By Richard Thomas
Ardbeg is a major favorite among lovers of Islay malts, especially those who could best be described as “smoke geeks.” I say that because first it’s possible to be a whisky smokehead without being a geek about, and because usually the geekier said smokehead is about whisky, the more they love Ardbeg. It’s a prime choice among true diehards.
Keeping that in mind, Ardbeg Corryvreckan made quite a splash when it was introduced several years ago, and remains a top staple among those aforementioned smokehead geeks. The expression replaced previous fan favorite Airigh Nam Beist in 2009, and was promptly named Whisky Advocate‘s top whisky for that year.
This no age statement (NAS) single malt is named for the biggest whirlpool in Europe, found off the coast of Islay’s neighbor, the isle of Jura. This particular expression was aged in a mix of American and French oak, and bottled at a whopping 57.1% ABV.
In the glass, Corryvreckan has a nice, light golden coloring, clear but rich. A swish gives a lasting coat, dropping thick, viscous legs.
The liquid is quite aromatic. As I wrote the preceding four paragraphs, I’ve been doing a preliminary on nosing it, and this is from a distance of about a yard! The scent is a whopper, packing medicinal herbs and pine needles in among the smoke, like something that would come out of an aromatherapy incense burner, but with a soft, creamy texture to it.
The flavor is just as big and bold. It’s not quite as buttery on the palate as I was expecting from the nose. It has a thick feel, but more smooth than creamy in my view. The taste is fruity on the sour side, like the zest from a too acidic orange, and once again loads of medicinal herbalism and pine. The herbalism in particular leans into spearmint territory, providing a little prickly spice. The smokiness is very much a background element here, omnipresent and easy to pick up on, but never standing at the front of the stage.
The finish is almost stereotypical Islay, with an aftertaste that opens with salt, before receding like a gentle tide to leave mint, chili, and then a longer lasting ash. The warmth goes on well beyond even the ash, not surprising for a single malt pushing the high 50s for alcohol content.
It’s easy to see why this whisky is so beloved. It’s big and flavorful, but without actually being ballsy, and this despite the high alcohol content. As such, it manages to retain room for just a little complexity, making it a sipper that is a bit interesting and very pleasurable.
Another strong selling point is the price, often around $85 in the U.S. (€70 in Europe and £60 in the UK). Given how pricey single malts often are, the number for Corryveckan seems fair, if not an actual bargain.