Ardbeg Supernova 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.3% | Colour: Sunshine
Nose: 24 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 95

Review
The Supernova series is, in my opinion, why one should start drinking whisky. It is also one of the reasons I have tolerated Ardbeg’s nonsense of late. Because deep in my heart I, like all Ardbeg fans, know that hiding in those dank warehouses lie some stellar casks which, when expertly blended together, are going to set my soul alight.

And that is what the Supernova 2015 has done.

The fourth, and last, of the Supernova series this is quite possibly my favourite of the lot. The first one came out in 2009, then 2010, 2014 (which I had the pleasure of tasting at 9AM in the morning on a farm in Islay) and for the final time in 2015.

If you don’t already know it’s significance let me tell you real quick. In 2011 Ardbeg, with the help of a company known as NanoRacks, decided to send some new make and oak shavings inside a capsule into outer space to test what effects micro-gravity had on maturation. They kept an identical sample here on mother Earth and, once, the space sample returned Dr Lumsden released his findings on how the two samples differed.

Why would they do that, you ask me? Well, because they’re attention whores, that’s why. But not just any attention whores. Attention whores that can also create one hell of a whisky.

The 2015 version doesn’t have much literature but I know it’s a blend of ex-sherry and bourbon casks made from 100 PPM malted barley. There’s no age statements but you know it’s rather young. Which is fine as long as it tastes like this.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 54.3% ABV

Nose: Very soft peat. It’s there but you have to fight for it. Touch of ash. More iodine and TCP in here compared to earlier ‘Novas. Almost like a delicate eucalyptus. Touch of the standard Ardbeg coastal salt. Rock salt. But then the sweetness. The really nice rounded sweetness which envelopes the smokiness and the saltiness and almost makes you swoon. Milk chocolate. Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks. Now there’s fruits. Citrus fruits. Not sharp citrus. But a softer, sweeter citrus. Pineapples. Lime. Orange candy. Stick with it and the earthiness is next. You can almost taste the barley. The wild mushrooms. The Islay earth. This is an essay in balance. 24/25

Palate: That ashiness again. Soft peat. Sooty. Great delivery. The first palate is surprisingly savoury. I mean it’s more savoury than I expected it to be. But then the sweetness breaks through mid-palate. Like sunshine. On an overcast day. Pineapples. That sweet citrus again. Lemon and lime. Touch of spice. White peppers. And in the midst of it all – some good quality oak. 24/25

Finish: Nice and long. Chewy. Oily. White pepper. Oak. 23/25

Overall Comments: Phew! What a ride. Absolutely loved it. Ran a head-2-head with this and the SN14 for a video review which made the differences and the balance really stand out. This is just a superb example of right cask selection to create something that will stand the test of time.

Rating: 95

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Macallan Rare Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
OK so let’s give credit where credit is due. When Macallan do something they do it in style. Have to give them props for that. And they seemed to have pulled out all the stops for the launch of their newest NAS, the Rare Cask.

Set on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, in Dubai, is the newly opened bar Gold On 27, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by the name, is pretty lavishly done up in gold. This was to serve as the venue for this rather glitzy affair headlined by the Edrington Group Creative Director Mr Ken Grier.

I managed to sneak five minutes with him during the course of the evening and found Ken to be an instantly likeable chap. And looking at how Macallan is being perceived today in the world I’m confident he’s doing a stellar job.

Which now brings me to, what I consider, a serious problem in the world of whisky today. Stellar marketing to push average products to wide-eyed consumers. Now I’m in marketing as well and have, at times, been guilty of doing the same.

It is, after all, the look that sells. I get it.

But whisky evokes certain emotions that few other products do. It’s constantly being judged across an enormous gamut of subjectiveness. And each opinion is a sum of so many influences.

Which brings me to the moral dilemma I’ve started to face of late. Is something so subjective really bad (or good) just because I like it (or hate it)? I honestly don’t have the answer to that.

Take Dalmore for example. I think Richard Paterson is one of the best marketers of his era. Taking, what I feel is, a mediocre product at best and doing a fantastic job positioning it as an ultra-premium brand. I may not like that whisky but I have seasoned whisky buddies who swear by it. Are they wrong? Am I? Again, I don’t know.

So I feel that this Rare Cask is treading that ever shrinking line between being genuinely good and being wonderfully marketed. Do I think the whisky is good? Sure, it’s not bad. It’s not the magical elixir made from the tears of a thousand angels, mind you, but it’s certainly drinkable.

Is it over-compensating by being packaged in a lovely bottle and experienced at the world’s most prestigious venue? I certainly think so. Is Bob Dalgarno, their esteemed Whisky Maker, under constant pressure to churn out premium expression after expression despite depleting stocks of well aged whiskies just to satisfy both the Marketing and Finance department? You bet he is.

Made from a selection of casks which the official literature liberally describes as being rare, exquisite, never before, never again or exclusive (among other buzz words) and employing a mix of European & American first-fill sherry barrels (not all, mind you) my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: Honey. Vanilla. Grated ginger. Nutmeg. Strong Oloroso sherry. Almonds. Touch of oak. Hint of citrus. Cloves. Red grapes. Green apples. A fair amount of spiciness. There is some masala – the nice kind. Dark chocolate. I like the nose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t blow me away but that’s fine. I don’t think it was meant to. 22/25

Palate: Medium bodied. A little oily. Plums. Raisins. Those Christmas spices again. Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Clove. Chocolate. Dark oranges. Christmas cake or fudge. Almonds. Toasted tobacco. It’s not as good as the nose. I would have preferred a more full bodied approach. 21/25

Finish: Medium. Quite oily. Cinnamon. Bitter chocolate. Could I have done with a bit more? Sure. 21/25

Overall Comments: I was sat with Ken Grier when tasting this so I might be a little biased by his good natured attention towards me as we shared this dram. Forgive me, I’m human after all. Otherwise the tasting camp was divided down the middle. Haters and lovers. Unsurprisingly the haters were part of my whisky club. The lovers people I had just met who were out enjoying an evening of decadent whisky tasting. Which sort of amplifies my point of how insanely subjective this matter is. I think the world would be a better place if the snobs chilled out a bit and the casual drinkers gave their whiskies a little more attention instead.

PS I would also like to ride a pink unicorn that pees only The Macallan 1946.

Rating: 85