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Scotland’s ‘greenest’ distillery launches first single malt Scotch whisky

After a long wait, whisky fans can finally get a taste of Ardnamurchan Distillery’s spirit.
By Angus MacRaild
The Ardnamurchan Distillery
The Ardnamurchan Distillery
Out of sight, out of mind. This might be a useful way to categorise Ardnamurchan Distillery’s place in the broader whisky consciousness over the past decade. Flung far out on a western Highland peninsula, when viewed from a map you might be forgiven for thinking it was a distillery in exile. In reality, however, the more suitable geographical symbolism might be one of rolling up your sleeves, heading off on your own and getting on with things.

Ardnamurchan is one of an increasing number of distilleries born from, or bought by, an independent bottling company. A relatively modern, although not surprising phenomena, where bottlers find supplies of interesting and affordable casks dwindling and see creating their own whisky as the most viable path to future security.

In the case of Ardnamurchan, its roots lie in the independent bottler Adelphi, itself rooted historically via family descent in the old Glasgow-based Adelphi distillery which ceased production in 1932.


To understand Adelphi itself is to better understand the motivations and practices of Ardnamurchan. Adelphi has long been a rather ideological and quietly eccentric bottler. It’s notoriously eye-straining labels making the quiet point about the whisky itself being the star of the show and the keen connoisseur being the target consumer. Something that you think should the case with any whisky company, but given the rather bizarre times this drink finds itself in with notions of flipping and investment, it’s an important philosophy to remember.

Ardnamurchan managing director Alex Bruce (L) and sales director Connal Mackenzie Ardnamurchan managing director Alex Bruce (L) and sales director Connal Mackenzie.

Adelphi was never flashy in its packaging or presentation and always made a point of releasing notably serious whiskies. When the changing nature of the independent bottling scene first motivated the idea of building their own distillery in 2007, its unsurprising to see the eventual results possess many similar attributes of straight forwardness and unfussy charm.

The story of most new distilleries is one of education through error and a certain amount of ‘on the hoof’ cobbling things together. In Ardnamurchan’s case, the Adelphi team’s clarity of purpose was an asset. Little changed in the early stages of planning and construction other than the late stage decision to add in some extra washbacks to increase capacity – hence why they have both steel and wood. Two styles of distillate were to be produced: peated and unpeated, with a 50/50 even split. While barley was grown on Broomhall farm in Fife, allowing control of supply and a longer-term ability to explore varieties.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery The Ardnamurchan Distillery.

Today, with their first proper commercial bottling of single malt about to hit the shelves, the distillery has hewn an emerging identity that mixes tradition with some quite distinctly forward-looking ideas. Most importantly, the commitment to sustainability and green energy is commendable for its authenticity – there is no lip service or half measures at Ardnamurchan – with 100% renewable energy and a biomass wood chip boiler.

While on the consumer side of things the use of blockchain is raising some fascinating possibilities around transparency and information.


The idea was initially one grounded in functionality and pragmatism as a way for distillery workers to record and embed data in a way that could be more easily shared with HMRC. However, it soon became apparent that this would be a way for consumers to explore, in almost hyper-nerdy levels of detail, the creation of their whisky. After all, that core philosophy about making products to be consumed is still the driving force. Even more so now that Adelphi has felt somewhat frustrated in the past couple of years by the escalating flipping of their bottles on the secondary market.

Blockchain’s full potential remains to be realised and as more bottlings are released in the coming years it will no doubt form an interesting part of the evolving whisky landscape. For now, the whisky itself is the more immediate litmus test for Ardnamurchan and in this aspect lies their more traditionalist instincts. Rather than pursue a many-faceted approach to distilling — as seen at distilleries such as Bruichladdich — they are keen to emphasise their desire to make a full-bodied, classic ‘Highland’ style of whisky which they can build and steadily grow through Adelphi’s longstanding sales channels. While they are keen to do more things with barley, and ideally in the long term their own matings, the prime directive remains a traditional make and sales model.

Casks of Ardnamurchan Spirit Casks of Ardnamurchan Spirit.

The cask samples provided alongside their new flagship batch release reveal a core distillate style that is texturally weighty and showing a distinct interplay between farmyard and coastal elements. It is a style which, although still slightly ungainly with youth, certainly feels highland and possess a sense of direction that is evident in both peated and un-peated makes. To this end the cask selection is similarly straightforward: 55% bourbon, 35% sherry and 10-15% refill - with occasional more left-field casks filled for variation. The new release, AD/ Batch: 01 is bottled at 46.8% with an outturn of 16,000 bottles, which will be available worldwide at an obviously very ‘drinkable’ price of £45. As will likely become the norm for these batches, the QR code is your friend for as much detail and information as you desire. Although, just how this will ultimately square with Scotch Whisky Association regulations is, for now, something of a grey area.

What is for certain is that, after six years of quiet, steady production, Ardnamurchan is emerging as the distillery embodiment of Adelphi in approach and style. In comparison to the rather outlandish and competitive ‘look at me’ jostle of the independent distilling scene in Scotland — and the wider UK — it could be seen as low key, even boring to some. However, there is a directness, simplicity and confidence about it and its quirkily traditional ambitions, that is undeniably refreshing.

While it may fall behind in areas such as the burgeoning interest in more complex fermentation regimes in whisky creation, Ardnamurchan is unquestionably producing a style of spirit with clear charisma. Longer term it is seeking a consistency and dependability of style which it believes consumers will latch onto. Patience and time will certainly refine their distillate fully, although how the broader brand identity of the traditional and the futuristic evolves will perhaps be the more fascinating and uncertain story ahead for Ardnamurchan.

The inagural single malt Scotch whisky release from Ardnamurchan Distillery The inagural single malt Scotch whisky release from Ardnamurchan Distillery.

Ardnamurchan
AD/09.20:01
Adelphi Distillery Ltd

ABV: 46.8%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Highland
Price per bottle: RRP £45
Bottling: Distillery
Availability: Worldwide

Nose
Crisp green apple and waxed lemon peel to start. Evolves a nicely fragrant sandalwood aspect with many assertive cereals and a sourdough starter yeasty note.

Palate
Rather bready and with sunflower oils, orange peels and a little camphor. Not unlike many new world whiskies.

Finish
Good length, warming, peppery and again with this scented sandalwood quality.

Comments
Shows its youth at times, but there’s a fullness to the profile which feels convincingly - and reassuringly - ‘Highland’.

Score: 8.3


Ardnamurchan
AD/CK.364-17/11/14. Single barrel finish - Paul Launois Le Mesnil-Sur Oger
Adelphi Distillery Ltd

ABV: 58.2%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Highland
Price per bottle: N/A
Bottling: Distillery cask sample
Availability: N/A

Nose
Sharp, tart acidity with pressed flowers, a roiling washback, lemon curd and light chalkiness. Water opens up pollens, warm breads, laundered fabrics and waxed canvass.

Palate
Dryly earthy, turmeric, spicy rye breads, green pepper, a little mustard powder and some glazed pastries adding a touch of sweetness. Water brings coconut and gorse flower, fennel seed, lime pith and light sooty notes.

Finish
Quite long, spicy, drying and earthy.

Comments
A bit sharp around the edges and the wood remains a bit ‘jaggy’. However, there are some enjoyable, if disparate, threads here, hopefully time will tie them altogether neatly.

Score: 7.7


Ardnamurchan
AD/CK.371-30/07/15 - peated ex-bourbon barrel
Adelphi Distillery Ltd

ABV: 59.2%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Highland
Price per bottle: N/A
Bottling: Distillery cask sample
Availability: N/A

Nose
Gutsy, raw smoke, sheep wool, tar, puffer fumes and hot, greasy engines. A nice tension between the farmyard and the seashore. Water increases the tarry notes, adds black pepper and smoked meats.

Palate
Textural, fat, greasy peat. Alongside mechanical oils, gloopy medicines and brine. Powerful but well-poised. Water brings seawater, chalk, lemon juice and green olives.

Finish
Long, deeply smoky, lightly herbal and with some rather punchy medicinal flavours.

Comments
It’s long been said that peat covers the sins of youth, however, in this case I think it’s simply an excellently produced, bright, young peat monster. Charismatic and classy!

Score: 8.4


Ardnamurchan
AD/CK.670-16/10/15 - peated ex-oloroso hogshead
Adelphi Distillery Ltd

ABV: 59.5%
Style: Single Malt
Region: Highland
Price per bottle: N/A
Bottling: Distillery cask sample
Availability: N/A

Nose
This same sense of youthful acidity at first, then a resinous and saline sherry threaded with deep peat smoke, black pepper, clay and tar. Deep, potent and fatty. Water brings softer tones of bacon frazzles and smoked olive oil.

Palate
Charred wood, pineapple cubes, herbal toothpaste and big notes of mouthwash, pickled black olives and pine resin. A very modern sherry style but works well. Water offers a more complex herbal profile, deeper tarry notes and many cured meat flavours.

Finish
Long, deeply tarry, cherry cough sweets, more wood char and black pepper.

Comments
You have to like this highly active, modern style sherry cask but this is brimming with flavour and thrilling power. Hopefully more of this to come…

Score: 8.5