Ardbeg Dark Cove (46.5%)
Taste Score: 88 +/- 2 (not tasted under ideal conditions)
Category: Single Malt Scotch, NAS
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ★ ★ ☆
For Scotch drinkers that love peat, Ardbeg represents one-third of the trinity of Islay scotch along with Laphroaig and Lagavulin. The three neighboring distilleries brag about peat levels and expensive rare releases, but each has a unique voice in the whisky world. Lagavulin is civilized and composed. Laphroaig brags about its "you either love it or hate it" flavors. Ardbeg embraces the wonderful funky briny nature of Islay.
Dark Cove is born in concept from the days before whisky was legal to make. As the brand ambassador told us, when the tax man came about, the distillery would hide their equipment on a boat in the middle of a neighboring lake. Dark Cove is born from this tradition. Ardbeg has always done an excellent job at marketing their whiskies, and I appreciate this one is easier to spell than some of their other offerings.
The annual anniversary releases are intended to show another side of Ardbeg. In this case, we have primarily ex-sherry matured scotch blended with American ex-bourbon barrel matured scotch. I've been told the split is 80/20 in favor of European oak, and that will give you an idea of flavor.
Ardbeg's focus on complex barrel-notes remains in Dark Cove, though like last year's release, this stretches toward the overly milder side of Ardbeg. When pitting this scotch against the bigger bolder cousins in Ardbeg Uegeadail and Corryvreckan, I can't help to find it lacking by comparison. Dark Cove is more of a variation of Ardbeg 10 Year Old scotch in terms of intensity. Softer Islay whiskies are excellent and far from soft, but the funky nature of Ardbeg is lost in this one.
Nose: Smoked cream cheese initially hits the nose (which, btw, sounds like a delicious combination). Dark fruit, bruised cherries. Caramel. Cinnamon. Salty. Seaweed. Light pepper. Some burnt rubber. Dark chocolate oil.
Palate: Warm tones of dried fruits, caramel, cinnamon spice, liquorice, zest, and dry bubbly finish. The zest and ginger compliments the peppery spice. Light on smoke. Cinnamon and caramel prominent in the middle. Sharper and younger for the lower proof. Oiliness comes through more so toward the end.
Conclusion: This is the definition of fan whisky, as Ardbeg's unique annual releases aim to be. It's there for Ardbeg fans to provide a unique expression from the distillery, but it doesn't necessarily have broad appeal without that rewarding emotional connection. Admittedly, I didn't taste the whisky under ideal conditions, so your mileage may vary.
*Whisky Cabinet Rating Explained:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Not recommended
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
★ ★ ☆ ☆ Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must-have
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original