We’ve been big fans of Ardbeg’s seasonal bottling, many of which have made our annual gift guides, including Ardbeg Nam Beist, Rollercoaster, Supernova, Uigeadail, and most recently Ardbeg Alligator. This year’s Ardbeg seasonal release is Ardbeg Galileo 1999, a whisky produced to celebrate Ardbeg’s participation in a unique space program studying the impact of zero gravity on the maturation of spirits.
Ardbeg Galileo isn’t the actual spirit that was launched into space in late 2011 – that precious whisky will spend two full years at the International Space Station before being ‘studied’ by researchers. Yet Ardbeg, being Ardbeg, couldn’t let such a momentus occasion go without a celebration! Named after both the famous Italian astronomer as well as a rocketship that studied Jupiter, Ardbeg Galileo is an interesting and distinctly different expression of Ardbeg. With tongue in cheek, the vintage of this release is 1999 (think Space 1999, which is what’s written on the back of the bottle), making Galileo an approximately 12 year old whisky. What makes Ardbeg Galileo distinctly different from other Ardbeg releases is that it’s been aged in a combination of both ex-bourbon barrels and ex-Marsala casks from Sicily (which could be why they picked an Italian astronomer to name it after).
Ardbeg Galileo 1999 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (49% / 98 proof, $95) is a nice golden amber color, darker and redder than Ardbeg 10, and clearly influenced from the time it spent in ex-Marsala casks. The nose is also clearly different from Ardbeg’s signature 10 year old whisky. While the classic Ardbeg peat is there on the nose (although it reads a little like burnt tire here), it’s softened quite a bit to make way for vanilla, cinnamon, and dash of iodine (more than we’re used to in Ardbeg). The entry for Galileo is surprisingly soft, sweet, and slightly fruity. Yes, the peat notes we’ve come to expect from Ardbeg are present, but here they are tempered and much more integrated. With the peat there’s also a delicious toasted malt, roasted hazelnut, and a subtle note from the ex-Marsala wine cask. There is a nice spice towards the end palate which primes us for the finish. One of the best aspects of Ardbeg Galileo is the finish: all the elements from the nose and midpalate integrate into a long and flavorful finish. The finish has this terrific ashy quality to it that makes you want to spend as much time with it as you do when the whisky is in your mouth.
Ardbeg Galileo may not astound all Ardbeg fans, especially those whose palate craves the strength of Ardbeg’s peat, but it’s an intriguing whisky with a simply amazing finish. In many ways Ardbeg Galileo is the opposite side of the coin from last year’s Ardbeg Alligator. Alligator showed how agressive and strong Ardbeg can be, while Galileo shows off its ability to have some finesse.