Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 55%. Age: no age statement. Price: $110-125.
Some St. Patrick’s Days are better than others. This past one was more like Christmas. I was invited to lunch with Brendan McCarron, Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, to sample Ardbeg’s 2016 Committee Release, the Dark Cove. The 55% ABV release I sampled is available only to Committee members, though this whisky will be released more widely at a lower ABV in conjunction with Ardbeg Night on May 28th. The distillery bills the Dark Cove as the “darkest” Ardbeg ever, and advises to “take it and hide it well,” invoking the Islay region’s smuggling past.
The darkness comes from finishing in fairly rare black sherry casks, which adds notes on the nose and palate I’ve never before found in an Ardbeg. The Committee Release comes on strong at 55% ABV, but has complexity and subtlety in equal measure. On the nose, you immediately get a hint of fruit, a fair amount of oak and dark chocolate, along with a lovely whisper of grilled meats. Surprisingly for an Ardbeg, there’s not a ton of smoke in the nose. The smoke comes in on the palate, in the form of a dying barbecue, something akin to slowly roasted pork. The palate also has raisins, spice, and a slight brininess. The finish is quite sustained.
When you add water, bringing the Committee Release closer to the lower-ABV May 2016 release, the Dark Cove gets even more interesting. With only a few drops, there’s far more smoke on the nose, along with leather and tobacco. The palate now has much more sherry and spice, but also delightful notes of baked pears and apricots. And the finish remains superb.
I told Brendan that this is quite possibly my favorite Ardbeg yet. If you can find a bottle–either now or in May–don’t hesitate. After all, as the drink teaches us, boldness is rewarded.
Look for our interview with Brendan soon! – TM