Ardbeg 31 Years Old 1974 Cask 4989
Islay single malt scotch whisky
50.7% ABV, £450 for 70cl
What they say:
Royal Mile Whiskies: Just 133 bottles came from cask number 4989, sold exclusively in the UK. We only got a few bottles of this, boldy priced at £450 inc VAT (50 quid less than the RRP, which we thought was a bit crazy, even for old Ardbeg!) They sold out instantly!
Distiller’s Tasting Notes
Colour: Dark amber
Aroma: Rich, deep and intense with dark chocolate coated treacle toffees filled with raisin and cherry fruit. Smoked malt is discovered as it rises through the rich sweetness bringing smoky heather bonfires, bog myrtle and sea spray. With water, the aroma opens up to reveal even more sweetness with butterscotch and barley sugar. The sweet theme continues with dessert-like luscious notes of figs, apricots, bananas and peaches smothered in vanilla custard and nestled in meringue. Deeper spices and nutty notes emerge a little later revealing ginger nut biscuits and walnut oil with freshly roast coffee and thick cream.
Taste: The taste is rich and smooth. Initially smooth and silky fudge and creamy custard glides over the tongue developing rapidly into a burst of mixed dried fruit (figs, apricots) and tangy lemon peel. Dark chocolate and rum and raisin ice cream bring maturity and depth as the smoky phenolic and oak notes build up on the palate with time.
Finish: Long and gently drying with smooth vanilla, dried fruit and heather smoke.
What I say:
At this point in the evening I was very glad I had responded to the Ardbeg Committee email announcing a pair of tastings at their Edinburgh embassies. I opted for the tasting hosted at Royal Mile Whiskies mostly as I frequent the place and know a large number of good friends and fellow Edinburgh University Water of Life Society members who work there very well. Sadly the Ardbeg tasting the previous evening hosted at The Whiski Rooms had been a fairly speedy affair, lacked the presence of Dr Bill Lumsden and featured roughly the previous more standard drams (#1-5) we had just sampled.
Dram #’s 6 and 7 were obviously out to impress. This particular bottle was donated from Bill’s private collection and was distilled in 1974 and matured for just a fraction (1 month) under 32 years in a 1st fill bourbon cask #4989. At outturn 132 bottles were produced at cask strength of 50.7% ABV, of which we were sampling bottle #23.
Deep amber (12/20) medium slow moving droplet tears
Powerful vanilla and caramelised sugars, crème brulee, sweet caramel sauce, butterscotch, rich cream fudge and toffee, a hint of salted caramel, some fruit – like a smooth paste made from banana, peach and apricot, a little chestnut puree and walnut with hints of smooth sweet mid-dark chocolate ~60% cocoa
Madagascan vanilla essence, white chocolate with vanilla, caramel, polished and lacquered antique oak wood, herbal sage and rosemary, coconut and gorse flower, rich malty, malt extract and treacle-like thickness, treacle toffee, golden syrup, chewy and well-rounded, faintest hints of rich & moist gingerbread with mild spices, more dark chocolate and espresso coffee hints.
Medium length, herbal oak wood and beeswax polish, gentle earthy peat smoke lingers
Wow! An awesome single cask example revealing how massive bourbon ageing can really temper the Ardbeg peat levels down to almost indistinguishable amounts. This one tasted like it should have stuck to the sides of the glass like treacle! This really was an exceptional single cask whisky born out of the Allied Domeq period at Ardbeg this would have been made at ~ 50-60 ppm phenol, measured in the malted barley and may well have been filled into the cask at the ‘old’ Ardbeg vatting strength of 70% – whereas today their new make typically comes off the still at 67-68% ABV and all casks are filled at 63.5% ABV. So sadly the likes of this cask may never be repeated!