Ardbeg 17yo

When I first joined the whisky trade, my father and an old friend regaled me of when the standard malt option in bars around Scotland was a Gordon & MacPhail's bottling of 1937 Macallan, then referred to as Macallan-Glenlivet. G&M must've bought a huge amount of Macallan's output that year, because they bottled it over at least two decades, possibly three. It would've been '66 or '67 that they raised their glasses of '37. I've no idea when it would've been bottled. They didn't make too much of a fuss about round numbers in those days. 

My dad and his pal didn't have any inkling what those bottles would some day be worth, because it didn't occur to them that they'd be worth anything. They didn't like blends, they liked malt. That was the malt available. It might've been a shilling or two more expensive (I don't know how pre-decimal money worked), but they thought it was worth it. 

Ardbeg 17yo was probably the whisky I drank most of in my early days in the trade. It was £30 a bottle, ridiculously complex, elegant, and a breath of fresh air compared to the heavily sherried whiskies that folks were going doe-eyed about (and still go doe-eyed about, to be fair). It was Islay's Grand Cru Chablis: nuanced, lightly peated (for Ardbeg) but still flinty and smoky and with a brilliant vanilla cream sweetness. For real nerds, it was the perfect dram to express the subtleties imparted on Ardbeg's spirit by its famous reflux arm on the main still. It was an odd age, but a necessary one, as Ardbeg's long mothballing had resulted in a lack of young stock. By the time production finished on it, the whisky in the 17yo was probably closer to 25 years old. For £30 a bottle, it was an astonishing bargain. 

Nowadays, if you can find a bottle at auction, it will set you back a few hundred quid or more. I'd not had it in awhile, but recently a friend in the business had the remains of an old miniature. Less than a dram's worth, but my goodness the nose filled the glass. I'd worried for a moment that perhaps I'd gilded my memory somewhat, that perhaps the whisky wasn't *that* good. But it was amazing. Perhaps moreso than I remember. It lingered on the palate like embers in a hearth. 

Before whisky became quite as expensive as it has, my dad and his pal chatted about pooling together and buying one of those old Macallan-Glenlivets, for old time's sake. It would've been a grand and a half back then, I suppose. I shook my head and thought they were crazy. I've always felt you can get as good a whisky as possible for between £50-£100. Spending anymore was simply buying status and marketing or, worse, into the collector's market. But tasting that 17yo again, and appreciating it not just as a whisky, but as a part of my life in this trade, as one of the boozy bookmarks that make up my story, I could see why they'd consider it. You can't go back to your youth and smack yourself around and tell yourself to appreciate it more. But you can earn a few quid to buy the now-outrageously expensive whisky you used to enjoy and close your eyes and smell and sniff and sip and for a quick moment or two, you can be there again. I don't know if that's worth the premium, but it makes it worth thinking about.

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