I’m secretly patting myself on the back once again for pairing up these two whiskies. Today I am comparing Ledaig with Ardbeg, one of my favourite distilleries from Islay [favourite? Who am I kidding? Every Islay distillery is a favourite!]. As you have already gathered, both are 10 years olds, and both are actually coming in at a very close price and ABV, so it should be an excellent pairing. The former came courtesy of my Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar and the latter from the Ardbeg Monsters of Smoke gift set, which I grabbed, from among all the places, on Amazon! Okay, enough of an intro, so let’s get right into it, but first, music! Now playing: A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five.
Ledaig (pronounced “led-chig”) is a peated single malt made by the Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull (the only distillery on the island). It is named after the original distillery name. And the unpeated expression from the core range is just called Tobermory. From the initial pour, it is immediately visible that Ledaig is slightly darker, more amber in colour. This colouring is natural, and it is non-chill filtered, bottled at 46.3% and produced using peated (30-40ppm) concerto barley. The dram has plenty of smoke on the nose and sweetness on the tongue. The finish has a bit of brine, and it is lovely, lingering on for a while longer. Before even tasting the next dram, I’m very much impressed by this £40 bottle, and it almost reminds me of a young Caol Ila, but mayhaps I need to compare it side by side [takes a mental note]. There is a touch of iodine at the very tail and a very slight hint of engine oil and rubber if you like that kind of thing. I can certainly be convinced! I have a bottle of the 20-year-old stashed away, but it’s a Moscatel cask finish, and the last time I had it, I don’t remember being a super fan. I also don’t recall the peat in that one, that’s for sure. Perhaps I’ll check it out again, side by side with an older expression than the ten, but no finish this time, just the smoke, please. I only taste a few sips of this first pour before I move on to the next.
The Ardbeg (pronounced “ard-beg”) is not shy with the smoke, but it is a bit more medicinal when compared to Ledaig. Also, I just noticed that, although barely visible, it has more pronounced legs on the glass, while Ledaig simply dissipates into gathered teardrops on the side of my Glencairn. Some people will comment on the amount and quality of alcohol as a result of this observation, but in my strictly non-professional opinion, the alcohol amount “feels” the same. There is a sweetness to the Ardbeg, but it’s softer, mellower, and warmer, and it’s present at the centre of the tongue, while Ledaig hits you wide across the mouth surface, mixing in with a bite of that alcohol that still tingles on my lips. I add a few more drops of water and taste both drams again. There it is again. Ledaig is certainly a “biter”, while Ardbeg is a “softer glow”. This single malt is also non-coloured and non-chill filtered, coming in at 46% ABV and £44 for a bottle. This Ardbeg Ten is straight and to the point – it doesn’t dress up in the marketing campaign, it doesn’t offer up a long and pretty story [I’m not saying that in contrast to Ledaig – just a general statement]. It’s just a whisky that is really, really good.
I love my smokiness in whisky, so I’m not put off by the pronounced peat in both. Some say that Ledaig is “earthy” on the smoke, while Ardbeg is more “ashy” – I personally haven’t gone that far in peeling apart the peat in these two [yet]. I’ve also seen some people claim that Ledaig’s more medicinal, while in my taste above, it was clearly more pronounced in Ardbeg. Finally, I have read a few reports that Ledaig has been slightly inconsistent in the past years, while Ardbeg has retained their ‘recipe’ throughout. What I don’t like, however, is the alcohol on Ledaig that just appears to claw through all those tastebuds and scratch the surface of my mouth. It’s not offputting, but next to Ardbeg it is noticeable. It feels like Ardbeg’s more refined and drops the bracket of their first cut during distillation [leaving off the ‘rougher ethanol’]. And with that bit, I’ll say that Ardbeg 10-Year-Old wins this round.