The long-standing and often repeated saying observes that “whisky is best shared”. It is a phrase which highlights the cosiness of conviviality that is the collective experience of enjoying a dram. And it is a phrase that alludes to whisky being a drink which is to be consumed. No arguments there. But it’s all too easy to forget – especially after a year of living life largely through a digital lens – that whisky can, and often does, offer far more than just the triptych of nose, palate and finish. Whisky *is* more than what is inside of the bottle.
Relationships are born of mutual appreciations. Of course, in terms of whisky that usually involves an exploration of the characteristics and qualities of the juice (though if you delve into investment and collecting forums, you’ll quickly find that this is not always the case). But whisky relationships are based on more than just the liquid. A show, festival or tasting would be little more than a one-way product demonstration without the human interactions and camaraderie which naturally go hand-in-hand with the enjoyment of the spirit itself.
Few of us would consider visiting a nightclub were we the only patron present. Again, it is the people - their energy, their excitement and proximity - that lifts the experience beyond sitting at home listening to the same music but via headphones. The same is undoubtedly true of the spirit that we all love - memorable whisky moments always gain additional resonance and future recall when experienced in company. Without the relations born out of a mutual love for whisky many of our social circles would be considerably smaller - and our lives would also be significantly less rich, less fulfilling, and less diverse.
Community is a vital touchpoint for whisky. Historically distilleries themselves provided a focal point for the communities they served. Sometimes remote and rural – others sited in what would eventually gentrify into towns and cities. But in all cases distilleries have, can and do provide an essential epicentre for human interaction. When one looks at the fanbase for the drink – it too is far from monolithic. Two decades ago, enthusiasts were both lower in number and geographically disparate. Digital transformation now permits any whisky enthusiast with an Internet connection, no matter how able-bodied or agoraphobic to play an active part in the global whisky community. From this, connections are formed on a daily basis - and that's a genuinely wonderful thing to see.
Over the course of my life the global whisky community has become my second family. It has (at least in part) defined who I am as a human being. Shaping my passions, defining my motivations and influencing my interactions. But above all else, whisky has brought me together with an incredible group of varied and wonderful individuals. And I’d take these guys over a new bottle of limited edition chasey wotsit any day of the week.
Acts of charity, compassion, empathy and support - none of these things are contained inside of a bottle. They’re contained within us. Whisky’s effectiveness as a leveller and social binder is potent enough that I’d be prepared to go one further than simply noting the truism that whisky is better shared. Whisky is friendship.
Today’s review would not have happened were it not for the power of whisky friendship. I’ve never actually met Nik Shirodkar (@WhiskyFlu) in person – Nik lives in India, I live in the UK. But Nik and I have been conversing regularly about whisky and particularly about our shared adoration for Ardmore for a number of years now. But, despite our relationship being more Facetime than face time Nik regularly provides me with a much-needed sounding board – and typo spotting skills – for my ramblings. In turn I have gleaned first-hand insights into the Indian whisky market that I never would have been able to learn and appreciate from the wilds of Northwest London. I’m a more knowledgeable whisky person because of the time I spend researching and studying – but I’m also a more knowledgeable whisky person because the generosity of people like Nik. And I greatly look forward to the opportunity of meeting him in person.
Nik and I discussed Whiskymax’s Idols of Scotland Ardmore at some length – particularly because of its unusual finish in an apple brandy cask. We purchased two bottles to save on shipping – sadly they’re both in the UK (Nik has a stash somewhere which at some point he’ll presumably have to clandestinely ship over to India). The release of 330 bottles was laid down in 2013 (cask #9880) – presumably in an ex-bourbon. It has been finished for an unspecified time period – but with just 6 years of maturation under its belt this additional embellishment is unlikely to be lengthy. Bottled last year at 46.5% ABV this is still available from several German retailers such as Whiskyhound and Whiskytaste.de for €47.90.
Nose: Sweetness first, peat second. Apple crumble and lemon curd sit with barley water, wild honey and simple syrup whilst wispy notes of forest-tinged peat smoke - wet vegetation and spent log fires – join earthiness and kiln-fired clay. Reduction offers a greater impression of the undergrowth with ferns and brackens together with aspects of ash and coal scuttles. Simple but effective.
Taste: A velvety arrival full of vanilla buns, lemon bonbons and ethereal smoke that’s always present, but never truly out in front. Freshly cut green apples and wet soils sit alongside a somewhat bituminous peat smoke before icing sugar and cinnamon buns once again lifts everything back into sweetness. Dilution reveals sharper and tarter flavours of grapefruit and lemon zest whilst also dialling up both the cask and peat influence. The result is quite lovely – unlocking substantive distillery character with underlying apple and forest-floral attractiveness throughout.
Finish: Medium with sweet (but now also dry) trails of delicate smoke together with earthy cinnamon.
What Whiskymax’s 2013 Ardmore lacks in intricacy it makes up for with its sheer drinkability. Apples do indeed take a principal role – but whether these come from the apple brandy cask finish or the relative youth of the spirit (where one would expect a high volume of the volatile aroma compounds associated with apples to already be present) is largely unclear. Irrespective, the amalgamation is fresh, vibrant and appealing throughout. Mild-mannered, accessibly focussed and with a very reasonable price tag – all things which mark this bottle out as being perfect for sharing liberally…with friends.
With ongoing thanks to Nik @WhiskyFlu