Have you ever been handed a glass by a friend or acquaintance and told, "try this - it's Scotch and it's peaty, you'll like it?" If you have, perhaps you've taken a cautious sip - or a healthy slug - and decided that no
, Sam I Am
, you do not like this. Strong Islay
whiskies have a particular charcoal
bite to them, and even if that taste is to your liking, it can get in the way of enjoying the actual liquor
because it doesn't let up. There's no light finish to contrast the dark smoke blast; there's a constant need for a glass of water to balance the fire. Lagavulin
; these are all prime examples.
I, personally, enjoy this, but many don't.
There are some blends that attempt to cope with this issue by using the smoke-dark Islays to give character to a lighter amalgam of flavors. This approaches the problem from one side - offering a hint of the peat blast in the substance of a lighter whisky. While this might offer a solution for those to whom the peat is an occasional delectation and not a way of life, there is another answer.
Unfortunately, it's not easy to find.
See, once upon a time, the Ardbeg distillery sent off a few casks of the 18-year-old that they unearthed from the warehouse to the bottler's. These casks had sat quietly maturing in a stone-and-wood building just north of Port Ellen for eighteen years, through two changes of ownership and a multi-year period where the distillery was closed entirely; slowly absorbing rougher phenols and complex organics into the charcoal while releasing smooth carbon compounds back into the whisky. Ardbeg 17 is a reference Islay whisky; one of the great ones, and because of those years when the distillery was closed we are now in a fallow period - one where no whisky was laid down at the right time to become a 17 year old. There won't be a 17 for the next few years.
But these few casks had been held back, and were nearly the last of the lot. They were a small but worthy batch of a truly great single malt, and as such, they needed to be free. Plus, of course, they were worth a heap of money. So off to the bottling plant they went, to be decanted into Ardbeg labelled bottles and shipped around the world where enthusiasts would pay happily for those moments of peat and pain.
The barrels were tapped; their contents (no doubt verified the old fashioned way, good men) placed into a holding tank from which the bottling machinery would draw. All correct.
Then the horror struck.
Somehow, a button was pressed, a component failed, who knows? But a quantity of much younger Glen Moray Speyside whisky was dumped into that same tank.
This, in a stroke, removed that entire batch of single-malt Ardbeg from the world. It could no longer be sold as Ardbeg; indeed, it no longer was Ardbeg. Furthermore, it couldn't even be sold as a single malt, since there were multiple whiskies in the tank.
I'm sure various people were fired. I have no idea.
In amongst the hullaballoo, though, someone eventually and inevitably asked "So 'as anyone 'ad a swig of it, then?"
See, that's the thing. It's...really, really good. It's not Ardbeg anymore. But it's four parts Ardbeg to one part Glen Moray, roughly - and what that does to the whisky is (cue David Bowman/Starchild voice)...something wonderful. Where once there was an unremitting flare of charcoal and peat, finishing on the tongue with a trail of smoke, now...now there is a peat blast with a peal of clear bright flame running through it; one which - most importantly - finishes not with the sullen crackle of burning, but with the clear gold of a Speyside. The full power of the Ardbeg is present in the initial mouthful, but as you swallow and the whisky subsides, the power of the peat gives way to the tonals of the grain.
It's a really amazing thing, it is.
The best part, for people who like to drink their whisky rather than look at it, is that because it was no longer a single-malt and because it was a one-time 'accident', it was given a slightly light-hearted label and sold only through local distributors (local to the distillery) for around 30 quid, which is far less than what a bottle of Ardbeg 17 would have commanded.
The bad part? The bad part is that there were those few thousand bottles made, and no more.
And, by God, there never will be again. This is ironic because this whisky, while it may not be better than Ardbeg's standard, is certainly (for many people) much more 'drinkable' in terms of simple palatability for straight consumption, as opposed to sips of a powerful yet distinctive flavor.
But don't get used to it. It won't last. I've had three bottles hand-carried over to me from Scotland by a fellow traveller, but already, he reports, supplies are drying up and getting expensive as collectors realize that 'this many will there be, and no more.' Damn the liquids ban on airlines; they have done more harm than they know.
Please. Please, friends. If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on a bottle of Serendipity, do yourself and the bottle a favor. Remember that it was never meant to be. Its time on earth was a gift of accident and whimsy. Its existance is meant for your palate. Don't stock the whisky.
Sssshhh...as of the time of this writeup, if you are NOT in the US or Canada, you can still buy this whisky direct from http://www.ardbeg.com for 30 quid a bottle! DO NOT DELAY! Heh. Damn import laws.