Ardmore 20yo 1996 (49.3%, OB, 1st Fill Bourbon and Ex-Islay casks, L817757B)

Sometimes Ardmore can be quite stellar. Once, I even wrote that it has the potential to be the new Brora. Back then, there weren’t any plans to reopen Brora, so today probably Brora itself has more potential to be the new Brora than Ardmore. However, the owners of Ardmore don’t do a lot with this Malt and most independent bottlers, bottle Ardmore at quite a young age. Why is that? In comes this official 20yo. I immediately bought two of those, guided by my own statement and hoping for, (expecting), the best. As I said, Ardmore can be great, and this one has some pretty decent age to it and a nice ABV to boot.

When I opened this bottle, it was very much closed and stayed like that for a long, long, and even longer, time. I even left the cork off for several days, and still it wouldn’t budge, bumming me out. Disappointing and annoying, and along the way it never really became a favourite of mine. I usually wait until the bottle is half full/half empty to write a review so that the Whisky had a chance to grow with air and over time. This bottle is now 1/3rd full, and still I’m not sure how it really is. I usually can remember Whiskies I tasted a decade ago, but every time I return to this Ardmore, I haven’t got a clue how it actually is. This is really a difficult one. So for some reason or another, I once tasted it in the morning et voilà, there is more to this in the morning, than in the evening with a tired palate. This is a delicate morning Whisky, with the emphasis on delicate, so I had to write some things down in a wee morning session! How unusual (and how nice actually).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Quite fruity, with already a little hint of smoke and slightly rubbery peat. Very nice combination of old style, yellow half-dried fruits and wax. Whiffs of old style Malt yet sometimes also a whiff with a lack of balance, a strange or less well integrated fruity bit. Luckily this phenomenon doesn’t happen on every occasion. Quite light as well. Fruity sugared pineapple, shiny apple skins. Mocha with walnuts, hazelnuts in whipped cream. More of the nice waxy note comes forth and still it knows how to improve over time with more airing in the glass. This Malt really is dependent on air, it needs truckloads of it. This is therefore not an easy Malt. You really have to work at it a lot to get everything out, and don’t be fooled, this really has quite a lot more than meets the eye (?) initially. The waxy bit interacts quite well with a nice and soft woody note (American oak style), especially when the little bit of smoke somewhat stings the insides of your nose. The waxy bit finds a companion in some clay. After a while, good balance is reached as well at the end of the development. It just suddenly stops giving off new layers. Hardly any alcoholic notes in the nose, seems lower than the 49.3% ABV. With a lot of time and air, this nose does deliver. Quite wonderful.

Taste: Soft and creamy. Somewhat sweet vanilla and diluted whipped cream. Do I detect some faint notes of strawberry ice-cream? The sensation of cream with a little bit of water. Fruity yes and even the peat from part of the casks is noticeable. Prickly smoke on the sides of my tongue. Waxy and peaty. Almonds? After a while the oak starts to show more and more of itself, along with its bitterness, yet it never really overpowers. For twenty years, this has been in contact with wood alright. All of this, not in the greatest of balances to be honest. Also somewhat simpler than I would have expected from Whisky of this age. Lacking the complexity of a 20 year old malt, as well as the development. The finish is medium at best, actually quite short, whit a decent and warming aftertaste though. Very delicate stuff. Brittle, apart from the wax and the wood.

Technically, this must have been one of the most delicate Whiskies I have ever tried (when also analysing it). This one has managed to learn me something. You can sip your way through a bottle over a prolonged period of time in the evening and essentially having no clue what the Whisky really had to offer. Just this freak accident to have a sip in the morning, showed me that there is a lot more to this Ardmore. Treat this as a morning Whisky. Still, perfect it is not, not by a long shot. But hey, most of us usually sip our drams not-in-the-morning, so please take this into account. This is definitely not a casual sipper. Not bad at all, but should have been better than it actually is.

Points: 85


Ardmore 1996/2014 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Distillery Label, Refill Sherry Hogsheads)

Why review one Ardmore, when you can review two? Hidden far away in a wooden box, where I keep my odd-shaped sample bottles, I found this more recent Ardmore. All Ardmores I reviewed up ’till now, were somewhat older bottlings, and this one is more recent. 2014 is not that long ago isn’t it? Gordon & MacPhail released 1996 Ardmores in 2013 and 2014, and both are still available, so I guess they hold off a new release, untill both of these sell out. Where on one side we have official bottlings (OB’s), in this case the range released by Beam Suntory (the owners of Ardmore), on the other side we have independent bottlers (IB’s). Usually, firms that buy casks of Whisky and bottle them as a single cask (usually).

However, this particular Gordon & MacPhail bottling lies somewhere in between. This series is known as the licensed bottlings, but are also known as the distillery labels. This comes from the time the owners of certain distilleries allow Gordon & MacPhail to bottle a Whisky and market it as the “official” release, since back then the owners didn’t release an official bottling themselves, probably using the output from that distillery for blends.

Gordon & MacPhail do their own wood management (The wood makes the whisky). They bring in their own casks and fill them at a distillery. Sometimes they leave the cask to mature at the distillery, but more often they take it with them to their own warehouses.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and ice-cream, oh and Sherried as well. On top some smoke. Right from the start this is very well-balanced. Everything is where it’s supposed to be. Sherry casks from American oak. Very sweet, big and thick smelling. Nutty. Almonds, with hints of clay. Add to this a fruity cloying sweetness with an edge of perfect peat, with sometimes some burnt match-stick aroma’s, with only a tiny hint of the sulphur. The sulphur is a mere trace, and I don’t pick it up every time I try this. Next to this the Sherry gives off a funky note which should be an off-note, but here, it works well in the construct of the nose. Almost like artificial orange powder (Sinaspril). Fire-place in the middle of winter. Almost christmas. Lots of vanilla comes next and the smoky note stays. Works very nice together. As I said, very well-balanced indeed. Medium complexity though, and it shows its hand quite quickly. After that, not a lot of development is happening.

Taste: Ahhh, yes. Nice (simple) sweet, creamy, nutty and (red) fruity Sherry nose, mixed in with vanilla and big toffee. Cold black tea. It’s big on the Sherry, the almonds and the cream this is. Also a slightly bitter oaky edge. Peat, but it’s aroma is different from the nose. Stricter and more modern. The fruit evolves in acidity. Excellent smoky note. Come to think of it, where is the wood influence? The wood may have made this Whisky (imho, the Sherry did), but where is the wood itself? Sure it has a lot of vanilla and creamy notes, so American oak was used, I believe, this one would have been better in European oak. A similar thing happens as it did with the nose. Everything is there right from the start and hardly any evolution happens after that. Balanced, yes, sure, but not as much as the nose. Lacks even more complexity than the nose.

Right from the start I thought it was nice, and it is. The journey, however, I was about to take with this Ardmore didn’t happen. Alas. A good Whisky, but it is what it is. The start was promising, and it started with a nice statement from the nose. After that it all went a bit downhill and simple. The Ardmore I reviewed last, also has its flaws, and I can’t say this one is better, hence the similar score. Both are good, but I expected a bit more, especially since in this one, the Ardmore distillery character is obvious in the nose, but not on the palate.

Points: 85

Ardmore 13yo 1994/2008 (56.8%, Specialty Drinks, The Single Malts of Scotland, Hogshead #65, 303 bottles)

Ardmore, my poor-man’s Brora. Since coming across several Ardmore’s over the time, I see huge potential in this Whisky. Very good spirit, and if it is filled into a cask of equal quality, activity, this stuff can really shine. Just have a look at the three I reviewed earlier. Whiskyman’s 1992 (89 Points), Gordon & MacPhail’s 1993 (87 Points), and finally Mo Ór’s 1992 (84 Points), where the last one was reduced to 46%, Why would one do that? All three were bottled some time ago and the reviews were written a few years back as well, so let’s continue with another one from the past. We move up only one year, since this was distilled in 1994, and bottled some ten years ago.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Well, this most definitely doesn’t smell like White Wine. Slightly buttery, with vanilla, some soft oak, and a slightly acidic side-note. Typical Hogshead remade with American oak staves. Green, grassy and even slightly meaty. Gravy? Not very peaty and hardly any smoke at all. When searching for peat I’m welcomed by a more fruity and lemony note as well as a leafy and green note. Hmmmm, it is the lemon you get from detergents. Nice oaky note taking over from this little faux-pas though. Pencil shavings even. Yes some peat seems to be coupled with the oak, soon to be followed by the return of the creamy and buttery notes from the start as well as some cold dish water. Remember you washed the dishes yesterday and forgot to pull the plug? This may not be one of those complex Ardmores, since it is clearly from a cask that has been filled several times before. Its friendly and fruity, almost summery in demeanor. Some notes seem a bit off, but pull together just in time. Interesting feat.

Taste: Oak and sawdust first. Hints of pepper. Yeah. Right after the characterful statement, the more fruity, citrussy, notes appear. Almost with a carbonated quality to it. Although very tasty, friendly it is not. Too much alcohol for that. I love the oomph which you can sense does great things to balance this Whisky. Ashtray and nice peat mixed in with the citrus fruit. It switches effortlessly between the (fatty) creamy & woody/cardboardy part and the more fruity acidity. Although not very complex, what it does, it does it good. Quite a long finish, although it maybe better to describe it as a prolonged body, since you get all the aroma’s, all the time. Aftertaste is bitter (wood) and again all of the above. This one fools you into thinking its simple, and fruity, it is, but it is not an easy one, and that’s not only because of the high ABV.

Definitely not your typical Ardmore. Where in the past I called a particular Ardmore a potential Brora, this one most definitely isn’t. This bottling is an interesting Whisky, made form excellent spirit, but not good enough to be a Brora to be. I feel Ardmore is somewhat overlooked and underestimated by its owner Beam Suntory in favour of the other distilleries in their portfolio. Ardmore has to compete with Auchentoshan, (one of the last Lowland distilleries), Laphroaig and Bowmore (big, big Islay brands) and Glen Garioch (Highland), which seems to get a lot more love and attention than Ardmore (also Highland). So Ardmore seems to be the ugly duckling in the portfolio. Maybe Ardmore isn’t getting the best casks the company owns, since the Mo Ór example and this The Single Malts of Scotland offering seem to come from somewhat less active casks, yet still manage to turn out quite good. Apart from this, the official output doesn’t seem to be hurling at the consumer as well. Still, I have a lot of faith in Ardmore, it holds a place on my favourites list. It can be a truly amazing Whisky. As long as it stays under the radar, we have to hunt for examples from the independent bottlers world, that were ‘accidentally’ filled into good casks.

To the people of Ardmore Distillery. Keep doing the excellent work, your moment to shine will come!

Points: 86

Ardmore 18yo 1992/2011 (46%, Mo Ór, Bourbon Hogshead #5013, 286 bottles)

Three months ago, I reviewed two Ardmore’s, and was very pleasantly surprised, not to mention impressed. At a certain moment I even called it the present day’s Brora, or something of that nature. First a 1992 bottled by Domiek Bouckaert a.k.a. The Whiskyman, that scored a nice 89 points, and second a 1993 by the omnipresent Gordon & MacPhail. G&M’s version still got a very nice 87 points. Both malts were available for (much) less than 100 Euro’s, and that’s a steal in today’s feverish market. Today after a week’s absence, let’s have a go at this 1992 bottled by Mo Ór. Let’s hope it will do as well as the other 1992.

Color: White wine.

Nose: Nice, fresh acidic and aromatic lemon, but it has a lot more going for it. The wood comes across as pretty sweet with lot’s of vanilla. A storm of fresh air, as I said, very fresh and quite clean. Barley. I remember the other Ardmore’s as more dirty versions of Ardmore. I can hardly detect any peat in this and the smoke does need some time to manifest itself. Perfumy it is and slightly buttery (hot butter). Actually this is a lovely whisky on the nose. Not very complex, but it does have a well-balanced nose.

Taste: Hmm, licorice, clay and the (earthy) grains from the nose return. I expected a bit more of an attack, but it stays a bit back. Well don’t underestimate the smoke now! That’s here in abundance, but there isn’t a lot more coming from this. I guess this one was quite clean and lovable from the start, but I feel the reduction to 46% ABV didn’t benefit the Whisky this time. It has a late and mild fruitiness to it, pineapple and the fatty, sweetish smokiness is quite nice. Still as with the nose, the palate is undemanding and of average balance. The finish is of medium length.

This time around, the cask didn’t do much for the whisky, probably second or third refill considering the color and age. Still a well-earned…

Points: 84

Ardmore 17yo 1993/2010 (56.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, First Fill Bourbon Barrel #5747, 244 bottles)

Let’s do another Ardmore and compare it to the day before yesterday’s offering by The Whiskyman. We all know that 1992 is somewhat of a good vintage for Ardmore. So let’s see what happened in the distillery a year later. This 1993 was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail and they were so kind to do that for Van Wees of The Netherlands.

Color: Gold

Nose: The same meaty, slightly peaty nose as The Whiskyman’s offering. Nice soap with green apples and other fruits. Leather. Dryer and more powdery. A little more wood too.

Taste: Great fruity sweet start, more ashy. Somewhat less complex and a tad more sourness from the wood. Same kind of peat. The peat itself is more chewy and more farmy. Toffee. Some mint in this one too. Rare black fruits in the drier and warming finish, but overall, a little less impressive than yesterday’s Ardmore.

This is an Ardmore, no doubt about it. Just nose it and you’ll smell the family resemblance to The Ardmore bottled by the Whiskyman. It’s from another year, but the nose is quite similar. In the taste department it’s a bit less balanced, but still has a lot going for it. I’m always a sucker for those black fruits in the finish. Like old style Bowmore for instance.

These 90’s Ardmore’s seem to me to be the Brora’s of the modern age. Great stuff. Recommended. I definitively have to look into Ardmore some more. So hopefully to be continued.

Points: 87

Ardmore ‘Peat fighting man’ 20yo 1992/2012 (49.9%, The Whiskyman, 146 bottles)

Dominiek Bouckaert is known for being the billionth ICT guy that does something in whisky. When I started with whisky I was an ICT guy myself and of course was introduced to the stuff by another ICT guy. In fact I was introduced to Whisky by two of them. One was partial to Laphroaig (eventually my first self bought Single Malt), and the other was more into Talisker (I’m something of a Talisker-collector now).

Besides ICT, Dominiek took it upon himself to dabble a bit with distribution of the Malts of Scotland (A german bottler) and play a bit with Luc Timmermans doing their Hand Written Labels. and last but not least, Dominiek has his own label now. The Whiskyman. Nice psychedelic colorful labels with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge to music. Beatles and Stones to start with, and this is an example of the latter called peat fighting man.

Color: White wine

Nose: Sweet, citrussy and malty, but this time with depth. Fishy, salty peat, lemon and wet grass. Given some time, the lemons are replaced by oranges. Fresh. Smoke, soap and latex paint. Ultra clean wood and hay. All elements fit nicely together. Very bold statement. From the name Dominiek gave to this Whisky, I would have expected some kind of peat attack, but far from it. The peat is there, but fits in rather well instead of singing the lead. A bit like how Charlie Watts fits in the Stones.

Taste: Sweet with a lot of liquorice. Again, not in your face peat, but nice warming peat. It’s not quite farmy, but it has an organic quality to it. Toffee, tea and clean wood again. Fruity. Lots going on here. Nice, very nice.

Very well-balanced malt. Great find, well done Dominiek. Now we want another one!

Points: 89

Thanks go out to Jack for handing me this sample.