Speyside visit update: ArdmoreMay 1st, 2008
When Beam Global took over Teacher’s Blended Scotch in 2005, they also got the distillery whose single malt is the heart of Teacher’s: Ardmore.
Prior to Beam, Ardmore was produced primarily for blending. There were only two commercially available distillery bottlings, a 12 and 21 year old, both released in limited quantities for the distillery’s Centenary several years ago.
The cool thing about Ardmore is that it is one of the few smoky Speyside distilleries, with a peating level of 12-14 ppm phenol. (Yes, a lot more Speyside distilleries are jumping on the peaty bandwagon but, for Ardmore, this has been the norm for quite a while.)
Given that Ardmore was a blending malt and dumped at a young age, stocks of old Ardmore in the warehouse are extremely rare. It is also the reason why when Beam Global released their first distillery bottling of Ardmore, the Traditional Cask, it was relatively young in age. (The whisky has no age statement but, according to Alistair Longwell, Ardmore Distillery Manager, it is aged from 6-12 years old in American oak and then finished off for 6-12 months in quarter casks. Alistair explained to me that “it’s more about the flavor” than the age.)
I have to admit. I have tasted this whisky on several occasions (there have been three bottlings of it so far) and my opinion is the same. It is a nice whisky with great potential, but I can tell that there’s some young whisky in there and would like to see a little more maturity to the whisky. I didn’t compare samples of the three bottlings side-by-side, but it seemed like the most recent botting might be a little bit more mature in character, but still not where it should be.
This doesn’t mean that the whisky needs to be 20 plus years old. In fact, 12 years old will work just fine. I know that because I tasted the 12 year old Centenary bottling and thought it was wonderful: an excellent balance of Speyside elegance and smoky undertones.
While we were knocking about one of the warehouses, Alistair did show me some experiments. He has whisky aging in cognac casks and some also aging in port hogsheads.
He also let me try samples of two different casks of Ardmore (informally called “triple wood”) which he plans on releasing later this year. Both are older than Ardmore Traditional, but are in the same vein. Each cask spent about 6 years in a bourbon cask and then about 4 years in a quarter cask. One has been finished for about 9 months in a sherry butt; the other is being finished in a Spanish oak puncheon. The whisky in the sherry butt, in my opinion, already had too much sherry on it, but the other one finished in the puncheon was quite nice. If and when these whiskies are released, you now know which one to look for.
And if you really want to understand Ardmore’s true potential, you should try to find the odd bottle of the 12 year old Centenary bottling before it disappears completely. If you do, you’re in for a special treat.
I’ll close by letting you in on a little secret: In 2001, Ardmore started making an unpeated whisky, which Alistair calls “Ardlair”. There currently are no plans on bottling and selling it as a single malt.
“It’s typical of a Speyside malt,” he told me. “We’re making it to sell to blenders.”