The Ardmore Scotch Whisky Distillery is located in Speyside, Scotland and was built in 1898 by Adam Teacher, son of its founder, William. One of the largest distilleries in Scotland, for many years the whisky produced there was the “fingerprint malt” for the Teacher’s blended Scotch whisky. However, in recent years the Single Malt produced there has become increasing popular, both in the U.S. and around the world.
In fact, the Scotch market is hot, and the interest among malt enthusiasts continues to drive Single Malt Scotch growth at a healthy rate, up 6.5%, while overall consumption patterns have pushed the entire category up slightly in 2006, up by 0.1%, according to the Cheers On-Premise Handbook 2007. And much like other spirits categories, Scotch has benefitted from the industry’s move towards super-premium products. Riding this wave of interest, earlier this year, Ardmore Traditional Cask was released in the U.S., the first single malt from Ardmore to be widely available in the U.S. The distillery’s manager. Alistair Longwell, visited America for the first time to inform bartenders and consumers about Ardmore. Here, Longwell informs us about this unique Single Malt release, his work at the distillery and the rich history behind Ardmore.
The Beverage Information Group: What are your main responsibilities as the manager for Ardmore Distillery?
Alistair Longwell: As Distillery Manager, I am responsible for ensuring that the high standards of quality and tradition as set forth by Adam Teacher, the son of our founder William Teacher, are maintained and followed through daily. I rely heavily on the wonderful Ardmore staff employees who are equally as dedicated to producing the finest single malt in the world.
BIG: Are you also considered a brand ambassador for Ardmore? How much of your time is spent at the distillery, and do you travel as well to help promote Ardmore?
Longwell: While Simon Brooking is Ardmore’s Master Ambassador, I also have the opportunity to reach out to consumers, educate them on Ardmore and help represent this unique product. I spend a lot of my time in the Distillery working with our employees to ensure that we are producing the best product we can. I travel all over the world helping to promote Ardmore and its full, rich taste. Recently, Ardmore Traditional Cask was released in America and I had the opportunity to go to New York for the first time. I was able to engage with our new consumers and fully inform the American media about Ardmore. I visited (and drank!) with bartenders and consumers who are just now being introduced to Ardmore and share the rich history of our brand.
Longwell: We have always taken the safety of our employees and compliance with industry regulations extremely seriously. The Ardmore Distillery uses many of the same traditions and equipment that were used when production first started in 1898. We are committed to a program of renewing our traditional wooden washbacks to maximize the flavor production, while many other distillers have moved to stainless steel. We firmly believe that the flavors evident in Ardmore Traditional Cask are in some part due to the traditional production methods we employ during malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation.
BIG: Several of the Ardmore Distillery employees were recently honored by Tom Flocco, president and CEO of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, the supplier of Ardmore. For example, awards were presented to three generations of Grant employees, for their combined 100 years of service. It’s rare to find that kind of service to a company these days. Why do you think the Distillery has been able to retain employees for that length of time?
Longwell: At the heart of the Ardmore Distillery lies the passion of dedicated employees and their commitment to upholding quality methods of traditional distilling. The Grants represent three generations of their family that are faithful in maintaining Ardmore traditions. As a family, they help illustrate the fact that Ardmore is steeped in a tradition that not only brings about a great tasting single malt whisky, but also creates family heritage. Beam Global Spirits & Wine regularly honors employees who stand out as extraordinary examples in bringing the company’s vision of Building Brands People Want to Talk About, to fruition.
BIG: Ardmore Traditional Cask was released in the U.S. in March, the first single malt whisky from Ardmore widely available in the U.S. The Single Malt category seems to be growing in popularity. To what do you attribute this increased interest in Single Malts; what makes them unique, as compared to other types of Scotch whisky?
Longwell: There definitely has been a surge of consumer interest in the U.S. market for high-end premium whiskies - the single malt sub-category saw 13% growth in 2007 alone. On a global scale, growth is also strong as popularity of single malts is on the rise in emerging markets. For example, Taiwan saw almost 40% growth last year. Single malt whisky is the uniquely distilled spirit from one particular malt whisky distillery. The flavors tend to be fuller and more distinctive than those apparent in blended Scotch whisky. These are created by mixing a range of single malt whiskies with lighter grain spirits. For many years Ardmore was produced solely as the “fingerprint malt” for the internationally renowned Teacher’s Highland Cream Blended Scotch whisky, providing a substantial percentage of that blend’s full flavor.
BIG: Describe the flavor profile of Traditional Cask. What is distinctive or unusual about its distillation process and how does that affect the taste? Ardmore is the only fully-peated Highland Single Malt. This step can be time-consuming and expensive. Tell us a bit about this process and why it is necessary at Ardmore.
Longwell: The fully-peated Ardmore Traditional Cask offers the rich, sweet signature flavor profile of traditional Highland malts, but with smoky peat undertones typically reserved for Islay whiskies. The careful quarter cask production process – which the Ardmore Distillery is only the second to employ – results in a whisky that beautifully combines the unique flavors of smoke, vanilla and sweet, ripe fruit and spice. The Traditional Cask’s definitive character and flavor profile is an ideal step up for those that want to break away from the taste of traditional Scotch whiskies.
As you mention, the full-peating is very rare for a Highland Malt Whisky. The process was insisted upon from the very earliest days to maintain a unique, peat-smoke richness. For background, Ardmore is double cask matured, initially in ex-bourbon oak barrels and then in quarter casks; a type of cask extensively used in the 19th century but used less and less as the industry expanded. Quarter casks are significantly smaller than ex-bourbon barrels and allow greater contact with the oak during maturation. The result is a more rounded flavor, accompanied by a subtle sweetness and spice.
BIG: What’s your favorite way to enjoy Ardmore Scotch? Are these whiskies best served straight up, or can some be mixed in cocktails as well?
Longwell: The full-bodied smoothness of Ardmore can be appreciated best at a bottling strength of 92 proof, but also is enjoyed with water or over ice. If a touch of water is added, then the flavors increase with the addition of a sweet ripe fruit start followed by the tang of peat.