The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of Islay and was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records show distilling on the site as far back as 1794. The recent history shows no production for large parts of the mid-1980s and 1990s, plus the majority of 1996 and 1997. Moet Hennessy took over at that point and renovated and revitalised Ardbeg's fortunes. The distillery has an annual production of just over one million litres per year, although this is currently being expanded, and boasts an award-winning visitor centre and cafe.
"The incredible peat explosion in Supernova probably explains why these bottlings have been so popular with the Ardbeg Committee over the years. Supernova 2019 is the fifth edition in the series and I’m sure it will be snatched up in no time at all."
Micky Heads - Distillery Manager at Ardbeg.
The Supernova 2019 Edition is bottled at 53.8% ABV and was available only to members of the Ardbeg Committee. The number of bottles was not been revealed and each one cost £140. They have now all sold out so are only available through secondary markets such as whisky auction sites.
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose has a lovely mix of malty, sweet and peaty aromas. First come the bittersweet and earthy malted cereals, followed by a wave of honey and golden syrup with some vanilla. Then comes the undeniable peat - this has an ashy and seaweed-like quality with hints of wet moss and coal tar soap.
On the palate it seems that everything happens in reverse. First is the peat smoke, which packs a more significant punch that suggested on the nose. Powerful and medicinal smoke weaves its way in to everything with elements of dried seaweed, wet earth/moss, iodine, damp charcoal and creosote all present. The sweetness remains central and pivotal to proceedings - there is plenty of golden syrup in particular, backed up by further notes of vanilla, white chocolate and hints of apricot jam and apple flavoured boiled sweets.
Finally, the malted cereals come through and add depth, compexity and structure. Notes of burnt cookies, malt biscuits and earthy baking spice (especially all-spice, ground ginger and a pinch of cinnamon) are accentuated by a pinch of salt. Green chilli and white pepper add plenty of heat.
Water softens everything as you would expect and makes the whisky creamier and with less heat. The lessened intensity allows more subtle notes through such as fresh cut grass and crisp green pear, as well as bringing the vanilla and white chocolate notes more to the fore.
What's the verdict?
It was easy to predict that people were going to be clambering to try and buy a bottle of this when it was released. This 2019 edition sold out in no time. The Supernova releases over the last decade, particularly the first one, are the stuff of whisky legend.
This is an excellent whisky. It is like Ardbeg with the dial turned up to max. Powerful peat combines with a delicious malty character and sumptuous sweetness. Then comes a superb long finish that just seems to continue for ever. Do not be surprised if this Ardbeg Supernova makes it on to our Whisky Of The Year list ...