For most of the 2000s Ardbeg had a static standard lineup composed of the 10 Year, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan. With their near neighbor Laphroaig throwing off new NAS releases with unusual rapidity, Ardbeg seemed almost staid in comparison with the only variation coming from their annual one-offs. But more recently it seems that they've been paying attention to Laphroaig's strategy, most notably with their Select release that took something of a kitchen sink approach and prominently featured new American oak casks in the mix.
Ardbeg decided to copy that strategy with An Oa, which is composed from first-fill ex-bourbon, PX sherry, and new American oak casks that are blended together in a French oak vat. The final result is bottled at 46.6% without coloring or chill filtration.
Ardbeg An Oa
Nose: young-ish Ardbeg peat, balanced herbal and smoky, a little charcoal, clean malt and a whiff of sweet sherry in the background, some new American oak, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer and the sherry notes integrate with the peat and the oak becomes more savory.
Taste: strong bourbon cask and malt sweetness up front, new American oak in the middle and a touch of sherry in the background, slowly fading into drier oak at the back. After dilution the sweetness and oak become more balanced, but the peat at the back is significantly reduced.
Finish: dry peat smoke, fading into balanced malt and sherry, a lingering weed-y aftertaste
This is pretty OK. The grab bag approach has its downsides, especially in the new oak influence, but this is a decent addition to their standard lineup. If you're looking for a sherry-influenced Ardbeg this doesn't provide anywhere near the experience of Uigeadail, but it's also a lot cheaper. I can also see this appealing to fans of Laphroaig Quarter Cask as the oak-driven character has some similarities. In the places where An Oa is at an equal price to the 10 Year, I think it would be a bit of a toss-up between the two depending on your taste, but around here where it's $12 more, the less fancy pick is the right one.
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