Ardbeg 10-year-old vs Ardbeg An Oa

Today on the offer for comparing two drams side by side, I’ve got the 10-year-old staple from Ardbeg, “The Ultimate Ten“, which this renowned Islay distillery proclaims to be “the peatiest, smokiest, and most complex single malt of them all” next to their new addition to the Ultimate range, which they call An Oa (pronounced “an oh”). I suppose they could have just named it in the style of some independent bottlers, something like a “sweet smoke monster“, but no, they chose to name it after the Oa peninsula on Islay, “the breathtaking reserve of dramatic sea cliffs, open moorland, freshwater lochs, coastal grassland and heath.” Yum! I’ve covered Ardbeg Ten on these pages before, next to Port Charlotte, Bowmore, and Ledaig (you’ll have to click through to see which one took the prize in each tasting). But today I wanted to compare the two “entry-levels” from the same range. So let’s get to it! But first, we need music! Now playing: Ólafur ArnaldsSurface OST.

What can I tell you about Ardbeg that you haven’t already heard before (or at least read on these pages)? I like it. I like it, indeed, very much. Enough to keep drinking the “younger stuff”, even though I have a few exceptional bottlings in my collection. The 10-year-old is just so accessible to my palate and, thankfully, available anywhere that you can’t just go wrong. This single malt is uncoloured, un-chill filtered, bottled at an agreeable 46% ABV, and sold for something like £45. If you’re just getting into all that peaty whisky from Islay, the 10-year-old is a perfect gateway single malt, but don’t let it fool you – it still packs a punch! An Oa doesn’t list the minimum aged whisky from its vatting; thus, it’s a No Age Statement (NAS) bottling – but it has something else here to offer. It comes from a “newly-established” bespoke oak “Gathering Vat” which was marrying whiskies from various casks, including Ardbeg spirit aged in ex-bourbon casks (as is the 10-year-old), charred virgin oak, and most excitingly, PX casks, which, presumably, would give it some more sweetness, as well as all that additional darker colour. I know it’s also un-chill filtered, and I’m hoping that due to the PX, no other colouring was added. It’s bottled at an attractive 46.6% ABV, and you can pick it up for just a few quid more, at something like £47. So which one shall we choose? It’s time to get to tasting!

The 10-year-old has that signature Ardbeg peat, which, compared to An Oa, is now fruity on the nose. It’s also carrying a light sweetness of tobacco, whereas An Oa is more in the bananas and, maybe even, a tiny cognac territory for my sense, albeit still well-veiled in all that smoke I have perceived in Ten. Let’s try them neat first. The Ten arrives like a good friend, on time and meeting expectations. This is the Ardbeg that carries the spice and the sweetness surrounded in peat, leaving a beautiful long-lingering smoke on the finish. An Oa is sweeter and absolutely smoother on its entrance, there’s still plenty of that Ardbeg smoke, but it is now more like coffee, like chocolate, and like a creamy toffee. I also feel that it tastes lighter in alcohol, but we already know that to be false. The Ten is a sharper and a punchier dram, more speaking with clarity, candour and directness. An Oa delivers a similar message, but it’s soft-spoken, choosing the words like a delicate politician with a milder approach. I’ll add a drop of water to both and let them open up a bit. I sit back and enjoy the very long finish (of the two side-by-side). It feels as if I just smoked a cigar which I followed with a tawny port – there is that ashy afterglow on my palate, and I like it a lot! Let’s start with An Oa this time, now with some water. Oh, it is smokier now, the sweetness subsided and lowered a bit, as if a heavy curtain has been dropped (not lifted for some reason in my mind) because the PX is still there, but now it’s “below” holding it all up as the base. The Ten, on the other hand, got a little bit sweeter (what’s happening here, folks?) and rounder on the palate. Oh, I am intrigued! I drink a bit of water and still taste the smoke, somewhere on the sides, in the back of my mouth.

With even more water the Ten mellowed out. It’s nearly now perfect and hits all the spots. An Oa is keeping up with its older brother, but now I’m starting to taste just a wee bit of bitterness, burned veggies and tar. That shouldn’t be perceived as a negative comment because I am digging all of those flavours (yes, including the much-welcomed bitterness). So what do I pick now? I must have them both! But, to be honest, if I was in a restaurant, a pub, or a friend’s house, and if they had both on offer, I’d reach for An Oa. It’s got that “new something” which I simply love. Reminds me of the first time I tried the Laphroaig Càirdeas 2021, which was finished in a PX cask; and the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition, which was also double matured ending in the PX sherry casks. And with that said, and especially because they’re nearly the same price point, I will proclaim An Oa as the winner of this round!

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