Islay’s Ardbeg has long had a flair for the dramatic, and this year’s Ardbeg Day release is no different. Opting to focus on the dark and often romanticized days of the past when whiskies would need to be smuggled to be enjoyed, the theme of this year’s release is Ardbeg Night.
Taking place under cover of darkness, Ardbeg Night will mark the launch of Dark Cove, which Ardbeg describes as their “darkest Ardbeg ever” specifically in terms of color. It should be noted, however, that this is a point of contention amongst some when comparing it side-to-side with previous releases.
I am a firm believer in the adage that anything worth doing is worth doing right. With this in mind, I took my bottle of Dark Cave to the Oregon coast for a weekend of grey and stormy tastings.
As with previous Ardbeg Day bottlings, this release bares no age statement and comes in two variants: the more regular release, due out on the actual Ardbeg Day, and the Special Committee Only label, which is what I have. This latter is released ahead of the regular offering usually and bottled at a lovely 55% ABV (110 proof).
Vital Stats: 55% ABV (110 proof), no age statement, 100% malted barley, around $125 per 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Deep amber with copper and reddish tones, strong legs.
Nose: Peat immediately after the pour which does settle significantly as it sits – or perhaps it beat my olfactory senses into submission with time. Prominent charred oak, dried fruit, plums, apricot, nutmeg, dried tobacco, and seaweed.
Palate: Loads of very dry sherry without being overly sweet, salty on the front end, tobacco, fresh ground black pepper, hint of citrus. The finish has a very warm, almost hot burn shaped like a football (fatter in the middle and tapered on both ends), with very long lingering malt flavors and hints of toasted pumpkin seeds that were previously lost in the more robust flavors of smoke and sherry.
Ardbeg’s inventive marketing seems to serve to stoke the passions of fans and detractors alike with each new release. All things considered, I tend to appreciate the brand’s efforts in breathing life into their label as it enters its third century, almost as much as I enjoy sampling the wide variations available on their central theme of heavily peated single malts.
As an interesting aside, I found myself quickly drifting off to sleep on more than one occasion while sampling this whisky. The dram is far from boring, don’t get me wrong. Rather, Ardbeg Dark Cove read me a thrilling story before gently tucking me into bed. This is a full, intense, and robust whisky which is certainly not for everyone. But that should be apparent, given the name Ardbeg on the label.