Okay, let’s end this week of peat in the eastern highlands of Scotland, at Ardmore. (You may recall that I started the week on Islay at Caol Ila on Monday and stopped in the Speyside at Benromach on Wednesday.) Ardmore is one of my very favourite distilleries these days. The only reason really that I didn’t put in my list of top five distilleries last year is that it’s very hard to come by Ardmore in the US and the official lineup has never been very inspiring. The one regular source for a varied supply of Ardmore in the US is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society but I’m not sure if even they send more than just a few of their Ardmore selections here. I reviewed three SMWS Ardmores in August and I don’t see 750 ml releases for any of them listed on Whiskybase. Nor for that matter is a 750 ml release listed for this one. (If you know if any of these were in fact released in the US please write in below.) August’s Ardmore trio were a 20 yo, a 21 yo and a 22 yo—all distilled in 1997. This one is a 23 yo distilled in 1997. Unlike the first three, however, which were matured entirely in refill bourbon hogsheads, this one spent 21 years in refill bourbon and then the next two years in a refill Spanish oak sherry hogshead. Will the sherry cover up all that I love about bourbon cask Ardmore? Let’s see.
Ardmore 23, 1997 (53.3%; SMWS 66.197; finished in a refill Spanish oak sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Lime peel, pepper, wax, mineral smoke. Just lovely and very ex-bourbon at first. Sweeter on the second sniff and then spicier with some salted nuts and red fruit (there’s the sherry). The citrus expands as well and begins to edge into tart mango territory. Then it gets raisiny and there’s some leather as well. With time the citrus regains ascendancy and is joined by some pastry crust. A few drops of water and the citrus (lime) and pastry crust meld and expand.
Palate: Comes in as predicted by the nose but the smoke is much ashier here (building as I swallow). Lovely, rich texture and extremely approachable at full strength. The smoke expands quicker with each sip—if there’s much fruit on the palate it’s getting covered up. Some pencil lead begins to peek through with time. Gets more acidic—and a bit thinner—with time. Okay, let’s see what water does for it. Brings it closer to the nose with the smoke turning more mineral and the lime popping out.
Finish: Long. The smoke gets richer and meatier (and there’s a lot of char). More acidic here too with time. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Neat, the palate is not quite at the level of the nose but water fixes that. Interesting how the bourbon cask qualities reassert themselves with time. Great stuff. Wish I had a full bottle (but I also shudder at the thought of how much I’d have had to pay for it: the SMWSA is currently flogging a 7 yo Ardmore for $100).
Rating: 90 points.