This will be a week of malts from Ardmore. What’s more they were all distilled in 1997, matured in refill hogsheads, and bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. And they were bottled in successive years at 20, 21 and 22 years of age. Now I don’t want to pretend that very significant differences can be spotted between malts a year or two apart in age from each other even with all other variables quite similar to each other, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition anyway. What’s certain is that I like Ardmore a lot; it’s always a pleasure to try their mildly-peated, fruity malt, especially when matured in ex-bourbon casks. I’ve reviewed a few SMWS Ardmore releases before, including a couple from 1997. Indeed, I’ve reviewed another 20 yo (which I liked a lot) and another 22 yo (which I also liked a lot). And I’ve also reviewed casks from adjacent years from other bottlers (most of which I also liked a lot). All of this history seems to bode well for this one. Let’s see if it works out that way in practice.
Ardmore 20, 1997 (52.4%; SMWS 66.138; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Comes in a bit hot at first but then there’s quite a lot of floral and fruity notes (lime, charred pineapple, some tart mango). Mineral, peppery peat with some char mixed in (no phenols as such). The sweeter floral notes expand as it sits and some dusty oak emerges as well. With more time the acidic fruit expands again picking up some sweetness to go with. The fruit gets less acidic as it sits—orange peel and some apricot come through now. With a few drops of water the oak gets pushed back and the fruit expands, turning more tropical (guava) and more custardy, with the char in support.
Palate: Comes in as indicated by the nose and pretty much in that order. As on the nose it’s hotter than the abv would indicate. Some cured ham too. The fruit expands as I swallow. On the second sip there’s more char—think burnt wheat toast. Continues along these lines as it sits with some bitter lime zest joining in. Okay, let’s add some water. Water pushes the char back and lets the fruit out in front.
Finish: Long. The fruit goes on for a while, picking up salt and pepper as it begins to fade. The char lingers and expands on the finish too and there’s just a faint hint of rubber/hot tarmac at the end. As on the palate with water.
Notes: Well, the SMWS did give this one an apposite name. Neat, I thought this was very good but a bit unbalanced, with the char a little too loud on the palate and finish. Water fixes that, releasing a peppery, fruity malt that shows everything I like about Ardmore. I wish I had a full bottle: it would be interesting to see how it develops over time and with different amounts of water.
Rating: 89 points. (Pulled up with water.)