Ardbeg prides itself on being the ‘Ultimate Islay Malt Whisky’. Established in 1815, Ardbeg is revered by connoisseurs around the world as the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts widely available. Despite its smokiness, Ardbeg is renowned for its delicious sweetness, a phenomenon that has affectionately become known as ‘the peaty paradox’.

Ardbeg Dark Cove is the 2016 Ardbeg special release and what makes it so special is its use of what Ardbeg is calling “Dark Sherry” casks. Dark Cove is a rich and powerful Ardbeg.  The official word is that the whisky is a vatting of ex-American oak bourbon casks, with a good dose of “dark sherry casks”.  That’s a slightly ambiguous term, and one can at this stage only speculate as to whether they’re Oloroso or Pedro-Ximinez, or whether it’s referring to any extra toasting or charring treatment that may have been applied. 

Ardbeg Dark Cove is matured in ex-bourbon and “dark Sherry casks” for “The Darkest Ardbeg Ever”. If the Committee Release is anything to go by (which it is), then the hue isn’t actually terribly dark, but those ‘dark’ casks provide plenty of oaky depth. Undoubtedly a terrific single malt, there are interesting comparisons to be made with the partly Oloroso matured Uigeadail.

Cask Strength, ABV: 55%. Non-Chill Filtered. Natural Color

At first meaty, earthy and spicy, with bold notes of dark chocolate emerging against orange, treacle toffee, coffee and oak, a smoky background and a mysterious floral note. Dark & dank peat. Dried seaweed washed up on the beach.  Pea and ham soup.  The smoke from a charred and charring piece of fragrant oak. Spent coffee grounds.

The mouthfeel is almost tart, with raisins, dates, ginger and pepper spice surge and waves of smouldering charcoal, wood polish and creosote notes, leading to cured smoked ham and squid ink noodles. Black jelly babies. Sweet and sour pork, with a good dash of Szechuan pepper. Classic Ardbeg peatiness, but infused with spices, dried herbs, and that “zing” that comes when sherry wood and peat combine in a happy marriage.

Long and juicy and rich with notes of toffee, coffee and tar. Long after you swallow, your mouth still salivates and you simply want to go back for more.  The oak lingers, and pleasantly so.

Balance, Body & Feel
This is a tasty Ardbeg, but it’s one that pushes the sides.  This particular sample is the Committee Edition at 55.0%, and the extra alcohol carries the weight and delivers the payload.  It’s youthful, playful, and yet brooding under the weight and spice of the sherry wood.  This is really an excellent Whisky.