ardmore 20

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

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.

Score: 7/10


Note: image via Abbey Whisky.
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CategoriesSingle Malt
    1. Adam Wells says:

      Hi Tony

      When this originally launched on Master of Malt about a month ago it was £55.

      At the time of writing this review (about a week ago) they were briefly out of stock.

      Obviously very odd/irritating that (seemingly just today) they have sourced some more and upped the price by 45%.

      We’ve asked them on social media whether the original price was an error, as it’s obviously grating to have written a review praising a price, only for that price to have been increased by such a significant percentage so soon after the whisky’s launch.

      No response from them so far, but we’ll keep Malt readers posted. From all my previous experience I’d say that Master of Malt play a very straight bat, so hopefully there’s just been an error somewhere.

      Thanks for reading – and watch this space.



  1. Hi Adam. I was looking to see what others thought of this rather strange dram.
    I found this Ardmore 1996 20-Year-Old in a specialist store in Tel Aviv for around 450 shekels (about £90). I enjoy your writing style. Your initial nostagic comments reminded me of that ELO track “Ticket To The Moon”. “Remember the good old 1980s/Where everything was so uncomplicated”.

    I totally understand what you are saying. I so much wanted to love this whisky. I was a big fan of the now discontinued Dutyfree Traditional Cask. Non-Chill Filtered, bottled at 46% abv. Showed what Ardmore could do. Then they replaced it with the Legacy. Oh Dear! When I saw this I grabbed it instantly.

    However, I am also unconvinced by the marriage of Ex-Ardbeg (?) and 1st Fill Ex-Bourbon casks. (I say Ardbeg because back in 1996, the only Islay distillery owned by Allied Distillers, the owners at the time, was…you guessed it.. Ardbeg)!

    The whisky seems to show symptoms of bordline personality disorder. Salty sour peatiness combined with the traditional Ardmore dark treacle woody forest peat, somehow just don’t mash. Talking of mash, it does have that sour barley mash flavour and white pepper which I do like.

    As the bottle is goes down, it’s growing on me. When the level reaches 1/4 of tank I’ll decide if I’m going to buy the only other bottle they have on the shelf.

    I’ll post my blog review soon, bli neder.

    1. Adam Wells says:

      Thanks Reb.

      Yes, really enjoyed my bottle – particularly st the price – but got the sense that it was a good whisky which could have been a great one.

      Nonetheless, glad you enjoyed yours. Thanks for reading! (And for the nice words – the writing feels a bit florid sometimes, but I’m rather stubbornly set in my ways by now!



  2. Max says:

    Finally got round to opening my bottle, this stuff is fantastic, tropical peat is one of my favourite styles, albeit usually too pricey for me. I agree that the peated cask feels slightly imbalanced but it shares lots of the same notes I’ve had in older Bowmores and early 90s Cooley distillate. Great job Ardmore, phenomenal job at £55, may even need to purchase a second at actual RRP ;-).

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