For Discussion: The Ardbeg Committee's exclusive releases are legendary for a reason

For Discussion: The Ardbeg Committee's exclusive releases are legendary for a reason

We tasted Ardbeg's latest 'For Discussion' bottling and looked back on more than two decades of Committee releases.

Whisky Focus | 09 Dec 2022 | Issue 188 | By Partnered Promotion

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There’s never been a better time to be a fan of, well, anything. These days, no matter what sparks your interest, you’ll be able to hop online and find a ready-made community to engage with. It doesn’t matter if you’re passionate about obscure movies, out-of-print books, or Islay whiskies that taste like someone’s lit a bonfire in your mouth — like those made at Ardbeg. Regardless, you’ll be able to find an online community full of people that share your interests.

But it wasn’t always so easy. Back in the year 2000, the internet was a very different place. Message boards were the only option – and a decent internet connection was hard to come by. For those living in rural communities, the best bet was to head out into the world and try to meet kindred spirits – or fellow Islay whisky lovers – in real life.

Colin Gordon, distillery manager at Ardbeg.

This might explain why, despite having a population of only 3,228 people, the island of Islay is said to have more than 140 active committees. Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s distillery manager, has lived on the island for around seven years and has come to know this fact of Islay life well. “I think I’ve been in two committees and my wife is probably in about seven,” he told us with a laugh and a shake of his head. Thus, it was only natural that Ardbeg launched its own committee back in the year 2000. This one wasn’t only for the locals, though, and instead would bring together peat-loving fans from around the globe.

“The distilleries of Islay tend to have a cult-like following, but something about Ardbeg has attracted this unbelievable, incredibly passionate, die-hard community,” Colin remarked. It’s something of an understatement. Today, the Ardbeg Committee has grown to be 180,000 members strong. As for why so many Ardbeg lovers joined, the answer is simple. Members are provided with regular updates from the Ardbeg team – letters from their beloved Islay, if you will – and are also given the chance to join Ardbeg events at the distillery and in locations all over the world. It helps that membership is completely free and it's easy to sign-up online.

Ardbeg Distillery is located on the southern shore of Islay.

However, for many, the real draw is the chance to buy exclusive Ardbeg bottlings only made available to Committee members. Some of these bottlings have even passed into whisky legend. Ardbeg expressions like Rollercoaster, Alligator and Supernova all captivated whisky fans on release. Though snapped up mainly by drinkers, canny collectors took a keen interest early on, and these bottlings got people talking. Which, after all, is the entire point of a committee.

Indeed, sparking discussion was exactly the motivation behind a more recent release for the Ardbeg Committee – the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion. Priced at £57 in the UK and only available to members of the Committee, this single malt was put together specifically with the aim of getting brains working and tongues wagging.

Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion.

Bottled at 50.8% ABV, without the use of chill filtration, and boasting only its natural, cask-derived colour, a combination of casks has been used to bring out a wonderfully full range of flavour. Ex-bourbon barrels, both first-fill and refill, make up the eight-year-old’s backbone, while some refill oloroso sherry casks bring an element of richness. Our first dram certainly got us talking.

Ardbeg’s head of whisky, Dr Bill Lumsden (who is affectionately known as ‘Dr Bill’ and known to be fond of a good chin-wag himself), described the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion as a “deliberately challenging whisky” and reminiscent of a particular set of releases from earlier in the Committee’s journey. Ardbeg Very Young (a six-year-old), Ardbeg Still Young (an eight-year-old) and Ardbeg Almost There (a nine-year-old) caused waves in the whisky world when they were released back in the early 2000s, as drammers from around the globe scrambled to find out how the distillery’s trademark fruity, somewhat floral, and intensely peaty new spirit slowly evolved over the course of a decade to become the much-loved Ardbeg 10 Years Old.

Ardbeg Still Young was bottled in 2006.

These youthful Ardbegs showcased the uniquely boisterous profile of young, smoky whisky, and the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion treads a similar path. The main difference between these earlier bottlings and this new one, however, is availability. Very Young, Still Young and Almost There were released in very limited supplies at a time when only a relative handful of people globally had even heard of Ardbeg. Thankfully, the eight-year-old Committee Release has been crafted with enthusiastic whisky drinkers in mind. There’s enough to go around – for now – but Colin tells us it won’t be available forever.

However, though the eight-year-old might resemble those earlier youthful bottlings, the idea that led to its creation actually sprung forth from a rather more abstract, if currently on-trend, idea: that of the ‘multiverse’. “Dr Bill asked himself, ‘What if Ardbeg 10 Years Old didn’t exist?’” Colin explained to us. “And, in a parallel universe, what would his alternate counterpart have created?”

The Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion.

Given its status as a ‘multiverse variant’, the eight-year-old begs to be compared to the distillery’s core range. Its strength sits somewhere between the ‘gold standard’ Ardbeg 10 Years Old (46% ABV) and the adored Uigeadail (54.2% ABV). Likewise, its age lands it almost halfway along the timeline between the feisty Wee Beastie 5 Years Old (47.4% ABV) and its elder sibling. Thankfully, it’s no awkward middle child. The eight-year-old has a personality all its own and goes down a treat – at least, that was the consensus when we recently sat down to try it with some friends and fellow Ardbeg Committee members.

Compared side by side with the Ardbeg 10 Years Old, two of the group proclaimed to prefer the higher strength of this For Discussion bottling. Others said the opposite, and they stood by the old faithful ten-year-old which is sweeter and has stronger vanilla notes. Sipped alongside the most recent batch of Ardbeg’s Traigh Bhan 19 Years Old Batch 4 , our tasters marvelled at time’s mellowing effect on smoky flavours and how, though separated by 11 years of maturation and a differing cask profile, the family resemblance remained uncanny.

Enjoying the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion.

Of the Ardbeg 8 Years Old, it was agreed that the aromas of tar and wood smoke, ripe orchard fruit, moss, lime and whispers of vanilla and spice made for a more elegant dram than one would’ve expected from a young Ileach. The dram’s balance of flavours and subtleties were remarked on more than once. Funnily enough, this is also how both Bill and Colin describe the eight-year-old. “It has big sooty, smoky creosote notes with incredible citrus, herbal, and fruity flavours too,” shared Colin. “It manages to highlight Ardbeg’s heavy smoke and fruity spirit wonderfully, making sure that its nuances aren’t overpowered.”

Predictably, as with all the best discussions, the chat during our tasting drifted. “Whisky is a sociable drink,” Colin added with a grin, agreeing with our view that drinking whisky with a group of like-minded people is one of life’s great pleasures. While it might principally be an online organisation, this spirit of friendship and lively discussion is the reason the Ardbeg Committee exists. (And Ardbeg Day, the annual party at the distillery for Committee members and friends during Fèis Ìle, a.k.a. the Islay Festival, is a legendary, in-person knees-up.)

The Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion is sure to get tongues wagging.

Prospective Ardbeg Committee members can join via the distillery’s website and, once registered, gain access to exclusive bottlings when they become available – including the Ardbeg 8 Years Old For Discussion, of which a few bottles still remain.

The eight-year-old is a fascinating glance into the whisky multiverse at ‘what could have been’ for Ardbeg and is something that every fan should try. Most importantly, it should be shared with friends and, whether loyal to the ten-year-old or partial to its parallel-universe counterpart, used as an excuse to have a good natter. After all, that’s why it says ‘For Discussion’ on the label.

It’s a great time to be enjoying whisky. In fact, there might never have been a better time to be a fan of single malt – in this universe, anyway.

Find out more about the Ardbeg Committee here or join right away here.

Ardbeg 8 For Discussion


8 Years Old For Discussion

Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Ardbeg Distillery
ABV: 50.8%
BOTTLING: Distillery
STYLE: Single Malt
PRICE: £57
AVAILABILITY: Ardbeg Committee Exclusive
Nose: Coal smoke, pine needles and violin rosin. Moss and ashy charcoal, then ground almonds, smoked Iberian ham, and a distinctive citrus note of dried limes. Delicate vanilla pod and white chocolate notes are backed by olive oil and subtle blackberry, too.
Palate: Medium to light in body, but full flavoured. The zing of lime sherbet and a whack of ginger heat. It’s wonderfully fresh, with smoked green apples, white grape, elderflower, lemon drizzle cake and smoked ham all in evidence. Some milk chocolate notes with a touch of green pepper and subtle Chinese five spice — cinnamon, star anise and clove.
Finish: The sweet and savoury notes fades quickly, leaving wood smoke and green flavours of parsley, green apple, cucumber and fennel that linger for a medium-length finish.
Comments: If this was Ardbeg’s core expression instead of the ten-year-old, I wouldn’t be mad. Though, as Dr Bill says, it’s certainly more ‘challenging’ than its older sibling.
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