Every year, Ardbeg rewards their most faithful fans with a special event, Ardbeg Day. This event typically takes place in late May or early June and coincides with Ardbeg releasing something special to its whisky affinity club, called The Committee. These limited release whiskies are often riffs on the classic Ardbeg flavor palate, designed to inspire discussion among Ardbeg’s most ardent fans. Some of the previous Committee releases have gone on to become full blown Ardbeg releases, like Ardbeg Alligator and Ardbog, while others have been limited exclusively to Committee members (including the eponymous Ardbeg Day Whisky).
This year to celebrate Ardbeg Day, Ardbeg is releasing Ardbeg Auriverdes Single Malt Whisky. The name Auriverde comes from Portuguese and combines the words auri which means “to make shine like gold” and verde, “green”. Gold and green happen to be both the signature colors of Ardbeg as well as the colors of the Brazilian Flag (where the 2014 World Cup will be played). Ardbeg distillery manager Mickey Heads is a big football fan (both the European and American versions), and so the name is also a nod to his passion for the sport. Heads will be on hand in Scotland for Ardbeg Day 2014 to enthusiastically play peat football.
As with almost all of Ardbeg’s Committee releases, Ardbeg Auriverdes gets its release without an age statement. The major difference in the aging process for Ardbeg Auriverdes is the casks they have been aged in. Ardbeg calls these casks “fired casks” in their press materials, but we were able to get a more in-depth explanation from Gregor Mina, Brand Director of Ardbeg Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
The casks are American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels, which were shipped over from the United States as per the norm. The insides of the barrels had therefore been charred in the traditional, Bourbon specification manner.
When the casks arrived in Scotland, we had the heads removed, and replaced them with new American oak heads that I had specially made for us, which had been heat treated using a particular (and secret) toasting regime, designed to achieve a special flavour profile, producing in particular flavours of mocha and coffee. These re-worked barrels were then filled with spirit, and ultimately blended together with a proportion of ‘classic’ Ardbeg from 1st and 2nd fill Bourbon barrels.”
This seems like a small tweak, but in the whisky space even the smallest variable change in the aging process can produce unique results.
Ardbeg Auriverdes (49.9% ABV / 99.8 proof, $99.99 , Limited to 1110 Cases) – as the name suggests, Auriverdes is light gold in color. The nose is solidly sweet peat, one of Ardbeg’s signature aromas. Also on the nose is a little brininess, malt, vanilla, oak spice, and white pepper. The fact that this whisky is nearly 50% ABV/100 proof is pretty apparent in the nose, which is quite aromatic and slightly vapory. The entry for Ardbeg Auriverdes is a lot spicier than we typically see with Ardbeg whisky, with white pepper and oak spice leading the charge. That spice is well supported by the sweet vanilla peat that was apparent on the nose. As we move to the midpalate, the sweet vanilla peat transitions more towards toffee peat with a touch of dark chocolate, and the white pepper and oak increase. The midpalate has Ardbeg’s signature smokiness, but here it comes off a little more charcoal char than smoky peat. That charcoal char is supported by a slightly bitter note which reminds us of coffee grounds.
Towards the end of the midpalate, the spice peaks and begins tapering off to a finish which captures the smoky peat, bittersweet chocolate, toffee, and coffee grounds. The finish for Ardbeg Auriverdes is where we get a glimpse of some of the younger whisky in the mix. The youth that gave a kick to the opening and midpalate reads immature and edgy on the finish. The mouth feel for Ardbeg Auriverdes follows a similar trajectory. In the opening it’s more lush and round, but by the time we get to the midpalate, a lot about what we liked with the mouth feel is gone. Things dry out so much by the end of the finish that it’s hard to believe that it ever started lush.
Ardbeg’s experimentation with new American oak produced fantastic results for Ardbeg Alligator, but here the toasted cask heads aren’t having the same kind of results. Ardbeg Auriverdes lacks balance or finesse. The addition of charcoal char and ground coffee-like notes to the Ardbeg equation sounds good on paper, but in practice it throws off what we love about Ardbeg. The finish is also one of the worst we’ve seen from Ardbeg: dry, puckery, and ultimately unpleasant. With only 1110 cases available worldwide, we expect Ardbeg Auriverdes to be snapped up pretty quickly by the Ardbeg faithful, but this is one of the rare Ardbeg releases we suggest that you skip. Not all experiments work, and while we applaud Ardbeg for continuing to take risks and try new things, Ardbeg Auriverdes isn’t a product we hope will go much further than this limited release.