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Friday, January 13, 2017

Single Malt Report: Ardbeg Supernova (2015 release)

I've written about the 2008 and 2010 Supernovas. But this is my first time doing a proper tasting with a full sample. In the past, I've enjoyed the other Superpeater, Octomore, more. While Supernova presents its peat in a full frontal assault, Octomore feels more layered, more complex and (most importantly) more delicious. That's not to say the Supernovas are crap. I've found them to be solid B-grade stuff. Its wall of peat is difficult to scale, but once one does there's not much else to find. BUT lemme see what happens with this (alleged) final edition of the 100ppm-peated Supernova.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (owned by LVMH)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Supernova
Age: NAS
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels?
Limited bottling: ????
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(Thank you to Aaron of It's Just the Booze Dancing for this sample!)

The nose starts off with a massive note of smoked fish and vodka. It needs some time to air out... ... ... now there's coal, rubber and leather. Burnt peat. Seaweed. A little bit of pear in the background. The palate is all peat, heat and sweet. Brown sugar, marshmallows and vanilla simple syrup. Slight tanginess around the edges. More vanilla, heat, sweet and peat in the finish.

I think this stuff needs some help...

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
Less fish and vodka in the nose now, though otherwise similar to the neat version. The peat reads cleaner. A welcome arrival of anise and lemon. The palate grows sweeter, but with some chili oil in there to give it some dimension. Less smoky, more toasty. A mellow citrus note floats up. The finish is flat out cloying at first. With time, peat smoke and minerals join the lime candy.

Maybe some more water?

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
Much different nose. Peated kirsch? Grainy. Slight cap gun sulphur note. Peppery peat in the palate. Limes, minerals, dried herbs and jalapeños. The finish is much less sweet. Lots of limes and peppercorns and herbs.

What an odd duck. I really don't like it in its neat form, though it's difficult to pinpoint what's technically wrong with it. I guess the palate is boring and the nose is flat (aside from the unwelcome vodka note). Things improve considerably as more and more water is added. Though the nose never does it for me, the palate shines at 40%abv. I guess there's never even a suggestion of the complexity that's found in Octomore. And, at the price the Supernova goes/went for, one should expect at least something unusual or unique.

I recognize I'm in the minority on this one. The Jug gave it an 88. This person, this person and this person love it, giving it scores from 88 to 95. Its whiskybase scores are super high. Whisky Advocate declared it the 2015 Islay of the year, though their declarations have a questionable history. Curiously, Drinkhacker, who generously dishes out A grades, gave it only a B. I'm just curious, did any of these folks tried it alongside other Ardbegs, as I did? Or how many of these people waited until the hype died down to give it a sniff? Or maybe I'm alone in hoping that the end of Supernova marks the beginning of something better.

Availability - a few dozen retailers worldwide, the secondary market
Pricing - $175-$450
Rating - 81 (with water, lower score when neat)