Review No.20 – Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release

I’m back after another lazy-bastard-hiatus with a huge backlog of whiskies to review from the past 9 months. By my remedial calculations, I should manage to catch up and complete these reviews around 2026, that’s if the world hasn’t ended by then.

So, here I am, with thankfully little to whine about compared to many others over the past 6 months, and a bundle of whiskies tasted whilst I shielded.

First up after all this time is Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release 50.7%

I’ve had the past 5 Committee Releases from Ardbeg and – 2016’s Dark Cove aside – every single year I tell myself I won’t buy another. Then they get released near my birthday and I crumble, request a bottle, fortunately manage to snare one, and then become somewhat disappointed by it. It’s a habit I am struggling to shake: the fear of missing out and the intrigue for their new release always seems to trump the past experience of being disappointed and scolding myself that that year’s release will be my last. Maybe I just need to lower my expectations.

2020’s CR was the Ardbeg Blaaack, so-named due to the distillery’s self-perceived position on Islay as the ‘Black Sheep’ distillery. Basically marketing schtick that I fall for every year that also goes hand-in-hand with the NAS whisky being finished in ex-Pinot Noir casks sourced from New Zealand which is famous for sheep and wine. Clever.

I waited until July to open this bottle as a celebration for lockdown restrictions being loosened, plus another month or two to review, means it’s close to half a year since this was released to the masses and I suspect you will learn absolutely nothing new.

Colour:  Auburn.

Rested for 10 minutes.

Nose: Deep peat, which isn’t a surprise, and whiffs of woody smoke . Black cherries, some sweetness in there too that’s akin to blackcurrant and liquorice sweets. Smells a bit enthusiastic, maybe due to it being a slightly younger whisky.

Palate: Sweet peat, quite similar to Ardbeg’s standard 10 Year Old, and it takes some time for me to notice and appreciate any of the Pinot Noir influence. I just don’t seem to notice it initially – not because it’s subtle, but because it just doesn’t seem to be there. There’s an acrid, meaty smokiness to it as well, quite savoury. The whisky does slowly open up with some dark fruits and red wine-inspired richness, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, but on the whole it’s a bit of a miss for me.

Finish: Quite long, embracing, and warm. White pepper and cloves, sweet and savoury. The finish is actually very good, and it’s only brought down by the slightly lacklustre nose and palate.

Still, the Blaaack does taste a bit better with slow cooked ribs…

This would be a fantastic NAS whisky at the £60 or £70 price point, but there’s not much value for money when it cost £110 with postage, although I guess I am not just paying for the content but also the general buzz that surrounds these yearly releases. I do think my expectations play a part in my feeling of apathy towards the Blaaack, but I also think that for the last 4 years that all of their Committee Releases have fallen short of the Dark Coves lofty heights.

6 thoughts on “Review No.20 – Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release

  1. Refreshingly honest. I’ve taken myself off the Ardbeg mailing list- in fact most of the distillery mailing lists, as most of it is marketing pap and to be honest I find it hard to see a whisky as better or worse as another one unless you can compare side by side. And for me Ardbeg has become increasingly disappointing so I’ve swapped allegiance to Laphroaig.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I usually end up with one because of the timing with my birthday, so it’s easy just to get one bought and think nothing of it, but after this release I think I would be better placed going for a one or two IB releases. I tried the recent Adelphi Caol Ila 13 YO Sherry Cask and, whilst not a wine finish, it was head and shoulders above the Blaaack, so there’s definitely better value out there with change to spare.

      I can almost see why so many buy the Ardbeg Committee Releases for flipping rather than drinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hit the nail on the head. Flipping.

        These releases may be needed to keep a brand going and generate interest, but to be honest I think a lot of them are just a case of the Emperors Clothes. I’ve noted many releases seem to be releasing younger and younger whisky and the question has to be asked why? Is it the best they can offer or is it because stock is low? Are they preparing drinkers for younger whisky as older stocks dwindle?

        I might be off the mark, as young whisky isn’t necessarily bad whisky, but I feel there is a trend.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting insight, Scotty, and something I hadn’t thought of. I do feel strongly that the CRs have been going downhill in quality the last few years. Although I guess that’s just my opinion, because Blaaack seems to have performed quite strongly generally speaking.

        I tried Lagavulin’s 2020 Feis Ile release, a 20 YO finished in Oloroso and PX treated Hogsheads, and it was a step up. Even at £190 I still felt a pang of regret in not avoiding the Blaaack and biding my time. Hindsight etc! It certainly leaves me feeling though that the Ardbeg NASs are now as much about the marketing as they are about the actual whisky.


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