For more than two and a half centuries Scotch Whisky—I mean the industry, not the drink itself or the culture—has moved in cycles or waves of popularity, expansion, and prosperity for distillers, followed by slump and closures.
Some producers have taken advantage of the current upturn of the wheel to try and move their whisky up-market. In the (very successful) case of Ardbeg, this move began, I seem to remember, in the early 2000s, and over the course of a few years the price of Ardbeg Ten drifted upwards relative to other Islay brands. The invention of the annual Ardbeg Day release, and the introduction of Ardbeg embassies helped push the price increases, by building an air of exclusivity.
I suppose Ardbeg can't really be faulted for this. After all, corporations are obliged above all else to maximise their profits, and Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy operate in the luxury market, where the price and the utility of a good are but loosely connected, so why not see how far you can go?
So we have had a succession of releases of varying quality, some excellent, some anodyne, none sensibly priced, but one thing that all the previous Ardbeg Day specials did have was a decent level of the sweet smokiness that helps to place Ardbeg in the front rank of Scotch Whisky distilleries.
The nose in particular is very mild mannered, to the point of blandness. Honestly, it's faintly coastal, and that's it.
The palate is much better: sweet and smooth, with salty peat. It's very fruity too - lovely yellow fruits (yellow brambles, if they existed). The aftertaste is clean, peaty, and a little salty. But still and all, it's mild.
And there's when I realised what the point of Ardbeg An Oa really is.
It's the brand extension for people who don't particularly care for smoke. Just as Brockman's is a gin for folk who dislike juniper, or skittle vodka exists to hide the unpleasant taste of alcohol, An Oa opens up the world of peaty drams to a whole bunch of people who wouldn't otherwise buy them.
So there you have it. Mystery explained. LVMH aren't about flavour, and it doesn't make sense to think about their products like that, or to question the introduction of an Ardbeg which doesn't taste much like Ardbeg.
And with that question resolved, I'm off to drink a Ledaig.