Last year, Ardbeg's introduction of Perpetuum celebrated its bright future on the occasion of the Islay malt's 200th anniversary. This year the distiller peers into a dark past with Dark Cove, set for a May 28 (Ardbeg Day) debut.
The name references the "murky past" of Ardbeg's location on the shore of Islay, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Before a still was built there, the cove was a favorite hideout for smugglers who used its hidden caves and beaches for cover.
The name also resonates in the color of the whisky, which the company describes as "the darkest Ardbeg ever." It is made from a melding of whiskies matured in ex-Bourbon barrels with a core aged in "dark Sherry casks."
The Dark Cove ($109.99), which is bottled at 93 proof and not chill filtered, has a companion bottling: the Committee Edition. The latter, which we tasted in the pairing below, is 110 proof. It is so named as it will be made available to Committee members (the Ardbeg fan club) at the distillery beginning with the Ardbeg Day celebration. Actually, we should say "Night" as festivities are planned for the evening—in keeping with this whisky's dark theme.
Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Edition (110 proof, or 55 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $109.99 per 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Brass-bronze color. When swirled it forms a thick bead around the glass from which sturdy legs slowly descend.
NOSE: Aroma is a mix of toasty smoke, cinnamon graham cracker, cocoa and orange peal that makes your palate say "Howdy!"
PALATE: The notes of the nose follow onto the tongue, but gain a hefty, syrupy quality with a marked sweetness, even as it stays true to its Ardbeg smokiness. The Sherry casks seem to come through as chewy raisins. Licorice spice coats the upper palate as pepper coats the tongue. Then comes a wave of orange hard candy, chocolate and caramel. While there is a hint of maritime salt and tar, the smoke mainly presents a toasty warmness.
FINISH: Very, very long finish, which carouses around between the explicit sweet and fruity notes and the implicit smoke, spice and tar.
CIGAR PAIRING: Matilde Oscura Robusto (Dominican Republic, 5 1/4 inches by 50 ring gauge; $8.00, 91 points; April 2016 Cigar Aficionado) Rolled with a round head and dark wrapper, this robusto combines earth and coffee bean intonations with sweeter notes of cinnamon, spice and bread dough. Yes, we were interested to match the like tastes in this pairing—cinnamon, spice and the whisky's toast and the cigar's bread dough—but we have to admit that we were also drawn by the words "Dark" and "Oscura" (Spanish for dark) in their names. It turned out a happy coincidence. The toast and sweetness fairly exploded on the Ardbeg, while it flirted with the bread dough and coffee notes of the Matilde. The cigar gets right to the point when paired with the malt, releasing its sweeter charms more quickly and adding coconut and a raisin quality of its own. The earthiness of the Matilde is also softened a bit. The flavors in both the cigar and the whisky seem to meld together to that point where it is difficult to determine which element of the pairing is contributing what note. A very good synergy.