Islay distilleries explained thru Rock and Roll comparisons – Part 2 – Ardbeg & my review of Lord of the Isles

Last week I started my eight part series where I would try and explain Islay Distilleries and their whiskies, specifically to people that are new to whisky, by way of Rock and Roll.  In that post I compared Bruichladdich to the Sex Pistols – true punk rockers of the Scotch whisky world!

Most people seemed to agree (about 95% of all that gave feedback) with my analysis though I did get a suggestion that The Ramones were more fitting or perhaps The Clash.  Whether  the band choice was agreed upon or not, everyone seemed to agree that Punk Rock was the correct Genre.  Huzzah!

Now we move onto comparison number two.  As with my Bruichladdich post from last week, first the whisky review then the Rock Band comparison.

Ardbeg “Lord of the Isles” 25yo – 46%ABV£650 (£542 ex. VAT)

On the nose –  Strong nose with a fair amount of smoke and soot (more so than I expected, what with this being 25 years old; I expected something a touch rounder or, shall I say, softer).

Lemon pledge.

A good deal of green apples (who came up with the name “Granny Smith”?) and spicy thai red curry sauce.

Burning notebook paper; the white lined, 5 subject type notebook.

Oak, smoke, char and cherry syrup.  Interestingly reminiscent of mizunara oak (notes I’d get from a Yamazaki, actually).

Strong, oversteeped tea (green & white).

This nose is all over the place and has an unorganized feel rather than one that gives you a sense of evolution.

On the mouth – Now the roundness kicks in!  Soft, creamy, viscous & soothing but smoke starts to kick in after a few seconds.

Marzipan and lemons.

Then more peat smoke – warming, growing and growing leading up to the finish…

Finish – Mint and menthol, salt and lemons.  Looooong and zesty and slightly numbing after a while.

In sum – This was a odd one, for sure!  The nose seemed to be all over the place, hard to follow yet not unpleasant in anyway.  However, upon tasting the whisky it all comes together, gets buttoned up and starts to make sense.

A lovely, odd, old Islay that’s very different from the Ardbeg style of today.  It’s not my favorite Ardbeg but a nice one none the less.

Special thanks to David B for the 2nd sample (note: whisky does not hold well in baby bottles.  Hence the 2nd sample – thanks again, David)!


Ardbeg – The Band! — Perhaps the most CULT Islay single malt, Ardbeg has a truly devout following.

I’ve heard stories from the very recent past about people waiting in the rain for 30 hours during the Islay Feis Ile festival just to pay £300 (or so) for the distillery only, Feis Ile festival bottling.  If I had the time and money, I suppose I’d do the same…

Ardbeg tattoos are common place among devotees.  There’s also a well know website by Malt Maniac Tim Puett called the Ardbeg Project that deals with even the most minute of details about Ardbeg… all the way down to various bottle codes.  Talk about devotion!!

Given the above, my initial reaction is that Ardbeg is most like The Grateful Dead.  However, I personally can’t stand The Grateful Dead (sorry people) and their successors, Phish, turn my stomach even more.

Let’s compare it to their house style of whisky… Bright, brash, in your face, lively and invigorating.  Peaty without being a smoke bomb.  Clean and very confident.

So, big cult following +  an attention demanding, big ‘ol elephant in the room style…  You, my dear Ardbeg are Slayer (minus all of the death and devil stuff)!

Yikes!Oh my gosh! —  See, I told you (albeit without gore…)!!

…or perhaps it should read:

..perhaps this comparison is more fo Ardbeg’s fans (myself being one of them) rather than Ardbeg itself….  Hmmm… you decide.

8 thoughts on “Islay distilleries explained thru Rock and Roll comparisons – Part 2 – Ardbeg & my review of Lord of the Isles”

  1. Awesome series, sir! You had me at “I personally can’t stand The Grateful Dead”.

    One could also make the argument that Ardbeg is Iron Maiden but Maiden’s too popular. I think you’ve nailed it with the cult fervor of Slayer fans (saw ’em in Sacramento a few years ago, great show, terrifying crowd).

  2. Thank you, Peter!

    This just came to mind:

    “Ardbeg, the meaning of peat, the way that I want to imbibe – Small dram, immense lemons and peat, this whisky will cleanse of your strife…”  (to replace Slayer’s “Angel of Death” lyrics).  

  3.  As a Deadhead and Ardbeg Devotee I feel utterly cheated.  You should not let your personal bias throw you off a perfect comparison.  Ardbeg Nuts are very much like deadheads.  Fiercely devoted, almost to a fault.  And many Ardbeg fanatics would very lovingly apply the statement famed Rock and Roll promoter Bill Graham said about the dead… “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.” to their favorite distillery.    Bottom line is, the extreme devotion of the fans, a cult following, and extreme attention and cataloging of every detail, makes them EXACTLY like the Grateful Dead, and it is to the detriment of your goal/comparisons that you use slayer, which doesn’t fit nearly as well.

    IF Ardbeg MUST be a metal band… They are Black Sabbath… because not only do they both rock harder than all competition, but their fans know that while there are other greats… there are none greater, and most likely never will be.

  4. Thanks Dristle – I love your passion and think you are 100% correct about The Dead’s fan base.  But, one of the benefits of having a blog is that I get to share my biases from time to time.  I’ve never been able to appreciate The Dead or my local Deadhead constituency.  As delicious as their burritos may be and as good as they are at frisbee golf, that group and I never saw eye to eye.

    Don’t underestimate the Slayer fans – they are very much like Deadheads just with less pot & LSD and more mosh-pits and razor blades.

    All kidding aside, I really appreciate your comment and hope I didn’t offend you too much by not choosing The Dead or announcing my dislike for them.  In the end, this series is about fun and to get fun conversations going.  My intent was not to offend or make anyone feel cheated.

  5. Joshua – I assure you my comment was all in good fun.  I was not offended and you have every right to share your bias with your blog.  As a deadhead, I am WELL aware of the people that give us a bad name, and am sorry you have come across too many of them in your time.  Although I do think you, like most people, would enjoy their music if you heard the right stuff (if you like acoustic music, American Beauty or Reckoning are outstanding albums, if you like electric, check out One From The Vault), I am also not offended by a differing musical opinion.  But if you dislike the Grateful Dead, I hope you like another of my favorites, Frank Zappa.  (that’s just a random personal opinion)

    I may have underestimated Slayer fans, but razor blades and ardbeg should never be combined. (except MAYBE for opening a bottle of Provenance but even then there are safer tools)

    I did feel cheated, only because I love both the Grateful Dead and Ardbeg. But I didn’t feel cheated in any serious way. I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

    Interestingly enough your bias is another way in which Ardbeg and the Grateful Dead are the same.  Some LOVE it and praise it like there has never been and will never be anything better.  Others find it quite repugnant and want nothing to do with it. 

    And two last interesting similarities.
    1.  They are an aquired taste, that once you start really liking, you are hooked on for life.

    2.  They will always be great, but they’ll never top what they did from 1967-1977

  6. You had me at Frank Zappa (who also could have been a perfect fit for Ardbeg).  I am a Zappa nut and have been for 20+ years.  My old band, Kimono Draggin’, played the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany back in 2007.  A nice crowd of 5000+ German Zappa freaks!

    Here’s my old band doing our only cover song, a mash up of Willie the Pimp and The Torture Never Stops (with a guest singer, our friend Steve who played in my guitar player’s other band, Doctor Dark – they were a Captain Beefheart cover band – if you can imagine that):

    I am glad I did not offend you!

  7. I knew there would be musical common ground somewhere.

    I like that mash up and the music and vocals are solid.  It’s funny, Frank Zappa is my litmus test for good taste in music/intelligence.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really think every single intelligent person with good taste in music likes Frank Zappa… but most of them do.  When someone doesn’t like the dead, well, I’m almost used to it at this point so I just shrug it off as  “not their thing” (except, I suppose, if Ardbeg is involved…).  But if someone doesn’t like Frank Zappa’s music, I assume it’s ignorance, and I think Frank would be cool with that, if not flattered.

    And Zappa and Ardbeg are a nice fit.  Devoted fanbases that both seek and appreciate complexity and try to find out every detail.  Plus the music and the whisky is big and bold and can’t be ignored, and has an extremely wide range of flavors.

    Anyway, I’m off to see the Ardbeg Rocket at binny’s which I have come to the conclusion is the whisky/adult equivalent of the Oscarmeyer Wiener-Mobile. And although the whole thing reeks of ridiculous Moet-Hennessy publicity, it’s Ardbeg related and 20 minutes away so I feel I must.


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