January 31, 2022
An interview from Barth Brosseau founder of Ardross Whisky Distillery
Tell us a bit about your own background and how you came to become the founder of the Ardross Whisky Distillery?
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 a renovated a number of Grades 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 outlooks such as Scotch Whisky creation and maturation.
It also helps that there are very high barriers to entry in the Scotch Whisky industry, both financial and expertise related, and that 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 from 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.
Tell us more about the team behind Ardross Distillery and what they bring to the group?
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 the Ardross Distillery’s specific vision for your new make whisky?
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.
Ardross Distillery set benchmarks at a recent Christie’s auction, selling 3 barrels of newmake for £200,000. What was your reaction to this?
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 immense confidence in Ardross.
Talk to us about the work you are doing with the Ardross Single Cask Society (ASCS) and what the inspiration behind it was?
The inspiration was twofold. Firstly, I believe in vicarious learning and had always dreamed of assembling a group of interesting individuals from different geographies and various career paths around Ardross and our common passions. The Covid crisis crystallised this dream when we realised that the demand for the casks we held in our inventory had risen very significantly. We thought that by creating a framework sensibly priced for the purchase of Casks of the utmost quality, we would be able to start this ‘community-building’ process. The Scotch Whisky Market is notoriously opaque and hard to penetrate for the neophyte. People are attracted to the indulgence and romance of owning a part of Scottish culture but can sometimes be unsure or uneducated about Cask ownership and market dynamics. We provide a no-nonsense proposition combined with an innovative reputation-building programme resting on leveraging the four pillars of Ardross; Our land, our people, our tools, and our savoir-faire.
The ASCS is about sharing our creations with like-minded enthusiasts. We recently partnered with Maestro Habanero Manuh Harit to create the ‘Ardross Grand Cru Laguito N.5.’ – a full-strength cigar offering a wide range of woody flavours, with hints of coffee, cocoa, nuts. Its uniqueness lies in the extra-ageing of the blend conducted in our own Casks, smoothing it out and revealing a rounder and mellow smoke. We sent a box to each of our Members, a gift that bridges our interests and passions to thank them for their confidence in us.
We live in a world where everything is available straight away – one click and you can have everything you want. And we are quite a contrarian in that regard. The idea is to make you discover, or enter our world, almost sequentially. Delayed gratification is part of the appeal – the idea is to build value and for our value proposition to unfold over time.