Ardmore may be a little-known Highland distillery (it's closed to visitors, and doesn't yet have it's own website!), but it's actually quite a big one, with a production capacity of over 5,000,000 litres. Which is about double the capacity of Laphroaig, or four times that of Ardbeg. So where does all that whisky go? Mostly into Teacher's Highland Cream, one of the highest-selling blended whiskies in the UK, and there are also quite a few independent bottlings around. But Ardmores' own range of single malts is on the increase, and the 'Traditional' was the first of them.
The name 'Traditional' actually refers to the whisky being finished in smaller 125-litre 'quarter' casks, which were more commonly used in the 19th century, particularly for transporting whisky. As I understand it, the smaller casks are sent over from Laphroaig (both distilleries are owned by Beam Suntory) once they have worked their magic on Laphroaig's excellent Quarter Cask expression. If this is the case, we could probably assume a bit of that magic from those casks finds it's way into this Ardmore. But being a Highlander, and being relatively lightly-peated compared to the Islay greats, we're not going to find a Laphroaig-impersonator here (that's not even possible, there can be only one!).
It certainly looks promising from the outside, being bottled at 46% and without chill filtration, regardless of the lack of age statement. As we know, smaller casks equal faster maturation, so an age statement would be irrelevant anyway. And unlike it's replacement (except in travel retail) the 'Legacy', it's 'fully peated', to quote the label.
Ardmore Traditional, NAS, 46%. Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Matured in ex-bourbon casks, finished in quarter casks, possibly ex-Laphroaig. Non-chill filtered.
Nose: Soft earthy peat, boiled leather, stewed tropical fruit. Dark toffee, and sweet buttery oak. Hint of white wine, and a little used frying oil (in a good way!).
Texture: Medium weight, certainly young, but balanced by the peat.
Taste: Earthy peat again, but quite sharp and dry now, not soft like it was on the nose. More rich leather, and a little hot ash. A little chilli pepper, hint of salt, and some bourbon-like vanilla & caramel sweetness.
Finish: Short-medium length. Chilli flakes, dry white wine, sweet barley. Caramel and a little toasted oak at the end.
Score: 3 out of 5.
Notes: Decent, certainly good value for money, and easy drinking. It'd make for a good introductory peated whisky, with a little more edge to it than others which are aimed squarely at that market. A different take on a peated Highlander as well, those leathery notes in particular were rather unexpected, and very interesting.
The quarter casks have certainly done their job here, there's plenty of wood influence in what is definitely a young whisky, which of course is what they're designed to do. This one doesn't quite have the magic of Laphroaigs' Quarter Cask, but then, not many do!
While I'm yet to taste Ardmore Legacy, which replaced the Traditional in most markets, it would have to be a big departure. Legacy is down in strength to 40%, which also means it's likely chill filtered, and it's a mix of peated and un-peated malt, it's NAS, and there's no quarter casks involved. There's also little-to-no difference in price between the old expression and it's lighter replacement. Maybe they're aiming for the introductory peated whisky buyer who doesn't want the extra edge?
But on the upside, the traditional is now available in a few duty-free / travel retail outlets, for around $10-15 AUD less than it was in the usual stores. So it's well worth grabbing a bottle next time you're jet-setting.