Before I bought this one, I’d asked a salesman what he thought of it and he just shrugged his shoulders, grunted primally, and said only “I think you can do better for the money”, which I found fairly surprising because one, I’d heard very good things about it, and two, it’s a $38 bottle of Scotch, I wasn’t really expecting it to set the world on fire and send me flowers the morning after, and three…he and his bad moustache just left it at that, no attempt at another recommendation or sale whatsoever. I decided right then and there, partly because of his incredible salesmanship and all-around bon vivant manner, to really stick it to him and buy the bottle anyway. No one tells ME that I can do better with MY money, I KNOW I can do better with my money. For $38 dollars, I could get a haircut, lord knows I need one, and that’d last me just about as long as the bottle would. Anyway, I’m sure I really taught him a lesson.
I love Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask, as does most of the legal drinking age world, so after learning more about Ardmore’s Traditional Cask, there was really no question that it would end up in my cabinet one day. Both Ardmore and Laphroaig are owned by Fortune Brands (Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Canadian Club, etc.) and “Traditional Cask” is apparently Highland marketing speak for “Quarter Cask” which is the small sized cask this particular malt has been finished in. I suppose traditional cask is an apt name given that back when booze was transported mostly by cart, horses were apparently too lazy to haul big barrels so these littler ones made shipping a whole lot more feasible. The idea is that the quarter cask…okay…sorry, traditional cask, because it’s roughly a quarter the size of an American bourbon casks, exposes the spirit to a lot more wood so it matures uniquely and more quickly.
Ardmore’s Traditional Cask is a peated Highlander made up from a vatting of 6 – 13 year old bourbon cask-matured malts which are then finished in the smaller casks for at least a year. It’s not a distillery you hear much about, Ardmore, but it’s actually one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, producing more than 3 million liters of spirit a year, most of it somewhat peated and most of it for use in the popular Teacher’s Highland Cream blend. In fact, the distillery was built by the son of William Teacher in 1898 specifically to support their classic blend. Only recently has Ardmore started releasing single malt expressions and along with the Traditional Cask, which debuted in 2007, there are 25 year old and 30 year old malts.
The Nose: A honeyed but outdoorsy, earthy kind of nose. I’m gonna sound awfully contradictory here, but there are nice notes of dry leaf smoke, wet leaves and hay, and damp earth and fresh cut wood. Though they say “lightly peated”, the peat does come through pretty well, it’s a little rubbery and faintly medicinal. Over it all, there’s a decent sized candied ginger and raisin-y sweetness that ties everything together.
The Palate: Spicy sweet to start with more candied ginger and honeyed grain. The peat and smoke here almost seem to trade serves with the grain and oak. They’re kind of on opposite sides of the net, it works, but they’re a little at odds with each other. Towards the end, there’s more ginger, anise and oaken dryness.
The Finish: Sweet and nicely long with decent peat continuing, more dry wood smoke, and nice mix of mouth-watering acidity and oakey tannins.
Thoughts: This is a pretty evocative Highland malt. The earthy tones on the nose, the peat and woody tug o’ war on the palate, it’s refined but yet still kind of wild in its way. The sweetness and oakiness don’t quite work perfectly with the peat and smoke, but in a way they play off each other well, and although it’s a fairly sweet malt, there are a lot of good earthy, smokey hooks to hang your hat on. I found this bottle for around $38, which I think is a great value, definitely worth a look.