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Monday, 1 September 2014

The A.L.S. Challenge (that's Ardbeg's Latest Supernova)

Miniature collectors mob the Ardbeg Promo Bus,
in search of a 2014 Supernova. 
'Hello Neil, my name is F*******'

Started the random Facebook message, as I was idly playing with my phone last Saturday. 

'Can you help me for obtain these mini only for bloggers please?' was the next, slightly garbled line.  
Fortunately, it was accompanied with a picture of a small miniature Ardbeg bottle, a sample of the latest  release from the Islay distillery -  Supernova.  

'Can you obtain one for me please?'  

'Please Neil.'  

'Help me friend.'  

'Please my friend.' 

'I'm desperate for obtain these mini for my collection minis whisky.'

'Is it possible obtain please?'


By now I was starting to get a little irritated and slightly unnerved by the persistence of said collector, but also, my sense of playful deviousness began to kick in.  I wondered how far and to what lengths this chap would be willing to go to get hold of a bottle.  

What proceeded was another 38 direct messages, increasing in desperation every time.  

'I Suplicate' (sic)

'I'm desperate'

'please my friend, help me'.

When I finally fired off what I thought would end the conversation, it only got worse:

'Sorry, F*******, it is not for sale -  I shall be opening it for review later today.' 

'You know any person in Ardbeg?'



'Accept 150€?'

Having realised I had kicked the proverbial hornets nest, I decided to beat a hasty retreat. 

Now I daren't open my Facebook Messenger application for fear of how many more notes I may have received.

The smoky jewel, which attracted
so much unwanted attention.
What's highly surprising here is that no where had I previously published any notification that I even had a bottle, let alone that I would be daft enough to offer it for sale.
You see, Ardbeg have decided to follow the music industry's response to a similar scenario - which I am particularly familiar with.

On the side of the bottle is a sticker with what looks like a unique code. In my previous days as an A&R executive at Warner Brothers, we used to individually number each promo record to specific journalists (even going as far as to digitally 'watermark' each copy) so if in the event the promo made its way onto Ebay, or worse, onto the file sharing sites before it was released, it could be traced back to the culprit. 

I suppose one could simply peel off the sticker here, if one so desired (pretty lame 'security tag' Ardbeg, if this was your intension) but it is the concept itself of security tagging whisky promos that I find even more unnerving.

Is there such an inherent distrust of whisky reviewers these days? If that's the case, would it not be better to simply send out unsealed plain sample bottles, with no collectable value? 

in any case, let's just remind ourselves of some of the language used in the previous conversation:

'I suplicate' (sic) 
'I'm desperate'... 

Have we really reached a time in the whisky business where certain brands are no longer whisky companies; once selling a high quality, world class spirit to enthusiasts, Bon Vivants and social drinkers - now effectively becoming limited edition promo art dealers?  

I have no doubt that collecting is indeed a joy for the collector. I happen to have a collection of vintage Star Wars figures as a reminder of my childhood enthusiasm for the films (yes - I know it's slightly sad to admit this.) But when something scarce and highly desirable comes onto the market, people begin to display an almost addict-like level of desperation if they don't get what they want. Surely, that type of collecting really has no appeal at all. It certainly doesn't to me.  

With serial whisky collectors - particularly miniature collectors it seems, the liquid is no longer important; the simple ownership and possible residual value of the bottle (full and untasted of course) becoming the sole, all consuming pleasure factor. 

So here is my challenge to the whisky business and other writers/bloggers and journalists, (should you see fit to disclose your professional credentials): 

Let's call it the ALS* Challenge (*Ardbeg's Latest Supernova)

If you have been sent a bottle of this miniature- and you know who you are -  I challenge you to:

1. Open it.
2. Review it.
3. Publicly dispose of the bottle in the most imaginative way possible.

Hey presto. No Supernova miniatures to appear on auction sites and then make their way to dusty cabinets at absurd prices.

No more preposterously pleading messages on Facebook.

No more - 'well, can I just have the empty bottle then...' 

Oliver Klimek, who writes the very witty Dramming has already started the ball rolling with shattering precision, using a mallet. 

Now let's see what you can come up with...

Here's my attempt: Alas -  I started filming just after the damn thing decided to shatter, but you get the idea.... It's not like I have another one to destroy for a second take...

  So what of the whisky itself? Arguably more important than any of the above frippery.

Well, it's a real surprise.

Dr Bill Lumsden attempts the ALS Challenge. 
Ardbeg - Supernova - 2014 Edition - 55%

Nose: Surprisingly floral, with fresh pine, sweet golden syrup and a slight touch of medicinal peat.  It has a waft of youth about it, but not overpowering.  

Palate: Ok, there's the smoke.  It isn't monstrous, like the original version (that, or maybe my palate has become immune to heavily peated whiskies now) but there is an abundance of coal dust, more freshly sawn pine, a sweet candy floss note, some melted butter and white pepper. The youthfulness is there to see, but even at this strength, it is not total overkill on the palate.  That said, it is a smoky whisky in the extreme.  

Finish: A lingering dryness coats the tongue, with the dusty embers from a bonfire leaving their mark on the palate. You'll be tasting it for a fair old time, that's for sure. 

Overall: I think we once used an analogy about heavily peated whiskies being the hot curries of the whisky world:  Yes, it's all well and good trying to be a Vindaloo or a Faal, but when there's little substance (other than burn) underneath, what's the point?
Here, there's all the fun of the fair (and by that I mean one which has recently caught fire and burned to the ground) but there is some balance and method to the madness too.  

You can read what we said about the old Supernova here.

F******* -  this is for you.  If you do happen to get your mitts on a bottle- just open it FFS.  Maybe even get some friends round... if you have any.