Last week I reviewed a slew of Benromachs—well, three of them anyway. Let’s stay in the general vicinity and let’s stick with Highland peat. Ardmore is the other distillery in that general part of Scotland that is known for peated whisky. As at Benromach, Ardmore’s peat is not phenolic in the Islay style and nor is it as farmy/brutal as Ledaig’s can be. Instead it typically has a peppery, mineral character, with soot and coal in place of the phenols. It’s hard to find much indie Ardmore in the US—or even very much officially released Ardmore—but I am a big fan of the distillery and try their whisky every chance I get. And I usually like it a lot. Why, I even liked a 10 yo put out by K&L last year! More to the point and closer to the age of this one, I also really liked a 22 yo from 1996 released to mark the 20th anniversary of the OMC line in 2018. If this is as good as either of those I’ll be very happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case.
Ardmore 20, 1997 (54.7%; SMWS 66.137, “Dirty but good”; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Name: Apples, honey, lime, coal, soot. On the second sniff the coal smoulders a bit and the lime expands along with it. There’s a bit of ham brine in there too. Gets meatier as it goes. With water it gets a bit softer with cream emerging to join the rest.
Palate: Sweet arrival and then the coal and soot bubble up from under. Very nice texture at full strength and quite approachable. Gets more acrid as I swallow (in a good way) and the sweetness keeps pace. Saltier with each sip and some of that ham brine begins to show up here as well. Gets meatier with time and air. Okay, let’s see what water does. Makes it less acrid and pushes everything else into a good balance; some wet stones now as well.
Finish: Long. The smoke gets less acrid, more peppery and mineral as it goes (olive oil) and the lime emerges again at the end. More coal with time—less smoke and more char. Creamier with water and the lime gets a a bit musky; more lime peel and more pepper at the end.
Comments: This is really rather nice and much better than I’d hoped for given the name the SMWS saw ft to give it. Non-phenolic peppery smoke—and quite a lot of it—with sweet and acid notes to go with. What’s not to like? Well, it’s not the most complex whisky, maybe, but it is possible to get too hung up on complexity.
Rating: 89 points.