Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Reptilia, Superorder: Crocodylomorpha, Order: Crocodylia, Family: Alligatoridae, Subfamily: Alligatorinae, Genus: Alligator (all due taxonomic credit goes to François Marie Daudin).
There are currently only two species of Alligator, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) which is smaller and nearly extinct, but very adept at making cheap knock-offs of the American Alligator’s products. Much like many Americans of the deep South, the American Alligator is characterized by its heavy body and slow metabolism, however…HOWEVER, they’re also capable of short bursts of speed and freakish strength, which is also true of many Americans of the deep South, so take it from me, it’s best not to antagonize either one. If, by some dumb chance, you’d like to try to antagonize an alligator, wave a suckling pig near its powerful jaws. Similarly, you can antagonize an American of the deep South by threatening to raise taxes, cancel NASCAR, and laugh about the Civil War. Ironically, if you slow-roast a suckling pig in a BBQ pit and offer an American of the deep South dinner, you’ve probably made a friend for life.
*Sorry, except for the suckling pig thing, all that other stuff about Americans of the Deep South is blatantly untrue…for the most part. Although, now that I think about it, those same claims could be made for many Americans in general, not only those of the Deep South…
Whatever…that’s neither here nor there, what’s really at issue here is another kind of Alligator, one more well-hyped, well-marketed “Committee” only release from Ardbeg. This one hit the states right at the end of May/beginning of June and by all accounts sold out pretty quickly. A wider “non-committee” release is expected in the Fall, but I’m a sucker for this stuff and had to have it now. Plus, the stress of losing my job mid-May..and then finding a new one a few days later called for strong, strong drink. Ardbeg’s Alligator is a pretty unique expression and reflects Dr. Bill Lumsden’s deep fascination with the effect of wood on whisky. Back in 2000, several new American oak casks were heavily charred, (the cracked, charred texture of the wood looks like the skin of a ‘gator, you see…) filled will spirit, and set to mature. Once deemed ready, this special whisky was vatted with some of the standard 10 Year Old and then placed in re-fill casks to “marry” for about a year. In recent years, Ardbeg has experimented with heavily flamed/toasted casks to great fanfare, but never on this scale (approx. 10,000 bottles). The idea here is that the new American oak casks, usually used solely for bourbon, lend a very different, spicy-sweet quality to the Scotch which typically does not use brand new casks for its maturation.
The Nose: Uh…wow. There are familiar Ardbeg notes, youngish, dank, medicinal peat, green wood smoke, tangy lemon curd, but there’s a lush blanket of vanilla-caramel and orange tinted dark chocolate over it all. Nestled in there as well are dark notes of charcoal, subtle hints of BBQ sauce, canned black olives, cinnamon and pipe smoke.
The Palate: Early sweet notes of dark chocolate turn a little salty, as a peaty smokiness grows very spicy. There’s lots of drying clove, coarse vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and cardamom. This gives way to a big swell of ashy, youngish, charcoal-tinged smoke towards the end that’s tempered by a continued bourbon-y sweetness.
The Finish: That charred, ashy wood smoke predictably goes on and on and on with more of that nice vanilla-clove, cocoa-tinged sweetness hanging around, too.
Thoughts: I love this stuff. Ardbeg keeps setting the bar pretty high for itself, and with Alligator, they’ve done it again. To me, this one is closer to Corryvreckan than to Uigeadail, but tempered and a little more brash at the same time. The use of the new oak casks really comes through, not just with the spicy, boubon-like sweetness, but in the brittle char as well. The ashy quality also reminds me a bit of bourbon-matured Kilchoman. For all its complex mingling of strong elements, there’s still a nice structure and balance here…expert whisky-making on display. At around $100, there’s always the question of whether a no-age-statement like this is worth it. The price is steep, but if you’re an Ardbeg and Islay fan, you’ll probably find that money well, well spent. Highly recommended.
Ardbeg Alligator, Islay
51.2% ABV, non chill-filtered