Dark Cove is this year's release for Ardbeg Day, the annual celebration of Ardbeg whisky. And like there was last year with Perpetuum, there are two versions. One is not officially released until Ardbeg Day, which this year is on the 28th of May, and they've changed it to 'Ardbeg Night' to suit this year's theme. That version will be bottled at 46-47%, and will have the usual Ardbeg packaging. The other is the 'Committee Release' (for Ardbegs' mailing list/loyalty program) bottling, which is bottled at 55%, has a basic label, and much to my personal annoyance, has no box. These limited releases sell out very quickly, usually within hours of release, and are so popular that Ardbegs' website often crashes under the strain. Why am I using the word 'usually' so often? Because this year, with Dark Cove, things were a little different.
This year, out of the blue, Ardbegs' Australian distributor, Moet-Hennessy Australia, released the Dark Cove Committee Release for sale on their website. And there also seems to be a large amount of stock, because it's lasted a few days so far (long after the distillery's own shop ran out). But the best part is definitely the price: $150 AUD. Which is very, very good for a limited edition Ardbeg in Australia, particularly one bottled at 55%. In comparison, that's over $100 less than the 2015 Supernova (which I found disappointing, and it's still readily available), which was also bottled at 55%. So this was a seriously good deal, and let's hope we get more of them!
Ardbeg have been getting a lot of negative attention for their 'special releases' lately, mainly from the anti-NAS crowd, but also because they've been a little disappointing in recent years, and haven't fared well in comparison to the brilliant standard / core expressions (the 10 yo, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan). The Auriverdes release was the low point in my opinion, which received the lowest score I've ever given an Ardbeg. The following year's Perpetuum was a definite improvement, but I'm suspecting this new bottling will be the redeeming dram. Based on the reasonable pricing of the Committee Release, it's already looking good!
The name Dark Cove refers to the illegal distilling and smuggling which occurred in the past near the distillery. It's an NAS Ardbeg, mainly consisting of whisky matured in ex-bourbon casks, and partly consisting of whisky matured in 'dark sherry' casks, which could refer to either Oloroso or PX sherry. Although 'dark' would usually mean PX. So we don't know the type of sherry casks they used, or exactly how much of the whisky was matured / finished in those sherry casks (the packaging states "it's heart"), or for how long. This Committee Release version is bottled at a healthy 55%, and like all contemporary Ardbeg it's non-chill filtered.
There has been a lot of marketing emphasis from Ardbeg on the colour of this one; it's supposedly their 'darkest ever'. It is slightly darker than my beloved Uigeadail (approx 2011 bottling), which contains around 10% Oloroso sherry-matured whisky, but it would only be considered 'dark' by Ardbeg standards. But this is the 55% version of Dark Cove, so I have to wonder how dark the 46%-ish version is likely to be? More importantly, does anyone actually care that much about the colour? Even more importantly, if the colour is so important, how about declaring on the label that it's natural? I personally would rather know more about the whisky itself. Anyway, Dark Cove has been likened to 'Uigeadail on steroids' by some, which is very, very high praise. Let's see if it has any hope of filling those big, beautiful shoes...
Mostly matured in ex-bourbon casks, and partly matured in 'dark' sherry casks. Non-chill filtered.
Nose: Rich & well-balanced. Treacle, fresh tar & coffee grounds. New natural rope, and a big hit of chocolate. Chilli salt, smoked oily fish, and a slight hint of rich, fruity & nutty sherry. Hard to pick the style of sherry, but I'm not convinced it's PX. Or not only PX, at least. But I could be wrong.
Texture: Medium-heavy weight, very nice. Not particularly oily, a little spirit-y, but enjoyably so.
Taste: There's the peat! A spicy, dry peat, and a hint of wood fire & ash. More of that chilli salt, treacle and tar. Dark chocolate, some clove and fresh, hot (spicy) ginger.
Finish: Medium-long length, soft initially but resurges. Chilli chocolate, more dry & spicy peat, sea salt flakes. Some dark fruits and a good pinch of pepper.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Very good! This one's definitely a winner. Quite different from the Ardbeg core range, as these special releases should be. But, the question on everyone's lips is: how does it compare to Uigeadail? Well compared to my slightly older bottling of Uigeadail, the Dark Cove is not as sweet or as peaty, it's perhaps more dark & brooding, and for me it doesn't quite match the magic that is Uigeadail. But after all, there's very little that can!
I'll be very interested to see how this committee release compares to the 'standard' lower-strength version, when it's released on Ardbeg day. And I'll be interested to see the asking price for the little brother as well, considering what a bargain this 55% bottling was.
I feel the committee release Dark Cove smashes all the special release Ardbegs from the last few years, including the 2014 & definitely the 2015 Supernova bottlings. Considering it was also considerably cheaper than those, this is certainly a winner!
If you're in Australia and you haven't already done so, I strongly suggest heading over to Moet-Hennessy and grabbing at least one, while you can! I'd wager you won't regret it.
In other breaking Ardbeggian news, some very interesting photos have surfaced on-line, on the US governments' labelling database known as TTB. Check this out!