Ardnamurchan‘s history starts with Adelphi’s, but not the nowadays Adelphi we know. Adelphi is an independent bottler, but the name Adelphi appeared way before the indy bottling company creation. Initially, Adelphi was the name of a distillery. So as usual, we’ll talk about the distilleries (plural) history as well as the bottler’s, then we’ll review their fifth batch, the Ardnamurchan AD/07.21:05.
Adelphi And Ardnamurchan History
The Adelphi Distillery…
The story starts in 1826 (hence the Twitter account name for Ardnamurchan, @distillery1826). That year, the two brothers Charles and David Gray established the Adelphi Distillery on what was a two-acre orchard in Glasgow, on the banks of the River Clyde, just south of the Clyde’s Victoria Bridge, on the northern edge of the Gorbals. The distillery was renamed Loch Katrine Adelphi Distillery in 1870 (not to be mistaken with Loch Katrine Distillery that was in Camlachie, a suburb of Glasgow) as the distillery had been using since the 1860s the water from the Loch Katrine through a vast pipeline created to carry water from the loch to Glasgow.
The Grays operated the distillery for decades until they sold the distillery in 1880 to Messrs A. Walker and Co. Walker and Co. injected capital to expand the distillery and installed a Coffey column still to produce grain whisky in addition of the existing four pot-stills. In 1886, all stills were in full production, making Adelphi one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, with an output of 516,000 gallons of alcohol per year. The distillery featured at the time ten 16,000 gallons washbacks. The wash stills had a 6,000-gallon capacity each whilst the spirit stills had a 4,500-gallon capacity.
Even though it was one of the largest distilleries at the time, which may have ensured its independence, Loch Katrine Adelphi Distillery was bought in 1903 by DCL (Distillers Company Ltd.). In 1906, one of the colossal washbacks in the distillery collapsed, and that accident, known as the Great Gorbals Disaster, engulfed the neighbouring street in a tidal wave of alcohol, which resulted in fatality. In 1907, the pot stills used to make malt whisky fell silent, but the grain distilling and the cask maturation continued.
The grain distilling ceased in 1932, and in 1968 the last activity, the bonded warehousing, stopped in its turn. The distillery buildings were demolished between 1968 and 1970, and the chimney in 1971. In 1984, the Glasgow Central Mosque was erected on the former site of Adelphi Distillery.
… To The Independent Bottler…
Two decades after the demolishing of the distillery, Jamie Walker, the great-grandson of Archibald Walker, revived the Adelphi name as an independent bottling company. He brought with him Charles Maclean as Adelphi’s ‘Chief Nose’ (and chief moustache I’m sure). A year later, he acquires the copyright for Punch Magazine’s cartoon of William Gladstone and the Dancey Man, which became Adelphi’s mascot. In 1860, William Gladstone had passed a low allowing Scotch whisky to be matured tax-free until ready for sale, and Punch magazine celebrated that with the cartoon of the Dancey Man.
In 2004, Jamie Walker was approached by Keith Falconer and Donald Houston, from Argyll, on a recommendation, to buy a hogshead of whisky. They ended up buying the company as they were very impressed, but Walker was adamant that the quality should not be sacrificed for volume, and that should continue after he sold the company. The new team was completed with Alex Bruce, a descendent by his mother of Andrew Usher, who was credited with pioneering blended whisky in the 1840s, and whose father was a patron and former Grand Master of the Keepers of the Quaich, and Liz Macdonald, a former P.A. to the Beatles, and who joined Adelphi as Company Secretary. Alex Bruce was himself made a Keeper of the Quaich in 2006.
… To The Ardnamurchan Adelphi Distillery
The first thoughts of building a distillery in order to complete the circle back to distilling appeared in 2007. After all, the demand was steadily growing, so having its own distillery was quite logical. I would take five years, however, in study, and in 2012 the planning permission was granted. The following year, the ground was broken at the new distillery site in Glenbeg (just north-west of the Isle of Mull, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula), and the construction was finished in the presence of HSH the Prince Albert of Monaco. The spirit started to flow the 25th of July 2014, this time in the presence of HRH the Princess Royal Anne who drew the first bottle of spirit, officially opening the distillery in the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Ardnamurchan Distillery is the first distillery in Scotland to be heated entirely by locally sourced woodchips.
Ardnamurchan uses Concerto barley, both unpeated and peated at 30ppm. They mash two tons of grist in the semi-lauter mash tuns, using water from the Glenmore River and springs above the distillery. After the three waters (at 64 to 65°C, 82°C and 90°C), 10,000L of wort will then be pumped to one of the seven washbacks (4 oak and 3 stainless steel, 15,000L capacity) for a 72 to 120 hours fermentation using distillers’ yeast. Once fermented, the 10,000L of wash will be charged into the 10,000L wash still for a first distillation. After the first distillation, the 6,000L capacity spirit still will receive a full charge as well for the second distillation, giving a new make strength between 74 and 76%. In both distillations, the condensing is done using shell and tubes outside the building. The new make will then be reduced to 63.5% before being filled in casks. Maturation is then done on site in a dunnage style warehouse. The current capacity of the distillery is 400,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, having already doubled (in 2018) since it started.
2016 saw the first official bottling of Ardnamurchan spirit, with the release of Ardnamurchan 2016 AD. 2,500 bottles were released and sold out overnight. The following year, a second bottling of spirit was released, Ardnamurchan 2017 AD, with 2,500 bottles as well, quickly sold out too. For their third bottling in 2018, they used bigger casks, giving an outturn of 5,000 bottles of Ardnamurchan 2018AD. The inaugural release, Ardnamurchan AD/09.20:01, was bottled on the 22 September 2020 and released later that year. Their inaugural release had an outturn of 15,978 bottles sold at a less than £50 RRP.
Is it stretching a bit the history though?
Note: this part has been added a couple hours after the initial publication.
I’m a bit surprised by the association of ‘1826’ to Ardnamurchan distillery. Sure, the founder of Adelphi (the bottler) was the great-grandson of someone who owned the original Loch Katrine Adelphi Distillery that was founded in 1826 by the Gray brothers, but the ‘original’ one was in the suburbs of Glasgow whilst the new distillery, open in 2014, is in the Ardnamurchan peninsula and close to a 4 hours drive from the original one. Isn’t that playing a bit too much with history and giving too large a place to marketing? I can but applause the transparency and details Ardnamurchan provides about their whiskies, and the whole history of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Adelphi distilleries is published on their website, but isn’t the 1826 a bit misleading? I know distilleries, bottlers, bonders and blenders are often a wee bit ‘enthusiastic’ in their stories and ‘provenance’, but isn’t that a bit too much? And is it not okay for a distillery to say it’s a recent one? Or am I the only grumpy one, devoid of poetry and comprehension of romanticized stories? I don’t want to especially pinpoint Ardnamurchan, but I’ve just realized that after updating my article with additional info. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, dear reader.
Ardnamurchan AD/07.21:05 Review
On the back label of the bottle, you can find a QR code that, if you scan it, sends you to a page on Ardnamurchan’s website, giving you full details about your bottle. I write this review from a sample and not a full bottle, but I’ve scanned the QR code found on the back label of a bottle that was put to auction to see what info they give. You get your bottle number from the batch of 19,998 bottles of this 5th Ardnamurchan batch. It will tell you who filled the bottle and on which day, how the whisky is made, tasting notes, and its full traceability. The Concerto barley comes from the Brucefield… field, from Broomhall farm, and they sourced it through Bairds Maltings. They’ll give you the temperatures of the three waters used for the mashing (64/65°C, 82°C and 90°C) and who was the operator. They don’t provide the type of yeast used for the fermentation but tell you who operated the fermentation and that it lasted about 76 hours. Regarding the distillation, on top of the still operator, they tell you the hydrometer read 75% abv when they started the cut, and 69.5% when they stopped the cut. Finally, they list all the casks used to make this batch, filled between 2014 and 2016, making this whisky about 5 years old. 38 casks filled with unpeated make were used, and 33 were filled with peated make. The casks used mostly were either ASB (American Standard Barrel) or hogsheads, with 3 butts as well, and they contained either bourbon, oloroso sherry or Pedro Ximenez. Quite an unusual and welcomed transparency for the people interested in that, well done Ardnamurchan!
Okay, enough with the details, let’s conclude. The outturn of this batch was 19,998 bottles filled in July 2021 at 46.8% ABV, all unchill filtered and natural colour. Still easily available in the UK between £40 and £45, and in Europe between €48 and €60.
Amber. A crown quickly form after wetting the glass walls with the whisky, with medium-sized heads morphing to slow descending thin legs.
Not that intense when the glass is still a few centimetres under the nose, but as you bring the glass closer, the nose quickly becomes prickly. The initial impression is of a lightly peated farmy side. The malt is very present on the nose, with different steps of its life, as you can get the cracked malted barley, the grist, and then you’re like having a sniff on top of the mash tun, then on the washback as they add the yeast. Then the fruits come through, with citrusy notes first, mango, pineapple and banana, dusted with vanilla. Hints of sulphurous notes that quickly disappear.
Feels slightly more peaty than the nose, but less smoky, if that makes sense. This is a bit herbal, peppery, the fake wasabi we have in Europe mixed with sweet soy sauce. The fruits are here too, with lemon, orange, grapefruit, pineapple and not-pine apple (sorry). Some ‘darker’ notes from the sherry casks as well with chocolate, hints of leather and wood furniture polish.
Long, on these herbal, peppery lemony notes with a bit of chocolate too, and maybe some menthol as well.
This Ardnamurchan AD/07.21:05 is a good surprise and it feels slightly older than it is. The age shows a bit on the nose, with its strong malty notes, but the fruity character and the light peat do wonders to hide that youth and make the nose quite nice. On the palate, still a bit of youth, but honestly I don’t think it’s 3 years old, maybe 5 or 6? The 65% bourbon/35% sherry ratio is quite ‘visible’ on the palate as the bourbon cask-induced notes are slightly dominant, but with a nice integration of the flavours imparted by the sherry casks. Very good first experience with Ardnamurchan, I’ll have to try later and older batches.