Eish, rum casks. Sounds great on paper, even better in marketing… but boy have I got mixed feelings about them. I find that the vast majority of single malts that have been exposed to rum casks leave the encounter worse for it, overly “Captain Morganised”, sickly sweet and… cloying.
Nevertheless this year’s Ardbeg Day had Ardbeg going full Caribbean on us. Where last year was all free love and Austin Powers in the form of Ardbeg Grooves, this year we have Ardbeg Drum, a rum finished expression using a cask from the “Caribbean region of North America”. I was skeptical. I was worried.
Regardless, Ardbeg Day 2019 was an awesome affair here in Cape Town, a rare chance to smash the core range side-by-side in the company of some excellent folks. And of course, topped off with numerous helpings of Ardbeg Drum. Gentlemen, drumroll:
A golden version of Ardbeg 10’s light straw.
Okay, wow, surprising all around. First up: no nose-wrinkling drippy-cask nonsense going on here. The spicy, banana, pastry-sweet qualities of the rum are immediately apparent, but far from overwhelming. Taking notes, Balvenie 14!?
Second: every whiff of this stuff is still very clearly Ardbeg – the relationship with the ten-year-old couldn’t be more apparent. Imagine stirring through some Ardbeg with the lightest touch of pineapple and coconut and you’re in the right direction.
Exactly the same impression on the taste – there’s no doubt you’re drinking a healthy dose of Ardbeg, but with a slight “twist” that brings in the cask gently rather than beating you over the head with it. You get those familiar meaty, mossy and salty notes, as well as that bourbon-esque caramel and butterscotch that make Ardbeg 10 so great. However, carefully layered in there (or rather, “expertly”) is the rum cask lending those tropical fruits, cinnamon, melon and lemon zest, with a strong hint of pine needles, milk chocolate and… I want to say “apples”. And all without destroying that Ardbeg peat. Really well done, supremely drinkable!
A fruity, sweet and smoky ride out to the finish line. Not an endless finish, but warming and oily.
Bloody well done Ardbeg for making a rum finished malt that doesn’t suck! Not a trivial accomplishment. You get a really exciting, interesting twist on an old favourite, without sacrificing the reason you’re there in the first place – salty, briny, peaty goodness with plenty of ex-bourbon influence to keep the entire thing feeling like a real single malt Scotch.
Better than beloved Oogie? Not a chance. But that’s no real surprise. Pick this one up for the occasional diversion, not as a daily driver. While my own preference would be for any of the other Ardbeg core expressions, Drum is one of the most interesting, well crafted and expertly blended experimental batches the distillery has produced, and well worth a dram or two!