Thanks to Mark E. for this sample!
The smoke and alcohol are readily evident in the aroma, along with peat and salty sea breeze. This is against a backdrop of butterscotch, charred oak, vanilla wafer, grapefruit and just a hint of apricot. The taste is very bold! The initial flavor is tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, vanilla, tobacco and apricot followed by a burst of butterscotch, vanilla and ginger that give way to a bit of iodine and grass. The finish is smokey white pepper and fades to a slightly salty and leathery oak bitterness. The smokiness remains and the pepper lingers for a long time. All of this distracts from mild sweet tobacco that still remains in the background. Adding water really tames this beast and makes it much more enjoyable. The aroma becomes mostly grass and toffee as the smoke moves to the background and the salty sea breeze becomes still sea air. The citrus becomes ginger and the alcohol burn is brought under control. The taste become more fruity and sweet with notes of apple, tart cherry, peach and grapefruit to accompany the vanilla and peat. A mild smoke aspect remains as does the white pepper that arrives in the finish. The ginger is much milder and the bitterness gives way to salt and a hint of leather. After a while, the remnants are of salty peat, licorice and charred oak and this final finish has somewhat of a numbing quality to it. Some water is definitely needed to subdue this animal. It’s wild and woolly!
My impression of this complex whisky is diminished by the bitter, numbing finish (helped out much by water). The tangy flavor is too much at times for the milder fruit elements to compete with and disappears quickly, which leaves the smoke, peat and spice to complete the experience. After a while, the balance improves but is never really achieved. For me, it just doesn’t work that well (and I know it does for many). I’ll stick with Ardbeg Ten Year over this one.