Remember how great whisky prices used to be? I do … but only dimly. And I didn’t get much chance to take advantage of them whilst they were there.
A bottle of single malt was the first alcohol I legally bought. Glenfiddich 18, since you’re asking. Birthday money was causing hitherto-unexperienced hole-burning sensations in my newly adult pocket, and I fancied something fancy. Whisky shops being non-existent in my neck of the woods, I made my way to Tesco Extra (so fancy) and bought the oldest, most expensive whisky they had. Glenfiddich 18, like I say.
“Can I see some ID please?”
“Yes you can.” (What a glorious moment that first assured “yes you can” is.)
“That’s £40.” (Possibly it was £45. I didn’t keep the receipt.)
Different times, of course. 2008 was deep in the “death” territory of long-aged whisky at properly affordable prices. As a standard-issue student I couldn’t stretch to many more subsequent bottles – University fiscal policy leant more in the direction of £2.75 SU shop vino. (I tell you what, that’s a taste that lingers).
3 years or so later, when quantity slowly began shifting towards quality, the opportunity to bag truly well-priced old proprietary bottlings was gone.
That’s supply and demand of course, or so says the obvious wisdom. I moan about whiskynomics as much as anyone – though in my defence I also spent a couple of years exclusively doing reviews of whiskies that had stayed in the ‘reasonably priced’ territory. The point of all this pre-amble is that the state of the whisky world is such that when I saw the price of the new Ardmore 20 year old on Master of Malt, I genuinely thought it was a mistake.
My non-whisky-drinking friends would still let out a long whistle at that – it’s a bottle of boozy liquid after all – but I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. A proprietary bottling so much cheaper than any other even close to that age, and at a decent strength too – 49.3%.
No press release about it had come anywhere near my inbox. Nor Mark’s – and he has a far busier digital postman than I do. No information whatsoever, in fact, except that here was a 20 year old Ardmore aged in first fill ex-bourbon and refill ex-Islay casks.
That was enough for me. I bought it on the spot and sent the link to everyone I could think of.
A couple of days later the bottle arrived, all £55 of it. (Incidentally, I’ve since seen it elsewhere at £90, and on the Whisky Exchange it was about £66. God knows what Beam Suntory actually meant it to cost.)
So how much of a 20 year old does £55 buy you? As an Ardmore fan – though one who has always though their proprietaries to be pretty wishy-washy affairs beside the bottlings the likes of Gordon & MacPhail produce – I was keen to find out.
Ardmore 20 Years Old – Review
Colour: Lord of the Rings letters.
On the nose: There’s a curious hybrid. Classic Ardmore barbecue and woodsmoke, with the ripe, stewed apples and peaches of maturity jostling against a most un-Ardmore-esque salinity and (dare I say it) touch of medicinal TCP too. Actually, the medicinal aspects are fairly swiftly overcome, and char re-emerges beside more tropical fruit. Mango and melon. Smoked barley and sweet pastry are the constants on the side. Pleasing intensity of aromas; alcohol is neatly kept to heel.
In the mouth: That is a delightfully plump, viscous, near-waxy mouthfeel. A reminder that this comes from the good old days of direct-fired Ardmore stills. The fruit emerges first and stays strong; pears and honeydew melon, then riper apricots and peach crumble. The smoke – both dimensions of it – slithers in and out; coalfire, then campfire, before the saltiness and maltiness return on the finish.
Finally a proprietary Ardmore as good as the (good) stuff the indies put out. Worth every penny of £55.
It isn’t perfect. The use of Islay casks seemed weird to me when I read about it, and I’d be interested to see what might have been without them. The highlights are when fruit and BBQ are centre stage. At times the Islay-style element of the peatiness seems to clash with the whole.
But this is a minor quibble with what is a very good – if not quite astonishing – whisky. Tempted to zonk it up an extra mark based on price, but in my book, there’s something slightly sacred about the 8-10 zone, so today I’m being slightly mean.
One final thought, before I sign off, which is Mark’s reaction when I mentioned this whisky.
“Good effort. That is cheap.”
A few seconds later, as an afterthought.
“Or how it should be.”
Hear hear. Great prices for great whiskies can still be done. The Ardmore 20 proves that there really are no excuses.
Note: image via Abbey Whisky.
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