Here's how powerful the Corryvreckan is: it was the very first bottle I reached for in order to knock the awful finish of Jose Cuervo Gold out of my mouth. I rinsed the glass, came back half an hour later, and I could still smell the aroma of the Corry from two feet away.
I won't mince words: the Corryvreckan is a blockbuster. In order to enjoy this, you don't just need to enjoy scotch, you need to enjoy Islay scotch. You need to be the kind of person who's looking for the next step up from Lagavulin; the kind of person who wouldn't look askance at the cask strength version of Laphroaig. This is complete and utter mayhem in a bottle, and this spirit is ready to beat the utter shit out of you. (That may or may not be a selling point.)
Let me state for the record that I'm lukewarm at best on Laphroaig 10, which I consider to be the biggest litmus test as to whether people love peat or mildly tolerate it. In general, I'd say I tolerate it. For that reason, anyone who knows my taste in scotch might think it strange that when it comes to Ardbeg Corryvreckan, I'm ready to suit up, chomp down on the ball gag, and let peat do what it will.
I suppose the simplest explanation is that the depth of peaty flavors and aromas in the Corryvreckan is stunning. The nose is classic and inviting Ardbeg dialed up to 11. There are wet leaves, smoke, maple syrup, sea spray, and bacon in equal parts, and from the first smell of it I knew I was going to love it. It's just a gorgeous collection of aromas. And none too shy, either: open a bottle of this, and people will smell it down the block.
We'll start with the experience neat, where it's a tremendous backbreaker. In fact, it's almost flavor overload at full strength (an astonishing 57% ABV). There's extremely dense bread pudding, but then the ashy peat hits hard. There's a bit of burnt toast, a dollop of savory soy sauce in there, and some rye bread. At full strength, there's also an oily, industrial-strength quality to the mouthfeel. Note that the Corryvreckan takes its name from a Scottish whirlpool, which is really damned fitting in terms of imagining how this arrives.
But here's the strange thing: if you baby sip this tar-like whisky, it's drinkable. Very drinkable. The flavor overwhelms the perception of alcohol burn (most of it, anyway), making it surprisingly gentle given how explosive the flavors are. I was initially hesitant to add water because there's so much to explore.
However, with water the finish is less ass-kicking and the spirit takes on a slightly different character. Here, the Corry becomes a bit sweeter and more saline when diluted to about 43% ABV, but surprisingly, it doesn't give up too much depth. The finish is more dark chocolate than ash at this level of intensity, and the mouthfeel is still thick. Definitely try it both ways.
With water or without, the finish is huge. It's a bonfire of fall leaves for sure, with a supporting cast of tobacco, kelp, shellfish, and bitter cocoa dust. You'll taste it minutes after your last sip. When I think of whiskies that remind me of campfires and men braving the untamed forces of nature, this is near the top of the list.
Let me end this with a small warning: don't give this to people you want to come around to scotch. If you want your significant other to appreciate the brown liquor you've been spending more and more time with, DO NOT have them sip this unless you know they're ready for it. Look at this as the scotch equivalent of a .44 Magnum. If you have any doubt that it might be too much power for a novice, don't put it in their hands.
However, if you're ready for an utterly brutish kind of scotch that comes at you stomping and snorting, there are few bottles better than this.