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Monday, October 10, 2016

Single Malt Report: Ardmore 16yo 1981 Gordon & MacPhail

Autumn weather settled in yesterday, finally, so it's time to break out some weather appropriate whisky.  For me, Autumn single malts include Talisker, Kilkerran, Benromach, Springbank, and Ardmore -- the mildly peated but richly flavored earthy spirits.  I'm a particularly big fan of Ardmore and dearly wish there were more well-matured bottlings available.  But if there were then Whiskyfun would review them and ruin the great secret that is Ardmore.

One of the most frequent bottlers of Ardmore is Gordon & Macphail.  Not only do they have a number of single casks from the '90s (see this review of one of my bottles), but they also have an annual vintage series.  It started with the 1977 vintage (released in 1991) and is currently up to 1998.  While these have always been watered down, at least the recent versions have inched up to 43%abv.  Sadly the older vintages were reduced to 40%abv.  I wouldn't say this amounts to murder, but the resulting whiskies feel drained of soul.

With that in mind, here's the version of the 1981 vintage, bottled in 1997.  I was able to buy a pour from the Ardshiel Hotel in Campbeltown, which I then funneled into a sample bottle.  Always prepared for instances like this, I'm earning my boy scout badge for Whisky Miser.

Distillery: Ardmore
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 16 years old (1981-1997)
Maturation: unknown, probably mostly ex-bourbon casks, though maybe some refill sherry casks in the mix?
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Possibly
Caramel Colorant? Yes

The soft nose starts out with apricots, canned peaches, and gummi bears.  There's a light dusty ashy peat note that sometimes ventures into tennis ball fuzz.  There are smaller notes of cream soda, cherry lollipops, and something that sniffs like oloroso.  It has a cardboard note up front, but with time it changes (for the better) into old book pages.  The palate balances darker and sweeter notes.  Barbecue ribs, wasabi, a hint of dusty OBE, and a gentle bitter smoke note, along with black licorice, vanilla, and brown sugar.  The brown sugar element grows with time.  Unfortunately the whole thing is very thin and watery, leaving one to ponder what could have been.  The finish is sweeter than the palate, but also has black peppercorns, an herbal bitterness, and a mild cigar note that lingers longest.

What I'm going to say here has been said before about this very whisky range.  It's not that this whisky is a failure, but it could have been a hell of a thing at 46%abv and at least a little more satisfying at 43%.  Alas, all of this teenage Ardmore was diluted to its legal limit.  And colored, according to whiskybase.  What we're left with is a decent aperitif and a tease.  The nose is the best part, soft but mostly lovable.  The palate has the aforementioned balance but one almost needs a microscope to find its parts.  Ultimately it's an easy drinker but Ardmore (and G&M) can do better.  I've seen some of these older G&M vintages up for auction, but I'd say save your pennies for their single casks.

Availability - Auctions
Pricing - probably £60 and up
Rating - 83