Today, peat is synonymous with Islay. But it was once the signature flavour of virtually all Scotch whiskies, especially those from the Highlands, where the dry peat and inland maturation infused the malt with a deep, rich earthy smoke very different to the salty brine of the islands. While most Highland whiskies are now unpeated or only lightly peated, Ardmore stands as a bold and distinctive monument to the classic Highland style, with caramel and vanilla sweetness mingling with oak and smoke. In other senses, too, it is relatively old-school: it maintained its own maltings until the 1970s and still has its own cooperage, where casks are prepared for filling. At the time of its founding in 1898, however, it was relatively modern, the distillery being powered in its entirety by a single steam engine: over the next century, it would be expanded several times to become one of the largest distilleries in Scotland.
Long a key ingredient in the Teacher’s blends, to which it lent its full-bodied peaty character, Ardmore is now available in some single malt expressions which stand out as refreshingly different in the modern whisky market. Supposedly, unpeated Ardmore is available to blenders under the name ‘Ardlair’.