Ardbeg has made quite a big deal over blasting a small amount of whisky into space. From a scientific point of view, it’s an interesting experiment aimed at discovering the effect of gravity on the maturation process of whisky. From a practical perspective, though, Ardbeg’s space program is extremely small, limited to a few vials of their whisky, so little that no consumers will ever get to try this space-traveled spirit.
This fact hasn’t stopped Ardbeg from releasing a number of spaced-themed whiskies to celebrate their journey into space. In 2012, a year after Ardbeg launched their whisky into space, they launched Ardbeg Galileo 1999 Whisky. Now, with the return of their cosmic traveled whisky to terra firma, Ardbeg has brought back one of their most popular space themed whiskies: Ardbeg Supernova.
This time around, Ardbeg Supernova is getting a release as Committee Release (Ardbeg’s loyalty program) SN2014. The 2014 Ardbeg Supernova is different from previous Supernova Releases (a committee release in 2009 and wide release in 2010) in that it has a greater amount of sherry-finished whisky and, from our tastings, a significant increase in younger malt in the blend.
Ardbeg Supernova Single Malt Whisky [Committee Release SN2014] (55% ABV / 110 Proof, $180) – as you’d expect from a whisky whose peat rating is at 100ppm, the nose from the 2014 Supernova is solid peat, but the peat here is more vegetal, barnyard peat than peat smoke. Even at this peat level, Ardbeg Supernova smells a lot less like a campfire than your everyday Laphroaig. Underneath the peat are the clear aromas from the sherry cask including a solid nuttiness, dark fruit, and vanilla. There’s something about the way that the sweet aromas mix with vegetal and smoke that’s reminiscent of mezcal. Supernova’s high proof is also apparent in the nose which does a nice job of amping up the aromas without giving a lot of alcohol burn.
The entry for Supernova is a lot lighter and thinner than we’d expected. Instead of a peat bomb (which we ultimately get in the midpalate), the entry is a muted mix of honey, dark fruit, dark chocolate, and light peat. The thin and unremarkable entry is a disconnect from what we expect from Ardbeg Supernova.
It isn’t until the midpalate that we get the real strength of Supernova. It is here that the peat bomb finally goes off and we get the strongest amount of smoke supported by black pepper and ginger spice. In many ways the midpalate feels like a bomb – a blast of spice and smoke without any real sense of continuity or integration. After the bomb goes off, Ardbeg Supernova gets dry and puckery which drives the finish that is long with the smoke from the midpalate hovering on the palate for quite some time.
The 2014 Ardbeg Supernova is nothing short of disappointing. Ardbeg has established the Supernova line as one of their showcase series, and they’ve priced it accordingly at $180 a bottle, but the 2014 release pales in comparison to the 2009 and 2010 releases. Part of the problem with this Ardbeg Supernova is the sheer amount of young malt in the blend.
When it comes to peated whisky, young malt isn’t a bad thing, as young peated whisky can offer a lot of interesting elements to the equation. But the young malt in the 2014 Ardbeg Supernova isn’t balanced out with deeper, older malt. The result is a whisky that tastes young, thin, and one dimensional. It’s unfair to hold up a 2014 blend against a 2009 or 2010, since the malt stocks and demand are vastly different now than they were back then, but for $180 we’d expect much more from this release. Following on the heels of Ardbeg Auriverdes, Ardbeg Supernova 2014 should give Ardbeg fans genuine concern. Could Ardbeg have a significant problem on their hands in terms of older malt? From these two releases, it seems so. 80 Points