It’s that Islay festival time of the year again, and Ardbeg are scrapping Ardbeg Day!!!!! For Ardbeg Night is here, and to celebrate we have the release of Dark Cove. Ardbeg Night is on May 28th and many events are taking place around the globe. Of course all Ardbeg events lead to Islay and the main celebration will be at their distillery on that evening.
The festival bottling for this year is Dark Cove. Paying homage to the shadowy past of Ardbeg’s coastline, this expression is made up of whisky matured in sherry and ex-bourbon wood. Like last year 2 versions have been released. A 55% committee release which went on sale a few weeks back and promptly sold out online (probably some left at the distillery shop?). And a retail release coming out on the 28th of May which comes in a box (unlike the committee version) and bottled at 46.5%. It’s unclear if the committee version is cask strength (I’m assuming not), or if these are completely different vattings, I’m just going to taste, compare and contrast the pair of them as I’m fortunate enough to have got in on a bottle share of the committee bottling with some like minded friends.
Ardbeg Dark Cove (retail release)46.5% ABV
Non Chill Filtered
First sniff and we have quite a sweet, grassy, sherry led nose. Dark fruits, some crumbs of fruitcake, orange peel and a pinch of clove and cinnamon. The smoke comes in subsequent sniffs, light, gentle whiffs of peak smoke, a medicinal smoke, some TCP, antiseptic, hospital bandages. Quite light and easy to get the nose right in the glass. There’s some ozone, salty sea air whiffs coming through with time, transporting me back to the pier at Ardbeg.
A balance of sweet and sour in the arrival, sweet brown sugar, Creme brûlée crunchy coating and some tarty lemon juice. The development goes into rich chocolate, milky coffee, dark fruits, some berries, sweet ginger, pepper, light ashiness. The mouthfeel is nicely oily, and it’s immensely sippable, pleasurable to keep going back to. In fact, disturbingly so, I’ve had to stop myself so I can write something before it all disappears! Later in the development there is a lovely red berry jamminess that becomes apparent. It’s tasty stuff indeed.
Medium to long length finish, ginger spice, light fruitcake, some honey and a wisp of smoke lingers back, with a treacle coating left inside the mouth. Very good.
Not adding too much. The nose is lighter now, a little more medicinal smokiness, not so much fruit and more herbal and floral in nature. There’s a subtle spiced ham meatiness. Some extra saltiness. The palate is surprisingly fruitier now, quite intense very tasty, sipability just increased! There is some added sweet liquorice herbal notes. The finish is very similar as undiluted, less of the treacle leftovers though.
Ardbeg Dark Cove (Commitee release)
Non Chill Filtered
First sniff. Very reminiscent of the RR, more treacle and sweetness. Quite honey led, with chocolate and some honeycomb in addition to the spicy fruitcake. Sherried raisin, clove, cinnamon, a little more Danish pastry like. Fruitcake a plenty, orange juice and peel. Things take a little longer to open up, but then comes the smoke, subdued slightly, medicinal, herbaceous. Green with Moss and earthiness. It’s very gentle, like the retail release, but there is a little more depth to the sweetness, and a little more swimming in treacle toffee notes. Nice.
Thick, sweet, intense treacle, honey, jammy dark fruits, chocolate, honeycomb, there’s a lot going on, very similar to the retail, but dialled up 3 notches in intensity and flavour. There’s a real MMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm factor, if you know what I mean! The coffee notes are stronger, darker. The jam notes are stickier, thicker. The spices are actually more complimentary, along for the ride, not as intense. There is some sticky tar, ashes and the lovely coastal sea air stuff, which again, is more supplementary, enhancing the intensity of the stickier flavours. The mouth feel is big, invasive and feels great.
Medium to long length again, lots of sweet fruits and herbal smokiness hangs around, hot coal burps, in a very good way. Finalises quite dry, but with a dry treacle feeling stick to the inside of the mouth.
Not sure there is much point as I’m sure I’ll get the retail version, but will try. Actually another variation. The nose is more like the retail, but smokier, more medicinally phenolic. The palate less intense, definitely getting more of the sour notes from the undiluted retail version, the toffee is still quite heavy though and the fruits are going almost cherry juice like. Would this suggest they are different vattings, or are we just talking randomness of dilution (I’m not exactly being scientific about quantities of liquid etc). The finish is sweet herbal, a little smoke and a little treacle in the mouth. So diluted this does become very similar, but not quite to the retail version. Personally I prefer undiluted.
Ok, so first off I prefer the committee release. Undiluted it has an extra intensity and delicious range of flavours and overall experience. If you can get it at its SRP of 84.99 then it’s well worth it. But good luck with that. I think the retail release is very nice as well, it’s a good solid tasty whisky. The only problem I have is price. When you can get the high strength Ardbeg Uigeadail for around £55, I find it very hard to justify the extra cost on the Dark Cove. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a different experience entirely, but that Uigeadail is awesome awesome awesome!!!
The sad truth is a lot of the Ardbeg Festival release bottlings will be bought to stow away for trading and selling later on, as ‘fine’ as this is, whisky is meant for drinking. When you buy it. Pop the cork, drink the stuff. Please.
Thanks to Ardbeg for providing the review sample of Dark Cove (46.5%).
Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee release (55%) from my own stash.