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An Ardnahoe Distillery Exclusive
Almost every distillery does some kind of exclusive bottling nowadays. Whisky loving tourists have come to expect it. However, when you’re a young distillery, without any whisky to sell, you have to get a bit more creative if you want to offer your visitors something unique.
Construction work began on Ardnahoe in 2017. By October the following year, Islay’s ninth distillery was producing spirit and the first cask was filled in November. Three years later, in 2021, the distillery celebrated its spirit reaching that all-important milestone: it could now be called whisky. However, the distillery team are in no rush to bottle. Not until they’re sure the spirit is just right. Fortunately, however, they have no shortage of options when it comes to offering their guests souvenir bottlings.
Ardnahoe is owned by Hunter Laing, a Glasgow-based blender and independent bottler of Scotch whiskies. Founded by Stewart Laing and sons Andrew and Scott, Hunter Laing has access to an impressive array of casks, built up over years in the whisky business.
Stewart started his career working with his Father, Frederick Laing. Whilst working in the family business he oversaw the 1998 launch of the Old Malt Cask label. This series of single cask bottlings featured whiskies from all over Scotland. When Stewart left the business to form a new company with his sons, he took the brand with him.
Hunter Laing seek out casks from cooperages in Scotland and the US, as well as bodegas in Spain. The casks are shipped to Scotland and sent to various distilleries to be filled with new make spirit. This is a privilege only the most well-established of bottlers hold and it allows the company great control over their stocks.
Once filled, casks mature in the Hunter Laing warehouses for as long as necessary. All the while their progress is monitored by Master Blender, Tom Aitken. Many of them will go into the company’s blended Scotch brands like House of Peers but those that stand out from the crowd are set aside to be bottled as single casks under labels like Old Malt Cask.
Such a selection to choose from is a great advantage for a new distillery. When I visited Ardnahoe in April they not only had a large selection of Hunter Laing bottlings on the shelves but also two distillery exclusives, available as special handfill bottlings. I decided to go with their Jura offering, partly because it isn’t a spirit I see in wine casks very often but also because Ardnahoe perches on the rocks above the sound of Islay and it’s impossible not to notice the paps of Jura, standing like imposing giants on the opposite shore.
Smell: Fragrant, floral and summery. Images of Barley gently swaying in the field. Bees buzzing from one flower to another. Fruit orchards. That’s what this whisky conjures up for me. There’s malty cereals. Almond. Coconut. Some gentle baking spices. Apple. White grapes. Pineapple juice. Vanilla ice cream.
Taste: Honeyed malt. Biscotti. Apple and pear. Peach. Pineapple. Orange. Caramel and toffee. Towards the back there’s a big burst of black pepper heat which develops into a liquorice note. Water tones down the heat and brings out more of the orchard fruits character.
Thoughts: Jura often presents itself as a very delicate single malt but this version seems to carry a little weight on the palate. The cask strength bottling also ensures it has a bit of a punch where flavour intensity is concerned. On one or two sips I found the peppery heat almost a little overpowering but at 56.8% it could take a little water without drowning. Once the sweet spot was found it became a lovely wee sipper for a fresh summer’s day.
Value for money: Handfill distillery exclusive bottlings usually come in at rather hefty prices but credit to Ardnahoe & Hunter Laing because £65 is quite reasonable for a cask strength 11-year-old malt. There aren’t many Jura bottlings that get me excited but I’m really pleased with this one.
For more information on Ardnahoe visit https://ardnahoedistillery.com/
For more information on Hunter Laing visit https://hunterlaing.com/