Ardmore isn’t one the biggest names in whisky nor is it widely collected or lauded. Whilst this is officially unfortunate, it is however a win if you’re seeking a value dram with character and an essence of quality.
Now and again I’m approached and asked about whiskies and distilleries to drink. Yes, that’s right. Someone out there actually cares about opening the bottle and enjoying the contents. It’s a miraculous concept in today’s age of investment and portfolios. Ardmore is often my response amongst several others with the recent Whisky Broker bottling offering tremendous value.
The whisky historians amongst us will know that Ardmore was originally the name of a lost distillery on Islay during the early 1800’s that was swallowed up by Lagavulin in 1837. Owned towards the end of its lifespan by John Johnson – who also owned Lagavulin – the distilleries shared the same shoreline sanctuary and were often called Lagavulin 1 and Lagavulin 2. Very little is known about this former Ardmore, whereas today’s subject is a thriving distillery that was founded by Adam Teacher in 1898. Yes, Teacher of the similarly named blend and this was Ardmore’s primary concern for many years.
Ardmore is located in Aberdeenshire and has survived the booms and busts of the Scottish whisky industry, whilst many nearby distilleries have perished. It’s also resisted the onslaught of technology and change that has swept through rival producers. Until 2001, Ardmore was still heating its stills via traditional coal fires but has since followed suit. Traditional floor malting was dispatched in the 1970’s although the distillery still relies on a peated element to its whisky. Of course, this would have been commonplace across all of Scotland and not just the exclusive domain of Islay. Distilleries utilised local peat sources and malted their own barley.
Consumer tastes changed and the peated element dwindled in many whiskies across Scotland, but Ardmore remained true to its roots and relies upon local Aberdeenshire peat. Now here we could talk about the regional differences in peat and Aberdeenshire peat is exported internationally to India and Japan for its qualities. However, that’s for another review. Instead, Ardmore is peated to a level of around 14ppm (phenol parts per million) making it a midrange peat level consistent with Springbank or Bowmore that tends to be 20-25ppm. Other malts such as Bruichladdich are very lightly peated coming in at around 4ppm so on the nose and palate, the Ardmore is more noticeably peated at younger ages although our recent review of the Ardmore 20 year old suggested it still had a strong influence, or perhaps those coal-fired stills may have added something?
This particular bottling is bottled at 43% and was distilled in 1998 before being bottled in 2016 – making it 18 years or thereabouts in age. Residing in refill sherry hogsheads this release forms part of the Gordon & MacPhail Distillery Label series. This symbolises the relationships that Gordon & MacPhail have built and sustained with several distilleries over decades – if not longer. Ardmore is one of several within this exclusive series that also features Scapa, Strathisla and Glen Grant amongst others.
Gordon & MacPhail Ardmore 1998 – review
Colour: rubbed brass.
On the nose: very honeyed with apples and beneath it all a slight earthiness. There’s a syrup quality emphasising the sugary nature with milk chocolate and a touch of ginger. Heather and a touch of treacle. Water brings out a nutty oily quality.
In the mouth: a stewed tea characteristic, oat biscuits and more of the honey. A splash of water brings out more sweetness, nutmeg, toffee and on the finish a hint of peat.
Bottling this at 43% strength has removed some of the more rugged Ardmore characteristics. It’s a pleasant enough sipper but at its current level sanded down to an inoffensive degree. I feel more inclined towards the youthful side of Ardmore or at least an ex-bourbon matured cask variant. However, its agreeable without being too flashy much like the distillery itself.
My thanks to Michael at the Carnegie Whisky Cellars for the sample.