If you relegate whiskey to the winter months, you’re missing out on some extraordinary pairings. Ardbeg wants to be your sidekick come barbecue season—so much so that it recently rolled out Ardbeg BizarreBQ, an idiosyncratic Scotch that imbues the best of BBQ.
The Islay-based distillery is known for its eccentric nature, and that personality can be seen throughout this release cooked up by Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, and Christian Stevenson (aka DJ BBQ), backyard grilling guru.
What Is BBQ Whisky?
“We used specially charred BBQ casks, in addition to double-charred oak casks and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks in the creation of Ardbeg BizarreBQ,” says Lumsden. “For the barbecue casks, the wood was toasted to a specific intensity to achieve a flavor profile that evokes the tangy, sweet, and savory qualities of barbecue.”
While BizarreBQ might seem like an idea plucked out of smoky air, it’s actually been in the works for some time.
“The idea for Ardbeg BizarreBQ really stemmed from a curiosity to see how far I could push the boundaries of smoky flavor potential in our whisky,” Lumsden says. “Smoke is a flavor that we’ve mastered for a long time now at Ardbeg—but there’s always more that can be tried and tested to see where else you can take it. I was basically trying to capture the wonderful flavors of barbecue food in an Ardbeg whisky. Working closely with DJ BBQ at the Ardbeg Distillery helped me get to grips with this interesting challenge.”
Back in 2020, Ardberg joined forces with Stevenson—a real master of the grill—to create The Smoke Sessions, an online video series and guide to creating delicious barbecue complemented by Ardbeg cocktails. Since then, they’ve continued working together to help whisky and barbecue lovers experience the shared flavor possibilities of Ardbeg and smoky food.
“The BizarreBQ World Tour launched last year, which saw DJ BBQ embark on a global quest to find fellow smoke obsessives and uncover the weirdest and wildest barbecue dishes,” says Lumsden. “The creation of Ardbeg BizarreBQ was a natural next step,” he adds.
Ardbeg BizarreBQ Tasting Notes
From a tasting perspective, we’re giving this bold, smoky bottle an emphatic thumbs up. It’s a rather complex whisky, offering a variety of flavors throughout the tasting process. The nose brings puffs of charcoal and soot, which mingle with smoky wood, aromatic herbs, and spices. From there, treacle toffee, hickory smoked ham, and cinnamon-dusted espresso rise up.
As for the palate, it features a mouthfeel alive with spice, like barbecued ribs smothered in chili. Deep, warming smoke follows close behind, with notes of flame-grilled steak, chili oil, cured leather, and clove—leading to ginger and aniseed with an aromatic wood smoke edge. The finish is massive, with a hot, lingering aftertaste introducing grilled artichoke, black olives, and a sooty note that slowly simmers away.
I asked Lumsden how he knows when an experiment like this is complete. “It’s really a case of regularly nosing and tasting the liquid as it develops,” he says. “For an experimental whisky such as BizarreBQ where we’re working with a different type of cask altogether, I’m very hands-on with monitoring how the liquid is developing over time. It’s a fine balance to ensure it’s bottled at the optimum time—and, of course, I sought Christian’s views on this unique project as well.”
What to Pair With Ardbeg BizarreBQ
If you’re wondering what to grill up after snagging a bottle of this delicious whisky, Lumsden says, “For me, something like smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder and beef or lamb pair exceptionally well. To bring out the brinier notes, seafood such as oysters and lobster will elevate the dram and the dish.”
Where to Get Ardbeg BizarreBQ
Bottled at 50.9 percent ABV, Ardbeg BizarreBQ will be available for purchase on June 1 from Ardbeg Embassies, whisky specialists, online retailers, and from the Distillery Visitor Center.