‘Hepburn’s Choice’ Benrinnes 8 Year Old

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Hunter Laing and Ardnahoe

Hunter Laing are blenders and bottlers of the finest Scotch whiskies. Based in the city of Glasgow, the company was founded by one Stewart Laing, son of Frederick Douglas Laing who created his own blending company, Douglas Laing, in 1949. Stewart himself began work at the family business in 1964 and remained at the company until 2013, when he departed to create Hunter Laing with his son, Andrew.

Today, the company are headquartered at Park Circus in the city’s plush west end though they also own a maturation warehouse in East Kilbride, capable of holding some 14,000 casks. In 2016, it was announced that Hunter Laing were to take the bold step towards becoming distillers in their own right and had been granted planning permission to build a new distillery on the north-east coast of Islay. Construction on the new Ardnahoe distillery was completed in late 2019, with the first barrel filled on the 9th of November before Islay’s ninth distillery finally opened its doors to the public in April of 2019.

Whilst work on the distillery was being completed, Ardnahoe occupied a retail unit in the centrally located Islay House Square, near Bridgend. As well as an array of distillery merchandise, this handy little shop also stocked an impressive array of Hunter Laing bottlings, including a good selection of the Hepburn’s Choice label. This affordable range of single cask bottlings is named after Stewart’s grandfather William Hepburn, who honed his exceptional taste for whisky during the various embassy functions he was obliged to attend throughout a long career in the diplomatic service.

During my last visit to Islay, back in October 2018, I was fortunate enough to be shown round Ardnahoe whilst it was still in development and test runs of the equipment were being carried out. Though it was clearly very early days, the little taster I enjoyed of new make spirit that had come off the stills that morning certainly showed a lot of promise. Back at the shop in the square meanwhile, I found myself intrigued with one bottle in particular. Aged for 8 years, the spirit was distilled in 2007 at Benrinnes distillery in Speyside before bottling in 2016. Benrinnes is a distillery I’ve began to hold rather close to my heart over the last couple of years, such is its robust and somewhat meaty character. Intriguingly however, this particular example had been given an unsual finish in a cask seasoned with Rose wine. At just £40 a bottle, I was unable to resist…

The Whisky

Smell: Green fruits, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and black pepper with an undercurrent of chargrilled meats.

Taste: Vanilla and butter pastry. Strawberry, raspberry and grape juice… ending with a spicy, peppered steak finish.

Thoughts: Benrinnes is a fascinating single malt at the best of times. Add an additional layer of flavour from the Rose influence and you elevate it to something completely new. This is the one and only time I’ve seen such a thing.

The famously robust meaty character of Benrinnes is immediately apparent on the nose, but the palate seems to hide away at first, creating what can only be described as a dram of two halves. At first it’s a light and delicate Speyside malt, with fruity / berry top notes but then it turns altogether meatier with a nice bit of spice in the second half. An interesting and unusual whisky experience at an affordable price.

For more on Hunter Laing…

For more on Benrinnes…

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