Just in time for Father’s Day, the Scottish distillery Ardbeg has released its newest expression: Dark Cove ($110), supposedly named in honor of the smugglers who once clustered close to the distillery, matured in Sherry casks and proclaimed to be “the darkest Ardbeg ever.”
Unless you’re a connoisseur of the dram, you may not have heard of Ardbeg. Located on the tiny island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, it has been producing whisky since 1798. Like its famous neighbor, Laphraoig, the spirits made at Ardbeg have a high content of peat.
And what is peat? Decayed vegetable matter, basically, found all over the world and used in pre-industrial cultures as fuel. On Islay, it stokes the fires that dry malted barley for distilleries. It imparts a distinctive earthiness and smokiness to the whisky, an aroma and flavor that not everyone tends to like: it is best described, in gracious terms, as an acquired taste. The use of peat is traditional, and it is still included in the distillation process by houses that want to preserve a 19th century style of spirit. Most Scotch whiskies have a phenolic level of 30 ppm (parts per million) of peat. Islay malts are typically around 50 ppm, and bottles such as Ardbeg’s Supernova exceed 100 ppm.
Despite that, the nose of Dark Cove is enticing and seductive, filled with smoky aromas and scents of licorice and mint. The spirit is surprisingly sweet on the palate, exhibiting flavors of raisins and caramel edged with notes of white pepper and citrus. It is well balanced at 93 proof/46.5% alcohol (there was an earlier Committee Release—a limited edition sold to members of the Ardbeg fan club—that was bottled at cask strength of 55% alcohol). The finish is long and luscious, reverberating for nearly a full minute. One can easily imagine enjoying a snifter close to a roaring fire, following a brace of pellet-filled grouse. Given that we’re in South Florida, it’s best just to crank down the AC and drink it.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. for more information, go to amazon.com