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

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

Ardbeg 17 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 40% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

They say love is illogical and fascination need not have a reason. I say they. I actually mean me. Early on in my journey as a malt nerd I decided that I would devote my irrational emotions to a little known distillery by the name of Ardbeg.

It started with the 10. Then the Uigi. The Corry was followed by the Alligator and I began getting hooked. Desire trumped logic and I flippantly decided that I would make it my life’s mission to acquire as many Ardbeg expressions as I humanly (read financially) could.

And, thus, for no reason other than personal satisfaction began my journey towards financial ruin. Of them all there was one which got my attention above all the rest. It was the 17 year old. I don’t know why. I proffer no explanation other than there was something mysteriously beautiful about it.

Given that it was getting increasingly rare on the ground I had a hard time finding one at a good price but somehow managed. Not wanting to crack my full 70cl open for a few nips I managed to procure a couple of minis for a tasting.

And so after lusting behind this malt for over four years I finally sat down and fulfilled my silly little love dream.

Nose: Very mild peat. When I say mild I mean it’s really mild. Delicate soot. Tangerines. Cured meats. Sweet fish oil (if there is such a thing). Apricots. Dehydrated berries. Pineapple. Iodine and eucalyptus. It gets sweeter over time with a cherry cola quality. It is quite possibly one of the mildest Ardbegs on the nose ever. After a while you could be forgiven for thinking it might actually be a Speysider. There’s none of the real Ardbeg aromas. It’s not bad but it seems like everything is bit subdued.

Palate: Mild. Cardboard. Sweet lemon. Fruits with a wisp of smoke. Very faint peppers. Touch of mint. The palate is once again on the softer side. Everything is held back a touch.

Finish: Disappears at first but then comes back well. Oily with hints of oak and fruit spearmint.

Jim Murray had a hand in crafting this expression and it was the first one to emerge from the distillery when it re-opened under Glenmorangie’s leadership. I think the intention was to re-introduce the distillery to a much much wider audience with flavors deemed palatable to the novice drinker.

I wish I had drunk this many years ago when it first came out. I would have liked it much better then. Today, while I still think this is a fine dram, I missed the robustness of the Ardbeg flavors that I am so used to.

But love is blind and I am happy that I was able to cross this one off the top of my list.

Rating: 88

Ardbeg Alligator

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 51.2% | Color: Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

This is, in my opinion, the last of the good special release Ardbegs. I haven’t cared much for the stuff that came after like the Day, Galileo and the AuriVerdes – though I quite liked the Ardbog for some reason.

Unashamed in it’s approach it is brash and hard hitting but if you look close enough has a gentler, softer side to it as well.

The spirit is essentially the standard 10 year old but finished in heavily charred barrels to give it a stronger smokier (barbeque) flavor. These new barrels were charred so much that they started cracking on the inside and began to resemble alligator skin.

Or as some intern in their marketing department likes to call it, Islay-Gator.

(I will pause now for you to softly facepalm yourself)

Moving on…

I tasted the ‘Gator when it came out and remember being blown away by it. It was actually one of the first Ardbegs I had ever tried (yes, I’m very new to whisky!) and, boy, am I glad it was this smokey monster!

These notes are from a brand new bottle.

Nose: Lots of ash with a sharp citrus drizzle on top. Butterscotch on barbequed sausage. I like how the smokey sweets play in tandem and don’t let one overpower. The peat rolls in next on a bed of faint white flowers but what surprised me a touch was the red candy/licorice which added that touch of exotic. Wonderfully balanced nose.

Palate: The citrus on the nose turns into a lovely bitter marmalade spread. There is peaty ash with a generous green chili and black peppercorn garnish. The delivery is quite creamy and has hints of mint sprig.

Finish: Long with that same exotic red licorice and spicy oranges.

This is a glorious dram and deserves the reputation it has garnered.

Rating: 93