The now annual Ardbeg committee releases have become one of those artificial marketing gimmicks, not unlike those around the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Pappy Van Winkle releases, which create panic based on a false sense of scarcity. The limited spring release seemed to sell out within minutes, angering those who missed out, but there will be a much larger release this fall. As annoying as that seems, it's hard not to appreciate great marketing, and the folks at Glenmorangie PLC are geniuses in that department.
Of course, none of this would work if the products sucked, but everyone knows that quality is not an issue with Ardbeg. This year's release is the Ardbeg Alligator, which contains whisky that was aged in new, charred oak barrels, the same type of barrels used for bourbon. The whisky was then vatted with their regular ten year old.
Ardbeg Alligator, 2011 Committee Release, 51.2% abv ($100)
The nose on this is gives you a blast of peat but with some very rich background aromas, including some wine notes. The palate gives you coal and smoke and the type of BBQ flavors you would expect along with a touch of both sweet and then quite salty and briny and a then some bitterness on the way down. The finish is smoky sea air. Water gives in an oily, syrupy mouthfeel and dilutes some of the salt and bitterness, making it taste more like a traditional Ardbeg flavor profile.
The Alligator, while heavily peated also has a very heavy coastal character, moreso than most Ardbegs. There's a lot of boldness and not a lot of balance; it really smacks you upside the head, but it a fun way. Despite the new charred oak, I don't get a lot of wood. It would be interesting to try the components separately so you could really get a sense of the impact of those new charred oak barrel. I'd say this is a good step up from the last few years of committee releases; it has a lot more character than Rollercoaster or Corryvreckan, even if it is a bit rough around the edges. Definitely worth a try for the peatheads out there, but then, you knew that already.