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The original Ardgowan distillery opened in 1896 in Greenock, but ceased trading after just a few short years. In the years that followed, the site was used to produce industrial alcohol until it was destroyed in the Blitz of May 1941.
One of Scotland’s many new distilleries currently in planning, the latest incarnation of Ardgowan is scheduled to be operational by the year 2020, with construction due to commence in the next 12 months. Set in the spectacular Ardgowan Estate, 45 minutes west of Glasgow, this new malt will combine the characteristics typical of it’s lowland setting with the strong coastal influence the site’s proximity to the Atlantic provides.
Earlier this year, an announcement was made that Ardgowan would be entering the marketplace a little earlier than expected and the product it seemed, had something of a story behind it.
Prior to the birth of the Ardgowan concept, the distilleries founding members had spent many years working in renewable energy and in early 2016 they were approached by legendary explorer Robert Swan, the only man in history to have walked to both the north and south pole. Swan was about to embark on a new mission, the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC), which would see him and his son Barney ski to the south pole, relying on 100% renewable energy along the way. One of the many challenges they faced was securing a dependable supply of drinking water, usually created by melting snow with aviation fuel.
Rising to the challenge, the science whizzes at Ardgowan created a snow-melter from a stainless-steel vacuum flask, some argon gas, clear plastic polycarbonate tubing and a tin of matt black paint. The simple design allowed the Sun’s rays to pass through the plastic and heat up the painted flask, whilst the argon gas acted as an insulator and prevented the water from re-freezing. The team could simply fill the flask with snow, and leave it on top of their sled for a while.
In return, Swan agreed to carry a bottle of whisky on his journey and although the man himself was forced to withdraw after 300 miles in need of a hip replacement, his son Barney and the rest of the team successfully completed the mission on the 15th of January 2018. Upon their return, the sample of whisky which they carried to the end of the world was used by Ardgowan Chairman Willie Phelps in creating the Expedition blended malt.
I think it’s fair to say that a price point of £500 a bottle places Expedition beyond the reach of the average whisky drinker. Indeed, it is perhaps best viewed as a collector’s piece, rather than a simple bottle of liquor.
*Full Disclosure: this 5cl bottle of ‘Expedition’ was sent to me free of charge for the purpose of review.
Smell: Honey, Salted Caramel, Treacle, Chocolate Raisins, Orange, Cinnamon and Nutmeg.
Taste: Wonderful texture on the palate – thick and chewy – with Orange Liqueur, Caramel, Chilli Chocolate, Strong Black Tea, Pepper, Cinnamon and Oak.
Value for Money: There is no doubt that this is a beautiful dram, but it comes at rather an extreme price. As a collectors item and one of only 600 bottles, it may prove a good investment, but it’s value in that regard can’t really be judged until it’s appeal at auction is established.
Quite how many people will purchase a bottle of Expedition with the intention of opening and drinking it themselves is debatable, but anyone who does so will be rewarded with a very nice dram indeed. Were it priced at a more reasonable level, it would likely have been amongst the sites highest scorers but affordability has always been at the heart of my reviews and as a result I’ve reigned the score in a little. What I would say however, is the quality of this dram rather bodes well for the eventual release of an Ardgowan single malt, once the small matter of actually building the distillery has been tackled of course.