Ardbeg Kildalton 1980
Official Bottling at 57.6% abv
An unpeated mutant, but still a gorgeous dram.
Ever wonder where Jimi Hendrix would be if he’d stuck to acoustic guitar? MTV's Unplugged asks this same question by having musicians play acoustically on a small stage. For the truly great like Eric Clapton, their talent is in no way diminished without the electronic enhancements, and neither is this unpeated Ardbeg of a lesser quality… but as you can well guess, it’s just not the same.
For most fans of Islay whisky, unpeated is a dirty word so the marketing yarn for Kildalton talks about Ardbeg’s then distillery manager, Hamish Scott, looking to satisfy some sort of perverse curiosity. To ask Hamish himself, however, is to hear the dark story of Ardbeg as purchased by Hiram Walker in 1977, which would later become part of Allied Distillers:
“I honestly do not think any particular thought was given [by Hiram Walker] as to whether peated malt was used or not. They were not enthusiastic floor maltsters and none of their personnel had any experience of floor maltings, so ultimately malt was brought in from Kilgour Maltings in Kircaldy, Fife. The malt supplied was totally unpeated.”
It is an interesting side note that proprietor Ian Kilgour was also a Hiram director and coincidentally Hiram Walker never did use much Ardbeg—too peaty!—in their blends. The production of Kildalton—the moniker used for this unpeated whisky—was practical within the company, despite the fact that the distillery had a substantial number of blenders who appreciated its peated make. “In 1976 we produced 440,000 gallons of which only a thousand were laid aside for single [malt] bottling,” explained Hamish. Nicknaming this new whisky for a cross in a nearby cemetery pretty much said it all.
But despite its bastard childhood, Kildalton is still a gorgeous dram, and a perfect example of why peat itself does not a great whisky make. Beefy and complex, this is a toothsome Ardbeg that is grainy on the palate, exquisitely sweet and with the same fruity notes that belie its lineage to the original Ardbeg 17 Year Old, a whisky largely blended with Kildalton due to limited availability of stock from this time.
While not quite as muscular as the peated Ardbeg we know and love, this mutant is good enough to bottle on its own and shows off the gentler side of a whisky oft described as floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. But that said, a bee that can’t sting is dead, Hendrix without an amp is not a legend and Ardbeg without peat… well it’s not quite Ardbeg, is it?