Ardbeg’s latest annual Limited Edition release, Dark Cove, is being marketed as the “darkest Ardbeg yet”. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean visually or spiritually, but let’s just get this out of the way now: it looks like regular old whisky. This NAS (no-age-statement) bottling combines Ardbeg from ex-bourbon casks with a “heart” of Ardbeg finished in “dark sherry” casks. No details on how they’re defining “dark sherry” (or “heart” for that matter), but the Internet has decided this means heavily-seasoned sherry casks. The result is bottled without chill-filtration at 46.5% ABV. Expect it on shelves around May 28th, if the limited allocations don’t all sell out in preorder. Such is the nature of the whisky market today.
Like a lot of excellent peated single malts, Ardbeg Dark Cove fills the room with a heady scent of smoke and soft grains that evoke a plush cigar lounge or the elbow-polished wooden bar at a storied watering-hole. The liquid itself has the depth and complexity of aroma that one expects from Ardbeg. Still, at $125 or more at retail and no age statement, we must expect more from this Ardbeg. Does it measure up?
Thanks to Laura at the Baddish Group for the review sample!
Nose: Potent. Fresh-cut cigars, boggy campfire, roasted cocoa nibs, and soft malty grains. A rest in the glass reveals some uncharacteristic pear notes. If I really concentrate I can identify some of the citrus (lime peel?) notes that are so redolent in Corryvreckan. I smell nothing that suggests sherry, let alone “dark sherry” – whatever that is.
Palate: Somewhat syrupy body. A flood of chocolate arrives on the tongue, followed by a torrent of hot (young) alcohol. The floodwaters quickly recede, leaving cayenne-spiked Mexican hot chocolate, black pepper, smoked paprika, and smoldering oak firewood.
Finish: Long. A little peppery, with dusty cocoa powder, ashy woodsmoke, and tobacco. My lips actually feel and taste like I’ve just finished a short cigar.
With Water: A few drops of water have little apparent effect on the aroma. They do bring out a little tartness on the palate, though, without diminishing it. I’d say water is optional here.
Overall: An odd duck. The nose is pretty much standard Ardbeg – perhaps even a little muted – almost a disappointment. But then it washes the tongue with the strongest chocolate note I’ve experienced in a whisky. The peat comes across as smoked pepper and smoky spices (paprika), which combine to create an unmistakable flavor of spicy Mexican hot chocolate. The bottling strength is appropriate, but I do wish they’d used a larger percentage of older Ardbeg to subdue some of that fiery youth on the tongue. I also wish they’d used much more of the sherry-finished liquid, as the balance could use a little punch of dried fruit.
As much as we rely on Ardbeg to show what’s good about NAS (like my vote for NAS poster child, Corryvreckan), I feel that they went a little too far here in the use of young whisky and held back on the older stuff. At $125 a bottle, I’d expect some more hallmarks of old whisky, OR some deeper sherry flavor. Despite those faults it’s an excellent whisky, and far better than the standard 10-year Ardbeg. At $125 a bottle, though, I’d personally rather drink Corryvreckan for 2/3 the price.