...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The fate of one bottle: Ardlair 6 year old 2011 Signatory, cask 900027

Despite all the grousing I've done about ultra young whiskies and massive ABVs, I went ahead and bought a bottle of 63.3%abv 6 year old Ardlair. Because Ardmore. Specifically unpeated Ardmore.

What does a grump like me do with a whisky I'd never buy were it not for its name? After trying a couple of glasses of Ardlair at full strength, I decided I'd proof it down to different levels to see where its prime drinking point lay.

My preferred ABV range for most whiskies is 45-50%, so I aimed for 46% and 50%. I also wanted to see what happened at 40% and 43%. Because matters weren't that simple and I wasn't confident in trying to play with liquid volumes smaller than 1mL, I wound up with these ABVs: 38%, 42.2%, 46.4% and 50.6%. Then I let them sit for about 72 hours.

At the end of those three days, I poured each 15mL amount into its own mini Glencairn, then brought a fifth half-ounce to the game, at full strength.

Distillery: Ardmore
Malt: Ardlair
Ownership: Beam Suntory
Region: Highlands (Eastern)
Independent Bottler: Signatory Vintage
Age: 6 years (27 Jan 2011 - 5 Sept 2017)
Maturation: Refill Butt
Cask#: 900027
Bottle: 260 of 646
Exclusive to: The Winebow Group
Alcohol by Volume: 63.3%


The nose is plenty potent even at this level of dilution. Manischewitz (Concord Grape) with cracked black pepper and raw almonds show up first. Apple cider and cookie dough appear later.

The palate is quite sweet with all of its grape candy. A little bit of black pepper and salt linger in the background. It starts to get bitter after 30 minutes, and pencil shavings show up.

There are grape candies, pencil shavings and woody bitterness in the finish.

As per my notes, the whisky is ultra grapey here, but it's an almost artificial grapiness. It's all very curious until a much too familiar woodiness appears, leaving me unmotivated to ever lower it to this level again.

Rating range: C- (70-73)

DILUTED TO 42.2%abv

Though the nose does show grape juice and grape Jolly Rancher notes, they take a back seat to mixed nuts, wet sand and brine.

The palate is less sweet and less grapey than the 38%abv version. There are more grasses, lemons and salt now.

It finishes peppery and salty, almost smoky at times, with a much calmer sweetness.

I would happily drink the whisky at this strength. It reads ultra young, of course, but the wood and sherry are much more reserved. A pleasant surprise!

Rating range: B-/B (81-84)

DILUTED TO 46.4%abv

Malt enters the picture, trying valiantly (though ultimately failing) to stand up to the grapes in the nose. BBQ pulled pork, whole wheat toast and canned albacore (yes, really) develop later on.

The palate picks up some fight, but in the form of ethanol. It's very dry. Maybe a little bit of wort in there. It gains sugar and pepper with time.

It has a longer finish than the previous two, but it reads as neutral spirit flavored with grape juice and pepper.

This resulted in a different sort of surprise. The nose held promise, but the palate went an odd direction, one that was interesting in theory but not pleasing to consume.

Rating range: C/C+ (76-79) maybe?

DILUTED T0 50.6%abv

The nose mellows out at this strength. The meat and fish notes move to the background, while dry sherry and very dry red wine notes show up in the front. The grape candy returns at the 45 minute mark.

The palate is dry, nutty, tangy and grainy. But the neutral spirit note is still there.

Here it finishes like serrano pepper-infused neutral spirit.

This ethanol / neutral spirit thing is very strange. I've never tinkered with such a young whisky before. Does diluting baby spirits always reveal their poisonous hearts?

Rating range: C/C+ (76-79) maybe?

FULL STRENGTH - 63.3%abv

Ahh, NO GRAPE THINGS in the nose. Okay, perhaps some golden raisins. But the fruits mostly show up as dried currants, dried blueberries and apple cider. A little bit of salty pork sits in the background.

And no neutral spirit in the palate. If it reads like any unaged spirits, I'd go with eau de vie. But it's mildly sweet, a little grassy and lemony. Hints of toasted oak spices. Very drinkable considering the strength.

It finishes with lemons, chile oil and golden raisins. Some heat, some sweet.

Much closer to whisky now, and less of a jumbled weirdo. The sherry butt was more aggressive in the nose than the palate, which I greatly appreciate.


This experience turned out stranger than I'd expected. Tuna, Manischewitz and neutral spirit...and at diluted levels? I wonder if similar oddities occur when playing with other barely legal rocket fuel single malts.

Drinking 63.3%abv spirits isn't a particularly pleasing experience for me, so I was hoping for some better results from the diluted pours, but was disappointed in 3/4 of the results. 82 is a damned good score for 6 year old whisky here on this blog, but I'm rarely motivated to sip a B- whisky, even if it is from Ardmore Distillery. Careful reductions to the 42-43%abv range may be the fate of this bottle's contents.

Availability - Chicago
Pricing - $55
Rating - 82