Peaty scotch has a reputation for turning many a casual drinker away from the popular whisky category as a whole. My experience was somewhat different. Bowmore was the first peated single malt I recall trying, and by that point I’d already tasted the likes of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, and The Macallan. The difference in profile certainly caught me off-guard, but I was at least receptive to trying other, similarly styled expressions. I have plenty more exploring ahead of me, but if the likes of Lagavulin 9-Year and Ardbeg 10-Year are any indication, then I’m excited to experience even more peaty drams.
This brings us to the subject of today’s review. Ardbeg Wee Beastie is the brand’s latest core expression, aiming to be “the rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever.” To that end, the bottle only carries a 5-year age statement, since further aging effectively reduces the presence of peat from the new make in favor of cask-influenced flavors. So while Wee Beastie does spend time in both ex-bourbon and Olorosso sherry casks, it may be safe to assume they were used a couple or so times before being filled with the distillate intended for Wee Beastie. Other statistics include being non-chill filtered (like other Ardbegs), bottled at 47.4% ABV, and carrying an MSRP of around $50.
Nose: Yeasty. Vaguely peppercorn-like with dried pears and apples, as well as an impression of chocolate. Smoke presents itself like either a fog machine or cigarillos.
Palate: Somewhat thin, but a mild viscosity builds from further sipping. Burnt ends, BBQ bone, and cherrywood. Literally feels like swallowing smoke from a grill, but in liquid form. Sweetness comes across like smoky BBQ beans.
Finish: Quite lengthy with a developing meatiness. Personality takes a bit of a drying turn while the lack of chill filtration becomes obvious. Maybe the vaguest hint of raw almonds to go with the barley mash essence.
Comparisons between this and the Ardbeg 10-Year are all but inevitable, but we’ll start with Wee Beastie itself. What immediately stood out on my first couple pours was the strong presence of youth, a characteristic I rarely find in more commercially available single malts. Such a description is often code for “substandard” amongst whisky fans, which may be a harsh assessment for Wee Beastie, depending on who you ask. I wouldn’t go so far, but I will say Ardbeg’s youngest benefits from repeat visits, even if just for easier enjoyment.
Wee Beastie’s personality acts as a fun juxtaposition to Ardbeg 10-Year, since the former exhibits more of a raw smoke profile while the latter is rounded out and earthy, by comparison. Ardbeg’s flagship remains the preferred pour thanks to it’s more developed and subtle nature, but Wee Beastie’s associative flavor profile is, in and of itself, more to my liking. Ultimately, this addition to the core lineup checks enough boxes to feel like a worthwhile purchase, just not as a mainstay in one’s cabinet.