Ardbeg single malt whisky, based on the southern shores of Scotland’s island of Islay, has recently unveiled Fon Fhòid: the latest in a number of highly unusual experiments.
Back in 2014, the distillery team lead by whisky creator, Dr Bill Lumsden and former distillery manager, Mickey Heads (now retired) took the highly unusual approach of burying two already matured casks of Ardbeg underneath the peat bogs themselves, (burning peat smoke is normally used to dry the malted barley during production, to give a whisky its distinctive aroma,) to explore how such extreme conditions would affect further maturation on the whisky.
‘The idea for Ardbeg Fon Fhòid [which is Gaelic for under the turf] first came about during one of our team’s new product brainstorming sessions,’ said Lumsden. ‘We generally categorise our ideas into three groups: ones which were straightforward and relatively easy – maybe experimenting with a new cask type; ones which were quite fascinating but perhaps more tricky, such as exploring wild yeast experiments, and ones which seemed almost mad and impossible to do!’ [In the past, the distillery has also explored zero gravity maturation, by sending samples of its whisky up to the International Space Station].
‘We thought, Ardbeg comes from the peat so why don’t we return it to the peat and see what happens?’
The casks, both second-fill, ex-American oak bourbon casks, were left buried underground for two years and 10 months before being dug up again and returned to the distillery warehouses, where Lumsden discovered that the experiment had a profound effect on the whisky.
‘At first I thought it would never work because the conditions under the ground – cold, dark, slightly acidic – would simply make the casks fall apart,’ he said, ‘but eventually the idea became so compelling that I had to try. Initially, I was targeting five years underground but that seemed quite risky so, just shy of three years into the experiment, I decided to check up on them. I really wasn’t sure if there would be anything left there at all, but was astonished to find the casks were still in one piece.’
The result is, as Lumsden described it, ‘a whisky with uniquely earthy, mossy notes, and a waxy distinctly herbal note with an oily fragrance’.
The release, from 10am EST on 19th April, limited to 456 bottles, is also the distillery’s first partnership with Blockbar.com, a digital platform which specialises in NFTs (Non-Fungible-Tokens) directly from luxury drinks brands. Each NFT corresponds to a physical bottle and consumers have the ability to exchange the digital version for the physical version, which is stored by BlockBar and the digital version serves as proof of authenticity, verification of ownership.
Ardbeg Fon Fhòid Tasting Notes: 45.5% ABV
Initially waxy, with a salty and distinctive herbal, savoury rye bread note, followed by a slightly sweeter smokiness and an oily mouth-coating finish, with Ardbeg’s classic peaty pungency.