Side by Side: Ardbeg Twenty One and Ardbeg 1977

The Ardbeg Twenty One certainly took the Australia by storm a couple of weeks ago, the 90 units allocated to the country were sold out in a matter of minutes, “gone in 90 seconds” as one friend commented..

Of course, there are a few factors behind the phenomenon.. for one, the exclusivity-orientated marketing strategy proved to be immensely successful, but that’s merely one factor.

Ardbeg has dominated the NAS sector of the industry in the past few years, releasing popular releases that are quality driven and in the process they have amassed a loyal fan-base. It was only natural then when Ardbeg put out a 21 years old, those fans responded with eagerness.  

It has also been a few years since Ardbeg has released a “more matured” whisky, the last offering was probably the Airigh Nam Beist, a 1990 vintage bottled in 2008; only a corp of the current Ardbeg fanbase would have been fortunate enough to have tasted the old Ardbegs, both age-wise and in terms of when they were released. 

I certainly belong in the group of younger Ardbeg fans who haven’t had a whole lot of old Ardbegs so when the Twenty One was released, I was keen to compare it with an older bottling to see how this release stacks up with the now mythical (unless you are at a whisky auction) expressions.

The Ardbeg 1977 (bottled in 2004) was a noteworthy release from the Ardbeg archive, as the whisky was distilled prior to the stills going silent in 1981. The 1977 certainly shows a different side of the distillery. Those who have tasted it seem to all agree on two things: it doesn’t quite feel like an Ardbeg, but it’s absolutely a gorgeous dram. (You can read Esmond’s review on the Ardbeg 1977 here.)

  

Subtle seaweed saltiness with quite an appealing apricot note. Coastal peat with a distant burning incense note bringing about that gentle smoke, after the smoke disperses there is this salted caramel note that unfolds as the dram opens up.

Gorgeous fruity nectar on the palate with a subtle glaze of white oak. Honey and molten white chocolate lightly coats the palate as the delivery grows more playful in time. Soft touches of smoked Jámon and soft poached fruits,  amidst toasted flannel seeds and maritime peat that trails off gracefully. ☆☆

Flavour profile wise, the 1977 was constructed immaculately, sublime flavours with perhaps a lean on the maritime influence. It is a sophisticated dram that requires a bit of time to open up, but manages still to retain those fresh and sweet notes that convey a certain je ne sais quoi youthfulness. In comparison though, the Twenty One comes across as being even more complex..

  

The peat is somewhat subdued on the nose at first, gentle but as time transpires it grows more milky. Petals of wild flowers are sprinkled on underlying notes of ripe mangos, gooey custard and banana jam before giving way to a more substantial presence of charcoal, which brings about that wee smoke that’s rather delicate at first but evolves to something more captivating as time passes.

A splash of citrus essence across a bed of white sugar, setting a velvety scene. It’s rather mellow with a cotton candy note dressed with a dash of lime syrup. Hazelnut cream in small dosage as a thin veil of smoke is drawn out. Smoked bacon and its oiliness contrasts well with the acidity from wild berries; rice crisps with salted caramel drizzled atop and followed by a brush of French vanilla.

Melted vanilla ice cream dressed with orange blossom honey, the sweetness gradually removes itself from the picture and what’s left are just traces of peat smoke that vaguely stays on.

The most astounding thing about the Ardbeg Twenty One is just how much it changes in the glass, the dram itself goes on a transformative journey and one would be rewarded for having patience and letting the subtle nuances reveal themselves.

Thank you Ardbeg Australia and EVH for the sample of the Ardbeg Twenty One.

☆☆

Nicholas