Review #86: Ardbeg Kelpie

Okay, I’ll be honest: I have been searching for a bottle of this for a while. Every time I have tried to order it on a menu, the bartender will look around and then tell me that they are sorry, but it is no longer available. I have had bartenders tell me this from San Francisco, CA to Berlin, Germany to Tokyo, Japan.

So when I spotted this in a dive bar in Chicago with a phenomenal whisky selection, I pounced. Given my high expectations, it may be reasonable that this review is nothing but glowing, effervescent praise. But given that I have a stubbornly contrarian side, it may also be reasonable to assume this review is a “pooh pooh” of one of the most famous limited release Ardbegs out there. Before I get all Princess Bride riddles-and-rhymes with this, here’s the heart of it: it’s really an exceptional whisky and I get why it’s so highly revered. It’s not the punch-you-in-the-face peat-peat-peat flavor of standard Ardbeg, but instead a balanced sweet smoked dessert.

The Ardbeg Kelpie was released in 2017 and features the marriage between whisky aged in virgin Black Sea oak casks sourced from the Adyghe Republic in Russia with standard ex-bourbon cask matured Ardbeg.

Ardbeg Feis Isle 2017 – Kelpie.
Backdrop: Delilah’s Chicago (decked out in Christmas lights so it was extra pretty!)

Ardbeg Kelpie
  • Score - 8.5/10

Tasting Notes

On the nose: Fall leaves, warm vanilla milk, and dirt crusted seaside rocks.

Palate: Not like Ardbeg’s standard bracing peat at all. The Kelpie name would lead me to believe it’s just raw seaweed. Instead, there’s a smooth, creamy, and oily mouthfeel of sweet rich milk chocolate and white chocolate oranges.

Toward the end, there’s a bit of a dark green seaweed and sesame nut taste. Finishes with gentle puffs of smoke and cream.

Overall Summary: 8.5/10. Yep… it’s good.

MSRP: I think we purchased this for ~$24/pour at Delilah’s Chicago (in Chicago, IL – not to be confused with Delilah’s, also in Chicago, IL). The original price for Kelpie was around $110-120.

Quick overview of our scoring system

Additional Information

  • ABV: 46% (there is also a committee release version that is rumored to be phenomenal at cask strength)
  • Age: Non age statement (NAS)
  • Casks: Marriage of ex-bourbon and “Black Sea virgin oak casks” from Russia


  • Ardbeg was mothballed in 1981 and then reopened in 1997 (after being purchased by Glenmorangie; it is now owned by the Louis Vutton conglomerate)
  • In 2011, 20 vials of Ardbeg were sent to the International Space Station with some particles of charred oak to see how maturation would differ in space (a control whisky was held at the distillery for comparison)

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