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Monday, October 27, 2014

Single Malt Report: Ardmore Traditional Cask (re-reviewed)

Within walking distance of our home there's a pub that once had a number of interesting whiskies.  It was from my visits to this establishment that I produced my first review of Ardmore Traditional Cask.  That bottle has since been emptied, as has all of their interesting Scotch.  *hiccup!*  Now that I have my own bottle of the Ardmore Traditional Cask, I've decided to study the whisky further in a controlled environment and give it a proper re-review.

I like Ardmore, a lot.  A lot alot ALot.  You haven't seen much in the way of Ardmore reviews here because there are times when a reviewer's enthusiasm for a brand or distillery can get the better of him resulting in bloated scores which is something I'm trying to avoid.  Also, I'm hoarding.

Anyway, there's a sad lack of official Ardmore single malts.  They released high strength 25 and 30 year olds but the prices on those can be a bit steep.  There are no other bottlings with age statements.  There was only this NAS Traditional Cask.  It's a real bummer because most of the indie Ardmores (with some age behind them) that I've tried have been delightful.  In the past I've encouraged the Beam reps I've met to propose to the powers-that-be to put out one or two simple age-statement releases.  Even one Ardmore 10 would be swell.  They were already doing a good job with Trad Cask's 46%abv and lack of chillfiltration.  But it seems as if Beam and their reps were focused 100% on Laphroaig, which isn't hard to understand.  Meanwhile the rest of Ardmore gets dumped into the Teacher's blends.  (More on Teacher's another time.)  So, again, we were left with the Trad Cask and the expensive stuff.  Note the "were".  This thought will be continued after the review below.
As you can see, Mathilda finished her breakfast faster than I finished mine.
Bottling: Traditional Cask
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Age: 6 to 13 years (including one year in quarter casks)
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels then quarter casks (the "traditional" casks)
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottle Code: L8 107 08 3ML
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Coloring? Probably

The color is dark gold, almost DiageoGold™.  There's a whole lotta buttery oak on the nose right at the start.  Next up, an anise-like herbal peat note.  That's followed by a sugary barbecue sauce, chicken stock, yeast, salt, and smoked apricot.  There's a hint of lemon and considerable caramel.  The palate notes progress from ash → brown sugar → tannic dryness → iodine.  There's also a sweet note, like peat syrup in Cool Whip.  Lots of cinnamon candies too, along with mint jelly.  The finish is medicinal, like a Laphroaig-lite.  There's some wood smoke and vanilla.  The mint jelly becomes mint gum.  There's a nice length and it (thankfully) sheds the dryness.

WITH WATER (approx. 40%abv)
The anise note remains in the nose, as does the caramel and big oak.  Some honey edges in, along with apples, a little toasty peat, and something orangey.  The palate gets a little oaty and slightly butyric -- almost a relative of Tobermory.  It gets somewhat drier and now there's wood smoke and burnt paper, anise and wormwood.  A little more mossiness enters the drier finish.  Some newspaper without the ink.  More oak/caramel.

So, yes, thanks to the quarter casks utilized in the whisky's finish, there's plenty of oak swimming around.  But, when neat, it's not bad.  But if you don't like the oak on Laphroaig's Quarter Cask, you're not going to like it here either.  Trad Cask a little weirder than Laphroaig Quarter Cask, with quirkier character and less peat.

My bet is that there's A LOT of the younger stuff and just a little bit of the older stuff.  I really enjoyed this bottle, but I'm going to be lowering rating from its original 88.  The whisky seems to rely too much on the oak and not enough on the spirit.  And because it's missing well aged malt, it's also missing the great interplay of fresh fruit and bonfire smoke present in my favorite Ardmore indies.

It's still one of the few lower-priced peated single malts and it is most definitely not an Islay.  But it's not the All Star I once thought it was.  If you can find it for $30-$35 that's a good deal, but once it hits $50 it becomes difficult for me to recommend.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $30 (yay!) to $60 (boo!)
Rating - 83


Oh, one final thing.

Under Suntory's ownership, a new official Ardmore has been released.  And it is replacing the Traditional Cask.  It's called Ardmore Legacy.

No, it doesn't have an age statement, which isn't necessarily a tragedy.  But the most important thing you need to know about Ardmore Legacy is that the whiskymakers have chosen to revolt against the craft presentation movement and go the opposite direction.  Yes, they are replacing a 46%abv non-chillfiltered whisky with...

...wait for it...

...a 40%abv chillfiltered whisky.

Finally, an Ardmore I'll never buy.


  1. I have to un-see this review before I do my own next month. Here in MN the Ardmore TC can still be found <$30 in some places. When the news of the Legacy broke I considered stocking up, but then I reminded myself that while I do like the TC I don't like it enough that I need to have bottles of it lying around for my twilight years.

    1. Sorry dude, take 2oz of Brimstone and you'll un-see everything. Under $30 is the best deal for TC in the country. Binny's had it for $29.99 until recently. I've considered the same thing that you have, but since TC is $40-$50 out here I may just get one for the road.

  2. So then you *would* be interested in this Costco 13yo Ardmore for $60... (Alexander Murray, 40%)

    1. Huh. Haven't seen that bottling down around these parts. Was that at your local Costco? In theory, I'd be interested. 2014's whisky budget is in the red. If that one is still around in January, I might consider it. Murray's low abv, filtering, and coloring doesn't inspire me much though.

    2. I called the Costco Ardmore a 'don't buy' but then I'm not an avowed Ardmore fan. I saw it today here in SD, and John M signaled it last week further up the coast.

      My memory on the Ardmore Traditional is in line with your current evaluation rather than with your past enthusiasm. My brief notes from mid-2012 read "It has the sweetness of Laphroaig and some of its peatiness, but without the medicinal, maritime dimension. At the right time this can be a great whisky! Maybe combined with Laphroaig CS? Grade: B".

    3. The Trad Cask would be nice with a little Laphroaig CS in there to punch it up. That might also rein in some of the oak. I'm going to save some of this bottle to try that out when I open a CS. Good idea, thanks!