Ardbeg – Genius behind eccentric direction 07/04/2015 in Musings

Jean Paul Gaultier has a popular saying, My eccentricity became direction. The more I think about the Ardbeg product launches & marketing legacy, the more I’m reminded of this quote. In eccentricity lies various dimensions for this whisky brand. Its quirk, a blatant honesty and somewhere the intuitive valour to take an alternative plunge.

In this world, which is still fighting a stigma over non-age statements, this brand has been gracefully sporting variant after variant launches, on the back of its 10YO.

The Ardbeg movement reached that cult status when Glenmorangie took over in 2000 and initiated some rather dapper marketing chutzpah into the brand. There’s a lot to share from the Ardbeg camp, starting from the evangelism of the committee members, to each time the peat in this brand gets an overt reaction from a newly recruited fan !

Yes, committee members, one of the most successful CRM programs till date, where members naturally joined in with some rather powerful rights, first to try, buy and then to decide !

These members and their status has been intertwined in perfect harmony with most launches and I’m going to talk about few of my own favourite variant launches through the years.

Like much of the world, a much preferred from amongst the range has always remained the Ardbeg 10 year old for me. Possibly at that time, non chill filtered, would have been a rather unexploited territory with the frills of being straight out of the cask attached to it !

However, fascinating was the journey which began thereafter, of what they called “towards the peaty maturity”. This was the entire “Ardbeg Young” series, it was the relentless set of launches, their unflappable tryst with time & age, yet the lust to deliver a perfect product one day !

This began with the promise to deliver something more sharp & smoky, staying true to its peaty roots. Nobody could have ever imagined how seriously the chaps at Ardbeg camp would take the word “Journey” for they made all their lovers live this odyssey from no age to “some age”.

A brazen set of variant after variant launches which spoke of the brand readiness.

‘Ardbeg Very Young for discussion’ – a committee release limited to 4002 bottles.

Ardbeg Very Young – A market release which after all did not carry an age claim however was said to be a “very young selection of malts which were 6 years old.

‘Ardbeg Still Young’ – Its Sibling, an 8 year old version, while the two years of maturity added a touch of creamy mouthfeel, yet you could feel the slight youthfulness of the malt.

‘Ardbeg Almost there’ – A 9 year old, with response and malt perfected as much as the name.

‘Ardbeg Renaissance’ – A release of 21000 bottles, launched the year after, a 10 year old version, and in comparison to the earlier Ardbeg 10 year old was sharp and smoky, forceful blast of peat, yet balanced with notes of citrus, moist cocoa and a seemingly creeping-in nuttiness.

There are almost negligible people out there who who would still posses a bottle of this and one of them happened to be the master of the lodge where i was staying, a freak auction as he says !! Generous I must say, those still happened to be a few drops to be called a dram full !

If it was my judgement, I would have to say, Ardbeg 10YO votes higher against the Ardbeg Renaissance. The thing about 10YO is how the bourbon sweetness plays it role and blends in with the peat. Add to it the seaspray and smoked fish, citrus, floral notes and end with a cinnamon spice.

 

There was a young man from Ardbeg, 

Alas we’re not pulling your leg. 

But remiss in his task. 

He filled the WRONG cask 

Now your pardon we’re having to beg…..

Well, the lines above are not one of my own, but have been taken from the offer booklet of the Ardbeg Serendipity launch for the committee members.

Another overt expression of how, otherwise a near catastrophe of sorts, led to the creation of a supreme blended malt whisky made up of two parts 1992 Glen Moray to eight parts of a very much older Ardbeg. Bottled at 40% and non chill-filtered, this was a magical combination, being unpretentiously peaty yet perky & light, an extremely rare experience for a peaty demon. The outcome, absolutely  superlative. Almost made most people think it was rather deliberate !

A happy accident, given a unique name, true to its origin, made available to the committee members at a sweet price, the blend was a real stunner.

Since i qualified in the beginning that its about few of “my” chosen variants from the Ardbeg wing, the read is hence prejudiced towards my set of preferences. Trust my judgement and a bit of history, its not that disappointing after all !

The next in line, hence, for me is, Ardbeg Alligator, a Limited Edition, taking its name from the heavy charring on the inside of barrels used for whisky maturation. Its when the inside wood of the barrel is blackened to a point that it begins to look like the scaly skin of an alligator. This is a stimulating take on the signature Ardbeg with enhanced sweetness and roasted woody barrel notes. Sometimes evokes memories of Laphroaig Quarter Cask to me. We could go on, with Ardbeg Uigeadail being next in line, however thats already been recognised the world over, with Jim Murray naming it the “World Whisky of the year” in 2009.

My last comments are going to be on Ardbeg Galileo, as much as this variant takes the Cult & Craziness of the brand beyond, into the space, yet the way its marketed, seems too gimmicky for my palate. A rocket, upload your picture with a helmet, the entire glory seized by “space” as a theme away from the whisky! The fact that this is a commemorative launch to the “real” space variant, denies this spirit its rightful ‘space’ on Earth – perhaps ?

I’m hoping when the actual variant with the space vials is released there is a lot spoken about the whisky as well.

I must confess despite having risen from brand management, in my eyes, when it comes to whisky,  taste rules above all or maybe i’m still not from another world !