Ardmore is a Highland single malt distillery with historical links to a number of popular blended Scotch whiskies. Located at the highest point on the Aberdeen-Inverness railway line near Insch, Ardmore is a remote and very traditional distillery. It remains a key ingredient in many blends, especially Teacher's Highland Cream, but is now establishing itself as a single malt brand also.
Ardmore is known for a bold smoky spirit, a style not associated with the Highland region today. Peat cut from the local Aberdeenshire area is used and the barley has a specification of 14PPM (Phenol Parts per Million). The style of smoke is softer, sweeter and gentler than that from Islay. This is due to the prominence of heather and fern compacted within the peat over thousands of years compared to seaweed, kelp and moss on Islay.
For around 40% of the year Ardmore also produces an unpeated spirit. This is named Ardlair and is used mostly for blending contracts. The majority of whisky destined for Ardmore single malt is matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks, although a small percentage of ex-sherry and other fortified wine casks are also used.
Ardmore is a large distillery. The annual production capacity is 5.5 million litres. The distillery has a traditional cast iron 12.5 tonne mash tun, which operates 25 mashes per week. There are 14 wooden washbacks made of Douglas fir with a fermentation time of 55 hours. The unpeated Ardlair has a longer fermentation of 70 hours.
An impressive still house is home to eight stills (4x wash and 4x spirit). These sit in an elevated position in a long row. Ardmore was one of the last distilleries in Scotland to use coal fires to heat their stills. This practice stopped in 2001 and the ovens can be seen below the stills. Water for all aspects of production comes from the nearby Knockandy Hill.
Ardmore was founded in 1898 as part of the late-Victorian wave of Scottish distillery openings. It was constructed by the blending company William Teacher & Sons as their first production facility. The location near Kennethmont was chosen due to its proximity to the east Highland barley fields and River Deveron. Charles Doig, the renowned distillery architect of the day, drew up the designs. The distillery has remained within the company ever since, although it is now part of the larger Beam Suntory group.
The distillery has steadily grown over time to its current size. It has also been in constant production since the first spirit came off the stills in 1899. The first major expansion was in 1955 when Teacher's was growing significantly as a brand. By the early 1970s Teacher's became the first Scotch whisky to sell over one million cases in a year in the UK. On the back of this, the number of stills were doubled to the current eight.
The first single malt under the Ardmore name was not released until 2007. This was called Traditional Cask. Until this time, Ardmore had only been available through independent bottling companies. Now the core range consists of Legacy, 12-year-old Port Finish, plus 20 y.o. and 30 y.o. There are also two no age statements exclusive to travel retail - Tradition and Triple Wood.