Review of the Committee vs General Releases
When I was first exploring peated scotch, I landed on Ardbeg and Laphroaig as my two favorites. The difference between the two distilleries is amazing and fun to explore. They have two unique peat flavor profiles to me that I love above many other Islay distilleries. Laphroaig has this medicinal smoke with a bit of savory saltiness. Ardbeg has a campfire smoke to me that I rather enjoy especially with their wine cask bottles. The standard bottles from both distilleries are killer. Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength is a bottle that has to be on my shelf. Comparatively, Corryvreckan is my go Ardbeg expression.
Ardbeg limited releases come at a significant price increase above their standard line. Many are released in a cask strength Committee Release and a 46% Limited or General Release version. I have bought many of the past special releases and each time I find myself asking if the price was worth it. Is BlaaacK really that much better than Uigeadail? Is it twice as good for twice the price?
Regardless of my inner conflicts I end up buying them and sharing with others as we all compare tasting notes and if the bottle price was indeed worth it.
Today I’m reviewing the two newest limited release bottles side by side. Named Ardbeg Scorch for the heavily charred ex-bourbon casks used for maturation. The levels of bourbon barrels typically range from mild toasting to an intense burned stave nicknamed “Alligator Char”. Wild Turkey notably uses this heavily charred barrel that really brings out a familiar cask influence flavor in their spirit.
I decided it was best to taste these blind and compare if dilution from 51.7% to 46% had any effect on flavor. Both were rested neat, capped, in a glencairn for roughly 5-10 min with 3 drops of water in each.
Nose – Lots of lovely, heavy peat. Apples, pear, honey, and grain cereals. Slight floral note along with that honey. Earthy walnut kind of rounds everything together. Very slight leather.
Palate – Big big barrel char notes in the peat right in the face. Dry, arid feeling on the palate. Peat and oak char dominate with a sweet brandy-like flavor. Noticeably thin.
Finish – Nice full smoky sweetness. The barrel char comes off as a bitter leather note. Definitely lives up to the “Scorch” name. Rather short finish. It’s like cigar ash flavor.
Nose – Slightly less peat. More warm honey and fruits. Earthiness is gone for me. Apple and pear still dominate as well as an apricot and sultana richness pairing well. Almost a sweet Riesling floralness to it.
Palate – Texture is much better. A lot more peppery heat and lacks that sweetness initially. It’s there but well mask by the smoke and char. Honey graham crackers but that Apple or Pear fruitiness is also gone on the palate. So many layers of barrel char. You get peat smoke, cigar smoke, burnt sulfurous wood matches. As you sip more the cinnamon apple flavor comes out as well as that wine-like flavor at the back of the throat. Oddly, I also get this tart lemon flavor ever time I lick my lips. It’s so weird for this flavor to pop out right at the end.
Finish – Big burst of capsaicin and deep intense leather and oak. Lost of ash and char like burnt matches again. A slight sweet candied apple reprieve but straight into that cigar ash. It’s like a mouthful of sawdust. Absolutely arid finish. Everything now tastes like ash even my water.
Overall I preferred glass B right away from the mouthfeel. It’s immediately a much more full experience. There’s some lost fruit flavors that playing with dilution might bring out. Overall this glass is like sitting in a old leather couch of a hunting lodge with a huge cigar. The bottle is aptly named. I think this is the smokiest Ardbeg I’ve tasted too. Not just from the peat but also the barrel character upping that smoke factor.
I enjoy this despite the overall barrel character dominating the spirit. If I was asked if it was worthy of purchasing a whole bottle, I say no. This is a try before you buy for me. If you’re an Ardbeg fan though you probably already bought a bottle anyway.