Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist. ABV 46%. Non chill-filtered. No color added.
This is a single malt whisky that has been in my collection for a time now, and it has been one of my favorites. The bottle I am sampling is the 1990 vintage that was bottled in 2006. It was aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks. The vintage statement translates into this being a whisky aged 16 years. There were two subsequent bottlings of 1990 Airigh Nam Beist in 2007 and 2008. This whisky was a limited production, as the Ardbeg distillery was not in year-around production in the early 1990s. Subsequently, other than the standard Ardbeg 10, the distillery has moved primarily to non-age statement offerings. That is not all bad, since the two non-age statement offerings that immediately followed Airigh Nam Beist were two of my favorites, Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Ardbeg Uigeadail.
For an Islay whisky, this has a tame nose. Peat on first exposure, then notes of vanilla, buttery oak with a hint of smoke. On the palate, first sip is warming peat, with a smooth creamy feel. On second sip, I find salt, black olive, pepper and smoked bacon. A very pleasurable balance of flavors embedded in a silky texture. The finish is long and complex. There is certainly a foundation of smoke and peat, with a strong spice element and a sweet undercurrent – like a lightly sweetened vanilla-infused coffee.
This is a wonderful whisky. Not as aggressive as the younger non-age statement Ardbeg offerings, but with all of the dimensions of a fine Islay whisky. This is a more balanced, nuanced, peated single malt. Unfortunately, since it had a limited production, it can be very difficult and quite expensive to find an Airigh Nam Beist these days. This was a whisky that was selling here for around $80 when initially released. Now, about the least expensive options I find online place it in the $350-$500 range!
Fortunately, I long ago started buying backup bottles of favorite whisky when sale time rolled around at my local shop. I have an unopened Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist that was bottled in 2007. If I were wise, I suspect I should save it as an investment. But, I cannot quite see myself parting with this bottle. Rather, a special treat that I set aside for some future enjoyment with friends.