Bar Week 2019: Ardbeg Masters of Smoke with Ludo Ducrocq

Ludo Ducrocq is the Global Director of Education & Advocacy at Ardbeg, a distillery which produces some of the world's smokiest whiskys. Their bottlings are certainly an acquired taste, but have you ever wondered why they're so packed with smoke, or where that flavour comes from?

Ludo was recently in Sydney for Bar Week, where he presented Ardbeg's long-awaited Masters of Smoke event to an Australian audience for the first time. The seminar was a deep dive on all the elements of smoke. Most of us would be aware that peat is the stuff that influences the whisky to give it that smoky note, and we got to see fascinating vision of peat being harvested and then burnt as part of the whisky-making process.

What you might not be aware of, is that there is actually a way to scientifically measure the amount of smoke flavour in a particular spirit. Each whisky bottling can be analysed to determine its phenol parts per million, or ppm. Most distilleries produce spirits in the 0-5 or 10 ppm mark, but to qualify as an Ardbeg whisky, each product must be a minimum of 55 ppm. So it's not just you, these products really are some of the smokiest you can get your hands on.

It also turns out that this flavour comes in many different versions. Most people think that smoke is smoke, and a whisky either is or isn't smoky, but the experts at Ardbeg actually categorise the type of smoke that is present. To demonstrate this, we were presented with a range of different aromas - from BBQ, to coal, to medicinal and herbal. Next time you're tasting a spirit, consider what type of smoke flavour is in the product as opposed to just the level.

We caught up with Ludo after the event to chat about what went in to creating it and how well-informed consumers are changing the landscape in terms of educating bartenders. Then, we chat to Pauric 'PK' Kennedy, a bartender at Smoke Bar at Barangaroo House, about the cocktail he created for the event with Ardbeg Uigeadail.