Ah, Adelphi. One of my favourite Scottish independent bottlers. Their cask selections represent a level of quality, consistency, and value that are unmatched in the bulk of the Scotch industry. Their Adelphi Selection cask strength single cask range is routinely sterling, and their ongoing 46% abv batch releases are steady as a rock – Liddesdale, comprised of handfuls of choice Bunnahabhain sherry casks, has never disappointed. Fascadale, which, in the past, utilized Highland Park, but has now moved to Ardmore as its source, is an excellent bourbon cask release offering great bang for your buck. I have nothing but trust in the noses and taste buds of those decision makers at the helm of the Adelphi operation.
And then they went ahead and bottled a 53% abv not-yet-whisky, as the inaugural release from their Ardnamurchan distillery, whose stills have been slowly producing spirit since 2014.
Uh, guys? Are you, like, totally sure you want to do that?
The cask makeup is 29 PX and Oloroso sherry octaves, filled with peated, and unpeated spirit, in June 2015, and October 2014.
Octaves seem to be a bit of a gamble. I’ve tasted some great octave single malts, and some middling ones. You may be familiar with the Octave line from Duncan Taylor, which sees traditionally matured single malt finished in octave barrels, for a period of a few months. Here, an optimist might see the octave cask as a tool to enhance and intensify an already great malt. A pessimist might see it as a tool to buffer out faults and ‘juice’ a faulty whisky that was resting in tired old barrels. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
But what we have with Ardnamurchan Spirit is something different. The spirit was filled into octaves first, matured, and then married into full sized sherry butts for three months. Well?
Here it is, the Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD. That’s right, Anno Domini, you know, just to make it clear that this isn’t actually a 4000 year old Bronze Age tipple from 2016 BC. And yes, the window in the painted bottle is probably a spirit hydrometer. Though, is that a reservoir tip at the bottom?
Seriously though, I like the package… er, packaging. It’s a nice change from Adelphi’s charmingly plain, standard bottlings.
Darker than expected.
Quite mellow and approachable. Bright, fresh, spicy oakiness is layered generously onto a lush, warm updraft of peat. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and damp earthy notes come forward. A grain mill crushes barley in the distance. Nice, because young drams can be dominated by gristy aromas, and this one is not. Yet, it maintains a youthful graininess that works in harmony the whole aromatic impression.
Given time, more savoury aromas peek out – barbecued merguez sausages sputter, and a pat of butter melts onto polenta spiked with parmesan.
Pralines, sugary oak, resinous. My Canadian tongue tastes dark maple syrup. Sweetness up front is met with a rising, rich, earthy tang. Peat comes in to support the light spirit and blossoms into a remarkably long and pleasant, smoky finish, curling around a hot cup of hibiscus tea.
To my palate, no sherry to speak of, but, that’s no complaint. If these octaves were mine, and I tasted a barrel sample that tasted like this, I’d be frantically bombing casks into the bottling hall too.
Delicate and mildly spicy, clean, without being thin. The Dancey Man does a jig on your tongue. A light creaminess persists well after the whisky is gone. Warming at full strength.
Adelphi’s first release of Ardnamurchan is, as expected, quite impressive, with depth and complexity that belies its age. And it’s not merely “good for its age”. It’s good. Full stop.
It’s exciting to imagine how their spirit will continue to mature and develop through the years. As a barrel snob, I’m still curious to sample Ardnamurchin liquid that has matured in full sized casks. But, as regards this particular dram in the glass right now, high praise is due.