Ardbeg Supernovas, 2009 and 2010

Ardbeg SupernovaThe Ardbeg special release for 2014, the Auriverdes, which commemorates the World Cup in Brazil, is already out in the US (odd, as usually the special releases don’t hit the shelves till June 1); and there’s talk as well of a new edition of the Supernova on the way. As such, it seemed like a good time for me to finally taste my samples of the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Supernova head to head—in a few years time I’ll get around to the Galileo, the Ardbeg Day, and the Ardbog.

As you may know, the Supernova, first released to the Ardbeg Committee in 2008 (back when “committee release” meant something) and then in two editions in 2009 and 2010, was Ardbeg’s experiment with very high peating levels. The regular Ardbeg is already peated to a very high level by normal standards (54 ppm) but the barley for the Supernovas was peated to 100 ppm. Of course, this number is dwarfed by those for every release of Octomore from Bruichladdich (which also first emerged in 2008) but the Ardbeg name carries a certain cachet. It does appear though that Ardbeg ceded the peat arms race to Bruichladdich almost immediately. If there is indeed a new Supernova on the horizon it’ll be interesting to see how high it goes with the peat ppm.

Anyway, let’s see what these two are like.

Ardbeg Supernova, 2009 Release (58.9%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Heavy tarry smoke but also an inky sweetness. After a bit the tar calms down a bit (or maybe my nose adjusts) and now there’s some lemon, some pencil lead/graphite and expanding salt. The lemon expands with more air, and now the smoke has a bit of a diesel fumes edge to it. With even more time/air there’s a savoury aspect to the sweetness (nutty and hammy). And with a lot more time some vanilla peeps out as well. A few drops of water dial back the bitterness of the smoke.

Palate: Leads with the sweetness and then the smoke comes crashing in behind it bringing the lemon in its wake. Very drinkable at full strength, rich and mouth-coating. The smoke gets tarrier/more bitter with time. As on the nose, water dials back the tarry notes and brings out more of the lemon.

Finish: Long. The sweetness comes back and then the lemon cuts through it while the smoke swirls around. Lot of salt crystals popping on the tongue as well. Lingering ashiness on the sides of my tongue well after the swallow. Ashy lemons from the get-go with water but then some dark coffee at the very end.

Comments: This is really very nice indeed. As with the even more heavily peated Octomores, I have to say I don’t find it so very much smokier than standard issue peated malts from Ardbeg, or even the slightly less heavily peated Laphroaig or Lagavulin. A greater tarriness, yes, but it’s very far from being a one-trick pony: it’s a nicely balanced malt with the lemon and the sweetness and the salt harmonizing very well with the smoke.

Rating: 88 points.

Thanks to Sku for the sample.

Okay, on to the 2010!

Ardbeg Supernova, 2010 Release (60.1%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Brighter and more acidic than the 2009 and less heavily tarry. Some almond oil and also a cereally note, but it’s lemon that’s the main story here. More vanilla cream with time. I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t smoky; it is, but the smoke is not as dominant as on the 2009 (and it’s a little more rubbery here). Water emphasizes the vanilla over the lemon and smoke.

Palate: Very much as on the nose. Bright lemon, sharp smoke and then a fair bit of sweet vanilla. More iodine/medicinal notes on later sips. Very drinkable neat, but let’s add some water. Water has the reverse effect than on the nose as the lemon and the smoke rise above the vanilla.

Finish: Long. It’s most phenolic here as the smoke expands. Some salt too. Water brings the lemon out.

Comments: A mellower affair than the 2009 edition and not very far away, in my opinion, from some of the editions of the Lagavulin 12 CS. I liked the nose better neat and the palate better with water. Hard to choose between this and the 2009 edition (not that either is available for a price anywhere close to what I would be willing to pay) but I think I just prefer this one a bit more.

Rating: 89 points.

Thanks to Chris G. for the sample.

3 thoughts on “Ardbeg Supernovas, 2009 and 2010

  1. One interesting thing about Bruichladdich and Ardbeg being the primary rivals in the PPM Wars – both distilleries have stills that are designed to increase reflux, which will reduce the amount of phenolic compounds that make it into the new make spirit, so they need these exceptionally high numbers to make the whisky noticeably more peaty. It’d be really interesting to see how the PPM numbers compare in the new make between Octomore and Supernova and their less heavily peated releases. My guess is that it’s much less than the barley would suggest.

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  2. It would be very interesting to line up all the highly peated whiskies in a lab and analyze the actual peat ppm in the spirit in the bottle.

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