(Apologies for typos! In a rush to get to the airport today...)
Bottling: Traditional Cask
Ownership: Beam, Inc.
Age: 7 to 14 years (including one quarter cask year)
Maturation: American Oak ex-bourbon barrels then quarter casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Most casual whisky drinkers haven't heard of the Ardmore distillery, though many of them have enjoyed its malt. The vast majority of Ardmore's whisky ends up in Teachers Highland Cream Scotch Whisky (one of the best selling blends in the world) where it's the main malt ingredient.
In 1999, to honor the 100th anniversary of the distillery's opening, Ardmore (via Allied Domecq) began wide releases of their single malts. In 2005, Beam Inc purchased Teachers, Ardmore, and Laphroaig, and have since allowed these brands to continue producing whisky the same as they had before.
Ardmore's single malts may throw some folks for a loop. They may be expecting a Highland malt like Glendronach or Glen Garioch (its neighbors), with a fruity smokeless spirit. But what they'll get is a solidly peated savory wallop, reminiscent of Islay malts.
Ardmore distillers have been peating their malt since the production began almost 115 years ago. So they've kept the old-school Highland barley malt peat-drying method while most of Scotland went with more contemporary fuels. The peat levels (12-14ppm) are 1/2 or 1/3 that of the Islay peat sluggers, but Ardmore also uses a local Highland peat that differs in structure and scent to that of the island peat. (That was four peats in one sentence. Do I win an award? Peat.)
Like Beam's other single malt, Laphroaig, Ardmore produces this quarter cask bottling amongst their range. It spends most of its time in ex-bourbon barrels. Then the malt is dumped into a massive vat, mixed together, then re-racked into considerably smaller barrels (the quarter casks). These casks allow more spirit-to-wood contact that changes the maturation rate and brings out all sorts of different characteristics. (I have more info on this process in my Laphroaig Quarter Cask post.) They've bottled the whisky at a good 46% ABV and have left non-chillfiltered.
I mentioned this whisky in an earlier post and was happily surprised by it. I had an opportunity to try it again at a local pub for more in-depth analysis, at a reasonable price.
Color -- A lovely dark gold
Nose -- Peated cookie dough, peanuts, apple juice, salty, burnt wood
Palate -- Coastal but not seaweedy, vegetal peat, fruity but not sweet, salted marshmallows
Finish -- Nice!, touch of fruit, peat mellows down, coastal salt, splendid!
Color -- Nice to see it oil up! Proves the happy lack of filtration.
Nose -- Peated matzos (yes indeed), fresh cherrries, toasty wood
Palate -- Gets sweeter and lightens up, molasses and peat combo
Finish -- Still good, the sweet and peat linger on
I can schpiel on and on about the distillery and history and production methods, but what I really need to say is: This is good stuff at a good price.
If you like Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin this may be the Highlander for you. It's similar enough to be comparable, but different enough to be a unique experience.
If you're on the fence about the big Islay peat stew, this may be more your style. The smoke is woodier, the peat is more vegetal than seaweed. And there aren't any band-aids.
Ultimately, this whisky is a bit of a hidden beauty that I hope more people discover.
Availability - Many liquor stores
Pricing - Excellent at $36-$43
Rating - 88 (my re-review two years later resulted in an 83)