The Ardbeg distillery is located on the south eastern coast of the Hebredean island of Islay. It was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records show a distillery operating on the site as far back as 1794. Its recent history shows there was no production between 1982 and 1987, or for the majority of 1996 and 1997, until Moet Hennessey (LVMH) took over in 1997. The remain the current owners and have created a range of single malts that has built up a cult following amongst whisky drinkers. Ardbeg is small with just one million litres of spirit produced each year. It also boasts an award-winning visitor centre and cafe.
This general release of Dark Cove, which is bottled at 46.5% ABV, will be officially released on Ardbeg Day/Night (May 28) and will be available on at the distillery on Islay and at Ardbeg Embassies across the world. Remaining stock will then be supplied to other retailers after two weeks. The retail price per bottle is £95.99.
Our tasting notes
The colour is deep golden yellow with a hint of amber and the nose is full of sweet and smoky aromas. The sweetness is a combination of caramel, crumbly brown sugar, raisins and a hint of black treacle. The smokiness is pungent yet refined with sweet mossy peat and coal tar soap prominent. Underneath are hints of robust malty cereals and milk chocolate, plus a pinch of baking spice.
On the palate the whisky has a delicious mouth feel and it is the sweetness that hits the tastebuds first. There are plenty of the caramel and raisin notes continuing from the nose, and these are joined by soft butterscotch A further fruitiness is supplied with a hit of candied lemon and orange peel in the background. The smokiness is never far away and mingles superbly with the sweet elements. It has a mossy quality reminiscent of damp earth with a hint of acrid antiseptic and sooty ash. Underneath are further notes that take a little time to develop - think of unbaked cookie dough, malty cereals, walnuts, cinnamon and a distinct hint of herbal menthol right at the end.
The finish is very long with the sweet peat smoke lingering for a considerable time. This turns slightly acrid and more ashy as it fades, especially once the sweet caramel and dried fruit characteristics have gone. A late and almost yeasty maltiness adds a pleasant twist.
What's the verdict?
The Ardbeg Dark Cove is a delicious whisky and shows how good a smoky whisky can be when sympathetically matured predominantly in ex-sherry casks. The influence of ex-sherry casks can be a bit heavy handed at times in our opinion, especially when used with peaty whiskies. We have always enjoyed the Ardbeg Day special bottlings, but Dark Cove feels a bit different and is one of the best to date.
The balance of sweet and fruity elements with a warming peat smoke compliments each other well, and results in a superb and balanced whisky. As with all previous releases for Ardbeg Day, this will undoubtedly sell out rapidly so be sure you grab your bottle when you can. It's a real cracker.