Ardbeg Day was celebrated in style this year in Sydney with an incredibly magical Deep Under the Sea event held at the Sydney Aquarium after hours. My inner child was absolutely loving the premise even before I arrived. I grabbed my plus one and headed out to Darling Harbour to find out what happens in the aquarium after dark.
Ardbeg hosts an annual global celebration of its single malt’s untamed spirit. This year they paid homage to the sea that surrounds the Distillery’s remote Scottish island home, with their limited edition release: Ardbeg Kelpie.
The Event: Ardbeg Day Deep Under the Sea
We were led through the aquarium, passed the sleeping seahorses, tired penguins, and restless sharks to come to the main event area — next to the big fish tank. The insiders didn’t seem to be rattled by our presence and swam around in their ethereal beauty while some of our number (read: me) were beside themselves with giddiness. The room was adorned with seaweed and bottles of Ardbeg, giving the impression that we, the attendees, were also exploring the depths of the ocean with our gilled compadres.
We were served three delicious cocktails, one created by Stitches Bar, one by Whisky Room and a third by the Ardbeg crew themselves. As well as the delicious cocktails showcasing the delights of the limited-release whisky, we were offered crab rolls, prawns, oysters, and fantastic entertainment. We were joined by fishermen with tales of the mythical kelpie, and scuba divers offering selfies while holding up an Ardbeg banner in celebration with sharks swirling at their feet.
The Whisky: Ardbeg Kelpie
The novelties of the night – which also included a virtual reality station – were outshone only by the star of the show, the Ardbeg Kelpie. It is the first Ardbeg creation to be matured in virgin Black Sea casks. Unusual for whisky making, as using virgin wood is usually a practice reserved for making bourbon. These casks are known for the deep flavours they impart and brought a unique intensity to the world’s smokiest, peatiest Islay malt whisky.
The Kelpie has already been named Whisky of the Year at the influential International Whisky Competition (IWC) – scoring an incredible 97.3 out of 100! Ardbeg Kelpie was also named Best New Release, Best Single Malt (Islay), Best Peated Malt and Best Single Malt NAS. For the second year running at the IWC, Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, was crowned Master Distiller of the Year.
The whisky is a bright burnished gold colour with a wonderful, intense, ‘dancing’ nose, with notes of peat, dark chocolate, and hints of seaweed. Unlike usual peaty and malty whiskies of this region, the Ardbeg Kelpie was rich in decadent flavours such as butterscotch, dark chocolate and hickory wood. It was almost sweet to taste, with a peppery and smokey finish, that left you wanting another sip.
The Kelpie: Legend
This year’s bespoke whisky was named for one of Scotland’s most intriguing legends: the water kelpie. A shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. Rumoured to take the form of a horse or a bull, and prey on unwitting travellers. Ardbeg’s distillery is situated on the shore of Islay’s southernmost coast and has always had a deep connection to the sea and its inhabitants.
The Scots in the area have passed down generations of stories of mysterious beasts said to live beneath the waves. With such a beast as a namesake, who wouldn’t be intrigued to have a taste?
F&B Specialist. Usually seen with a flat white in hand or on her way to a craft beer or whiskey tasting. Needs to stop buying books and start reading them.
Ardbeg Day in an annual event held every year across the globe in celebration of the Scottish whisky and to close the Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt.