What’s this!? Another Ardbeg core expression, hot on the heels of the resoundingly great Ardbeg Blaaack limited release! It’s like I died and woke up on Islay (suitably attired), cash in hand and bicycle at the ready.
Wee Beastie is the new age stated core expression in the Ardbeg range, the first one in many, many moons. In fact, it’s the only other expression alongside Ardbeg 10 to proudly display its age – and excitingly, the age it bears is a beautiful, crisp “5”. For whisky nerds who value substance over style, this is an optimistic sign that we’re entering an era where simple, honest age-statements could make a comeback, despite the lack of big numbers and stories of ancient provenance.
Instead, Wee Beastie wears its 5-year-old badge with extreme pride, much like the line of trailblazing young Octomores that set the scene for the public understanding of the balance between “youth” and “peat”. Want a powerful, peaty dram? Better serve it young – and here’s some extra alcohol oomph for good measure. Not being one to shirk in this department, Wee Beastie is bottled at a highly approved 47.4% ABV as standard. Yessir!
I poured a wee dram of Wee Beastie alongside some Ardbeg 10 for a healthy comparison, and jumped right in!
A somewhat reddish, light gold.
At first blush we have something very similar to Ardbeg 10, particularly if you happen to be schnaafing them side-by-side. Given a little time (and air) in the glass, the similarities quickly fade.
The dewy grass of the 10 has been reigned in (much like in An Oa) as has the charcoal, with slightly less floral and earthy stuff going on. Instead, Wee Beastie replaces these with something significantly more meaty, with a kind of barbeque marinade, pepper, caramel and salt. At the same time, Wee Beastie is sweeter and hotter, and with an almost vermouth-like twang at the back I’ll be damned if there aren’t significantly more sherry casks involved here.
Also, it smells less smoky on the nose – despite the marketing – but certainly more peaty. The peat here really does smell remarkably like actual peated barley kernels – if you’ve ever had a handful of the stuff at a distillery and given it a good whiff, that’s what you have here, rather than a general, smoky ash.
On the nose, Wee Beastie takes it! Gulp.
As its name implies, Wee Beastie is actually a fairly loveable little tyke despite its imposing exterior. I was expecting a tougher dram to chew through, but that’s marketing for you 🙂
Wee Beastie is the “fruity” Ardbeg. It is to fruit what Uigeadail is to sherry, or what An Oa is to caramel. Up front – even before the peat smoke lands – you get a really wonderful burst of fresh red fruits, a little zest. You also get much stronger cask flavours coming through than the typical Ardbeg which gives it an immediate accessibility (again, much like An Oa).
Next is the sweetness, making this the sweetest Ardbeg yet. I want to say “gently” sherried, but nevertheless rich as hell – nothing “light” about it, and bordering – but not crossing the line! – on drowning in some very potent casks.
Last is the peat, which remains more like the actual cereal than some analogy to smoke. It arrives late to the party, but extends on through the finish for a fair while. Very peaty, but definitely more subdued during the arrival.
This is supremely drinkable stuff, and while clearly a little hotter, is also a total chug-monster. Wonderful!
Hmm, mixed bag with some water added, much like its brothers and sisters. The peat near vanishes given some water, but the rich, fruity sweetness remains. I highly suspect (assuming it’s a little cheaper than the 10) that it will be popular in more sugar-forward cocktails, as it does seem to swim fairly well. However, the casual whisky drinker is likely going to want to keep it neat, despite its high ABV.
Wee Beastie is a different “beastie” to Ardbeg 10, and fortunately they can happily exist together without cramping each other’s style. Ardbeg 10 is subtler, simpler and dry, while Wee Beastie is potent, punchy and sweet.
It’s a really remarkable achievement at the “mere” 5 years it sports on the label, and hopefully the pricing (which has yet to be revealed in South Africa) will securely seal the deal as another Ardbeg shaped no-brainer! An awesome bottle to add to the regular lineup – it seems like it could be a hot contender against other sweet, peaty drams like Ailsa Bay or Bowmore 15 – and even give Lagavulin 16 a serious run for its money.
Love it, can’t wait to get my mitts on a full glorious bottle!