I have never seen the Freakin’ Frog—my favorite bar in the entire city of Las Vegas—as packed as it was last Friday night. Such is the power of Ardbeg, a Scottish distillery that has won numerous awards and is largely thought to produce some of the finest Islay whiskeys on the planet.
Owner Adam Carmer organized the tasting of three of Ardbeg’s most popular whiskies—and one other whiskey that was just released this month—along with Matt Stober of Moet Hennessy. It was a bit of a last-minute event; I received an invite just a few days prior, and with Electric Daisy Carnival headlining a busy Vegas weekend, I wondered about attendance.
I needn’t have worried.
This tasting differed significantly from past events I had attended at the Frog. First, the tasting was on the main floor instead of upstairs in Carmer’s Whiskey Attic (a much more intimate setting). Then there were the two “Ardbeg Girls” passing around an iPad to enroll all tasters in the Ardbeg Committee, a newsletter that alerts members to upcoming Ardbeg releases. To get your tasting glass, you had to give them an e-mail address. It was a bit … awkward. At least one member of my party declined to participate (although Carmer still made sure she had a glass in front of her once the tasting started). Then there was the live jazz band playing while we tasted. While the performance was solid, the noise level made casual conversation among my fellow whiskey drinkers a tad difficult.
But we’re talking about Ardbeg here, so those minor quibbles became even more insignificant once we started imbibing. After Stober introduced each product and a small amount was poured to everyone, he went around from table to table, introducing himself and getting reactions to the product. This man clearly loves his job.
And why wouldn’t he? Ardbeg produces some of the most exciting whiskies in recent memory since reopening its distillery in 1998 (It had been closed since 1981). Known primarily for its peaty, smoky quality, Ardbeg has broadly expanded what is possible in an Islay whiskey, and every June 1 celebrates “Ardbeg Day” with a special limited release. This year’s limited release is called Ardbog, and its name derives from the numerous peat bogs found in Islay, Scotland.
Our pours consisted of Ardbeg 10-Year-Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Ardbeg Uigeadail and, of course, Ardbog. Each was just a monster of flavor, with sides being drawn at our table as to what was better: the Corryvreckan (powerful at 57.1 ABV, but with a sweet finish) or the Uigeadail (slightly lower at 54.2 ABV, but with what I can only describe as a starburst of flavor at the back end). One thing we all agreed on: While Ardbog is indeed a fantastic drink, it did not have the flavor complexity we enjoyed in the first three.
Any of these bottles are well worth seeking out. While I’ve been able to find the 10-Year-Old and Uigeadail without difficulty, no such luck on the Corryvreckan, which seems to sell out as soon as the store can stock it. Also, if you’re going to look for Ardbog, a word of caution: I found a bottle at the Total Wine on Stephanie, but according to the clerk, it was the only bottle the store received. Translation: If you’re going to look, do it quickly.
Finally, I heartily recommend you join the Ardbeg Committee as soon as possible. Any serious whiskey drinker needs to know what this company has coming. Trust me—even more exciting things are ahead.