Ardmore 1996 20-Year-Old 49.3% abv, Non Chilled Filtered.       Price Around NIS 500

This official Ardmore distillery bottling is a vatting of two types of casks, matured for 20 long years. The two types are First-Fill Bourbon Casks and, more surprisingly, un-named Ex-Islay casks. (See below for full reveal).
Ardmore distillery is owned by Beam Suntory.
There is actually quite a strong connection between Ardmore and Islay peated whiskies. The distillery we know today was founded by Adam Teacher in 1898 and remains today, the backbone of Teachers Highland Cream Blended Scotch whisky.
It was not however the first distillery to be called Ardmore. Back in the late 18th and early 19th century, there was a distillery of that name which stood between Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries on the same Kildalton stretch of land on the isle of Islay. Just past Ardbeg distillery, there is in fact an area called Ardmore, listed on the map which is where they probably got the name from. The distillery seems to have been absorbed into Lagavulin by the 1830s.
Another connection Ardmore has is its use of peated barley. Ardmore was one of the only Highland distilleries which continued to use peated barley in their whisky, even when coal came to the region during the Victorian era. Almost every other Highland distillery had switched over to coal as their heat source for drying malted barley by the 1830s.
Ardmore distillery was owned for most of the mid-20th century by Allied distilleries, a subsidiary of Allied Lyons of “Lyons Tea Rooms” fame, (later to be known as Allied Domecq). Back in the late 19th century, tea rooms in the UK were as popular as Starbucks Coffee shops are today. It was founded by three Jews, Joseph Lyons and brothers Isidore and Montague Glickstein. Indecently, J. Lyons & Co is also credited as the pioneers of business computers during the 1950s and 60s and actually produced its own range of early computers known as LEOs, (Lyons Electronic Office machines)

[Picture from Middlesex University. http://ta.mdx.ac.uk/leo/leo-computers/]
Jim Beam Global (later to be taken over by Suntory, Japan) purchased the distillery in 2005. Why am I going into the distillery’s owner history in such detail? Because, now we understand that this 20-Year-Old, being a Vintage statement from 1996, is using spirit distilled and laid down in casks, back during the era of Allied Distilleries.
As well as Ardmore, Allied Distillers also owned the distilleries of Balblair, Miltonduff-Glenlivet, Pulteney, Glenburgie-Glenlivet, Ardbeg distillery on Islay, and of special interest to us, Laphroaig distillery, which came under the umbrella of Allied after they purchased the spirits division of Whitbread & Co in 1989.

Laphroaig, like Ardbeg and Lagavulin, is also just a stone’s throw away from where the original Ardmore distillery once stood.
Doing a Google search brings up Whiskyauctioneer.com site which I have always found to be pretty reliable, which says that the casks used were quarter-casks that came from Laphroaig!

Laphroaig, incidentally, was bought up by Fortune Brands in 2005 which later merged with Beam Suntory, the same year that Jim Beam Brands (later to become Beam Suntory), bought Ardmore distillery from Allied Domecq. So, today Ardmore and Laphroaig are sister distilleries.



I remember buying quite a few bottles of Ardmore’s first entry into single malts, the Traditional (Quarter) Cask. Originally available in the airport Duty Frees back in the early 2000s, it was really tasty stuff. It’s now sadly discontinued and much missed, especially because of what replaced it in 2014, namely the Ardmore Legacy, a shadow of the original expression and does not do justice to the excellent and unique Highland Ardmore spirit.

The Traditional Cask expression used charred Ex-Bourbon Quarter Casks for maximum wood interaction and fast maturation. Slightly peated at around 15 PPPM, it had quite a distinctive and lovely combination of smoky flavours coming from mainland Highland bog peat and charred wood smoke from the casks which resulted in a sweet, full bodied Barbeque meat flavour. No doubt helped by its higher than standard alcohol bottling at 46% as well as it being Non-Chilled Filtered, (quite a pioneering feature back then), this contributed to its full bodied brown honeyed thick fruit chutney and toffee notes on the finish for a quite delicious introduction to peated whiskies and was the perfect stepping stone before getting to the heavy peat monsters. The Ardmore Legacy on the other hand, is bottled at the minimum 40% abv, is heavily coloured and chill-filtered.  Bottles of the Traditional Cask are still available online and I highly recommend purchasing, if only to experience what Ardmore are really capable of, given a chance.
Which leads us nicely onto this rare limited edition official bottling of 20-Year-Old Ardmore, solely distilled in 1996, hence its vintage statement. Bottled at cask strength, Non-Chill Filtered and if it is coloured, its only slightly.
Packaging




I still haven’t made up my mind about the overall look of the canister and bottle. I really like the bold use of bright brass for the signature Ardmore eagle and the Age statement. It gives it a kind of a modern art sophistication. The background looks like a medieval hand drawn map of the area around the distillery, in dark grey. I’m sure there’s a story to this.
The tin foul seal has been moulded on very amateurishly. You could actually slide it off without tearing the surround strip




 The foil was so loose you could twist it around with your fingers.



I appreciate not only them stating that this is a Non-Chilled Filtered single malt but also the sentence on the back of the label which states “This may cause it to go cloudy when water is added, this is perfectly natural for a non-chill filtered whisky”. I’m really not sure how many whisky drinkers there are, who would be prepared to buy a whisky of this age and price tag and who would actually get worried about their whisky going cloudy?


Colour and Look

Like the brass eagle on the label, the whisky itself does seem to have a slight orangey polished brass tinge to it. This leads me to suspect that this is not its natural colour and there may well have been some E150a added. Swirling the malt around in the glass it has a nice oily texture to it and beads fall slowly down the inside of the glass, promising a full mouth feel. This is no doubt due to the lack of chill filtering which would have removed a significant amount of natural barley oils.
Tasting Notes
The following are my initial notes taken directly after opening the bottle. Then I’ll describe my very different tasting notes after just one week.

I opened the bottle on Thursday evening, poured myself a dram and sat down to watch Roy Duff’s live Aqvavitae YouTube broadcast. I mentioned in the comments section that I was drinking Ardmore 20-Year-Old. Another contributor who goes by the name of Welsh Toro, who I have had some very pleasant conversations with in the past, asked me what I thought of it. I described it as follows:
Nosing
Quite sharp and prickly on the nose. I added some water and tried again after a few minutes.
Now, much better. I began making notes.
Hospital antiseptic. Something sour like wine going off? Coastal sea air with smoke. Very dominant new leather smell. Sour verbally dry Lemon. Tart White Wine. Freshly cut green grass. Green note like pine? Sharp Yellow fruits. Pineapple, yellow apples, honey-dew melon.

Tasting
It had a nice full mouth feel as would be expected from a NCF whisky. Peat, Sour Mash / Beer taste. Like drinking wort from a washback. The bitterness of Lemon Peel. Sour Apple juice. Salty caramel with smoky vanilla and black molasses treacle. Sweet Charred wood. Old Kitchen spices. Damp wood. Dry Rosemary. White Pepper on the finish.
Conclusions
The whisky seems to show symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Salty sour peatiness combined with the traditional Ardmore dark treacle woody forest peat, somehow just didn’t quite mash. Talking of mash, it does have quite a dominant flavour that reminds me of sour barley mash sampled at Laphroaig distillery. The sweet, sour and dry smoky white pepper on the finish was certainly unique. Despite its most singular and rather inimitable (unable to duplicate) flavours, I was left wondering if I actually liked this Ardmore or not. I did so much want to, it’s just that the whisky seemed to lack a certain cohesion. It just wasn’t balanced.
Experience and watching Ralfy.com videos have taught me that when in these situations, the best thing to do is put the bottle away and come back to it after a couple of weeks. This achieves two things.
(1) It resets to a certain extent, your opinion of the whisky and allows you to make a second judgement.
(2) You allow the whisky time, after the bottle has been open, to oxidise and lose some of its feistiness which you sometimes get with whiskies after they are just opened.
A classic example of this was my experience with the Glencadam 21 Years. Initial tasting notes were not positive. However, going back to the bottle after a few weeks, I could not believe it was the same whisky. Would it be the same with this Ardmore 20 I wondered? By the way, this is why you shouldn’t judge a whisky after first opening it and why, in my opinion, trying to review a whisky from a tiny 5cl sample bottle, supplied top you by some Brand Ambassador or the distillery, is not always a good idea.
I could have simply collated all my notes and published my review last week but I decided to give it another chance.
One week Later
Nosing.

I added a touch of water an waited a few minutes.
Putting the glass to my nose I was immediately reminded of the Bruichladdich Laddie Sixteen, one of my all favourite single malts, which I haven’t had for some two years. There was still quite a considerable alcohol punch despite having added water. Even so, I was enjoying some sweet malty barley mash. Clean, fresh Islay coastal yellow fruits like melon, peaches, yes, definitely peaches and apples. Lemon sherbet. Underneath this was some Esrog and Hadasim, (myrtle) notes. I did however notice a smell of polythene or perhaps an empty plastic water bottle? Now, I quite like the smell of new dustbin bags but I’m not sure I like it in my whisky?
Adding a bit more water and putting my nose back it, I was rewarded with a big whiff of smoky honey and pineapple, maple wood and a lovely beeswax scented furniture polish aroma. Rich Apple Cider Scrumpy. Some fresh sweet yeasty smells from a mash tun.
I added some more water and left it for a few more minutes. There was now a powerful garden floral aroma along with some really lovely perfume smells like walking through the perfume department of a department store. Putting the glass down I couldn’t help notice that the whisky had gone really cloudy, almost opaque.
Bringing it back to the nose, I was getting some coastal sea spray apple juice. Amazingly, even after adding water twice, this whisky still has a quite a punch to it. Adding a few drops more, the Ardmore conveys the sweet smell of car petrol and sea salt. Also, very noticeable is a musky smell of wood in a damp cellar. New car smell and a little off note of old books gone mouldy.
Tasting
Bitter citrus peel. Sweet and Sour lemon. There was a recognisable taste of sucking on a leather watch strap. Loads of spices. Rosemary, green myrtle leaves, bay leaves, pepper corns, coriander powder, turmeric and some honeyed roast beef, pepper, curry powder at the end. I honestly cannot say there was much of an aftertaste except more heat, curry powder and wood spices. A touch of bitter green olives on the finish.
Final Conclusions
I really enjoyed smelling this whisky but drinking was very unsatisfactory. It is quite astringent and pungent even after adding water three times. It really does not leave much of an aftertaste and what is there, is certainly not sweet or fruity and quite metallic and chemical. As much as I really wanted to like this Ardmore, I really cannot find much to recommend it except that its flavour notes are unlike any whisky I have ever tasted before. It certainly is a singular experience but I fear that the bottle will end up at the back of the cabinet. I will not be going back for another bottle. As you can probably realise, I really am bitterly disappointed with this Ardmore. It wasn’t cheap and for the same money, I could have walked away with a Lagavulin 12 or Deanston 18. The Ardbeg 1996 20-Year-Old was a no doubt bold experiment in cask blending which unfortunately, in my opinion, has just not payed off.


*** UPDATE TWO WEEKS LATER***

Last Shabbos lunch time, we were hosting my married daughter and son-in law. My daughter was checking out some of the new bottles I had and asked me about this Ardmore 20-Year-Old. I said she could try some and I’d be happy for her feedback. She poured herself a dram and must have added a couple of teaspoons of water to the Glencairn glass and then left it for about 10 minutes. She called me over and exclaimed her delight at just smelling this. She said it reminded her of the smells of a distillery. The aroma of malted barley lying on a wooden floor, drying in a kiln, intense sweet fruity head spinning smell of fresh new make spirit, frothy wort in wooden washbacks and an overriding smell of copper pipes. She went on to explain that this very strong aroma of copper was similar to the smell of brass candlesticks just after you have polished them. (I wouldn’t know).

She handed me the glass and I understood exactly what she was saying. The Ardmore, opened some four weeks ago and reviewed by me about 2 weeks ago, had transformed itself into something completely different. We both took a sip. She was impressed. I was shocked! Was this really the same whisky I had slated and more or less panned only two weeks ago? It was delicious!

Now totally calmed down, that curry powder flavour note was nowhere to be found. That bitter lemon pith had disappeared. What was left was a warm, sweet spirit note of Brasso polish with an intense white and yellow fruitiness, soft nutty malty digestive biscuits, fresh out the oven. Loads of heavy waxy honey in the mouth with some nice sweet wood spices. I asked my daughter if she had read my review of the Ardmore. She apologised and said that she had not as yet. “Just as well”, I replied. Now I would have to update my review.

I will now tentatively recommend this to the more adventurous amongst you. My advice? Open the bottle and leave for three to four weeks, then try. It’s like drinking whisky in a distillery whilst standing by the hot stills and condensers, or sitting down with your mates from the members of the local Brass band and enjoying a good dram with them. Weird, but strangely very tasty.

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