The inaugural release of this West Highlands single malt was far from a limited affair – 15,978 bottles. Indeed, that’s about as large an opening gambit as one tends to get when it comes to new distilleries. However, despite the generous number of casks utilised to create this expression – it quickly transpired that 15K of bottles was apparently nowhere near enough to sate demand. That is not to say that there’s a magnitude of well over 15,000 clamouring Ardnamurchan whisky drinkers (as yet) – but rather, that just the one bottle was likely not enough for many – despite retail limits. Indeed, you don’t have to look all that far to see evidence of people with caseloads of this stuff. Whatever floats your boat guys.
The release itself is a large vatting of ex-bourbon casks (65%), Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks (35% between the two styles) bottled at 5 years of age. Of course, you’re into the secondary market (or friendly bottle shares) should you wish to try this now – though with an RRP of less than £50, I strongly doubt that the nightmarish 600% markups witnessed when this bottle was first released will be sustained over the long term.
Nose: Out of the bottle - fireplace ashes and coal dust – but these quickly give way to a gentler more layered earthy peat. Acacia honey, dusty lemon bonbons and strawberry milkshake powder sits with a chalky minerality that along brings with it some salinity. Sack cloth, and vegetalness from new potatoes again reinforce the earthy character, whilst added some broader interest. Reduction, reveals youthful undertones – as it so often does – yeasty doughs, raw barley and a pang of something metallic.
Taste: Markedly oily and with palpable weight. The smoke influence both leads and follows – paraffin wax, axle grease, brined peppers and brass polish – offset by freshly picked Granny Smith apples, a generous spoon of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a tingle of pepper. The back-palate is more ex-bourbon cask driven with both vanilla and soft toffee coming to the fore – again with an edge of minerality/salinity. The addition of water offers a creaminess alongside an earthier peat – smouldering leaf mulch, burnt mosses and ferns. However, the composition loses brightness and coherence quickly – the bottling strength is where this is at.
Finish: Medium in length with BBQ briquettes, limestone and residual orchard fruit sweetness.
Ardnamurchan’s maiden release is a story of three parts – firstly of balance – it already is, despite its young age. Secondly of interest – there’s more here than just fruits and peat smoke – just the right amount of left-field earthy/farmy motes provides a level of charm, character and intricacy that merits exploration. Finally – there’s the price and allocation – both were admirably framed to allow as many enthusiasts as possible the opportunity to try this whisky. And yet, it seems that some quarters of the customer base were simply not prepared to let large bottle numbers and a low retail price thwart their determination that inaugural releases should be viewed as more than they actually are. Enthusiasts love to blame producers, but in this instance the blame lies entirely at our own feet <sigh>. Well-made, well-balanced, good drinking whisky – and it scores as such.