A

Ardbeg Supernova 2019 Committee Release

Did you jump ship, diving into the stormy waters around Islay, to pick up your bottle of Ardbeg? The latest release with an age statement or story, conceived and hatched from the gold plated and diamond encrusted Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy headquarters in Paris?

Whisky is an international commodity nowadays. It is Scotland’s gift to the world alongside an endless list of inventions, Irn Bru, haggis, Cullen Skink and, well, frankly I could go on forever. The point being, that Scotch isn’t reliant on the domestic market nowadays. You have new money regions, the large European markets of France and Italy alongside the peat thirst we’re seeing from North America. So, as I’m a charitable guy, I’ve done my bit in recent times by giving up buying Ardbeg and ensuring more goes elsewhere.

That’s a joke before you reply with a comment. A bottle here, or there, won’t affect decision making at LVMH. However, I feel that I’m not alone with it comes to Ardbeg. Many of my circle are tired of the annual special release that takes us into space, the 1960’s or headfirst into a swamp. The age statements just don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi anymore. They are overpriced and almost Ardbeg-lite in terms of their presentation. Even the 10-year-old cask from the SMWS lacked that classic Ardbeg factor and like anything coming out of Islay nowadays, came at a premium.

This isn’t the death of Ardbeg piece. I’m thankful that the distillery was saved and sprung back into life, but like several distilleries across Scotland it has a choice to make. Whether to remain true to its roots and traditions, or change to engage with new markets and palates. We can already see this at Glenmorangie, which has the same ownership and is further down that journey. Do you talk about or drink Glenmorangie anymore? Very few I know actually do and based on recent form, the only release I’d consider is the Signet, which in itself is not a cheap option.

For many there’s been a parting of ways. Glenmorangie has followed the yellow brick road to riches and influencer acclaim, while former diehard fans have found new options to entertain themselves with. Ardbeg feels a little different. It has a stronger more rugged brand and when I think of Islay, then Bowmore springs to mind closely followed by Ardbeg. I also love an Ardbeg. The 10-year-old with a good batch is simply hard to beat when its on form, as is the Uigeadail, but I’m left questioning value at times and information around each release.

While we’ve hit pause on the Death of Ardbeg article, it could be revived at some stage. Particularly with releases such as this Committee Supernova from 2019. Already, the asking price of £140 puts this bottle into another orbit; a passage that is beyond the reach of many. Also looking at the official page, we know the strength and that this is non chill-filtered but beyond these facts, you’re left to be as imaginative as the LVMH creation department. In this day and age it feels as if our custom is being taken for granted. Slap a famous name on the label, the immortal tag of limited edition to tempt onlookers and hey presto! You’ve got an instant sell-out; as long as the Ardbeg website can cope with online traffic.

That reliance hasn’t been a given and shows there is still demand and a desire for Ardbeg. Yet is it for the whisky itself, which is fairly obscure when it comes to information? The only way to gauge an appreciation is trying before you buy. In these crazy times, this isn’t an option, as hesitate, blink, or consider and the bottle will have taken off elsewhere. A £140 punt as a consumer is a great deal more of a gamble than the completist or investor. Once you’ve broken that seal, then you’re stuck with the contents. All 53.8% of it and I bet, many homes are littered with open whisky bottles that have become orphans. Whiskies that won’t be revisited, or savoured. Now, the time has come to see if the 2019 Supernova is worth such a punt.

As a bonus I’ve included the original Supernova Committee release from 2009 for a comparison. An edition of 2400 bottles, a peat level of 100ppm, this was bottled at 58.9%. My thanks to Andy for the sample.

Ardbeg Supernova 2009 Committee Release – review

Colour: a light honey.

On the nose: a very sweet and dashing peat, fatty bacon crisps and fresh driftwood that underlines a saltiness. Apple puree wrapped up in smoke and pineapple. Not hugely complex but fluid and enjoyable. Lemons, cracked black pepper and milk chocolate alongside tweed, a bucket of sand and a gentle raspberry.

In the mouth: more of that very sweet peat and juiciness. Dying embers, kindling and a smoky decay that lingers into the finish. Highland toffee, a maltiness alongside honey and those coastal walks on a briskly cold autumnal day.

Score: 7/10

Ardbeg Supernova 2019 Committee Release – review

Colour: dried reed.

On the nose: salty as, driftwood, a spent campfire and wetrope. It’s very clean and precise. Freshly sliced apples, sugar puffs and plenty of peat with a touch of soap. Fennel, mint leaf, petrichor follwed by salted caramel, liquorice, brine and vanilla.

In the mouth: peat alright and youthful. Sooty on the finish and prior to this tar, aniseed balls, black pepper and a little menthol. It lacks layers with dying embers and smoke taking us into the finish.

Score: 6/10

Conclusions

The 2019, it’s alright, it’s ok. It loses a mark for charging £140 for a bottle and the threadbare details. Otherwise you are receiving that peat blast, but you’re lacking depth and complexity. Even with this level of peat, I’m not blown away to any degree.

The 2009 incarnation has more peat but also more body and substance. It feels more wholesome for want of a better word. Less vapid. More poised and distinguished. In other words, verging on an 8/10 if it wasn’t again for the lack of details. Pricewise on the secondary market, I’ve seen this pushing £500 and it isn’t worth that in any shape or form. Let’s see what bonkers release Ardbeg have in store for us in 2020 and hopefully, a little more transparency.

2019 Sample kindly provided by Just Whisky Auctions. The 2009 image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Tags
  1. Avatar
    Mark says:

    Well quelle surprise, this one and the recent quadruple distilled Octomore disappeared in a flash, so proving that Islay distilleries don’t have to do much more than pick a price that’s not remotely affordable to most people, but not so prohibitive as to put off the true believers and the loaded enthusiasts. My feeling is who can blame them when they know they have a formula that works to sell a small number of bottles that essentially forms a very small part of their core business. As we’ve seen with Diageo as the special releases went from underpriced to overpriced, small batch releases for enthusiasts are a minuscule offshoot of their global strategy to sell Johnnie Walker and pink gin. LVMH are more aware than others of how the luxury market and Veblen goods are the only thing that’s thriving in an economy characterised by rampant consumerism and wealth inequality.
    Having taken a bit of an interest in whisky history lately, I do see a lot of flaws in long term strategy as distillers assume the enthusiast market will thrive and provide their cash cow. I don’t think Islay distilleries are likely to be vulnerable but younger distilleries aping their marketing methods and especially their pricing strategies are going to get burned IMHO if there’s a downturn. I don’t think they will suddenly be able to absorb the shock by selling blending stock and while 2019 seemed to show a lack of decent independent releases of aged stock, I think newcomers to the market (and let’s face it, most people think £50 is pretty steep for a bottle of whisky) are going to wonder what’s so special about the whisky going for £100-£200 and conclude that it’s just for rich people. I don’t think it will take that much to deter an entire generation of potential whisky enthusiasts and that could have worrying effects for the industry in the long term.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Mark

      A great comment and fair synopsis. We’re in for interesting times when demand and the bubble slows. The new distilleries will only go so far on gin and a cafe. Many have investors with big ambitions such as Lindores and Raasay. The economics of a downturn will be fascinating.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark says:

        Thanks Jason,

        Just to be clear, I don’t wish a downturn on the industry to punish it for its transgressions against whisky enthusiasts! A lot of the new generation of distillery owners are essentially enthusiasts themselves, with motivations out of love for whisky rather than profit. I think what’s more disturbing is that established names that used to trade on building a high quality product are now testing the goodwill of their loyal customers to the limit. There’s clearly quite a bit of nostalgia for the days when prices were less ridiculous and I sometimes wish I was a bit older and had got interested in whisky a few years earlier. With prices going in an upward trend, the whisky industry knows all too well that people in the habit will be driven strongly by FOMO when the latest limited release comes along, wondering if they miss out how much the bottle will be ‘worth’ at auction later. When it comes to Ardbeg, the 19 year old and the Supernova were pretty easy to turn down from me personally. Everyone has a limit where a financial transaction becomes unjustifiable. For me, Ardbeg’s pricing is above that limit, for others no doubt it’s not a problem. As I said before, it only represents a tiny sliver of the business for Ardbeg and especially LVMH, but it’s the way that insidiously another potential buyer has to say ‘enough’s enough’ that will ultimately turn huge numbers of people away from whisky altogether in the long term.

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi Mark

          The secondary market is to blame for many of the behaviours we’re seeing. If this wasn’t the compelling force it currently is, releases would be less and what did hit the shelves, would remain there for a wee while.

          I do like Ardbeg, but as you rightly suggest, not at these prices.

          Thanks, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    James Grabowski says:

    I bought a bottle and it says a lot it’s sat unopened in a cupboard considering I rarely don’t open a bottle I haven’t tried before. From the the review it looks like it’s off to auction to try and get most of my money back. It just doesn’t sound very special for the price, whish was sadly the case with recent twenty something releases too. They were good but vastly overpriced.

    I’d almost agree with the comment on Glenmorangie but the revised Quinta Ruban is decent value. The Signet is one of the very rare bottles I’ll replace when it’s finished.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi James

      Yeah, you’re paying for the limited aspect and potential to make a secondary profit. Also the 2009 was limited to 2400 bottles, the 2019? I’m not sure, but at least X10 that which makes a mockery of ‘limited’

      Thanks, Jason.

  3. Avatar
    David Wright says:

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Ardbeg (long story!!) but couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve bought a bottle. The 10yo is wildly variable and the rest is beyond my means. Can remember buying literally gallons of the 17yo, pre Glenmorangie days, but now it’s the occasional hawf.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi David

      A tale I hear all too often and one the industry would just shrug at and suggest it’s progress. But in whisky there’s always another distillery.

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Matthew J Ryan says:

    Price aside I have enjoyed this bottling. I’m interested to see the price of the new 5 yo being introduced and will that bump up the cost of the Core range. We will see…..
    #tarlife

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Matthew

      It is refreshing to see a 5 age statement, but it’ll come down to the other numbers on the product i.e. price. Half the price of the 10 year old? You’d hope so but it seems highly unlikely. It could give the owners an excuse to shuffle prices in general. And like the did at Glenmorangie, when they deleted 1 expression, then reintroduced a similar age a few months later at a higher price…

      Cheers, Jason.

  5. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Totally agree with everything you have to say about Ardbeg. I came to the same conclusion several years ago and I don’t buy Glenmorangie either. The cheapest I’ve seen this particular bottle going for is £200. It’s ridiculous but Ardbeg is ridiculous as we’ve already decided. I like Ardbeg but not that much. They don’t make crap like Bowmore but I can’t be suckered into buying anything but the core range. Cheers and Happy New Year. WT

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Happy New Year WT,

      Aye that’s fair and Bowmore, well, just what is going wrong with that official range? Shame on you Beam Suntory.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark says:

        Future feature idea (seen something similar elsewhere but I think Malt could do a better job):
        Overrated and underrated distilleries. Or perhaps to be a bit more nuanced, distilleries trading on their reputation and distilleries making an effort!
        Ardbeg and Bowmore are definitely trading on their reputation at the moment, Macallan too obviously. Bruichladdich are thriving on their marketing and Lagavulin are diluting their offer to my mind with too many ill thought out extras from the core 16 and 12. Laphroaig and Bowmore are making good juice and I tasted it at the distillery, but what gets bottled doesn’t resemble their potential.
        On the positive side, I think Distell are doing a decent job with their portfolio and have made moves to improve the quality of their standard bottling. Bunna 12 is one of the few remaining solid standard bottlings (that’s another feature that I’d be interested in reading) To Diageo’s credit, the discontinuation of Talisker 10 turned out to be just a rumour and they still make Clynelish 14!

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi Mark

          Always open to suggestions thanks. We certainly want to do more of the overlooked distilleries and also people have asked that we cover the more widely available whiskies – whether good or bad – for their information.

          I’m always well known for my Bruichladdich opinion and their branding has blinded many. Macallan are lost to the average drinker and Highland Park is going to Hel, where it belongs. Lagavulin is on a slippery slope and you can see what it’s chasing. Glenmorangine and Ardbeg are licking the backside of North America with glee currently. As is Laphroaig and Bowmore, but as you rightly suggest from an indie standpoint these 2 are worth picking up. The official ranges are devoid of promise, apart from the cask strength 10yo.

          Once I’m caught up with my sample mountain, we’ll see what is possible. We do like Distell what is doing apart from pulling down buildings at Bunnahabhain.

          Cheers, Jason.

          1. Avatar
            Mark says:

            While I like the sort of Soviet utilitarian vibe of Bunnahabhain right now and it may end up overly disneyfied, I personally don’t see anything wrong with knocking down the cottages at Bunnahabhain, which weren’t of great architectural merit. The site has been neglected for a long time and doesn’t quite do justice to its stunning location. After driving to Bunnahabhain I was surprised to be informed that they’d recently improved the road!
            I wonder why so many ‘core range’ products that are widely available are so poor though. I don’t think going the other way and offering cask strength sherry or peat bombs to appeal to whisky geeks is the answer either, but imagine if Laphroaig 10, Bowmore 12, Lagavulin 16 and the more well known Glens were all 46% with no chill filtering or artificial colour, then they wouldn’t have to release so many ill thought out limited editions (and to give credit to Ardbeg, they’ve always had a strong core product in the 10) I know the Ben Nevis and Benromach 10 are highly rated by some, and I’m fond of Springbank 10 and 15 but none of these appear in supermarkets, at least in England.

        2. Avatar
          Welsh Toro says:

          Both Clynelish 14 and Talisker 10 are good whiskys but I’ve had some pretty poor stuff from both of those expressions recently. My last Clynelish 14 was not good and Roy (Aqvavitae) and the Whisky Rev agreed with me. Talisker 10 is usually solid but again there can be variations. I completely agree about the Bunna 12 which is often on sale for £30 and my bang for buck whisky.

  6. Avatar
    Jani Liukkonen says:

    Like many fellow whisky enthusiasts, I started my journey with Islay whiskys and especially the Ardbeg 10 (which I loved). However, I have noticed the same decline in quality as many others. I’ve usually given a chance for the new releases in the form of a sample at bar and for many years now, have felt let down. The last one I tried was the 19yo Traigh Bhan and I felt cheated for the price. Sadly, I feel like I have already given them too many second chances to try to redeem themselves. Hence, I will not even bother tasting this.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Jani

      You’re not alone in such a view. I do think many have become (or are) becoming disillusioned with all things Ardbeg. Less is more. Keep it simple. And as you rightly say, it ain’t cheap when you can get a bottle or dram at the bar.

      Cheers, Jason.

  7. Avatar
    Gerd says:

    The price reflects exactly the demand, so Idon’t see what’s wrong with the special releases from ardbeg. Their core range is affordable. Maybe the quality drops but it’s true for 90% of the whisky.
    I see more problem with other distilleries, like Tobermory for instance, that sell overpriced average products, like Bowmore which sells only dispensable products, like anything from Diageo, colored and chillfilteted, like the price rises of Glengoyne, Old Pulteney or Balblair, the extreme over branded dull Glenallachie, the Irish that sell juice coming from 3 distilleries under 18 overpriced James etc etc The whole industry is crazy. Maybe because tons precisely insustrial products belonging to corporations, because the doers are not the sellers, and because the market is global and there are fewer Ryan 150 distilleries in scotland. Yes, it’s a luxury product, it won’t stop being one before the number of distilleries is x10 and people notice most of the stuff is nothing special.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Gerd

      There seems to be mixed views on Ardbeg and their main range. The special releases are just for investors and flippers mostly hence the pricing. I suppose with so much money flying around you cannot blame other distilleries for trying to get their slice of the action. However, most are not worthy or have the product to compete. It’ll be interesting when things come tumbling down and most of it already isn’t anything special.

      Cheers, Jason.

Leave a Reply to Jani Liukkonen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *