Whisky Advocate

Bill Lumsden answers your Ardbeg questions

September 15th, 2009

Bill Lumsden pictureIf you’ve been following my blog postings (or following me on Twitter),  you know I met with Dr. Bill Lumsden yesterday. (Picture is from yesterday.) He’s the genius behind all the new Ardbeg and Glenmorangie creations. We were together for a good part of the morning.

Below are some of the interesting tidbits he told me about Ardbeg, largely based on the questions you wanted me to ask him. (They are in bite-sized chunks because I posted them up in Twitter yesterday.) Tomorrow I’ll post up some of the answers to the Glenmorangie questions I asked him. 

Oh, and by the way, on Thursday, I’ll be sharing with you somenew  information on Highland Park and Macallan. Stay tuned.

So here are the short tidbits from Bill yesterday:

Did you know “Blasda” is essentially a younger “Kildalton” (i.e very low peating level)?  The original Kildalton was from 1980 and 24 y/o-ish. They started making new “Kildalton” & bottled it young and called it Blasda (7 y/o).

There are a couple new Ardbegs coming out in next year or two. Hint: think about remaining stocks from the 1970s.

The new Ardbeg Corryvrecken is a different batch than “Committee” bottling. Committee bottling was aged in more 1st fill French oak: more “leathery bite” as Bill describes it. This whisky was “cut with” first fill and refill bourbon casks.

Ardbeg is cutting back on single cask bottlings worldwide. It’s going to be just for Committee bottlings, Islay whisky fest & at the distillery.

Approximately 80% of Ardbeg whisky is stored on Islay, 20% on mainland. Many casks transerred over to mainland @ 9yrs old for eventual bottling. So, in this regard, they are aged in both locations for a period of time. Bill noted that there are heavy maturation loses in the volume of whisky in the casks on Islay. They will be building new warehouses on Islay and will be studying this very carefully.

Ardbeg Rennaissance was a one-time bottling. Bill’s hope is to make design all the Ardbeg 10 year old bottlings after Rennaisance. (Not at cask strength, but the same type of  quality wood–1st fill bourbon casks.)

Ardbeg bottlings will vary more than Glenmorangie because vatting sizes are smaller.

Prime age for Ardbeg? Generally speaking, 15-17 years old. (Bill really liked the original 17 year old bottling.)

Bills says they have casks from the 1970s still, but most of the hold stock “inherited” has been bottled. However, I got the impression he might also have something from the 1960s. He wouldn’t confirm nor deny.

He also mentioned that they have bought back casks from blenders (and other private owners) for their bottlings, like other distilleries have done.

Update: I also asked Bill the difference between the pre- and post-Glenmorangie produced Ardbeg 10 year old.  His response: they’re trying to reproduce the same style but with improvements. What improvements? Mainly with the quality of the wood. He also noted that it was a challenge reproducing the same style because they are no longer malting their own barley at the distillery, and this effects the flavor of the whisky.

12 Responses to “Bill Lumsden answers your Ardbeg questions”

  1. Josh says:

    John,

    Great intel from Dr. Bill. I’m a huge Ardbeg fan and I think Bill Lumsden is a true genius for how he’s reinvigorated Glenmorangie. I only wish more of the rarer bottlings and were available in the States. Did anyone ask about the frustrations with not having access to some of the more esoteric “duty free market” releases?

    - Josh

  2. B.J. Reed says:

    Better hold on to what I have left of the Rennaissance :)

  3. Maltakias says:

    As i expected.

    Not a single word about prices and premiumisation.

    “Everyone follow the road that Diageo marked”.

  4. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    I knew that Blasda is very young, chill-filtered low in peat und diluted to 40%. In fact everybody sampling it knows that after the first sip.

    I do not think that claiming it is a younger version of Kildalton will push the sales much.

    If it was the intention to make new and younger Kildalton why did they call it Blasda???

    And sorry Dr. Lumsden much as I respect and appreciate your knowledge and standing in the industry and knowing my knowledge about whisky will never come near your class…

    What I mean is that recent developments elswhere let me doubt such post hoc explanations. And writing this I feel that a campaign another whisky company is running at the moment has shattered my believe in employed whisky expertise. No offence meant but this other company has done the integrity of their own whisky experts no favour.

    Probably no favout to your whole guild.

  5. John Hansell says:

    Josh, those exact frustrations is why they are cutting back on the single cask bottlings. From what I gathered, it makes a few people happy and everyone else frustrated. That’s more of a marketing thing. Bill is more involved in production–and what the marketing people want him to make.

    Maltakias, I did not bring up the subject of pricing because, frankly, he doesn’t make those decision. Their marketing department does. He makes the whisky. Someone else determines pricing.

    Kallaskander, Ardbeg (Bill) experiments just the way many other distillers do. I think it was only natural to take a heavily peated whisky and see what a less peated expression tastes like. Just look at Coal Ila, who has been making very low peated whisky for many years (and selling to blenders). Since the previous owners of Ardbeg already experimented with low peated Ardbeg (Kildalton), it makes sence for them to try to replicate that. I don’t know why the decided to put it out early and call it Blasda (and bottle it at lower ABV and chill-filtered).

    Bill did say this to me: “Alright, for all of you who didn’t like Blasda, I’m giving you Supernova!” :)

  6. Maltakias says:

    Tell him thanks for giving us a No Age Statement whisky in the price of a 21Y.O.

    I understand he’s not responsible of pricing but i’m sure he can deliver the message to the ears that must hear it.

  7. Red_Arremer says:

    Uh oh– cask buy-backs always signal big price hikes in upcoming older releases. Remember how high the damage on Laphroaig 40 used to seem? (Of course, by now, the market has caught up more than caught up with it.) That was largely because Laphroaig had to buy most of those casks back from Duncan Taylor.

    kallaskander– comparing Ardbeg to Diageo… That’s cruel.

  8. Christos says:

    I would expect some more respect from some of us malt fans to the guy that is doing great effort to bring good whisky in our glasses.

    Dr Bill is not a marketing man or involved in the financial part of the thing. He is behind a lot of improvements in the whisky industry for some years now, starting from selection of good wood.What I have learned from many years whisky pursuit, is that above all, the people and the wood makes the whisky.

    And I think he answered many “hot” questions that others in his place would certainly avoid.

    Personally, I too don’t like some of the things Glenmorangie plc has done with Ardbeg in the last couple of years but then I say to myself “without them, where would Ardbeg be right now??” (silent or another distillery with hundreds of different bottlings – finishes, peat levels etc etc)

  9. Tim D says:

    Thanks for talking with him John, and sharing his thoughts with us.

    I love Ardbeg and the Glenmorangies are among my favorite non-peaties (Signet, Astar, Nectar D’Or are all amazing).

    Nice to read an interview with a guy who clearly has passion for his product, and always looking for ways to make it better.

    I like the ideas for improving the 10yr, as well… Although I can always hold out for a CS version! That would be swell.

    Thanks again to you and Bill.

  10. Bamber says:

    I’m done with Ardbeg. Silly prices for NAS malts. It’s a joke and the bubble will burst. Consumers will not tolerate being fleeced indefinitely.

    Why exactly is Lunsden a genius ? Blasda was rubbish and a rip off too boot. Kidalton, SERIOUSLY. Did he really say that ? I feel disrespected by that statement. Blasda just tastes like a severely watered down bottle of mediocre young Argbeg. Oh wait – that’s what it is !! Only £40 !! Not bad when you consider the other new NAS malts are upwards of £60.

    To continue my rant, I’m afraid the new stuff, as good as it is, is not a patch on the old pre Glenmorangie stock being altogether too obvious, too vanilla’d, too sweet and too bourbony (I can literally taste Jack Daniels in every sip).

    I’ve probably bought over a 100 bottles of Arbeg in my life, but the last one was the last one.

  11. Scottish says:

    Bamber. Im glad you arent going to buy another single bottle of Arbeg in your life. There willbe more for me. Loser

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