Confessionally, it’s always a touch disheartening when I realize just how integrated, how conglomerated global spirits are. Almost every time I read up on a favorite idiosyncratic and apparently "craft" bottle, I find a flowchart of holding companies and the companies that hold holding companies, a family tree that usually includes some pretty questionable and decidedly un-craft cousins. And I get sad.
This is an unfair reaction, of course. We don’t choose our families, first, and also how else would these things find us? I’m a globalist, I know that. It’s just somehow more fun to believe in the local, the lone, the underdog.
But, integration -- conglomeration -- is an older and more vital story than I knee-jerk give credit. It has for hundreds of years been basically responsible, as product or by-product, for so many of the wonderful things in the world. Take, for example, the single malts of the Ardmore distillery.
Consider its family and Ardmore is no underdog. It’s owned by Fortune Brands, making it a cousin to, say, Moen (the faucets) and Titleist (the golf balls). Its spirits siblings include some of my least favorite and most favorite labels in the world. Oh well, portfolio-building makes strange bedfellows -- and maybe Ardmore belongs here more than it might seem.
Based in Aberdeenshire in the Speyside, Ardmore is one of the most charmingly and rebelliously traditional distilleries in Scotland. They were, for instance, still using coal, not steam to fire the stills as late as 2001. They’re one of the only distilleries in Scotland that still have their own cooperage, making casks and quarter casks out of Oregon Pine. They still have a distillery cat -- a faded Scottish tradition. The current one, for an extra measure of scrappy pluck, has three legs. They’ve been in operation for 112 years, plugging away, and my guess is, unless you’re really up on these things, you may not have heard of them.
This is not your fault. Though it’s produced a few exceedingly rare single malts over the years, Ardmore was founded by William A. Teacher to serve a old-school vertical integration: almost all of the product that leaves the distillery goes to Glasgow, where it comprises the lion’s share of the wildly popular blend Teacher’s Highland Cream.
Go to page 2 for more on Teacher's Highland Cream