Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ardbeg Supernova 2010 vs Octomore 2.1

Ardbeg Supernova - the extreme model from the maker of serious peat monsters. I miss a lot of Ardbeg special releases, sadly. They are all good and many are excellent. I've been reviewing Octomores and Gal Granov, the incredibly gregarious, intelligent, questing and amazingly active master of the Israeli food and booze blogging scene via Whisky Israel among others, asked me how the Octomores compared with Supernova. When I said I had never tried any of them we got busy setting up a trade and I recently received a sample of the 2010 edition from Gal.

Ardbeg Supernova barely there in the glass; huge on the palate

Ardbeg makes peat monsters and when Bruichladdich concocted Octomore, the most heavily peated whisky in the world, Ardbeg quite reasonably derived a competing version. Ardbeg has released fewer versions and less total volume of this intense fire water than Laddie - and they never quite got the peat phenol levels as obscenely far into the stratosphere as Laddie did (and continues to do) with Octomore. However, as anyone who has marveled at the heavy peat flavors of Lagavulin and Laphroaig (which taste mighty peaty at comparatively tiny phenol levels) the ppm number doesn't tell the whole story. I had to see which peat monster tweaked my peat freak tail the hardest.

Ardbeg SuperNova 2010 60.1%

Color: Pale straw

Nose: light and youthful spring meadow with floral vanilla and a kiss of lemon over a darker foreboding with spirit heat, clay, putty, and some distant petrol and auto garage.

Palate The entry is pointed and sweet with malt sugars, grassy and clean. There are gentle intonations of vigorous juicyfruit and jujubee berries on a thin light mouth feel. And then hits a roaring big expansion of spirit heat with vigorous big and classically maritime Ardbeg peat. The peat blooms into massive intensity, well melded with sweet. It is a huge, visceral, pulsating burn. At the turn to the finish it becomes massively bitter and ashen - like the gray end of a fine cigar. The intense ash fades over an extensive period of time progressing though herbal bitters and eventually into a gentle cherry and malty residual sweet glow on your blasted palate.

A dash of water ups the citrus lemon note in the nose and increases the angularity of the sugars. However the mouthfeel is noticeably richer and the pointy sweetness of entry rendered more honeyed. There more pepper and spice in the huge peat expansion.

Bottom line here, Ardbeg Supernova 2010 is a huge peat monster and a delicious dram with a lot going on flavor-wise.


Read Gal's review of it: 

The general consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that Supernova 2010 is more citrus and fruit and less phenol and slam than the 2009 edition.  That sounded a lot like the general consensus about the difference between Octomore 01.1 (phenol and slam) and Octomore 2.1 (more sweet and heather - despite higher phenol levels).

Given the sweetness of Supernova and the legacy of the turn to the light between the 2009 and 2010 expressions I decided to skip the heavy petrol of Octomore 01.1 for the head to head comparison.. It was a toss up, for me, between the razor sharp 4.1 or the slightly more rounded 2.1. It seemed like splitting hairs and I have a fresh full bottle of 02.1 and only a couple of ounces of 4.1 so I queued up a dram of Octomore 02.1 straight away.

Octomore 2.1 62.5% 140ppm 5 yo

Color: pale yellow - a tiny touch darker than the pale pale Supernova

Nose: grassy sweet over industrial putty, clay. But where Ardbeg Supernova features floral and lemon notes, Octomore features a darker nasal palate with grass and grain sugars rather than flowers and more peat (clay) notes in evidence.

Palate: Ardbeg opens with pointed malt sugars and young grassy grain too, but more a tiny bit more heft, a thicker mouthfeel, and a slightly bigger mid palate expansion of ash, and tar. Octomore 2.1 has lemon citrus in the turn to the finish. There are maritime notes, iodine, sea air, kalamata olives. With repeated
sips the peat burn builds, but so does a creamy vanilla quality.  This is classic Octomore: grassy malty heather sweet entry followed by a titanic mid palate expansion of explosive peat and rich maritime flavor elements.  The palate experience divides cleanly into two divergent and opposite halves like the twin nature of Man: light and dark; good and evil.  Sweet angelic honey sugar sunlight and monstrous burning ashy tar laden hellfire.


Dramming them side by side I'm struck by how distinct the flavor profiles are: Ardbeg with more floral, citrus, and black pepper; Octomore with more honeyed malt, meadow, tar and cream.  The Ardbeg tastes so distinctly of Ardbeg and the Octomore is clearly in the peated Bruichladdich house style.  Yet I'm also struck by how similar they are to each other. Sweet and young up front with titanic peat wallops and huge tarry finishes. They are both true to what they are and clear Islay kin. Two different routes to the top of peat monster mountain. So, which is king? Octomore is darker and more convincing peat monster from the perspective of the density of burn. However Ardbeg Supernova is just ever so slightly more delicious from my perspective.  They are both monsters and both superb.  It's an academic question anyway.  Both are limited editions and both are long sold out in most places.  

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