 and 1974 single casks I tried during the Deconstructing the Dram tasting I did at Ardbeg. So if Ardbeg ever releases older age dated whisky I think it could be very good, in contrast to the much younger and more raw style we primarily get these days.


  1. One of the PLOWED guys puts the L7 323 after the first Glemo-directed distillate bottlings:

    1. There was whisky distilled in 1997, so it's possible that they started slipping it into the 10 Year the moment it crossed the line. Ultimately only Ardbeg knows.