Behind heavy wooden doors, greeted by a pack of tail-wagging Scottish Terriers all named Shortie and down a curved staircase, you’d be forgiven if you thought you had stepped back in time to New Orleans, circa 1930s. Welcomed by a cohesive mix of flamingo tiles, your choice of chesterfield booth seating or rattan chair, and banana palms providing a weathered Cuban charm, you’ll quickly forget you’re in a Sydney basement bar, The Lobo Plantation. And whilst the back-bar stocks almost 300 unique rums from Jamaica, Cuba, Antigua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Martinique, today we’re celebrating another delicious spirit, Scotch. And more importantly this year’s special release from Ardbeg, the ‘Drum’.
Before we dive into this tasty, sweet, smoky single malt from everyone’s favourite Scottish island, let’s first explore what Ardbeg Day is, and what the fuss is all about. So, grab an Ardbeg coconut (ours were purposely spiked with Ardbeg 10 and they are, oh so refreshingly delicious), pull up a comfy hammock, possibly a Cuban cigar or slice of pineapple and settle in.
Every year, on the last Saturday of Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt (Feis Ile), whisky lovers globally unite in what has become known as Ardbeg Day, bringing together fans of the distillery to celebrate all things Ardbeg. The distillery hosts an open day inviting members of the public to tour its distillery and bonded warehouses where the whisky is quietly aging, whilst simultaneously hosting themed parties across globe with its many Ardbeg embassies.
More excitingly, the distillery celebrates the occasion with the release of their annual limited edition bottling. The whisky is usually released as two expressions: a cask strength or higher ABV version available only to Ardbeg’s Committee members, the international organisation of Ardbeg enthusiasts (free to join through the Ardbeg website), and a lower ABV version made available to general public.
Before we dive into this year’s special release whisky, let’s take a look at the last couple releases. In 2017 we tasted the Ardbeg Kelpie, bottled at 46%, aged in virgin Black Sea oak casks sourced by Dr. Bill Lumsden (Master Distiller at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie distilleries) from the Adyghe Republic in Russia. Flavours included peppers, smoky bacon and rich dark chocolate mixed with almost subterranean flavours of clove, tar, and rich toffee. 2018’s special release was the Ardbeg Grooves, a tasty and complex whisky themed around Peat & Love, with a colourful ‘60s, flower power-inspired label. For those lucky to try it, it was indeed a groovy whisky, on the palate we tasted vanilla fudge, dried orchard fruits, plus a big, salty opening welcoming what can only be described as seaside bonfire and sweet saltiness of honey smoked ham. Both very interesting whiskies to say the least and as always, we were super excited to try this year’s release.
The whole concept around Ardbeg day special releases isn’t necessarily to produce the best, award-winning whisky, buy more so to highlight and showcase the diversity of Ardbeg’s spirit, it’s complex layers of flavours, the use of different cask types, maturation techniques and peat levels, which imparts that delicious ‘smoky’ flavour we’ve come to love and expect from Ardbeg.
At The Whisky List, we love this concept. For us, whisky is at its best when it’s opened, savoured and enjoyed with friends. We were thrilled to be invited to this year’s Ardbeg Day celebrations in Sydney hosted by our good friends over at Ardbeg.
By now, you must be wondering what does a Caribbean-themed bar got to do with a Scottish Islay single malt? The Ardbeg ‘Drum’ was officially released on June 1, 2019 and in a first for the distillery, Ardbeg have taken single malt from ex-Bourbon casks and rested it in American ex-rum casks, paying homage to Islay’s history of carnivals, which happens to be this year’s Ardbeg Day theme – Carnival on Islay.
In between a game of limbo, delicious Caribbean inspired appetizers, three tropical Ardbeg cocktails and a colourful steel drum performance we sampled the long-awaited Ardbeg Drum:
Nose: Hints of wood smoke married with tropical aromas of ripe pineapple, banana and candied ginger.
Palate: Sweetness of tropical fruits, loads of spice, clove, peppers, cinnamon, with swirls of Ardbeg earthy peat, burnt liquorice, and hints of dark chocolate and coffee beans.
Finish: Medium length, sweet cinnamon and cocoa with a good dollop of peat smoke reminding you this is indeed an Ardbeg.
Verdict: This is a very sweet, smoky dram compared to other Ardbegs. The tropical fruits add a layer of freshness, a dram worth cracking on a hot summer’s day. And in a word… *drum roll* please. Delicious!
Thank you to team at Moët Hennessy for inviting us to partake in this year’s Ardbeg Day festivities. Can’t wait till next year. Slàinte Mhath!
About Ardbeg Drum:
The Ardbeg Drum expression carries no age statement. It has been matured in ex-bourbon casks and then finished for an unspecified period of time in casks that previously held rum from the Americas. Ardbeg doesn’t disclose their source of the rum casks. The Committee Edition carries a 52% ABV. The regular version carries a 46% ABV. Neither expression is chill filtered nor has colouring added.
At time of publishing, there is a few bottles of both expression still available to purchase.
Ardbeg Drum Committee Release - https://thewhiskylist.com.au/whisky/scotland/ardbeg/ardbeg-drum-committee-release-cask-strength