This dram is connected directly to my re-submergence into the whisky world, after a de-facto absence of almost two decades.
I grew up around whisky. In fact, my grandfather bought a bottle of Dimple in 1948 during my grandmother’s pregnancy for the toast at the ‘bris’ – the circumcision ceremony – of his firstborn son. The result of that pregnancy, by the way, was my mother. My grandmother’s two other pregnancies brought forth my two dear aunts, Naomi and Carol, but no occasion to open the bottle. Thus, the bottle waited unopened for almost 22 years, until my birth in 1969. Family lore has it that after my great grandfather, my two grandfathers, my father and his brother poured their glasses, the next guest to pick up the bottle dropped it on the floor and it broke. You could say my whisky journey started but a week or so after I was born (or 22 years prior….).
My father drank whisky and we had a home bar with a nice selection of the leading blended whiskies so popular in the 1970s. There was Ballantine’s and Dewar’s, Johnny Walker Red Lable and Cutty Sark, Canadian Club and Crown Royal and the obligatory Chivas Regal 12. But one day, it must have been around 1976, my father came home from a trip abroad with a black tube and a curiously triangular green bottle. Enter my fascination with single malts. That black tube, by the way, served as the home for my coin collection. Whenever I could, I’d taste single malts although coming across people who had them wasn’t commonplace. Having moved to Israel in 1992, I always had a bottle or two of single malt whiskies by Glenfiddich or Glenlivet at home, always a 12 or 15 year old bought at the duty free shop at the airport. But whisky was so prohibitively expensive in Israel, that tasting and buying single malts was too difficult, and expanding my horizons took place only abroad and through books, and even then, I stuck with stuff I knew. Also, there were times I just didn’t travel enough for that. So strangely, I had only had Speyside and Highland single malts until my 40s. But all that changed in recent years.
Two things changed that for me: Ardmore Traditional Cask was the first and Israel’s tax reform was the second. A friend of mine lost his father and was sitting “Shivah” – the Jewish week long mourning period for an immediate relative’s passing. While “paying the Shivah call” i.e. visiting him during the mourning period, another guest suggested we raise a toast in the father’s memory. My friend, not a whisky drinker, said he got a bottle of some good stuff from a friend, and brought out an unopened bottle of Ardmore Traditional Cask in a wooden box. I’ll admit to being a little excited, as I had never had Ardmore before, nor had I had any seriously peated whisky. Glasses were poured and I instantly fell in love with the smoky nose, the higher ABV, and the heavenly layers of aromas and flavors opening before me. I kid you not, it was a spiritual experience.
The second took place only last July, and included a massive revision to Israel’s tax scheme on alcohol. The move from taxation based on the retail price of the bottle to a flat tax of 105 ILS (~$30) per liter of alcohol by ABV, lowered single malt prices in Israel by 50%-70%. This isn’t to say that prices here are as low as they are in Amsterdam, Berlin or New York, but they’re nowhere near prices in Oslo or Helsinki and tend to settle within 10% of the retail price in the UK (with a few notable exceptions usually due to importer greed, like the recent addition of Tulibardine, imported to Israel by Shaked, priced a full 40% higher than it should be).
Being back in the fold for a while now I feel it’s time for me to share some of my experiences in this blog, and the obvious place to start is, of course, the dram that started it all – the Ardmore Traditional Cask. Now Ardmore is a distillery with a brand. No, not Ardmore – Teacher’s Highland Cream, of which Ardmore makes up the lion’s share of its 45% single malt content. This blend is the number 10 scotch in terms of global sales and number 5 in the UK. It’s owned by Beam Inc. which means that it’s on its way to Japanese hands. Considering the turmoil over the Beam deal a few months ago, I actually think this is a good thing, probably extending the brand more into the far east. For a distillery with such a limited core range (the Ardmore Traditional Cask, the Ardmore 25 and the Ardmore 30), it’s surprising to learn just how big the distillery is in terms of capacity. It has four wash stills and four spirit stills, and produces 5.4 million liters of alcohol per year, most of which go into Teacher’s and now into the new Teacher’s Original, in yet higher proportions. It’s quite possible that Suntory might bring about the creation of a “teenaged” expression (15-18 years), which I think may be beneficial for the brand.
With no further ado, the tasting of the Ardmore Traditional Cask (NAS, 46% ABV, uncolored, non chill filtered):
Color: Gold, thin legs well spaced running down quickly.
Nose: Peat, but different than Islay peat. There is no sea in Ardmore, rather a wood type smoke, slightly reminiscent of a landfill fire with its sweetness. Underneath the smoke, there’s lemon scented polish, vanilla, and powdered doughnuts. A drop of water brings out the clean lemon in full force
Palate: Sweet smoke as it hits the tongue, mild alcoholic burn (at 46%), some lemon drops and spices.
Linger: Dry and tangy smoke. Long and smokey on the upper part of the gullet.
All and all, this is a complex whisky despite being youngish and NAS. At its price, it is almost unrivaled in value for your money and gets a strong BUY recommendation.
My next post will go ancient, to a 1972 cherry bomb…see you there!