I’ve long since realised my whisky biases. There are a couple of categories which, if met by a dram, guarantee that I will enjoy it. I love independent bottlers, adore artisan distilleries, and admire transparency. If it’s a small batch whisky, bottled by an even smaller company that keeps no part of their process secret, I’m in heaven. And if this sounds like heaven for you too, I’ve got a real treat for you this week.
Ardnamurchan distillery is a small operation based in Lochaber, in the Western Highlands. It is, in fact, about as far West as you can travel without your feet getting wet. It boasts impressive eco credentials, being entirely powered by renewable sources, with its stills heated by sustainably sourced woodchip from the surrounding forests. With only a pair of stills, a 10,000-litre wash still, and a 6,000-litre spirit still, production is definitely small scale, no more than 400,000 litres each year.
Ardnamurchan’s ownership is also of interest, as it is effectively the distilling branch of Adelphi. For those who have not encountered these independent bottlers, their mission statement is to “identify the very small number of casks that have produced the ultimate whiskies.” Their bottlings are uniformly non-chill filtered and uncoloured and often award-winning as well.
Having started production in 2014, the release of the first bottle of Ardnamurchan in 2016 added one extra ingredient: complete transparency. Clever blockchain technology means that scanning a QR code on the back of each bottle takes you to a webpage with everything you could want to know about your individual bottle of whisky. Barley variety? Ardnamurchan tells you that, and the farm and field it was grown in. Yeast type? Of course, and the hours of fermentation, and who oversaw it. Cask Types? They provide a PDF listing every single cask involved in a batch. I don’t think any distillery can better Ardnamurchan’s approach to transparency. This is brilliant.
So, with all that said, can the whisky possibly live up to my heightened expectations? I’ve got my hands on the AD/02.22, a cask strength batch release, to find out.
Highland Single Malt Whisky
58.7% ABV, matured in ex-sherry (five) and ex-bourbon (fifty) casks. 84% is peated spirit and 16% unpeated.
No added colouring, not chill filtered
£69 (Loch Fyne Whiskies)
Nose: Fresh citrus – lemon juice and peel – is joined by strawberry, pear, and toasted almond. Then there are much richer, deeper notes: it’s peaty, smoky, and salty, with an oaty flapjack, peppermint, and sea shells.
Palate: Sweet, sticky, and just a bit peaty. There’s great complexity, with ginger, lemons and oranges, vanilla, pear, menthol, caramel, and rich tobacco.
Finish: Long, lingering, and warm, the finish is rich, peaty, and salty.
Opinion: The AD/02.22 certainly lives up to expectations. This is a delightfully balanced dram. It’s peaty, but that doesn’t overpower its more delicate notes. There’s a real depth of flavour which always warrants just one more dram to explore fully. This proves that the decision to bottle the dram at cask strength was the right one.
Although there is no age statement on the bottle, the spirit in the AD/02.22 is eight years old. There is still a slight harshness from this relative youth, which is the only real criticism I can level at this dram. I want to see what this whisky will taste like once it’s had another eight to ten years in wood to smooth this out: I suspect it will be stunning. Sitting in the £60-70 range, the AD/02.22 is well-priced for its quality. It may not represent the best value dram at the price point, but it isn’t overpriced either.
I have to reiterate how impressed I was by Ardnamurchan’s transparency. I would suggest that anyone spotting one of their whiskies in a local retailer should ask to scan the back to see what I mean (or alternatively, look at the information for my bottle of AD/02.22). To me, this should represent industry best practice.
The AD/02.22 is an excellent release from an exciting distillery. I would definitely recommend looking out for batches of Ardnamurchan, especially as they begin to be able to release older and older drams.