You are likely aware of the concept of the difficult second album.
A band bursts onto the scene with a zeitgeist-capturing debut release. For months they tour relentlessly, filling stadiums, shifting records (or Spotify downloads; this is 2021), flogging merchandise, all the while gracing the covers of music magazines. The public, for those first 12 months, or maybe 2 years if the band is lucky, can’t get enough.
Then the band, likely after a 6-month sojourn in the south of France to recharge the batteries, comes back into the studio to record a follow up album… and the magic is gone. What was once so easy, what once flowed in the studio, now becomes a slog. A creative quagmire. The process drags on, the band quarrels, rumours reach the press that our imaginary band is experiencing the difficult second album syndrome.
Eventually the album is released to middling notices from the press and fan apathy, the next big thing comes along and the band’s moment in the sun is over.
The second album syndrome can also apply to a hot new novelist, a film director whose first movie is a smash hit and then can’t back it up, or even a sportsperson who has a sensational rookie year but then has a sophomore slump.
You may by now be wondering, how does this apply to whisky? Good question. The release of Ardnamurchan’s first release in Australia followed a predictable global pattern for any anticipated debut whisky release in these modern times: it sold out in a matter of days. We can cynically speculate as to how many of these bottles have now been opened and appreciated, and how many were purchased to join a collection or as a potential investment.
Ardnamurchan were wise enough to release 15,978 bottles of the first release, so surely the room to make a buck as an investment is limited? Personally: I am old, grouchy, and do not seek to understand or participate in whisky auctions, whisky flipping, or whisky as an “investment,” so I’ll leave that to the experts.
Nevertheless, there is an afterglow of a successful whisky launch that brings “sold out” headlines. Unlike a famous new band, novelist or director, the initial whisky does not even need to be good. It would certainly help if it was, but either way the distillery is going to make those sales. Then, however, must come the second release… and does anyone care anymore? Completists might continue to build out their sets; the idly curious might pick up the second release if well priced, perhaps if they enjoyed the first release.
This is where the real journey must begin for a distillery hoping to be around for the long term. I have no concrete reason to suspect that Ardnamurchan’s sales suffered any second-round blues, but these questions occurred to me when their second release reached Australia in May 2021. Over at The Whisky Company the bottle was initially priced at $120, then was discounted to $105, before settling again at $99. Had interest in Ardnamurchan really fallen so precipitously?
I didn’t purchase a bottle of the Ardnamurchan inaugural release, partially because the earlier releases of their maturing spirit hadn’t captured my tastebuds from the several samples I tried, and also because of the scores bestowed on it from Jason, Phil, and Adam were only satisfactory.
Ardnamurchan was founded and built from the ground up by the independent bottler Adelphi, joining Signatory Vintage (who run Edradour) and Gordon and MacPhail’s Benromach. Credit to them for engaging with the market with the in-development spirit releases that give the public some clue as to the character the distillery is aiming to produce.
I am interested to try this second release to assess – after the crowds have moved on, after the hysteria has died down – what substance remains. As noted in Jason’s review, the bottles are equipped with blockchain technology which provides every detail in the supply chain that ends up in your bottle. At Malt, even if we don’t always nose right down into the minutiae, we appreciate the transparency that provides the opportunity to peruse these details.
For now, the key details are: this was bottled from a 50/50 split of peated and unpeated spirit, matured in 65% ex-bourbon and 35% sherry casks, and comes to us at 46.8% ABV. 16,000 bottles were produced. At $120, this was well priced. For $99, I would have been mad to say no.
Ardnamurchan AD/01.21:01 Single Malt – Review
Colour: Apple juice.
On the nose: What we consider to be a grassy, Lowland style nose with olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, green bananas and papaya. This is light and inviting, and I enjoy a fairly long session nosing this glass; out comes warm custard, vanilla bean, kiwi and ripe apricots.
In the mouth: What strikes me on the palate is that any flavours you may find you had better find quickly as this one disappears very quickly. I do get buttery pastry, grapefruit, pistachio, panettone, and orange peel. This is so thin and characterless that in the Australian “fair go” ethos, I pour a second glass to see if anything else may emerge on the palate. After a while I detect mint leaves and marinated baby octopus, but it’s a reach.
I regret to inform you that this sequel is less “Godfather Part 2” and more “True Detective Season 2.” I am not sure if I would venture back soon for another of Ardnamurchan’s large scale batch releases, though I note that some high ABV single cask releases have been released in the UK. If these reach Australia at an attractive price I might explore the range further.
On MALT’s review of Ardnamurchan’s first release all 3 writers granted a score of 6, indicating a generally favourable reception. I now wish I had tried that release so I could be confident whether the second release is a significant step backwards, or if my tastes vary. As it stands, I can only score on what my own palate tells me. At $99, at least it was a bargain.