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Monday, April 11, 2016

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release versus Ardbeg Uigeadail

Subtitle: Michael puts his whisky where his mouth is.

I've spent a lot of digital ink poking fun at Ardbeg's annual special releases, specifically how not special they are.  Year after year, these releases with silly names (and sillier stories) hit the shelves priced 50-100% more than Ardbeg's regular range, yet fall far short of the regular range's quality.  But I've been over this many times, so rather than repeat myself I'll direct you to this extended rant and my review of Ardbeg Perpetuuuual Disappointment.

Rather than do another bitchfest review without real context, I decided to do a blind taste test between this year's Ardbeg Bright Shiny Thing Dark Cove and the regular range's Ardbeg Uigeadail.  They're bottled at almost the same ABV, both made up of a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and neither have an age statement.  But Dark Cove costs almost twice as much as Uigeadail (or 50-75% more depending on where you're located, or 200-300% more in the secondary market).

I obtained the Dark Cove committee release sample via my friend Brett when he threw it in as a surprise addition to a sample swap.  The Uigeadail (bottled in 2014) is from Florin's bottle which he gave away when he was reminded that he didn't like Ardbeg.  Many thanks to Brett and Florin!

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Dark Cove (committee release edition)
Age: ???
Maturation: "dark sherry" and ex-bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Limited release: ???? bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.0%

Distillery: Ardbeg
Ownership: Glenmorangie Plc (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Product: Uigeadail
Age: ???
Maturation: ex-oloroso and ex-bourbon casks
Bottling code: L140281507 6ML
Bottling year: 2014
Alcohol by Volume: 54.2%

My blind tasting glasses were marked A and B.  Let's see which is which:


Nose -- Starts off with tennis ball peat, sugary smoke, cinnamon, and a'Bunadh-like rich sherry. It smells like Peatin' Meetin', which is a thing you should attend.  Then there's a sandy beach, prune syrup, a little bit of new oak, peated mixed berries, a small pretty flower blossom note, plums, and hay.

Palate -- Mmmmm.  Thick.  Salty.  Sugary smoke, as on the nose.  Chili oil heat and a slight umami note.  Dried berries, apple juice, and peated molasses chews.

Finish -- Very long.  Salty bitter chocolate.  Soot, brown sugar, an ethyl bite, and a cloud of smoke.

WITH WATER ~47-49%abv:
Nose -- Becomes very farmy and picks up some cereal and yeast notes -- Ardbeg via the Isle of Mull?  Raspberries, cinnamon sticks, wood smoke, oceany peat.  After 10 minutes the farm notes fade away and salty peat takes over.

Palate -- Water seems to close it up, rather than open it.  It's tighter, bitterer.  Sherry has been washed away.  Vanilla, cinnamon, and lots of moss.

Finish -- Peated vanilla, cinnamon, and salt water.

If I know Oogy, this is Oogy.  The nose is massive and complex for what is likely young whisky.  The palate is simpler but really hits the spot.  Water seems to split its personality -- good strange nose, bland plain palate.  So, forget the water.  This is a good drink, not as awesome as in years past (if this is indeed Uigeadail), but still one of the best sherried peated OBs out there.

Then there was...


Nose -- Less outright sherry than in "A".  Still has that tennis ball peat, and rubbery peat too.  It has the cinnamon too, though here it's joined by apples and pears.  There's a louder alcohol element and some of the 10yo's sootiness.  After 10 minutes, the whisky abruptly shifts gears into something very different.  An intense barbecue note, with wood smoke and charcoal, bursts forth.  There's burnt veg, burnt chocolate, and huge caramel sauce note.  But then after 30 minutes, that enormous charred landscape is smothered by new oak -- ultra levels of butter, vanilla, and bland caramel.

Palate -- Curious large notes of white fruits. Much less sherry than "A" again.  It's super spicy (think wasabi + cayenne + Red Hots candies).  Then there's char and ashes.  Spearmint leaves, sugar, and a mild Oloroso.

Finish -- Pool chlorine and peat.  Sugar, pepper, ash, and lots of ethyl heat.

WITH WATER ~47-49%abv:
Nose -- It changes again.  Pencil lead, peach scented markers, spearmint, charred meat, but much less peat.  Some tangerines......but then the oaky vanilla returns.

Palate -- Very sweet.  The spice and the mint remain.  Mild peat.  Honey.  Sugary caramel.

Finish -- Sugar, salt, peat, ethyl heat, cinnamon, and mint.

To be honest, it was once I tasted "B" that I knew "A" had to be Uigeadail.  This must be Dark Cove.  For all the marketing talk about the "dark sherry casks", there really isn't a whole lot of sherry going on here.  But there is a lot of influence coming from new oak or rejuvenated oak or super-charred first fills.  Like "A", this is much better without water.  The palate is fun, but the finish feels very young and rough.  The nose is puzzling.  That middle section, between the 10 and 30 minute marks, was fantastic, like Supernova but better.  But after that, it's just gloppy.  If only it could harness that inferno throughout, then we'd be looking at something special.  So overall, it has some good to excellent parts, but the oak and (the probable) youth get in the way.
RATING: 85 (bouncing between 79 and 89)

"A" = Uigeadail √
"B" = Dark Cove committee release √

Again, though I was somewhat sure "A" was Uigeadail at the start, the palate and finish on the Dark Cove that gave it all away.  And, just to be thorough, the Uigeadail was a micro-shade darker in color than the Dark Cove, the supposed "darkest Ardbeg ever".  Maybe they mean the darkest ever Ardbeg bottle glass?  None more black.

Let's ignore all the dumb "dark" talk, shall we?  The Dark Cove has its moments, and if you can get it to sustain that scortched earth thing longer than I did, and can keep away all that oak stuff, then you will like it more than I.  I'd certainly rank it higher than Perpetuum and Auriverdes (god, these fugging names), so there's that.  But Uigeadail is still better, easier to find, and at half the price.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $55-85
Rating - 88

Availability - Winesearcher shows 20+ US stores carrying it as of today
Pricing - anywhere from $100 to $200 on the primary market
Rating - 85