A while back, I did a comparison between Ardbeg vs Laphroaig. I was very new to Islay Scotch, and, frankly, I didn’t like either. I thought they tasted like dip spit, seaweed, and dead fish. Of course, the Islay fanboys didn’t like that. While it grew on me a little bit, it was a look into many Islay newbies first experience. Since then, I’ve made it a goal of mine to drink more and more peated scotch in an effort to like it. So, that brings me to this Ardbeg Wee Beastie review.
We’ll discuss some basic history of Ardbeg and Islay Scotch, and then jump into the more specifics of this whisky. How is Ardbeg Wee Beastie different from the 10 year? Is it better? These are just some of the questions we hope to answer.
Ardbeg has a very hot & cold track record. It was initially founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, who ran the business for 23 years before selling it to Thomas Buchanan. While the business changed hands, MacDougall’s son and daughters continued working, making Margaret and Fiona MacDougall two of Scotland’s first female distillers.
Eventually, in 1922, the MacDougall family was able to re-purchase the distillery under the corporation of Alexander MacDougall and CO LTD.
After changing hands one more time in 1977, Ardbeg was closed down in 1981. Another company bought the distillery, reopened it, and it shut down again.
Finally, The Glenmorangie Company stepped in in 1997 to bring back the former success Ardbeg once saw. LVMH purchased Glenmorangie in 2004 and still owns it and, subsequently, Ardbeg to this day.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie Overview
- Spirit: Islay Single Malt Scotch
- Owned By: LVMH Moet Hennessy
- Distilled By: Ardbeg Distillery
- Aged: 5+ years in bourbon & Oloroso sherry casks
- ABV: 47.4%, 94.8 proof
- Mashbill: 100% malted barley
- Price: $40-50
We’ll touch on most of these aspects, but let’s start with the most basic.
What is Islay Scotch? What is Single Malt Scotch?
This is fairly simple. Islay Scotch is scotch whisky produced from the Islay region of Scotland. Islay is the most southern island of the inner Herbides…. ya know what. it’s an island located in the middle-southern or southern-middle portion of the west coast. Ya know what… just look at the map below.
Single malt scotch whisky is whisky that comes solely from malted barley and is produced by a single distillery. So it must be 100% malt (malted barley), and it can’t be blended with whisky produced under a different roof.
The most important thing to know about Islay Scotch is that it is peated.
What is Peat? What is Peated Scotch?
Peat is, basically, the earth. It’s decayed vegetation typically found in bogs, or peatlands.
During the process of malting barley, you heat the barley once it begins to germinate. You typically use a kiln, an oven, to heat up the barley to halt the process of germination at the right time. Peated scotch uses a peat kiln. Peat, or earth, is placed in the kiln and used to heat up and dry out the barley.
Peated whisky will have smoky and earthen characteristics to it.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie vs Ardbeg 10 Differences
Ardbeg 10 is the standard, basic Ardbeg whisky, and it’s aged 10 years. Wee Beastie is aged just 5. So, what’s different about Ardbeg Wee Beastie?
Well, that’s essentially it. Both are aged in ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks. Wee Beastie comes in at just a higher proof, though – 94.8 or 47.7% ABV, just above the 92 proof that Ardbeg 10 is bottled at.
So, why release Ardbeg Wee Beastie? Why would I choose a 5 yr whisky over a 10 yr whisky? Well, according to Ardbeg, it was to create the rawest and smokiest whisky yet. Let’s see how they did.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie Tasting Notes
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, it’s on to the important part of this review. What does Ardbeg Wee Beastie taste like? Is it better than Ardbeg 10 or worse? Let’s pour ourselves a dram and find out.
Nose: Smoke. Go sit out by a campfire all night. Wake up, smell your clothes, and BOOM! That’s Ardbeg Wee Beastie. There’s a touch of fruit and dark cherry sitting behind a wall of smoke.
Palate: Smoke. Campfire. There’s more there, but it’s just sooo subdued behind the smoke. I get a little bit of roasted peanut and/or roasted coffee beans. But again, mostly smoke.
Finish: Wanna guess what we get here….? Yup, smokey flavors, with our first real introduction to some saltiness.
Ardbeg set out to create their smokiest whisky, and I think they did. At least from all of their whiskies I’ve tried so far. It’s not an unpleasant smoke, it’s just a dominating flavor. So dominating that you reallllly have to try to pick out some of the other flavors present.
I tried Ardbeg Wee Beastie side by side with Ardbeg 10 and the biggest difference was the saltiness. Ardbeg 10 has that smoke, but it’s paired with pine, seaweed, salt, and other earthen and beachy notes.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie, on the other hand, is primarily campfire smoke, with a slight touch of dark cherry and roasted coffee bean way in the background.
Ardbeg 10 vs Ardbeg Wee Beastie: Which is Better?
Obviously, this is going to come down mostly to personal preference. I mentioned that I’m still learning and experimenting with peated scotch, and this side by side helped me a lot with determining the things I do and don’t like.
I like smoky. What I don’t like is salty. So for me, I’d much rather drink Ardbeg Wee Beastie. I do, however, wish that the coffee bean and cherry was a little more prominent.
Ardbeg Wee Beastie Summary
I purchased this whiskey in a “Ärdbeg: Three Monsters of Smoke” package that came with three 200ml bottles of 10 yr, Wee Beastie, and AN OA. So, I’ll see how AN OA is in my next review coming out soon.
For better or worse, Ardbeg Wee Beastie accomplished what they set out to do. They wanted a younger, smokier whisky, and that’s what they got. The smoke wasn’t unpleasant by any means, but if it were dialed back a hair, more flavors and character could’ve come out to play. Or at least come out easier.
If you like the saltiness that is typically found in Islay scotch, this might not be your best bet. There’s a bit of saltiness with the finish, but elsewhere it is that campfire smoke. You can get some of those fruity notes from the sherry casks and a hint of coffee beans, but, again, that is faint and deep in the background.
If you’re looking to try Ardbeg for the first time, or want to experiment with their other selections, I’d definitely recommend picking up the package that I got, if you see it. It’s been a lot of fun trying two selections of Ardbeg side by side, and I’m looking forward to the third as well. This is coming from someone who doesn’t even love Islay Scotch either!