Of CORRADO LARONGA
Andrea Bertazzo, brand ambassador of Ardbeg, talks to us about the most famous distillery in the world, its already known products and those to come, with a particular focus on Ardbeg 5, a five year old with characteristics waiting to be discovered.
Andrea, you are brand ambassador of one of the most famous distilleries in the world. Can you tell us a little about your story?
Ardbeg in a certain sense is the history of the peated. It is a world famous distillery and fans of this type of whiskey are in love with it. Naturally it is Scottish, based on the island of Islay, and has had a rather troubled history that begins in 1815, the year of its foundation. In the centuries to come, frequent changes of ownership have worn it down to the point that in 1981 production even stopped for eight years, thus leaving lovers of peated whiskeys without their flagship product. What happened next was incredible because it was the workers of the competing distilleries who kept it standing, something probably never seen before and which once again gives the dimension of the importance of this now iconic brand. Until 1996 production was fluctuating, then the distillery passed into the hands of Glenmorangie which in turn, in 1998, was purchased by Moët Hennessy. It was at that point that Ardbeg was finally relaunched into the Olympus it deserved.
What products does the Ardbeg collection consist of?
One of the most famous is certainly the 10 year, then there are other references that start from 10 years but are mixed with other vintages and therefore do not have a certain date. This is also part of Ardbeg's charm. As labels we have Ardbeg An Oa, one of the historical references which last year acquired even more importance by joining the 10 year anniversary as a flagship brand. Then we have Ardbeg Corryvreckan, more full-bodied and with a higher alcohol volume. The gem is then Ardbeg Uigeadail, which owes its name to the lake of the same name near the distillery. Finally there is the absolute novelty, for which a grand launch was planned this year, which is Ardbeg 5. It is a fresh and young product, which for peated whiskeys means above all presenting a very peat flavour. intense, a characteristic that is increasingly lost with age.
Tell us about Ardbeg 5
It's an extraordinary whisky. Spicy, pungent and at the same time soft due to the changes of barrel, rather alcoholic and particularly peaty. It is pleasant to drink both neat and when mixed, especially in classic cocktails. It has been nicknamed "Wee Beastie", "Indomitable Beast", because it is a whiskey rich in hints that literally explode on the palate. The presentation is beautiful, with these backgrounds that recall the stylistic features of B movie posters, whose character fits perfectly with the indomitable soul of Ardbeg 5. An unusual thing happens with this type of whisky, and that is that those who want to get closer it should do the exact opposite to Ardbeg products than it would do with other whiskies: that is, it should start from 10 years and then move on to 5, again due to the issue of the persistence of peating which I mentioned in the previous question.
What does an Ardbeg ambassador do?
The “funny” thing is that I became an Ardbeg ambassador a few days before the lockdown was proclaimed. Ardbeg 5 should have been presented in March, at which time we should also have given a preview of the 2020 limited editions, but naturally it wasn't possible. Sooner or later it will be possible to do it and the party will be huge, in the meantime we have to make do with online tastings. In any case, as an ambassador I consider myself a bit of a storyteller of the island of Islay and the Ardbeg distillery, I have to talk about the products, make them tasted, always find new ways to offer them, for example in food pairing. Brown spirits brand ambassadors are generally the most romantic, because tasting these products is always imagined in an armchair, in front of the fireplace, in a beautiful home or in a luxury hotel/restaurant.
You talked about food pairing. Can it also be made with whisky?
Yes, although the possibilities are not exactly infinite. I was born as a bartender, so I dedicated myself to inventing drinks mainly with Ardbeg 5 and 10, because the others are too strong to be used in mixing. In the meantime, I have therefore investigated the possibilities of food pairing which, unlike what one might think, focus on seafood specialities. With its marine and smoky hints, Ardbeg for example is perfect to accompany an oyster, while Ardbeg An Oa, with its light peat that expands pleasantly, pairs beautifully with scallops marinated in apple juice, or English vinaigrettes.
We'll try! In the meantime, can you tell us what's new about Ardbeg for the future?
Definitely make up for Ardbeg Day which couldn't be done this year. It is a big party held in different locations around the world and to which the brand's biggest customers and admirers, brand ambassadors from all over the world and anyone who manages to register in time are invited. Last time there were 4000 people, you don't know how sad I was not to have been able to participate this year as I would have been invited! As regards the new products, I can tell you that we will present two labels: one will be an Ardbeg with significant aging, but I cannot yet reveal to you how much, while the second has actually already been launched "virtually" on the occasion of Ardbeg Day in May and It's called The Blaaack. And then, obviously, there will be the official presentation of Ardbeg 5 which was not possible this year, even though the product has been put on sale and in Italy the stocks for 2020 have already sold out!