Oct 142019
 

Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.

We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.

Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.

I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.

All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.

I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.

So, how about some tasting notes then?

All notes; no scores.

Very Young

Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.

Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.

Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.

Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.

 

Still Young

Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.

Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.

Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.

Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.

 

Almost There

Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.

Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.

Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.

Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.

 

Renaissance

Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.

Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.

Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.

Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Sep 182019
 

Earlier this year Ardbeg Drum shook my faith in the Great Big Green. It was…less than stellar in this cat’s humble opinion. Bad? No. Of course not. Good? Meh. Not even quite. But Drum is now in the rearview mirror. We’re now on the eve of the proper arrival of Traigh Bhan here in Canadian waters. Traigh Bhan – named for a local beach, and translated as ‘the Singing Sands’ – is what we’ve been waiting for: proper age-stated Ardbeg. And not just age-stated, but what an age! Traigh Bhan is a meant to be a permanent addition to the core range, albeit in batch releases that will vary year upon year. The price? Well…let’s leave that aside for a few moments and just revel in the fact that this iconic much-loved distillery has finally reached a point – post-renaissance – that they are able to release a regular release at a brilliant state of maturity. Apex Ardbeg. Not much more to say really.

Consider me on record here and now saying that this is spectacular. And I can’t lie…it’s nice to be able to ‘fanboy’ it up a bit again for my beloved Ardbeg.

46.2% abv. An utterly perfect drinking strength. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh. Oh, boy. We’re tiptoeing up to the line where we cross over into tropical territory. Especially with those grilled pineapple notes. Lime. Orange. A faint hint of cherry. Black wine gums. Lemon pound cake. Kumquat. The smoke is quite subdued, and there’s little in the way of real earthy peat. Vanilla cupcakes. Caramel sauce on pineapple (again with the pineapple!). The five flavor Lifesaver packages. Eucalyptus. Toasted marshmallow. Ginger. Complex and perfectly integrated.

Palate: Quite soft for an Ardbeg (mind you…we are at nearly two decades here). Mid level smoke profile. Licorice. Oily vanilla seed. Mocha. Orange and citrus. And here we go: there’s the pineapple again. Greengage. Smoked sausage. Ginger and white pepper. Clean wood. Nice harmony between nose and palate.

Finish: Long and perfect. Lime zest. Vanilla ice cream popsicles. Faint green fruit skins at the end (green apples and green grapes).

Thoughts: Ardbeg back at the top of their game. I adore this release. Can’t wait to drink more of it. Much more.

92.5/100

And yes…I will update the photo when I get my hands on a bottle proper.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm
Jul 252019
 

I wanted to love this. I really did. As soon as they announced this year’s Ardbeg Day release was going to be rum cask-matured I immediately went into mental damage control. It’s okay. Relax. It might still be good. You don’t much like wine casks, but Grooves was good, right? Rum, though? Really? And that name. I’ve mentioned the concept of jumping the shark before, and maybe this is finally it.

A few years ago, Diageo’s Nick Morgan made some ridiculous comment that fired up the cognoscenti. He was coming out in defense of NAS whiskies (or if you can read between the lines: being the human shield for the fatcats at Diageo HQ) and said something along the lines of running out of numbers for age statements. Silly, of course, but I’m hoping that the idea of ‘running out of’ anything is maybe a little more applicable on the NAS side of things. Especially as relates to Ardbeg, one of my most beloved of distilleries. Maybe they’ll run out of silly concepts, and go back to numbers. Can you imagine the buzz for a proper age-stated range of Ardbeg? I mean, a regular core range of 10, 17, 21 and 25 or something? That I could get behind.

Drum…well…not so much.

Is it bad? No. Not actively. Is it good? Meh. S’okay. Not much more. I find it oddly thin and lacking the swagger that Ardbeg usually has in spades. Anyway…

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very young-ish. Smoky as hell, but…lacking the expected…I dunno…Ardbeg-iness? Licorice. Bicycle tires. Overripe banana. Caremalized pineapple sugars. Banana cream pie. A little Coke with lime. A bit of eucalyptus chest rub. Smells kinda like someone polished up a pair of Wellies. In all…meh. Underripe and out of balance.

Palate: Again…missing that Ardbeg character. Hot, youthful and spirity. Black wine gums. Sweet barley sugar notes. Sensens. More rummy rubber tones. Lemon. Plastic. Brackish water. Not bad; just not exciting either. It’s almost hard to find the real Ardbeg in there.

Finish: Long, as with all Ardbeg, but yet still somehow thin. Like a longheld reedy note in a symphony when you’re expected a tuba. Leaves behind fruit skins, licorice, toothpicks and a little bit of that plastic character.

Thoughts: You lost me on this one, Ardbeg. For the first time in memory, I’ve not bought bottles for myself. Can we please just have a regularly available, fairly priced 17 year old again? Please?

79/100 (and that might be being a tad generous, if I’m being honest.)

Dec 102018
 

Ardbeg Grooves

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Past due here, I know, I know.  Betcha thought I’d be jumping at the bit to share a few words on the latest Ardbeg.  Being a so-called ‘fanboy’ and all.  Every time I review one of these releases I kinda feel like I have to duck and cover.  So be it.  I hold steady to my opinion that no distillery in the world is putting out this high a level of distillate year upon year.  Not every release is a knockout, but not a single one is bad.  Ever.  Actually, not one is ever less than really good.  Contentious, I know.

Some out there are saying that this profile is a little too ‘manufactured’ (or some such sentiment), but this deep fruitiness is spectacular with the big smoke behind it.  Really.  Think smoke-infused jam or something of that ilk.

Grooves was matured in charred ex-wine barrels.  As opposed to that wet-fill wine casking that all too often results in that weird sour winey tang at the back end of the development, in this case the sugars have been caramelized into the wood and come forth in a beautiful charry sweetness.  Gotta say, I think Grooves is probably my favorite of the recent Ardbeg releases.

Nose:  Surprisingly soft and jammy fruits behind big smoke and savoury BBQ notes.  Charred pork in some sort of berry reduction.  Smoked apricot (if only there were such a thing).  Some ashy, sooty notes.  A whiff of caramel.  Jam on well-toasted bread.  Damp smoke (as from wet wood).  Hard cherry candies and real vanilla bean.  With enough time in the glass…a whiff of well-toasted marshmallow.

Palate:  Coastal and, yes, very Ardbeggian (that is a word.  I refuse to hear otherwise!).  Warm rubber and salt licorice.  Dry and dark.  Ash again.  Smoked meat bark.  Beautifully gooey and sweet.

Thoughts:  Love it.  No two ways about it.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:38 pm
Nov 262017
 

Head To Head – Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release vs General Release

 

A bit later than I expected getting to this.  Such is.  I’ve learned to stop caring about any sort of schedule for this site, self-imposed or externally-nudged.  And you good folks have been infinitely patient and supportive.  Appreciate that.  More than you know.

As with any Ardbeg release that hits the shelves in both Committee and general release, the immediate question is one of quality comparison.  How does the more readily available (and affordable) standard version hold up to the higher strength, alternately-packaged and premium-priced ‘members only’ edition?

In this case?  Quite well, actually.  As you’d expect, the Committee bottling is a better dram.  In all respects.  It’s deeper, richer and brings to the fore some notes that are either muted or non-existent in the general release.  But that’s not to say the general release isn’t a great dram.  It is.  I think Dark Cove was meant to be an Uigeadail-esque Ardbeg, redolent of heavy sherry and deep peat, dark in tone and color.  It succeeds on all fronts, but I think more interesting than this comparison would be a proper H2H of Dark Cove vs Uigeadail.  Perhaps we’ll have to do that one too.  All in the name of science, right?

Good malt, this.  Happy to have a few of each put away for future sessions.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove (2016)

46.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Deep and rich.  Dark fruits.  Pepper.  Fisherman’s friend.  Moist tobacco.  Fruit leather.  Wet ashy notes.
A touch of raspberry.  Fennel.  Smoked ham.  Clay-like and minerally.  Warm, melty caramel aromas.

Palate:  Horse blankets (no, I’ve never licked horse blankets, but the smell of ’em is the taste here).  Peat and smoke.
Gooey, jammy notes.  A tobacco linger.  Hot ginger.  Pepper.  Brine.  Seared scallops.  Dark chocolate.  Medicinal / Band-Aid notes.

Thoughts:  Not as good as Uigeadail, the other big sherried Ardbeg to which this is often compared.  But…still good, of course.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release (2016)

55% abv

Score:  90/100

Nose:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Peat.  Licorice.  Iodine.  A new pouch of loose tobacco.  Damp earth, wood and moist dunnage.  Wet ash.  Very savoury.  Smoked ham and all sorts of BBQ notes.  Dark, dark oily vanilla here.  A mash-up of red, green and black Ju-jubes.  Big dark caramel notes.  Hoisin.

Palate:  Gooey, sticky malt.  Smoky and peppery.  Burnt shellfish.  So much bigger of a delivery here than the standard release.  The oiliness is heavenly.  Rich fruity notes.  More vanilla.  Smoked fruits.  A fresh bag of dried fruits.  Licorice.  So thick and tarry.  Wow.

Thoughts:  Flawless?  Nope.  But exactly what I wanted it to be.  Really like this one.  So much more than just the regular release at a higher strength.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Oct 292017
 

Ardbeg Ten (2015)

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Re-reviews haven’t really been a thing here on ATW, but the times they are a changin’ and the subject of decline is one that comes up time and again, so…let’s revisit an old favorite and a bottle that’s always open around here.

No need to spend a lot of time talking about this one.  We all know it.  And let’s face it…I do spend a lot of time on Ardbeg here.  MJ had his Macallan, Serge has his Brora, I have my Ardbeg (and PE).  We write about what we love.  (Ano…I do not consider myself to be in such illustrious company, just drawing a parallel).

I do want to say, though, that I don’t buy into the recent rumblings that An Oa will boot this from the core range.  That would be suicide.  This brand has proven time and time again that they’re nothing if not a few steps ahead.  The last thing they’re gonna do is go entirely NAS.

Oh yeah…and they’re producing at an incredible clip, with long range plans for distillery expansion.  Surprised it took so long.  Anyway…notes:

Nose:  Razor sharp and incredibly clean.  Big smoke and very organic peat notes.  Citrus (lemon and lime).  Salt water.  Vanilla.  A little orange and pear.  A nice peppery bite.  Jolly Ranchers.  Shellfish drizzled in whisky.  Ginger and more pepper.

Palate:  Peaty arrival.  Assertive lemon notes.  Pepper.  Chocolate (white and dark).  Lime and a touch of orange oil.  Love that peppery, licorice-heavy back end.  Apple peelings on the finish.

Thoughts:  As good as ever.  Arguably still the best 10 year old on the market.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:04 am
Oct 152017
 

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Here we go.  New Ardbeg time.  Always an exciting thing for this guy, as you know.  In this case it was quite a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to my tasting this one.  Just so happened An Oa was released on the very day I, and a few mates, visited the distillery a wee while back.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  But late at night…after a few drams of Ardbeg…deep in my semi-delusional mental meanderings…I like to pretend they released it when they did just to commemorate my visit.

Errr…right.  Anyway…

I should confess that we drank an awful lot of this stuff on the island, and I’ve been sitting on this sample for several weeks now, so it’s simply a matter of delinquency that we’ve not gotten this posted earlier.  Hey, life is busy.  What can I say?  Either way…what say we finally get to it, yeah?

So…obviously I had very early firsthand opinions about this one, and usually my first impressions are pretty spot on with what my end impressions are.  But it’s been rather interesting to read what the wider whisky world is shouting about An Oa.  If you’ve been following along you’ll likely know that most early word is quite positive.  That is somewhat surprising, in and of itself, cause let’s face it…everyone loves to hate on Ardbeg.  To be fair to An Oa, it actually is quite decent (as is all Ardbeg, if we’re actually being honest with ourselves), but I still can’t help but find myself slightly disappointed.

I like An Oa.  Really, I do.  It’s a decent entry level Ardbeg.  The flavours are decent (young, but decent) and the whole idea of balance that the release is predicated upon is commendable.  But wait…is this really an entry level malt?  Really?  In terms of flavour profile and undisguisable youth…absolutely.  In terms of price?  Well…locally, at least, this one seems to have been positioned between the Ten and Uigeadail.  I was under the impression that this was to be the new entry level Ardbeg.  Seeing as how I can still scoop up the Ten for well under $70 in some locations ’round here, and that An Oa will retail at ~$100, I’m obviously out of sync with things.  Would love to hear something official that speaks to this.  Anyway…tasting notes…

Nose:  Noses young.  Smoke and rubber.  Custard.  A hint of banana.  Lemon.  Salt licorice.  Warm rubber.  Lime and chilis.  Straw.  Ginger.  Eucalyptus.  Soft, creamy sherry notes.  Vanilla-rich oaky bottom line.  Pleasant, but lacking.  More creamy and custard-y than the Ten (and not really better for it).

Palate:  Yep…tastes young.  Oak, vanilla.  Peat.  Loads of licorice.  Sen Sens.  Citrus zest (oily and rich).  Some of the mid-palate fruits are nice.  Orange in particular.  A lot of Granny Smith apple at the back end.

Thoughts:  Yes, it’s good.  Of course it is.  But I think we’ll stick with the Ten, to be honest.  This is too soft for an Ardbeg.  Oh…and cute marketing campaign, I should add.  As always.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Jun 172017
 

Ardbeg Kelpie

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

It’s that time of year.  That May / June window when the fiercest of Islay distilleries releases its latest bit of spirit alchemy on the wider whisky world.  It’s a time that polarizes like almost no other in these circles.  On the one hand, the haters, who detest the gimmickry, marketing hype, youthfulness and lack of age statement.  And let’s not forget a price point that outstrips the core range.  On the other hand, the lovers, who are hooked long before the bottles ever hit the shelf.  These latter, acolytes for life, irrespective of all the aforementioned negatives, ready to lay out the bucks for the lore, the aesthetic, the tongue-in-cheek fun and let’s be honest with ourselves…an unbelievably uniform level of quality.

The simple fact remains, even the worst Ardbeg releases are still better than almost anything else in their weight class.  Price may be a little contestable (depending on where you live), but at least you know you’re not ending up with an bottle of swill at the end of the day.  Kelpie is no different.  This one did some slumbering in barrels constructed of oak harvested from somewhere near the Black Sea.  Apparently we have a mix of straight bourbon-matured Ardbeg and these rather unique Russian barrels.  Neato.

And a Kelpie?  Said apparition is some sort of water demon said to haunt the island’s rocky shores in the form of a nightmarish marine bull or stag sort of creature.  Ummm…’kay.  Let’s go with that.  I admit it, I love the angles Ardbeg seems to find time and again.  We keep talking about it, so it’s obviously working.

But ultimately, all that matters is quality.  Whisky served up this young is rarely going to break that 90 point mark for me nowadays (yass, yass, I’m a jaded old fuck, I know), but high 80s speaks volumes, I think.  May not be for everyone – and this will do little to placate the haters – but it is really good whisky.  In spite of that…can’t help but wish we were seeing older releases with age statements.  Oh…and at fair prices, I should add.

Either way…my Ardbeg love continues on unabated.

Nose:  Whoa.  This seems young.  Seven or eight maybe?  Warm rubber (like bicycle tires in the sun or newly-worn Welly boots), dark chocolate, black coffee, oily vanilla bean.  Licorice.  There’s a fleeting note of Cherry Cordials here.  A mix of olive brine and lime juice.  A little bit of orange.  Some medicinal notes.  There’s a neat savouriness too that hearkens back to Alligator.  Bucketloads of peat smoke and Islay-ness.

Palate:  Slightly rubbery here too.  Peat is sharp and on the attack.  Everything is cloaked in smoke.  Now some softer fruity notes emerge and the mouthfeel becomes surprisingly creamy.  Some orange and lime again.  Firm oak, without being vanilla-laden.  A bit of salted licorice.  The malt is sweet and brings cereal notes that are clean and rigid.  Nice.

Thoughts:  Make no mistake, this is huge whisky.  The 46% abv belies how massive it really is.  Incredible times when 46% seems anemic, no?

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:39 am
Oct 052016
 

Ardbeg Twenty Oneimg_3773

46% abv

Score:  92/100

 

We weren’t in the distillery doors 5 minutes before Ardbeg’s most amazing asset (yes, even moreso than the whiskies), the one and only Jackie Thomson, had poured our little crew of gents a round of the new Ardbeg Twenty One.  Generosity, of course, but also a telling amount of pride, I think.  It simply has to be a genuine pleasure coming in to work each day with the ability to share so much magic with so many.

I have more to say about Jackie, but that will be for another post.  I also have more to say about this particular distillery day, but again…let’s save it.  For now…the Twenty One.

For those that know their Ardbeg, I’m sure just the age declaration is enough to get the saliva flowing.  Not only is it the most mature standard(ish) release since Airigh Nam Beist, but being 21 years old would mean this was pre-Glenmorangie distillate.  Mid-1990s, if you do the math.  Just prior to Allied shutting ‘er down, selling the farm and the new owners pouring buckets of paint, capital and love into getting it all back up and running.  In simplest terms, this is malt of another age.  A time before the boom.  I have my own theories about why whisky from this age (and earlier) was better, but that is discussion for another day, ere this post ends up in essay territory.  Suffice to say, whisky today is different from those bygone barrels.

Now…2016 and finally a new age-stated Ardbeg.  I wish I could say that the sky high price tag was unwarranted or that the hype and hyperbole surrounding this one were unjustified, but the simple fact of the matter is I’d be lying.  This is Ardbeg at the top of its game.  The peat knuckles under in favour of softer, fruitier notes.  The smoke is omnipresent, but never overwhelming.  The subtleties and nuances will have your nose dipping to the glass time and again.  And the unbelievable sweetness will likely make any Ardbeg aficionado mourn a lost age.  To be honest, I adore this dram.  I’ve drunk it on three occasions now and liked it more each time.

Allocation is small and price is high, but don’t miss your chance to try if opportunity arises.  Liquid history.

Nose:  Very Ardbeg, right off.  Orange and melon.  Maybe even a touch of tangerine.  The fruitiest Ardbeg in a loooooong time.  Almost tropical.  A faint touch of leather.  Soft vanillins.  A few minutes in the glass allows a plethora of estery notes to rise; huge sweet fruits and candies.  A slight doughiness (or glue-iness?).  Smells of soft oils and a beautiful balance of freshness and old mature malt.  Love it.

Palate:  Some smoke leads, but it tangs up with some great orange-y fruit notes almost immediately.  Citrus pith.  Lemon and lime.  Green apple.  Rubber and ash and all that Ardbeggian stuff.  Tastes of char.  And some of that pastry/dough-ness about it.  Some licorice and dry tea at the back end.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous nose.  The palate is not quite as spectacular, but still a magic dram.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:52 pm
Jul 082016
 

Ardbeg Dark Cove20160528_122452

46.5% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Not a lot of bad press floating around for this one.  Unless, of course, you take into account those wanting to criticize the marketing team behind Ardbeg.  Personally, I think they’re a bunch of mad geniuses and aesthetically gifted wizards.  Of course we dislike the NAS factor, but it’s difficult not to appreciate the clever spins, yarns and angles they come up with.

Case in point, Dark Cove, which pays homage to the early days of illicit distillation at Ardbeg and the measures taken to avoid the excise man.  The imagery (literal and implied) of moonlit rocky shorelines, hidden caverns, dark waves and complicit locals makes for a heck of a tale.  But a story in and of itself is nothing when we’re referring to the quality of the whisky in the glass.  Proof’s in the pudding, as the say.  We’ll come to that in a minute though.

Dark Cove was 2016’s Ardbeg Day release, and when it landed, it arrived with all the expected fanfare.  Cool, stylish events…badass animated Ardbeggian videos…glorious graphics…and untold thousands of drams being poured at Ardbeg embassies around the world.  LVMH has deep pockets.  There is nothing half-assed in an Ardbeg launch.  If you’ve not attended one, I’d highly recommend penciling in the date next year.

Now the drink itself…

I would argue that Ardbeg’s contemporary reputation was built largely on the back of Uigeadail, that sherried phenolic heavyweight that even the most jaded seem to adore (or at least admire).  From there, an empire was built.  The limited releases that have followed have been a mixed bag of hits and misses for some, but those that have a perpetual spot on the shelf for a bottle of Oogie should find themselves tickled ruddy pick for this one.  It bears all the familiar hallmarks of sweet waves of sherry smashing headlong into a sharp and jagged coast of heavy peat.  The marriage is exceptional.  Better than Uigeadail?  Not sure.  I’ll sample side by side when the opportunity presents.  Watch the comments section below for updates.

And finally, while I have tried both the general and committee releases of Dark Cove I can’t say which I prefer, as the settings and companion drams were of vastly disparate measures.  At some point I’ll do a head to head.

Nose:  Windy, wet seaside and beach fire.  Smoke and rubber.  Lime, and dark fruit compote.  Earthy peat.  A few drops of coffee.  Fennel.  Iodine (and slightly ammonic too).  BBQ sauced and seared pork.  Damp linens and dry spice.  More lime, dark chocolate and spice.  Minerally.  Kelp.

Palate:  Infinitely Ardbeg.  Nice ‘peat meets sweet’ marriage.  Dry and sooty.  Grapey sherry notes.  Citrus juice.  Tastes of leather.  Salty.  And rich in that Ardbeg rubberiness.  Very oceanic palate.  And ashy.  Unfortunately, while entirely pleasant, seems slightly muted by the comparatively low (by Ardbeg standards) bottling strength.  Nice looooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Tastes like more, to be honest.  A good outing from Kildalton’s finest.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:55 pm