What attracted you to the whisky industry, and how did the Ardross dream come to be realised?
Frankly, I am not too sure! I would like to say it was a purely analytic, rational process that brought us there but explanations after the fact too often give an illusion of linearity in decision-making. The reality is often much more chaotic and serendipitous. And so it was for us (and continues to be!). So in a rather long form, as I don’t have time to be short:
Ardross is owned by a Trust who, among other activities, notably in the art world, are committed to long-term investments. They have faithfully restored and renovated a number of Grade I and II listed buildings in London and beyond, Londons’ the Ned, The Wolseley & Les Ambassadeurs Casino in Mayfair are just three well-known and lauded examples of such buildings in their portfolio. This ownership structure allows us to have the luxury to think about the future in generational terms. In other words, we are insulated from the vagaries of short-termism, which proves very useful in activities that require a – very – long-term outlook such as Scotch Whisky creation and maturation. It also helps that there are very high barrier to entry in the Scotch Whisky industry, both financial and expertise related, and meeting Andrew Rankin provided us with an opportunity to overcome some of these barriers.
Andrew is an icon in the world of whisky with a career spanning almost 50 years. Having spent 22 years working on some of the world’s most famous whiskies at Morrison Bowmore (namely Bowmore Black, the Trilogy releases, and the 50 Year Old, his knowledge and expertise, especially when it comes to wood maturation, is unparalleled. Andrew was tasked with finding and building us a home in Scotland, and having undertaken a roving journey across Scotland, eventually came across the Ardross Mains – a 19th century farmhouse deep in the Northern Highlands which was sympathetically renovated with the utmost care.
It would be a mistake to say I am driving Ardross’ success, as it is largely thanks to Andrew’s incomparable expertise and understanding of the industry, and connections in Jerez, Japan, and the US that we are where we are today. I sometimes have rather unconventional ideas and he is the wise guy who has the years and the grounding and erudition to prevent us making mistakes which, in this industry, can be very costly. It makes for an interesting partnership – sometimes we are completely at odds, and it is from this friction, I think, that creativity ensues.
Who are the key names behind the project?
The quality of expertise behind the Ardross project is something we are very proud of. We have the credibility of the industry professionals in everything that is related to production, providing a foundation on which out-of-the-box thinking can thrive. In addition to Andrew, Willie Dobbins, who spent over 30 years at Morrison Bowmore before joining Hunter Laing, is Ardross’s Operations Manager, and Sandy Jamieson, who has worked in the industry since 1979, is our Distillery Manager.
Between our Master Distiller, Master Blender, and General Operations Manager, we have a combined 130 years of industry experience under our belt, something very few new distilleries can claim.
Tell us about Ardross’ new make, which recently became the first of its class to be auctioned at Christies.
Ardross specialises in Single Malt and will produce two ‘main lines’ of Scotch: a Northern Highland Single Malt and a Peated Single Malt. Experimentation is high on the agenda – along with different cask finishes, the team is playing around with phenol levels (producing heavily peated styles akin to Laphroaig and Ardbeg and maturing them in Sherry butts).
When the first trials of the Ardross new-make were produced in 2019, the industry feedback was unanimous that the quality was phenomenal.
It was an honour to be selected by Christie’s for inclusion in the Finest and Rarest Wines & Spirits auction in December (2021), given the auction house has never previously auctioned casks of new make. The 3 casks were sold for £200,000 (before fees); their inclusion, and the record-setting price at which they were sold, demonstrate an immense confidence in Ardross.
The rest of this editorial will be published in print at a later date.