It’s hardly shiny or earth-shattering news to write that new distilleries are popping up all over Scotland. In fact, such a statement is unlikely to pique any interest amongst the more learned whisky enthusiasts. However, what does become interesting is when you start to look at the geography of these new distilleries. Many are now re-populating the Lowlands, such as the Glasgow Distillery, or the wee-explosion of distilleries in Fife (e.g. Kingsbarns, Daftmill, etc). Others are adding to the spectrum of Speyside, such as Ballindalloch or Dalmunach.
When starting a new distillery in these current times, the owners will be looking for some key necessities when deciding upon the site of their distillery. In addition to the most obvious requirement (i.e. a good water source), other considerations will be existing infrastructure, convenient access, shared resources, a ready-made tourist trail for visitors, and ease of transport for both the delivery of raw materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks. So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery start-up, why would you choose to locate your distillery in one of the most far flung, remote, and inaccessible parts of Scotland? In the case of Ardnamurchan, the answer is pretty simple: Because they can.
This article will not be a full, in-depth look at the Ardnamurchan Distillery. That piece will come in just a few months, as Whisky & Wisdom is visiting the distillery shortly and will thus be better equipped to write a more detailed, thorough, and photographic account of the operation. However, the recent launch in Australia of Ardnamurchan’s first bottled spirit impressed so much, that it’s worth shining a light on Ardnamurchan now, even if it is only a teaser.
Ardnamurchan is the name of the peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, located directly north above the Isle of Mull. It is the westernmost part of the Scottish mainland, and amongst the most remote and unspoiled locations in all of the UK. When approaching from the south or east, access to the peninsula is still via a ferry (i.e. no bridges!), unless you care to drive up to the top of Loch Linnhe and head west from Fort William, before dropping down off the A830. The distillery itself is the child of independent bottler Adelphi. It’s long been said that independent bottlers would need to own and run their own distillery if they are to remain a viable force in the industry, and the Ardnamurchan Distillery was the result of seven years’ planning by the Adelphi team. The distillery opened in June 2014.
Courtesy of the local importer and distributor, a number of launch events were recently held in Sydney and Melbourne to unveil the Ardnamurchan Spirit “2016/AD” release. The launch events also showcased a number of other Adelphi bottlings, such as the Glenborrodale Batch 3 Sherry cask, and the Glen Garioch 1998 Sherry Cask.
There is almost a universal law now that states any new distillery has to start putting out young “works in progress” in its early days. Such a move both (a) lifts the profile of the distillery and raises awareness of what is to come, and (b) brings in much-needed revenue whilst the distillery waits the agonising eight-to-ten years to finally launch their “completed” product. An unfortunate outcome of this practice is that, for many distilleries, their spirit is often still too rough and immature, or simply lacks any balance or development of flavour. As such, the vast majority of these releases are nothing more than curiosities, and rarely are they bottlings that you’d finish in a hurry and buy a second bottle of.
However, the sole and entire reason W&W is putting words to paper on this bottling right now is that this release is different. This is a drink worth drinking. And if this is what Ardnamurchan tastes like when it’s still even too young to legally be called whisky, one can only imagine what heights it will hit when it reaches full maturation.
The 2016/AD release is merely 18 months old. However, despite its ridiculousness youthfulness, it has an impressive pedigree and production tale. The bottling is a vatting of both peated and unpeated malt. It is also a vatting of casks, featuring spirit purposely matured in both Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez octave casks. (15 of the casks contained peated spirit, the other 14 were unpeated). The octaves were then vatted and married in a PX cask for two months. Bottled at 53% ABV (the listing of 50.3% on the tasting mat in the picture above is a typo), the small and lively casks have already injected surprising colour to the spirit, but they’ve also fast-tracked an impressive maturation.
Nose: Wrigleys “Big Red” chewing gum. Red apple skins and cinnamon quills. Freshly-cut pine trees; some forest floor peat; a wonderful base of cereal; and some florals to boot. It’s spirity, yet incredibly complex. Unlike most Scottish spirits at this age, it has outgrown its new-make, perfumed base.
Palate: The palate is young, but it’s not “new-makey”, aggressive, or incomplete. It’s extremely malty and wonderfully sweet, offering the fun vanilla tones of milk bottle confectionery chews. The peat is evident, but it’s light and vibrant, rather than dark and brooding. With time in the glass, the sweetness develops and takes on a spiced honey character. Toffee or salted caramel flits around the edges.
Finish: Clean, malty, cooling, and yet still pleasantly sweet.
Comments: I loved this whisky. Of the five whiskies offered and tasted at the launch event this bottling received my highest score – no mean feat when you consider the calibre of the other bottlings involved. It was certainly the one that interested and intrigued my palate the most. The handling of the peat was inspired, giving a wonderful balance that was neither a lightly peated affair (such as an Ardmore), nor a heavy hitter like an Islay. It sat nicely in between the two, and the spice and fruit from the octave casks made for a happy marriage.
Also tasted on the same night was “Ardnamurchan peated sample”, filled in June 2015 and bottled in April 2017. Matured in a bourbon cask, it again showcased that the distillery has a bright future ahead of it. And that’s really the point of this little piece. It’s hard to get excited by young, immature whisky, but then the 2016/AD doesn’t necessarily come across as such. The distillery and its history has a wonderful, fascinating, and environmentally beautiful story to tell, but we’ll save this for the main feature story to be told in a few months.
The 2016/AD cask has an RRP of AUD$165, although with only 2,500 bottles for the world and a relatively small allocation for Australia, you’ll need to move quickly to grab one for yourself. I know I did!