Ardmore is a surprisingly large Victorian era distillery given that it’s nestled in the rather picturesque rural village of Kennethmont (population roughly 470). It was constructed by Adam Teacher (son of William Teacher) in 1898 to produce malt for their rather well known blend – Teacher’s Highland Cream – and indeed, nowadays, much of the 5.5 MLPA from Ardmore’s eight stills ends up being used exactly the same way. Nevertheless, Ardmore has been developing its reputation for single malts since 2007’s introduction of Ardmore Traditional Cask. Towards the latter part of 2017 a new limited edition Ardmore was released, one which to my mind signals that great things lie ahead for this distillery – Ardmore Vintage 1996 20 year old.
Ardmore doesn’t have the widest number of official bottlings available – remember, they’re relatively late to the single malt game. Currently, four official core expressions are available – Legacy, Tradition (replacing the Traditional Cask, but sadly dropping the ABV down to 40%), Triple Wood and a 12 year old Port Wood Finish. Then, along comes Ardmore Vintage 1996 20 year old. This, limited (though no numbers are given on how many bottles are available) expression is a marriage of first fill ex-bourbon casks with casks that have previously held whisky from Islay (probably ex-Laphroaig). It’s bottled at 49.3% ABV and, here’s the kicker, it costs around £65.
Yes, you read that right, a 20 year old whisky for £65. At a time when many distilleries seem quite content to ride the wave of premiumisation (with little to no trepidation as to what type of marketplace they’re creating for future generations – I’ll give you a clue, it’s a shitty one), here’s Ardmore with a relatively mature age-stated whisky at a completely reasonable price. This alone deserves recognition. The fact that the liquid itself is really rather lovely too leads me to outright applause.
Nose: Sweet fruits, subtle smoke and minerality. Pears, orange peels and toffee-coated apples are joined by dollops of rich honey for a fresh and lively opener. Peating is delicate, but ever-present - earthy, slightly ashy smoke – akin to the embers of a burnt out beach fire. Time in the glass reveals more nuances – leather, golden tobacco leaves and beeswax. There’s a vein of minerality here – stony and steely – granite, limestone and rock pools. The addition of water heightens the definition of the pears into candy pear drop sweets and adds in some dustiness – old wood, vanilla and some gentle furniture polish.
Taste: The arrival brings a full, slightly oily texture packed with malts, dusty wood and fruitiness – again with the apples, pears and orange peels. Through the mid-palate, both smoke and spice develop – campfires, smouldering soils, ginger and white pepper. Deeper, we have some milk chocolate, leather and dusty wood. Water enhances the earthiness here – soils, wet hay, a very slight touch of funky farmyard.
Finish: Medium to long and delivering both dry spice – ginger with pepper – along with ashy, almost chalky smoke.
Ardmore Vintage 1996 20 year old is an accomplished whisky, offering mature, well-developed fruit and smoke flavours, strong balance and a good whack of complexity to boot. Produced on their older stills (which were coal fired until 2001 – being one of the last distilleries to switch over to steam), this is a minor triumph for the distillery, and hopefully is indicative of even greater things to come. In any analysis of price vs. quality, this one is a total no-brainer. Highly recommended.