Ardmore 20, 1996

I started the month with a heavily-peated Islay that was a bit of a misfire (this year’s Cairdeas). Let’s continue with peated whisky but move on to the eastern highlands, to Ardmore who are not known for heavily peated whisky. Interestingly—and also worryingly—however, this particular 20 yo release was apparently finished in ex-Islay casks after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks. If these were casks from Laphroaig (possible given that Beam Suntory owns both distilleries) then there’s a good chance that the usual combination of mellow, peppery peat and fruit that characterizes the best Ardmores might get lost in a phenolic overlay. On the other hand, if the casks were ex-bourbon Bowmore casks—Bowmore being another Beam Suntory distillery—then that might actually be a good match. Let’s see how it goes. I’m a big fan of Ardmore, even though we don’t get very many opportunities to try their malt in the US, and I am hoping for the best.

Ardmore 20, 1996 (49.3%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Lemon accompanied by only a mild pepperiness at first. On the second sniff there’s a nice bit of char and mineral smoke. The pepper is now in robust olive oil territory: a robust olive oil infused with lemon. I’d have to strain to find obvious phenolic notes here—which is good; this is very Ardmore. With more time a bit of vanilla peeps out as well. Okay, let’s see what water does. It pushes back the smoke and brings out sweeter cereal notes; the lemon turns to citronella and moves to the background.

Palate: Sweeter entry and then the lemon and the mineral smoke come up from behind. Starts to get fruitier as I swallow. Very nice texture and a perfect drinking strength. On the second sip the fruit is more evident from the get-go: the lemon gets muskier and picks up some pineapple and a hint of peach; the smoke swirls around it all. Water brings out wet, hot tarmac (don’t tell me you’ve never tasted any) and pushes the citrus back a bit here as well.

Finish: Medium-long. The fruit and the smoke mix and linger for a while; the pepper emerges again at the end. Still peppery and lemony with water.

Comments: I thought this was just flawless whisky. The Islay cask finish worried me but this was not overcome by huge phenolic smoke. I speculated the possibility of Bowmore casks before tasting but now I’m thinking, ex-Caol Ila hogsheads? That would be my guess but who knows. Anyway, this is very Ardmore, which is to say very good. Just a lack of complexity and development holding it back from the next tier.

Rating: 89 points.

Thanks to Michael for the sample! (Somehow, I liked it more than he did even though he is a huge Ardmore fan.)


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