I am not usually into peated whiskeys. However, lately I gave Laphroaig 10 another chance and discovered that it wasn’t so bad after all. I can put down Compass Box’s The Peat Monster and not gag. I can even appreciate the Lagavulin 16 every once in a while. However, I have not been able to handle Ardbeg’s super peaty Uigeadail. My Scottish Gaelic is a bit rusty but I alway thought it must mean “sweat from a sheep’s taint.”*
Among whiskey enthusiasts (or at least whiskey writers), I am in the minority. Uigeadail has won several awards and tops everyones ‘Best of…’ list. It does not bother me to disagree with Jim Murray (author of The Whisky Bible). We have very different taste preferences. But when John Hansell of Malt Advocate gives something a high rating, I usually like it.
So, I decided to take my new found appreciation/tolerance for peat down to St. Andrew’s Bar and take another stab at the Uigeadail. When I attended that class with Ethan Kelley last week, he spoke briefly of pairings and recommended pairing peaty whiskies with seafood and Guinness. Plus, yesterday was the 250th birthday of Guinness. So, I ordered the fish and chips, the Uigaedail and a pint. I brought my friend Levia and her beau along for moral support. Levia tends toward the peaty whiskies and is long-time drinking buddy.
Before starting, I add some water (at 54.2% ABV, it can handle a fair amount of H2O). The nose on Uigeadail is smoky, peaty, and briny with hints of leather and honey. All put together, it smells like a well-worn shoe (perhaps a shoe that you wear while you barbeque on a beach by the North Sea). Normally, my opinion would already be tainted by the strong nose, but I decided to look past my prejudices and keep going. I take a reluctant sip after some fish and a long draw from my Guinness. This is where I would normally be spitting and sputtering and verbally abusing this whisky and anyone who likes it. However, my tastes have changed and the pairings are doing their job. This a bold whisky, firm and almost chewy. There is a sweetness I have never tasted before. I can taste the usual tar, smoke and licorice, but they are balanced and dance on the tongue (although with a heavy step, like a reel or polka rather than a waltz). The finish seems to go on forever. Indeed, I can still taste it the next day.
I can see why this whisky is beloved by so many. That said, it’s not for everybody. Uigeadail is kind of an old man’s whisky. As we age, our tastes tend to change toward bolder, more pungent flavors. If you are already a fan of dark wrapped cigars or are a regular smoker, this may be a good fit for you. If you are someone who prefers more subtle flavors, head for Speyside malts or an nice Irish. Come back to this one later in life.
For those of you who have tried the Uigeadail and totally dig it, you might look for the new Ardbeg Super Nova for an even peatier kick. I have not tried it yet. I was waiting until I knew that I could do it justice. Maybe next time.
*The folks at Ardbeg tell me that it is named after the lake from which the water is drawn. Perhaps sweaty sheep bathe there.