Peat and sherry. Even with hundreds of different Scotch whiskies to choose from, this isn’t a combination you see much of when scoping out your average bottle store. I’m not sure why – maybe there’s a misconception that the two flavours don’t work very well together. Or perhaps (more likely) making a balanced combination of two very potent ingredients is just a difficult and expensive thing to do. In fact, there are only two real contenders when it comes to readily available peat-and-sherry hybrids…
The most recognisable bottle you might discover is Lagavulin 16 – a hugely worthwhile dram for any Islay whisky lover, and one that drags peat-deniers down the road to enlightenment kicking and screaming.
The other is Ardbeg Uigeadail. Part of the core Ardbeg range, Uigeadail (“Oogie”) is widely available, reasonably priced and lacking an age statement. But despite this it has garnered a massive cult following, and remains one of the most highly lauded, whisky-snob-approved mainstream expressions you can find. And like most Ardbeg expressions beyond the beloved 10-year-old, it comes bottled at seriously high strength – a grin-inducing 54.2% ABV in this case – and of course comes non-chill filtered, natural colour and in a grumpy old man bottle.
I got my hands on one just in time for Ardbeg Day 2017. Here goes!
Richer than the 10, a ruby caramel colour.
Instantly recognisable as a slice of Ardbeg deliciousness! Wowza. Powerful and punchy, but gentler on the nose than the alcohol ratio and the peat reputation would have you believe. First up there’s a sharp nuttiness, some caramel and a floral quality, like a flowery vanilla essence. Peaty vegetation – freshly mown lawn, dewy grass. Some meaty stuff – bacon, cured meat, salami. Peppadews. A faint, very dry (Oloroso?) sherry. Pears. And a little candy floss.
Phwoooooar. A deep, massive peat. Like the 10-year-old, Ardbeg Uigeadail manages to avoid that cloying (Laphroaigy) cigarette ash in favour of clean wood smoke. Some strong ethanol on the palette. Salty and chewy. Biltong. Smoked Ribs. Mild spices – something like aniseed and paprika. Bourbon style caramel and vanilla that compliment the sherry casks, which weave their way in with Turkish Delight and cherries. And of course, some Christmas cake – raisins, sultanas, dried oranges. Lovely stuff!
As the strength might have suggested, Oogie can handle water like a champ – although I find that drinking it as close to full strength as you can ensures it stays suitably brooding. A teaspoon or two of water was the sweet spot for me, reigning in the ethanol and emphasising some of those Christmas/mince pie flavours.
There’s not much to say – everyone knows Ardbeg Uigeadail is absolutely awesome. A slow, potent, powerful drink for sipping in a rocking chair and being miserable, a glass to be nursed while everyone else eats their apple crumble and laughs with youthful abandon. It’s a truly delicious, brooding dram.
The real question is, will it be Oogie or Lagavulin? Both are similarly priced, although Lagavulin occasionally breaks the R1000/bottle mark (no doubt retailers capitalising on that juicy 16-year age statement). Both absolutely nail the rare mixture of sherry and peat, blended masterfully. And both up your whisky credentials to stratospheric levels, making you sound, at least, like a total whisky badass.
In my mind team NAS nailed it here. Ardbeg Uigeadail is just a heavy, powerful and staggeringly well blended concoction. That meatiness on the palate is something rivalled only by Highland Park 18, that sweet richness something you’d find in Oban or Cragganmore. And of course the higher strength just gives you way more whisky for your money! An absolute must have for lovers of Ardbeg, and a must-try for everyone else. Cheers!