After our last Ardmore tasting, one of our last before the pandemic hit, a discussion kicked up around direct-fired vs steam-heated stills. This discussion kicked up because unlike many distilleries who made the switch long ago, Ardmore switched in the recent past – 2002 to be exact. Glenfarclas switched from direct-fired to steam and then back again, but that’s a unique scenario on its own. From this direct vs steam conversation, the idea for a tasting focused on direct-fired Ardmore was born.
Like most Malt Nuts events, this was interesting and gave us all a good sense of the distillery and the profile it used to hold vs where it is now. We started the night with a recent reference from a previous tasting, but the rest was all pre-2002. Here are how the rounds broke down.
- Reference: Steam heated, ex-Bourbon, Ardmore
- Round 1: Direct-fired Ardmore distilled in 2000
- Round 2: Direct-fired Ardmore from Gordon and Macphail
- Round 3: Direct-fired Ardmore aged 20+ years
- Bonus: Direct-fired Ardmore, a rogue single cask and a dusty
Now, let’s get to the whisky!
Reference: Steam heated, ex-Bourbon, Ardmore
Reference: First Cask Ardmore 09 years (08-18): 58% – Refill ex-Bourbon
- Nose: Touch minerality, smoky, malty, dusty sweetness touch citrus rind.
- Palate: Minerality, malty sweet, light BBQ smoke.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke, minerality and malty sweetness.
- Overall: (2.5 / 5) Clean, crisp quality to that reminds me of a young Islay whisky, just minus the coastal qualities.
Round 1: Direct-fired Ardmore distilled in 2000
1A: Exclusive Malts Ardmore 15 years (00-16): 51.5%
- Nose: Banana cream, malt, minerality, imitation vanilla, 7-UP.
- Palate: Banana cream, malt, minerality, caramel, smoke, fruit taffy.
- Finish: Long -> Minerality, soap and smoke.
- Overall: (2 / 5) It’s a clean, but not crisp malt. Has a minerally youth to it without much depth. Not good, but not terrible.
1B: Golden Cask Ardmore 14 years (00-15): 57.3%
- Nose: Minerality, raw malt, funk, tad fruity.
- Palate: Minerality, solventy, overripe fruit and old leather.
- Finish: Long -> Minerally, smoke, rotting veg and leather.
- Overall: (1.5 / 5) Smoke doesn’t show up till the end and when it does it’s not very complimentary. The slightly rotten note on the finish really kills what would have otherwise been a perfectly mediocre malt.
An interesting way to kick off the tasting.
Round 2: Direct-fired Ardmore from Gordon and Macphail
2A: G&M Reserve Ardmore 14 years (97-12): 58.5%
- Nose: Malty, candied guava fruity, smoke, chalky cocoa.
- Palate: Graham cracker, smoked rice and overripe fruit.
- Finish: Long -> Smoked fruit and mineral water.
- Overall: (2.5 / 5) Good warmth, but not a very deep or alluring malt. Rather basic.
2B: G&M Ardmore 15 years: 43%
- Nose: Pumpkin rind (turns to fresh paper), malt, sugar-free lollipops, floral.
- Palate: Caramel, minerality, sugar-free lollipops, smoke.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke, caramel, sugar-free lollipops and envelope glue.
- Overall: (2.5 / 5) When I first tried this all I could think of is pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin, like when carving for Halloween and then someone said paper and the longer it sat the more it came to smell like a pack of paper, freshly opened and heading into the printer. I also got this note that took me back to being 8 and the sugar-free lollipops my dentist gave out if you didn’t have any cavities on a visit. This is such a weird malt; I kinda love it, kinda hate it.
2C: G&M Connoisseur’s Choice Ardmore 21 years (97-2019): 54.3% – Refill ex-Bourbon Hogshead
- Nose: Malt, citrus, dessert sweetness, melon rind.
- Palate: Minerality, malty vanilla, smoke, dessert sweetness, candied fruit.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke, fruit and vanilla cream.
- Overall: (3.5 / 5) Good, love how balanced and complex it is. The smoke shows higher here than any other malt yet.
2D: G&M Exclusive Ardmore 16 years (98-15): 55.5%
- Nose: Pumpkin/paper, candy sweetness, overripe fruit, Cheerios, brittle and nuts.
- Palate: Pumpkin/paper, caramel, stale fruit leather, smoke.
- Finish: Long -> Roasted and smoked pumpkin seeds.
- Overall: (2.5 / 5) Strangely, I like the pumpkin note here and it’s kind of.. not.. bad. Almost good.
2E: G&M Exclusive Ardmore 19 years (98-18): 58.1%
- Nose: Smoke and sugar, this one has almost no nose at all. Even with water.
- Palate: BBQ smoke, candied fruit and vomity.
- Finish: Long -> Oily, fruity, smoky and vomity.
- Overall: (1.5 / 5) Good sweetness but gets a tad vomity as it opens, but sweet and smoky. Like you ate too much candy and then threw up because you accidentally swallowed some cigar smoke. I don’t know why you’d swallow cigar smoke, maybe someone made you laugh. The reason doesn’t matter. It happened, it wasn’t pleasant and it’s this whisky.
2F: G&M Exclusive Ardmore 15 years (94-09): 54.8%
- Nose: Butterscotch taffy, floral, baking spice, green fruit, hay.
- Palate: Smoked meat, toffee, floral, nutty and earthy.
- Finish: Long -> BBQ smoke, fruit, grilled mushrooms.
- Overall: (3 / 5) Surprisingly good. I’d like to sip on more of this and make cocktails with it.
Tasting through an entire round of G&M Ardmores was awesome, and I couldn’t help but think about our G&M Caol Ila tasting and after the reveal I went back and tried to see if I could narrow down a “house style”. I couldn’t, but it was fun to see if there was a specific thing they were going for. It definitely forces you to pay more attention.
Round 3: Direct-fired Ardmore aged 20+ years
3A: Ardmore 20 years (2019): 49.3%
- Nose: Fruity, smoky, malty, honey and blood orange cake.
- Palate: Fruit, smoke, honey, blood orange cake, vanilla, malty and light minerality.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke, blood orange cake and malt.
- Overall: (3.5 / 5) Malty, touch fruity and honied with an intense blood orange pound cake note. Kinda dig it, it’s unique and has the most solid malty backbone in any of the whiskies we’ve had to this point.
3B: Old Malt Cask Ardmore 21 years (96-17): 50% – Refill Hogshead
- Nose: Pumpkin/paper, oily, floral.
- Palate: Sweet smoke, paper, cigar ash and nuts.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke meat and envelope glue.
- Overall: (2 / 5) Nose sucks, but the palate and finish are ok. I even like the way the finish tastes like right after you lick an envelope. Not enough that I’d buy a bottle, but it’s a weird and fun experience.
3C: OMC Ardmore 21 years (96-18): 49.7% – Refill Hogshead
- Nose: Yellow cake, buttercream frosting, fruit, candy.
- Palate: Buttercream frosting, yellow cake, fruit candy, peppermint and cloying dessert sweetness.
- Finish: Long -> Smoked candy.
- Overall: (2 / 5) Touch off and not quite there.
3D: Single Malts of Scotland Ardmore 20 years (98-19): 51.6% – Hogshead
- Nose: Odd buttery, fruity, caramel. banana cream.
- Palate: Sweetly fruity, minerality, smoke.
- Finish: Long -> Smoked tropical fruit.
- Overall: (2 / 5) Cloying
3E: SMoS Ardmore 21 years (98-19): 50.2% – Hogshead
- Nose: Day-old pastries, imitation vanilla, grain sweetness and spirit.
- Palate: Buttery saline, smoke, dried pineapple and orange zest.
- Finish: Long -> Smoke, dried pineapple and minerality.
- Overall: (3 / 5) Umm… wow. This is oddly alluring.
This round was super interesting because the OMC’s were distilled in the same year, just 6 months apart and then bottle in different years, but only 9 months apart – both in Refill Hogsheads. It made for an interesting side-by-side point of conversation on the reveal. Though they were quickly overshadowed by the SMoS releases which were distilled on the same day, 37 barrels apart, and bottled 9 months apart making one a 20 and the other a 21 year.
Seeing the difference a cask can make first-hand like this is pretty fantastic and further cements how variable it can be from one to another.
Bonus: Direct-fired Ardmore, a rogue single cask and a dusty
Bonus 1: Chieftain’s Ardmore 15 years (02-18): 46% – Madeira Finish
- Nose: Cloying fruity floral with some caramel and hazelnut syrup.
- Palate: Cloying fruity floral with some caramel and hazelnut syrup, copper and smoke.
- Finish: Long -> Smoked fruit, hazelnut syrup and fruit candy.
- Overall: (2 / 5) A slight citrus tang pops in as it opens, but it doesn’t offset the intense sweetness that just keeps growing and growing.
Bonus 2: Early to Mid-80’s Teacher’s Highland Cream: 43%
- Nose: Watery butterscotch, cardboard, stale fruit.
- Palate: Tastes like a papermill and knockoff candy left in the back window of an old car.
- Finish: Short -> Ever make a spitwad using notebook paper?
- Overall: (0 / 5) Horrible oxidized old blend. Blegh. I’ve had decent old Teacher’s but I think this one had a seal issue and over oxidized.
I have two conclusions from this tasting. #1 Nailing down the profile of direct-fired Ardmore isn’t an easy task because it’s all over the place, but the one thing that keeps resurfacing is that papery/pumpkin note that hasn’t shown in any of our other Ardmore tastings – or any of the other Ardmore expressions I’ve had. And if that’s the note they lost by moving to steam then maybe it’s not a bad thing they made the move after all.
Conclusion #2 is that Ardmore seems to be MUCH better served by sherry than by ex-bourbon. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been gravitating more and more towards ex-Bourbon whiskies, but some just need that sherry anchor and Ardmore seems to be one of them. That Creative Whisky Co. Peated Highland 8 Years (Ardmore) from the last Malt Nuts was great and I enjoyed most of the whiskies from that tasting more than I did most of the ones from this tasting.
That doesn’t mean ex-Bourbon Ardmore is bad though. The 2000 Alexander Murray Ardmore 13 Years, which is a direct-fired whisky, was quite good and the 2008 Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years, which is steam heated, was pretty good as well. The AM I think had a sherry cask or two in the mix, but it was overwhelmingly ex-Bourbon and the SCN was a refill Hoggie.
It’s been fun tasting through these Ardmores and I hope you enjoyed reading about them.