Is Ardbeg’s Latest Release the Smokiest Scotch Ever?

Ardbeg's new experimental release purposefully foregoes the distillery's usual balance of fruity and peat

Ardbeg Heavy Vapours
Ardbeg Heavy Vapours, a new experimental release from the Islay distillery

Ardbeg is already well known for its peated single malts, but the Islay whisky producer usually strikes a balance between peat and floral fruitiness. But in a new limited edition release, the distillery has created an expression that foregoes the one step that usually maintains that balance, resulting in a rather unique and intense smoky Scotch.

Dubbed Ardbeg Heavy Vapours, the new whisky was distilled without a purifier, which is the apparatus responsible for maintaining that aforementioned flavor balance. According to a press release, this exclusion allowed the heaviest and untamed vapors to rise up the still during the distillation process.

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The end result is intense, aromatic smoke on the nose, ashy coal dust with notes of peppermint, cardamom, dark chocolate and eucalyptus on the palate, along with “wisps of aniseed twists, cinnamon balls and antiseptic lozenges,” as Ardbeg describes. And, natch, a long finish.  

“A missing purifier is unprecedented for Ardbeg,” says Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr. Bill Lumsden. “This experiment was something I’ve always imagined trying — what would happen to the flavor and character of Ardbeg as we know and love it by distilling in this unique way? Well, it’s now time for Ardbeg fans to find out; this is a full-blown dram where Ardbeg’s exalted balance has been disrupted in the most fantastic of ways — a truly captivating dram.”

The limited release prefaces the distillery’s annual Ardbeg Day celebration, which will be held on June 3 this year at the distillery during Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt, Fèis Ìle. There’s also an accompanying graphic novel tied to the Heavy Vapours expression, which follows the adventures of Agent 46 (aka Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg visitor center manager and committee chair), who is portrayed as a “plucky interplanetary detective on a quest to locate the elusive purifier and restore Ardbeg’s signature balance.”

If you buy a bottle, you might want to try either joining the Ardbeg Committee or becoming friends with one of its members, who get access to limited-edition bottles and, in this case, a Heavy Vapours expression that’s higher in ABV (50.2 vs. 46) than the one available to the general public.


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