This new whisky is the latest limited edition exclusive from Islay distillery of Ardbeg. The Ardbeg Hypernova is pitched as the smokiest Ardbeg single malt ever and is only available to Ardbeg Committee members. The new whisky is an evolution of previous cult classic Supernova and shows peat levels in excess of 170ppm (phenol parts per million). This is over three times above the regular level of Ardbeg spirit. The Ardbeg Hypernova is bottled at 51% ABV and will be available in limited numbers from the Ardbeg Committee part of the Ardbeg website and Ardbeg Embassies around the world. Membership to the Committee is free and open to all Ardbeg fans or peaty whisky drinkers. A bottle will cost £190.
The Ardbeg distillery is located on the southern coast of the famous whisky island of Islay and was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records have distilling on the site as far back as 1794. The recent history shows numerous changes of ownership from the 1950s right through the fallow period of the 1980s and 90s, until The Glenmorangie Company (now Moet Hennessy) took over in 1997. This signalled the rebirth of Ardbeg. The distillery has an annual production of just 2.4 million litres per year and boasts an award-winning visitor centre.
Our tasting notes
The colour is pale gold and the nose is pungent and bold. Heavy and acrid peat smoke aromas dominate and these have a damp earthy and coastal vegetal quality - imagine damp moss, wet peat and drying seaweed. Underneath are further aromas of vanilla, malty biscuits, heather honey and a hint of clove oil.
On the palate this whisky is immediately big, bold and super peaty. The peppery smoke takes hold and grips the tastebuds. It has an acrid and medicinal edge with plenty of cold bonfire ash, coal tar soap and bitumen. Extra depth is added to the smoke with elements of wet earth, damp seaweed, moss and dying charcoal embers. Underneath sit further notes of scorched green apple and burnt oat cookies.
Some much needed relief from the smoke is given by some sweeter notes, most notably golden syrup and white chocolate. There is also a slightly flinty and chalky mouthfeel now, along with a hint of salinity. Further complexity is added with late hints of vanilla, clove, oak and cocoa. The addition of water dampens the smoke, but only a little. This allows the sweeter notes to shine through better.
The finish is long. This is not surprising given the level and power of the peat smoke. The whisky becomes more drying and bitter with time, especially once the sweeter characteristics have faded. A hefty pinch of warming spice rounds things off.
What's the verdict?
This new Ardbeg is not for the faint hearted and is a big and bold whisky. This is only to be expected from the pre-release hype and for something pitched as the distillery's peatiest and smokiest release ever. It is certainly the most intense Ardbeg that we can remember sampling. But is it any good? In a word - yes.
Hypernova shows Ardbeg in a slightly different light and we hope that the brand will release something like this to a wider audience in the future. It shows that you can have super powerful peat smoke but in an interesting and balanced way, and is a definite step up from the regular bottlings. Definitely one to try if 1) you love Ardbeg, 2) you love peaty whiskies and 3) if you can get hold of a bottle.