Reviews of interesting whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Islay Journey is a blended malt Scotch whisky from Hunter Laing, owner of Islay’s newest whisky distillery, Ardnahoe.
Time moves surprisingly quickly in the whisky world and Ardnahoe seems to have come a long way in a very short space of time. It doesn’t seem so long ago that the news of Islay’s ninth malt distillery broke. The distillery was put together by Glasgow-based independent bottler, Hunter Laing, working with industry legend, Jim McEwan. Between them, they came up with an intriguing design in a beautiful location.
Ardnahoe became the third distillery to overlook the sound of Islay, sandwiched in between Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain. The still house alone makes a visit worthwhile. It has enormous windows that showcase the full splendour of the view across to Jura but it also sports the longest lyne arms you’re ever likely to see at a distillery. The lyne arm is the pipe that runs from the top of the still to the condenser, which, by the way, also happens to be an old-fashioned worm tub. At Ardnahoe, the lyne arms are an incredible 24.5 feet in length. The unusual combination of the long arm and worm tub gives the spirit vapour plenty of copper contact whilst allowing for slow, gentle condensation back into liquid form.
I first visited Ardnahoe when it was little more than a foundation. Since then, I’ve returned four or five times and it’s been great to see the progression of the place firsthand. From a building site to a fully operational distillery that’s producing spirit on a permanent basis.
What about the whisky, I hear you ask. Officially, there has been no decision made as yet regarding the release of the first Ardnahoe single malt. The whisky exists – as the distillery’s oldest spirit turned 3 in November 2021 but the team at Ardnahoe have decided to wait. Quite when they will decide to bottle is open for debate but a 5-year-old release in 2023 wouldn’t be a crazy bet.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste the odd sample over the years. Whether it be a test run of new make spirit taken off the stills before building work was completed or an almost 4-year-old single malt, the early signs suggest that something rather special has been created on Islay’s northeastern coast. Now we just have to wait (im)patiently to get our hands on the stuff… At least we have the likes of Islay Journey to tide us over until then.
“Those who undertake the most ambitious journeys often have the most interesting stories to tell.”
Islay Journey is a blended malt from Hunter Laing, owner of Ardnahoe distillery. It is part of a series that celebrates the different regional styles of Scotch whisky. This particular expression, however, was an Ardnahoe distillery exclusive hand-fill bottling. It comes at an impressive 60.4% and cost me the remarkably reasonable sum of £45. The whisky is a blend of different Islay malts.
Smell: Proper seaside dram. Brine. Seashells. Seaweed. Sandy beaches in the rain. Damp smoke and ash. Charcoal. Driftwood. Creamy vanilla. Lemon-scented air-freshener. Pepper. Tar. Honey. Water brought out liquorice and a wee bit of a new-make quality. It’s definitely on the young side.
Taste: Citrusy arrival followed by heather honey and black pepper. Then some sea salt. Orange liqueur. Oak. Brine and pungent Islay peat on the finish.
Thoughts: Young and feisty at its full 60.4% strength. There’s a nice purity about it though – this is Islay whisky without any bells or whistles. The oak has only given the lightest of touches and instead, it’s the character of the spirit that takes centre stage – and why not? It’s salty and coastal and smoky and absolutely, 100% representative of the place it came from.
Price: £45. I’m struggling to think of another distillery exclusive handfill bottling that is as affordably priced. Sure it’s a blended malt and it’s young but if you like your Islay whiskies raw and powerful, this will tick a few boxes for you.
For more on Ardnahoe please visit here: https://ardnahoedistillery.com/
For more on Hunter Laing, please visit here: https://hunterlaing.com/
For details of my first visit to Ardnahoe, visit here: https://whiskyreviews.net/2017/10/12/ardnahoe-distillery-site-visit-hepburns-choice-8-year-old-jura/