Whisky Advocate

Review: Ardbeg Supernova

February 4th, 2009

Here’s my review of the new Ardbeg Supernova made from 100+ ppm phenol barley. A sample of Bruichladdich’s similarly ultra-peated Octomore is on it’s way to me. A review of this whisky will follow shortly after I get it.

Ardbeg Supernova, 58.9%, $130
Identifiably richer, fuller, and smokier on the nose when compared to other young Ardbegs. While still prominent, there’s slightly less brine and seaweed, more earthiness, tar, soot, espresso, tobacco, grass, and chocolate fudge. The same goes for the palate. It starts out like a “slightly more gutsy than normal” cask strength, young Ardbeg (e.g., Renaissance) and, if you go into this experience expecting to be totally blown away by peat, tar and smoke, you might feel a bit under-challenged initially. But the peat eventually builds to a powerful, lava-like crescendo and you eventually realize that this is no ordinary Ardbeg. The length of the finish is seemingly endless, bold and warming. Through all this, there’s a soft underbelly of ripe barley and a vanilla sweetness to balance at least some of the tar, heat, and smoke–something I admire in many Ardbegs.

Bottom line: It’s an interesting, entertaining, and eye-opening experience. I like how mature it tastes for a relatively young whisky. But, like a whisky that shows just a bit too much sherry or oak, I think the extra peat, to a degree, masks the subtle complexities I admire in some other, lesser peated Ardbegs, which is the only thing keeping me from scoring this whisky in the 90s. All smoky whisky enthusiasts should endeavor to try this at least once.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 89

29 Responses to “Review: Ardbeg Supernova”

  1. Bryan C says:

    Good review John. I am interested to try it. Although the US release seems to be a bit of a cluster at the moment. Their original list of US vendors is down and the 2 I contacted near me knew nothing about it. Is that $130 price confirmed for the US release? A bit on the high side for me :(

  2. John Hansell says:

    Bryan, yes, this is the U.S. price. To be more precise, my contact at Moet told me it will range from $120-$140, depending on state taxes and other variables.

  3. Gary Gillman says:

    Very interesting notes, John. I wonder if prolonged aging would diminish some of the peaty notes, as say occurs with hops in beers conditioned for very lengthy periods.

    I wonder too how the phenol PPM of this whisky compares historically to what was typical on Islay, and elsewhere in Scotland, say 50 and 100 years ago.

    Gary

  4. John Hansell says:

    Gary, good questions. From my experience, being both a whisky and beer enthusiasts (and one who has cellared beer for 20 years), I think the hops in beer diminish faster than peat smoke in whisky (while it’s in the bottle).

    And to your question about the level of phenol in the old days, if they were using nothing but peat as fuel for the kiln, I imagine the malt (and whisky) could get quite smoky, although I don’t know what a max level would be. Maybe some of the smarter distillery scientists out there lurking might have the answer.

  5. Bryan says:

    I’ll be interested in trying it. Though I’ve found that the peat monsters really grabbed me at first, but I’ve lost interest over time. I now prefer more complexity, less in your face peat. But I haven’t tried either of these two ultra peat monsters (Supernova and Octomore). John I’d be interested to know how you would compare this (and the Octomore once you try it) to another peaty young malt like the Bruichladdich 3D series.

    thanks

  6. John Hansell says:

    Bryan, I tasted Ardbeg Renaissance next to the Supernova for relative comparison. If I had to pick one over the other, I’d pick Renaissance because of the better balance of flavors and subtle complexities. While I like Supernova very much, it is so powerful, you really gotta be in the mood for it.

    I will do the same with Octomore whe it comes in. I’ll probably line up a couple of the Port Charlottes along with it and see how they all shake out.

  7. Sku says:

    Does it have an age statement? Any idea how old it is, other than being young?

  8. Red_Arremer says:

    It’s just crazy how much hype any new Ardbeg release gets these days. The buzz surrounding Supernova has been totally off the hook.

    The spirits buyer at the local store, which Ardbeg authorized to sell Supernova, told me that he was getting tons calls asking about the product and requests to hold bottles long before Ardbeg had even sent him a description of it.

  9. John Hansell says:

    Sku, I was told that stocks came from whisky distilled in 2000 and 2001.

    Red, yes, off the hook for sure.

  10. Great to have your review, John. I bought a bottle during those two hours they were on sale and have regretted since I didn’t order two. This of course makes it much harder to open the one bottle I have. Now I have an idea what it might taste like.

    Have you published a more thorough review of the Renaissance somewhere, John? Would definitely be interesting! What did you rate it?

  11. John Hansell says:

    Thomas, I wrote about Renaissance favorably here on my blog, but didn’t review it formally. I really liked it though. I probably would rate it a couple of points higher than Supernova.

  12. butephoto says:

    Good review, John. Personally I’m holding out for the general release before trying it but it sounds a lot better than the Octomore already and I’m looking forward to it!

  13. B.J. Reed says:

    John

    Just tasted the Octomore – 5 YO – 63.(something) abv and i was somewhat overwhelmed by the alcohol dominance rather than smoke on the nose and palate – I guess I should not have been surprised but I almost had a sense of drinking new make whisky – Will be curious about your thoughts after you taste it and compare with SuperNova which I hope to get my hands on in May :)

  14. Lucas says:

    89 is a pretty heavy score! But I trust you John, I tend to agree with your marking much more than I do with, say, Jim Murray’s. Which means my expectations are sky high now. I’m ready to get blown away by the lava-like crescendo of peatiness! Thanks

  15. John Hansell says:

    It starts own slowly, but definitely builds towards the finish. This is one of the reasons I like the whisky–it evolves a bit on the palate.

  16. kallaskander says:

    Hi John,

    there is another review online at

    http://www.whiskyfun.com/index.html

    Serge tasted it against another young Ardbeg. You might have to scroll down a bit as it is not yet in the tasting index he provides.

  17. Gary Gillman says:

    John, I was doing some research on beer. In the course of doing this, I found a 1905 article called The Chemistry of Whisky, by Philip Schidrowitz and Frederick Kaye. It starts at pg. 585 in the attached link:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=wyAAAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA2-PA589&dq=%22stock+bitter+ale%22#PRA2-PA585,M1

    Note the analysis in the table of the secondary constituents in malt whisky. Unfortunately, if I read it right, PPM or other concentration of phenols – not strictly a co-product of ethanol I believe because not produced in fermentation – are not mentioned. So it is not possible I think from this source to get a sense of how peaty the whiskies were then. The authors do discuss some elements in the whisky of a phenolic nature. But they seem concerned mostly to determine if these elements were caused by direct fire (i.e., boiling the wash on direct flame) or by peat in the malt, concluding (correctly I believe) for the latter.

    However, I can’t follow a lot of the science and I thought this piece might be of more interest to you, or others with a science background.

    Note the many pieces of historical information, e.g.:

    – sherry, reused sherry, plain wood and brandy wood were used to mature whisky circa 1900.

    – whisky seems generally to have been sold at 5-8 years old. One sample was 15 years old and this seems to have been considered very old (although I am not clear if the distillers gave a representative age sampling to the scientists).

    – whisky was being aged in different kinds of barrels from the same run, I would think distillers knew that different woods lent different effects as did different environments (e.g., the damp vs. dry warehouse samples)

    – all Highland whisky was peated, some using peat and coke. Only some Lowland whisky dispensed with peated malt.

    – the distilleries in the table are numbered, and I wonder if this was some type of official classification: if so it might be possible to know the names of the distilleries that were analysed, a number of which would still exist today.

    Gary

  18. Rich says:

    excellent… thanks for the review, John.

    i supposedly have a couple reserved, and i’ll probably pick up at least two if i can. [re. your post about reviews and reviewers, if you had panned it, i would likely have still purchased one bottle, "just to try it". however, between your review and Serge's, i feel confident enough in the overall quality of the bottle to invest in at least a couple.]

    my favorite drams of late have been the Ardbeg Corryvreckan; 1999 and 2000 Laphroaig 7 year (Signatory); 2005-2008 Lagavulin 12 Special Release; and Caol Ila 8 (G&M), all cask strength. therefore, i think it’s safe to say that i’m often “in the mood” for something this powerful. ;)

    can’t wait for a taste; hope i get my bottle(s). :)
    .rich

  19. Todd says:

    Sounds like fun John! Have you tried vatting the Supernova with the Beist or other flavorful but ABV challenged Ardbegs?

  20. John Hansell says:

    Todd, I’ve only had it a few days, so haven’t had a chance to tinker with vatting. Good idea, though.

  21. Rich says:

    the Supernova has just landed in the US, and is now available to us mortals. ;) i’ve just ordered my first two bottles; one for me, one for a friend. i’ll probably nab another reserve bottle for myself.

  22. Judy Cowan says:

    I just purchased a bottle fo the Supernova…for $225 plus shipping since there are only two locations from which to do so in Florida. We’re waiting until our anniversary in May to open it.

  23. [...] lime), genever, brine-tinged grass, and  (with some coaxing) floral notes (violet?). Compared to last year’s debut release of Supernova (the whisky with the lighter-colored label in the picture), this new one is certainly comparable, [...]

  24. [...] John Hansell appreciates the earthy, espresso notes, the building, “lava-like crescendo” of peat on the palate, the balanced underbelly of vanilla sweetness, etc. [...]

  25. Finally tried this one….and I absolutely love it…I was luck enough to pick up 2 bottles for close to $100 each….

  26. lola says:

    Can anyone please tell me where we can sit and enjoy. A glass of octomore in miami fl.? I have a friend who is crazy about it, and would love to take him somewhere to enjoy it, but where? Can we sit and enjoy this in a restaurant, or I have to purchase this? Please help! Thanks!

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