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Friday, January 27, 2017

A Brief History of Ardmore Distillery (Part 3), plus a review of Ardmore 16 year old 1996 Old Malt Cask, cask 8020


When Allied Distillers bought William Teacher & Sons in 1976, they shut down Ardmore's on site Saladin malting box, preferring to use sourced malted barley instead. In 2002, Ardmore was the second to last distillery to move away from coal-fueled direct fired stills, transitioning to modern steam coil heating.

Allied split up in 2005, with Jim Beam Brands picking up more than 20 Scotch whisky brands, including Teacher's and Ardmore. In 2014, Beam merged with Suntory to create the massive Beam Suntory conglomerate.

Despite all these changes, Ardmore continues to produce peated Highland whisky. As of several years ago, the sourced malt had peat specs of 12-14ppm, which is almost twice that of Springbank's current levels. The malt's peat comes from St. Fergus in the Northeast Highlands, so it produces different characteristics than Islay, Northern or Western peat.

Only within the past decade has the distillery put out a steady supply of official single malt, though enthusiasts are still better served by exploring Ardmore's potential through independent bottlings.

MacLean, Charles. Whiskypedia. A Compendium of Scotch Whisky. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
MacLean, Charles. Scotch Whisky, A Liquid History. London, UK: Cassell Illustrated, 2005.
Ronde, Ingvar (Ed.). Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016. Shropshire, UK: MagDig Media. 2015.
Roskrow, Dominic (Ed.). 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. 2012.


Distillery: Ardmore
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Douglas Laing
Range: Old Malt Cask
Age: 16 years (February 1996 - February 2012)
Maturation: refill hogshead
Cask number: 8020
Bottle: 315
Alcohol by Volume: 50%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No
(A purchased sample)

Its color is almost the same as Wednesday's immature 6yo Ardmore. Perhaps un-oaked chardonnay rather than pinot grigio? The nose presents an amusing duality. First there are the industrial note: new carpet, new sneakers and glossy magazine print. Then there's the fruit: peaches and pears, raspberry jam and orange marmalade. After 20 minutes or so, a wet sand note arises. Its palate's challenging quality comes not from peat but from the raw ultra-young spirit. Very spicy cinnamon notes. Hay, dried basil, white fruits and vanilla. The finish is similar to the palate. Cinnamon Red Hots candies, bran flakes, dried herbs and hay.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose has barely changed. If anything, the fruit has lessened and a bit of mossy peat has joined the rougher synthetic notes. There's a better bitterness to the now leaner palate. Less sweetness, less spice. It's herbal and mineral. Savory and salty with a tiny bit of sneaker peat. It finishes salty, savory and earthy.

Another raw Ardmore. I tried this one alongside the 6yo and by the time I finished my palate was wrecked. Like the 6, the 16 reads like less than half its age statement. The 16's good nose shows some level of maturation and puts it ahead of the 6 quality-wise. It's admirably naked stuff, but even as a fan of low-oak whisky, I don't mind if I never drink this again. Which means, as enjoyable as the nose may be, I can't grade the whisky over 80.

Though I've been singing this distillery's praises for years, I've reviewed only one Ardmore that approached excellence. I guess I'm going to have to start opening up more bottles from my stash.

Availability - Still around at a few European retailers, five years later
Pricing - around €75
Rating - 78

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