Ardbeg is launching a new single malt as part of its permanent range, the first addition since it debuted Corryvreckan in 2009. Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced “an-oh”) is a combination of whiskies aged in different cask types, including Pedro Ximénez, virgin oak, and ex-bourbon barrels. The casks are married in Ardbeg’s new Gathering Vat, a large vat made of French oak, for three months before bottling. The whisky is named for the Mull of Oa on Islay, a rocky promontory that is buffeted by Atlantic winds on its northern side while sheltering Ardbeg Cove to the south. An Oa joins three other single malts in Ardbeg’s permanent lineup: 10 year old, Uigeadail, and Corryvreckan.
Ardbeg’s official tasting notes for An Oa come from Dr. Bill Lumsden, director of distilling, whisky creation & whisky stocks. He describes the whisky as smoky, sweet, and rounded, with aromas of toffee, anise, dates, peaches, and banana, a creamy texture, and a syrupy-sweet palate. The flavors include milk chocolate, orange, tea leaves, spices, cigar smoke, “and, unusually, grilled artichokes” with a lingering smoky finish.
Unless they’re bottling a single barrel, distilleries create a single malt by combining multiple barrels to achieve a desired flavor profile. Often, they allow the blend to rest for a period of time before bottling—a process called marrying. Marrying typically happens in a large stainless steel tank to prevent further influence from wood. But some distilleries—like Hillrock Estate with its Solera Aged bourbon, or Glenfiddich with its 15 year old Solera single malt—have begun marrying in a wooden vat or solera, allowing the resulting whisky to showcase unique flavors from the wooden vessel (and, in the case of solera-style marrying, to take on slightly different characteristics from batch to batch, as some liquid is always left in the solera between batches). This is not the method Ardbeg has undertaken with An Oa. The Gathering Vat is made of inert French oak (which exerts no wood influence), and is fully emptied of liquid between batches.
Ardbeg An Oa will be rolling out in stores next month for a recommended price of $60 a bottle. If you try it, let us know what you think!