Ardbeg has been turning out wonderful Islay single malts since the early 19th century. Their latest release, Wee Beastie, has just arrived on the market and it’s a welcome newcomer. Attempting to understand where Wee Beastie fits in to the Ardbeg “house style,” I tasted it alongside four other Ardbeg siblings: the An Oa, Ten-Year-Old, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.
Having spent an afternoon on this puzzle, I reluctantly concluded that there is no house style—unless high quality, well balanced Scotch counts as such. Though the brand is known in some circles for its sweetness, for my palate each offering stands alone. Some are Peat Monsters, some are smooth and subtle, some have high heat. An Oa is the most distinctive of the five and is by far the boldest expression of explosive peat flavor alongside an otherwise smooth and medium sweet palate. With higher alcohol than the others (54.2%), Uigeadail was the hottest of the lot with very little peaty smoke to be found. The others fit somewhere in between.
If An Oa is the boldest Ardbeg I tasted, the new Wee Beastie was the most surprising. Wee Beastie’s label proudly displays its youthful age, only five years old. And its name suggests that it is a young monster of a Scotch. Steeling myself for a fiery smoke bomb, I found something completely different. The peaty smoke is there on the nose but very much in the background. I found more orange peel and inviting vanilla. This Ardbeg is surprisingly smooth for a five-year-old—sweet, luscious, and balanced with a short but pleasing finish. How Ardbeg accomplished this with such young whisky is a mystery.
Ardbeg, now owned by The Glenmorangie Company, has long been a critical favorite and the new Wee Beastie will likely add to the accolades. You might consider picking up a bottle of An Oa and Wee Beastie and try to find the family resemblance. The quality, complexity and balance of these bottlings suggest a connection, but the differences between them are unmistakable. Just like children, I suppose.