Stills: 4 Wash 4 Spirit
Water Source: Knockandy Hill
Capacity: 4.2 Million Litres
Owners: Fortune Brands (Jim Beam)
1950s-1974: A Big Old Oily Bruiser
Ardmore has always been associated with Teachers as the base malt around which the blend hangs, thankfully this means it has always been a well looked after distillery. Ardmore was one of the first distilleries to receive a major expansion after the Second World War. In 1955 it was expanded from a two to a four still plant with the new stills receiving condensers rather than worm tubs. During this era Ardmore was still using its own floor maltings and direct firing its stills. All this helped to magnify the peaty characteristics of the distillate. Ardmore has always been a moderately peated whisky, even today there is a big smoky oiliness about it. Back in the fifties it was an aromatic powerhouse of a dram. It was also when the first known bottlings appeared.
There is an official dumpy bottling that was produced for the directors of teachers in the 1950s, it was heavily sherried and utterly stunning old style highland malt whisky, sadly it is now understandably extremely expensive and hard to find. Thankfully there are also other bottlings from this time by Cadenheads and Dun Eideann that are also stunning. These old era Ardmores are packed with aromatic intensity, waxy, thick, oily, filled with minerals, taught fruitiness and big dusty phenolic notes they are great whiskies to try if you can find them.
Ardmore was expanded again in 1974, this time on a grand scale, the stills were doubled to a total of eight and all of them were given shell condensers. The distillery floor maltings were also phased out during this time as production capacity put too great a strain on them. These changes meant that Ardmore was suddenly one of the bigger malt plants in Scotland and inevitably the intense richness of the spirit was tamed to some extent. However, thankfully the stills all remained coal fired so Ardmore remained very much an older style of malt unlike many of the other Speysiders around it that were being rapidly toned down and modernised at that time.
1975-2002: Smoky, Fruity and Classic.
Ardmore distilled between the mid seventies and 2002 is what all of us that love it have come to identify as typical Ardmore. A rich and robust malt with a great oiliness and distinctly peaty, phenolic undertones with old style elements of wax, mineral and fruit. There are many independent bottlings by all the major names that exemplify this style perfectly (Signatory in particular), many of the best date from the early nineties and are at cask strength. In fact bottlings have increased in recent years, which can only be a good thing.
2002-Present: Inevitable Changes
In 2002 the stills at Ardmore were finally converted to internal steam heating, which is a great shame as the robust oily character of the distillate has clearly diminished since then. Official channels will say it makes no difference and the whisky is ‘more consistent’ as a result but this is sadly just PR chatter. The reality is that Ardmore is not as old school as it used to be. Having said that, it is still one of the most distinctive malts produced in Speyside and a fantastic dram to boot. Even if the official examples by new owners Fortune Brands have been a little underwhelming so far. There are still many great independent examples out there and more will come so go and try this great and distinctive malt whisky.