Ardbeg previously released editions of Supernova in 2009 and 2010. At the time the Supernova played in the “how high can you go?” peat league but Bruichladdich’s Octomore line has essentially put an end to that competition. The significance of the Supernova—quite apart from silly stories about whisky going to space—lies mostly in the marketability of its name. It’s a bit like when movie studios run out of ideas and decide to just “reboot” old franchises that made a lot of money. This is not to say, of course, that Ardbeg doesn’t sell a lot of its other special releases too, but, in the US, at least, none of those are guaranteed to sell out double-quick and most don’t cross the $100 barrier. This Supernova, however, sold north of $150 in most markets and disappeared pretty quickly.
At the time that I first tasted it, back in September (at the same gathering that featured the Clynelish 17, Manager’s Dram), it was still around (in fact, had just showed up) and while I liked it, I didn’t think it was anything I’d pay $100 for, leave alone $150. Every Lagavulin 12 and Laphroaig 10 CS I’ve had, I thought, kicks this one’s ass up and down the street and they cost 1/2-1/3 of the Supernova’s price. I took a sample home and am interested to see if time (and a bit of air in the sample bottle; I have about 1.5 oz in a 2 oz bottle) have made this any better.
Ardbeg Supernova, 2014 Release (55%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Lots of vanilla and pungent, floral peat. Some lime too but it’s the vanilla sweetness that makes the strongest impression, getting creamier as it goes. The floral/mezcal’ish notes get stronger too with time and between those and the vanilla/cream it’s a bit too cloying for me. With even more time there’s a pronounced butyric note that emerges too. More lime with water and more integrated on the whole. With more time though the vanilla comes charging out again.
Palate: Blank for half a beat and then it’s essentially liquid smoke with some lime and vanilla. The floral notes are more apparent on subsequent sips. Nothing new happening here. Gets much sweeter as it goes (with the vanilla expanding) but there’s no interesting dimension to the sweetness. As on the nose, water brings out a lot more of the lime.
Finish: Long. The smoke goes from ashy to tarry to smouldering, charred wood. With time the citrus begins to hang around as well. Well after the swallow there’s a leafier smoke on the sides of my tongue. Water keeps the vanilla going on the finish but it’s better balanced here with the smoke and lime that expands now too.
Comments: Pleasant but a bit too simple (I thought the finish was the best part)—and better, on the whole, I think, with water. If this were not an Ardbeg, and didn’t have the Supernova name on it at that, I don’t know that it would attract quite as much attention. Then again, if those floral, edging on mezcal notes appeal you might have a very different estimation of it. I did like it more tonight than I did when I first tasted it from the freshly cracked bottle, but I am very pleased that I resisted the urge to get one when it was still around. It certainly makes Octomore seem like a good deal.
Rating: 84 points.
Thanks to Jim for the sample!