The annual Ardbeg Committee release has become an inevitability in many ways. Firstly, owner LVMH aren’t going to miss the chance to launch a special, limited-edition whisky to the Ardbeg fan club that will definitely sell out. Secondly, the members of the Ardbeg fan club aren’t going to miss the chance to complain about a special, limited-edition whisky released for them that will definitely sell out.
In a dance as old as time…
This year’s offering at the altar of whisky fan consumption and internet abuse is the most quirkily named yet: Ardbeg Blaack.
The Ardbeg Committee
Formed back in 2000, the Ardbeg Committee is the official Ardbeg fan club. It was the start of a new era for the distillery, which had closed in 1996 as an unwanted part of the Allied portfolio and reopened a year later as the third distillery in the Glenmorangie gang.
The distillery was up and running and the launch of The Committee helped grow the cult that supported it through the early years of new management. A members’ rulebook forbidding the mixing of Ardbeg and a variety of other ‘crimes’, an irreverent take on whisky, and nods to history all contributed to The Committee’s and the distillery’s popularity. Over the past twenty years, Committee members have travelled the world to go to tastings at Ardbeg Embassies – favoured retailers, endorsed by the distillery – chased branded tractors and motorbikes, and got Ardbeg tattoos. So many Ardbeg tattoos…
As part of The Committee, members get access to special bottlings. While these started out with single casks and special vattings, they quickly settled down into a rhythm of preview releases with occasional extra special releases.
You can find a complete list of the Committee Releases at the excellent Ardbeg Project website.
The Committee Releases have featured legendary whiskies like the lightly-peated Kildalton and the Octomore-inspiring Supernova – Ardbeg’s final shot in the ‘world’s peatiest whisky’ wars, before they left Bruichladdich to compete against themselves – but it’s the regular Committee versions of other whiskies it’s become best known for.
First up was Ardbeg Very Young For Discussion – some of the first post-acquisition Ardbeg spirit, bottled at 6 years old to give the fans something to try. It went wider than The Committee with a later regular Very Young release, which led a series that continued until the first release of Ardbeg 10: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance – the first 10-year-old Ardbeg consisting entirely of spirit distilled since Glenmorangie bought the distillery.
Since then, we’ve had Corryvreckan For Discussion, Supernova and Alligator, as well as a yearly special edition of the annual bottling for the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Fèis Ìle: Ardbeg Day, Ardbog, Auriverdes, Perpetuum, Dark Cove, Kelpie, Grooves, Drum and now Blaaack.
Blaaack. Blaaaack. Blaaaaack!
Blaack has been specially selected as a celebratory release for the 20th anniversary of the committee and celebrates ‘the flock’. The thin thread tieing the whisky to the (potentially insulting) concept of the sheep of the Ardbeg Committee is New Zealand, its 7:1 ratio of sheep to people, and the country’s Pinot Noir.
The whisky is a now-standard ‘finished for an unspecified amount of time in wine casks’ – in this case New Zealand Pinot Noir – release, a classic Lumsden creation. Dr Bill Lumsden is the Glenmorangie/Ardbeg Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks, a teller of filthy jokes, and lover of both wine and wine-cask maturation.
Learn more about him in Anton’s interview with Dr Bill Lumsden.
Bill says: “Ardbeg Blaaack knits together velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, with a deeper edge of soot and Ardbeg’s hallmark smoke. It’s the perfect dram for toasting our legendary Committee.” But what did I reckon?
Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release
Nose: Vanilla sponge cake, buttered fruit loaf, apple jam and a hint of sweet, bacony smoke. Behind the sweetness and smoke hides a gently-blowing sea breeze, freshly baked bread and green veggies: freshly shelled peas and pea shoots.
Palate: A kick of stony minerality tends to sweetness and intense citrus: sweet orange and sour lemon. Leathery notes build and mingle with the ever-present smoke: sweet and earthy. Hiding behind the peat is the cake and fruity bread from the nose, black liquorice and dark-chocolate covered mint fondant creams.
Finish: Mint choc chips fade to leave damp embers and liquorice torpedoes.
While the Committee Releases have received a bit of a kicking online over the years, this one definitely doesn’t deserve that treatment – it’s my favourite of the recent releases, even though it’s been finished in a red-wine cask, usually one of my least-favourite of things that can be done to a spirit. I await the delivery of my bottle. Actually, I should probably check the tracking…
The Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release was available from the Ardbeg website, but is now sold out. It was 70cl, 50.7%, £94 + £8 postage to the UK.
Many thanks to Ardbeg and Emily at May-Fox for the sample.