Ardnamurchan AD/02.22 Cask Strength

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Dancing and Swilling Whisky

When production began at Ardnamurchan Distillery in 2014, it was the first time whisky had “legally” been produced on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Despite this seeming lack of distilling heritage, however, the people of Ardnamurchan have apparently always had a taste for the dram…

In an article from the Dundee Evening Post of Saturday 31 October 1903, under the wonderful headline; “DANCING AND WHISKY SWILLING“, it was reported that a meeting of the Ardnamurchan School Board descended into chaos when a local Reverend complained about the use of local schoolhouses for social meetings.

The Rev. James McNiven said that “dancing and whisky swilling were the distinguishing characteristics of the concerts held at Kilchoan”. He claimed a neighbouring farmer told him that “it grieved his spirit to witness the wild orgies to which the schoolhouses were occasionally prostituted.” The Rev. John Smith seconded the motion, remarking that the playground at Kilchoan had become a dumping hole for empty bottles.

In response, one Mr John Campbell said he recognised in the motion “a deliberate and insidious hit at crofter organisation in the district.” He claimed that he knew “a storm of this nature was brewing in the cauldron of clerical bigotry and intrigue.” Mr. Campbell insisted that he would instantly resign from his seat on the board were the motion to be carried.

Seconding the amendment was Mr Malcolm MacMillan who said “if intemperance was prevalent at Kilchoan, the spiritual labours of the local minsters were obviously in vain.” He argued that no damage had ever been done to buildings or furnishings and that he would follow his friend Mr Campbell into the wilderness should the schoolhouses be closed as proposed.

I truly wish I could bring this story to a satisfactory conclusion but the report simply ends by saying “a heated discussion followed, and the meeting broke up in confusion.” I did look for follow up reports but sadly couldn’t find any. Nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating glimpse into life on the peninsula at the turn of the century and almost reads like a passage from a Compton MacKenzie novel.

Ardnamurchan is an incredibly remote location upon which to build a distillery. However, that same remoteness has allowed the land to remain unspoiled by the encroachment of the modern world. So too, the local community. Ardnamurchan has the highest concentration of Gaelic speakers on the Scottish mainland with 19.3% of the population able to speak the language. Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that the crofters were willing to go to war with the church over the odd ceilidh. Not even the Lord can come between the Gaels and their dram!

The Whisky

Ardnamurchan recently announced the release of a new Cask Strength bottling. I was able to taste a little bit at Glasgow’s Whisky Festival in February and thought it was one of the highlights of the whole event. I’ve been keeping an eye out ever since and managed to grab a bottle from the super-reliable Spirit of Alba in Kirkintilloch.

Smell: A little musty. Then honey, straw and barley malt. Marmalade with orange peel. Some dark chocolate. A little ash. Pepper. Oak. A wee bit herbal. Fragrant, almost perfumed tobacco smoke. Buttery shortbread. Liquorice. A wee splash of lemon juice.

Taste: Honeyed arrival. Malt. Caramel. Vanilla. Pepper. Oily smoke. Toffee apples. Lemon biscuits. Heather. Dark chocolate. Liquorice. A splash of water released more smoke – a bit like petrichor when the rain kicks up ground dust. Nice, orangey tang on the finish.

Thoughts: Upon first sip it came across a little fiery but that soon settled down. There’s something about Ardnamurchan that I really like but I struggle to put my finger on exactly what it is. Perhaps it’s really good casks, perhaps it’s an excellent maturation environment or maybe it’s as simple as a careful, patient production regime. Maybe it’s all of the above. There’s just something there that I don’t find in other new distillery malts. It feels older than it is with a robustness, an effortless weight that feels more interesting to me than many of the ultra clean Lowland malts that have appeared in the last few years. On the nose it’s layered and complex whilst on the palate it manages to nail that difficult balancing act between fully flavoured and subtly evolving. Wonderful texture with all the natural oils left in place. A great new release from what is probably the best new distillery of the last decade.

Value for money: The quality of this liquid easily justifies an asking price of £65. There are bottles two or three times the price that don’t reach this standard.


For more on Ardnamurchan, visit their website


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