By Richard Thomas
Ardbeg is almost as well known for their splashy promotions as for the quality of their whisky. Or maybe that is the other way around? This is the distillery that invented the notion of “space whisky,” having brought their samples home from the International Space Station the year before Suntory announced they were sending theirs up.
Still, it’s what goes into the bottles that has given the Islay distillery a legion of fans, and much of their attention (and that of many Scotch enthusiasts as well) is focused on Ardbeg’s annual special release. For 2016, that is Ardbeg Dark Cove, billed as their “darkest” release yet.
This no age statement (NAS) single malt is drawn from a mix of bourbon casks and “dark” sherry casks. What “dark” means is anyone’s guess, because Ardbeg isn’t saying. Presumably it means first-fill and heavily seasoned, but that is just a guess. The whisky is then bottled, unfiltered, at 46.5% ABV.
In the glass, Dark Cove has a golden appearance and a scent that is oily, salty and smoky, putting the creosote up front. It’s exactly what one expects from an Ardbeg. The core of sherry cask-aged whisky is evident too, because plenty of spiced fruits lie underneath, like a berry crumble done up with treacle and plenty of nutmeg.
The liquid has the expected (anticipated?) oily feel on the tongue. It’s profoundly ashy and inky, but at the same time a wave of ginger, clove and pepper make it almost a bit tart. In the middle is a solid note of raisins and dried blueberries, as those “dark” sherry casks make their presence felt.
The finish is sweet and lightly spicy, and surprisingly only lightly warm. For a smoky Ardbeg, this stuff actually makes very good summertime drinking. Overall, it’s a fine single malt. Not a great one, perhaps not as much as some have knocked it up to be, but very fine and a fair buy for its price point.
This whisky is priced at £100 in the UK and $125 in the US.