Scotch Whisky Review: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist (1990/2008)

11 May 2010

Original Blogger tags: Ardbeg Airigh Nam Biest, Scotch Whisky, Rated 8.0

It’s pronounced “Ari Nam Baysht,” or so I’m told.

My bottle, marked 2008, is apparently from the 3rd and final year of bottling of this expression. This contains fairly old whiskies; I was expecting flavors a bit more sedate than those in the Ardbeg Uigeadail. Every time I think that I am starting to understand something about whisky — like the way in which aging tends to affect the spirit — I’m proven wrong! Even though this is bottled at a lower ABV than the Uigeadail (46% vs. 54.2%), the flavors are in some ways more pungent and “untamed.”

On the nose, it was evident that this is bourbon cask aged, with no sherry influence that I can detect. There is some peat smoke, to be sure, but the aroma is a bit different than the Uigeadail, and I get more yeasty, bready aromas — a bit like the barley notes in the Arran Malt 10. There are some smoked meats here, particularly bacon; I don’t nose the mackerel flavors that I get from the Uigeadail, but could that be — smoked trout?

There is a lot of lime going on here, and the quinine tonic water notes are even stronger than they are in the Uigeadail. There is some of that juniper.

On the tongue, the dram is warming, the texture is lightly oily, and the finish is quite long The lime and pepper notes are what I’d call “fizzy” — they practically burn the tongue, not in a hot way, but in a carbonated, acidic way. (Of course I don’t mean the whisky is literally carbonated!)

Overall, I am reminded of several extremely specific sets of flavors, and the correspondence is so striking that I found them odd enough to mention.

One of my favorite lunch snacks from Eastern Accents is their bacon and onion bun: it’s a slightly sweet, yeast bun wrapping bacon and chopped green onions, and flavored with little else except maybe an egg wash and possibly for black pepper. The Beast reminds me very strongly of this combination — all the notes are there, including the onion!

I like a good vodka martini, but I don’t have the patience, the space, the ice, or the gear to make them the traditional way at home, but as a shortcut I keep a bottle of Ketel One vodka in the freezer, and in the refrigerator a bottle of “Martini Olives” — pimiento-stuffed olives in vermouth. Toss a couple of these into the very cold vodka, and add a little bit of the vermouth-infused olive juice, and you have a moderately convincing slightly “dirty” martini. Again, the Beast has pretty much all these flavors — including the pungent green notes of the olive, the saltiness, and a little spice and sweetness from the pimiento.

The third food combination that popped into my head was the classic combination allegedly craved by pregnant women — “pickles and ice cream” — the combination of sweet and salty. That describes the Beast pretty well.

Now, the downside: while the flavors are intriguing, there just seem seem to be some things that I dislike: a little too much sour pickle and fizzy lime oil, like lime pickle of the type used to accompany hot and spicy Indian food, but spoiled. Where the Uigeadail finishes with a long draught of wood smoke, that oily bitterness is what sticks around longest here. Grace calls it “all campfire, no marshmallow.”

There’s probably a specific whisky term for it, but I haven’t quite come across it in tasting charts I’ve seen, or if I’ve seen it, I haven’t recognized it on my tongue. So, sadly, it gets knocked down another full point, to 8.0. It’s a shame, because I was so impressed with the Uigeadail. I read some reviews of the “Beast,” and they comment on the complex finish. But the one I’m tasting doesn’t seem to have a complex finish — it has a complex nose, and it’s complex on the palate, but that bitter note on the finish drowns out the other notes, as that lime oil lasts and lasts. Am I just missing something, or were the 2006 or 2006 “Beast” bottlings a little better?

Just yesterday I received a nice little packet of Ardbeg marketing materials in the mail; I signed up on their web site to join “The Committee.” The packet is some of the best swag I’ve ever gotten — very tastefully produced, classy, and also laugh-out-loud funny. I’ll have to take some photos. I usually don’t save things that are basically advertising, but I will definitely save this one! Ardbeg really has figured out to push the buttons of slightly obsessive nerds like me — they haven’t just released, say, a 10, 12, 15, 18, 25, etc. I could probably resist that; I’d just taste one or two of them and feel able to let it rest at that. But they’ve given each of their bottlings a story and made them intriguing to both collect and compare — I’m apparently condemned to having to buy and taste their whole line! (Lord help me if I get a hankering to buy the 25-year-old Lord of the Isles…)

If you are interested in tasting the Airigh Nam Biest, you’d better find a bottle soon — I believe it is out of production. The Corryvreckan, which is bottled at a much higher ABV of 57.1%, is alleged to be its replacement. I’m curious to taste that one, but probably not curious enough to buy it, at least not just yet.

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