Everyone loves an underdog, don't they. Be it the minnows in the World Cup, or the most unlikely victors (recently Leicester City, known as the Foxes, beat the once mighty Manchester United 5-3, after coming from 3-1 behind) there's something to truly celebrate when a small time player comes from nowhere and trounces the competition.
Now, without patronising a clearly great distillery, The Ardmore, one of only a handful of malt distilleries on the mainland of Scotland to use peated barley in its production, never seems to be on anyone's radar when discussing the best smoky whiskies on the market.
Think Smoke - Think Laphroaig/Ardbeg/Caol Ila/Lagavulin/Bowmore etc and you begin to see a very clear picture of just how Islay has a major stranglehold on the world of peated Scotch whisky (not forgetting Skye's Talisker of course)
All this is fine and whisky makers, marketeers and everyone connected with promoting whisky likes to play on the obvious relevance of 'terroir' when it comes to peated whiskies. The harsh island climates, the lonely peat bogs - in essence - it's all encoded deep into the DNA of every Islay/Island whisky story.
But in all the swirls of mist, bottomless black lochs and 110 year-old peat cutters, we seem to have forgotten that great peated whisky can pretty much be made anywhere - not even just in Scotland- look at the mighty Hakushu in Japan and Connemara in Ireland for a global picture.
Ardmore is one such distillery who has been making a whisky unlike any of their Highland neighbour’s wares. Ardmore Traditional Cask has long been on our list of undiscovered gems and a whisky that we often use to highlight the breadth of flavour when considering a 'peaty' whisky. It very much has its own style and as a result, counterpoints some of the more medicinal beasts from Islay.
Recently, Ardmore Traditional Cask has been retired, in favour of a brand new whisky, The Ardmore Legacy, taking its place as the Highland challenger to the Islay-dominated smoky crown.
Legacy continues on a fairly lightly peated trajectory, but don't let this put you off, if you are a fan of the bolder stuff. There's something unique about this whisky that allows it to sit comfortably next to its more medicinal Island brothers, highlighting a whole different world within the concept of peat. What's more, it sits nicely at under £30 here in the UK....
The Ardmore - Legacy - 40%
Nose: Fresh pine wood shavings, a hint of coal tar soap, some dry coal dust embers and then something altogether more floral: a sweet, incense note, candifloss and freshly laundered cotton sheets. It's fresh, youthful, but still full of complimentary aromas.
Palate: A touch of dry oak, some creamy toffee, before the smoke delivers a fresh, almost fruity flavour - think slightly smoked/charred citrus fruit and you're on the right way. There's a good helping of something a little dryer too, with a woody/bonfire note developing, but any overly dry notes are kept nicely in check here. Given time, some more floral, lavender notes develop, with a milky coffee note. Very well balanced indeed.
Finish: The slightly smoky/creamy coffee notes linger, with a hint of lemon zest returning as your palate dries.
Overall: A cracking introduction to peat if you are new to whisky, but with enough complexity going on to still put a smile on any peat head's face too. At under £30, it also represents a departure to where other whisky companies seem to be heading at the moment, so much so that we'd consider this a cabinet essential.