SWC Winter Festival: Hunter Laing

Those who bought a bottle of Hunter Laing’s 9yo refill oloroso cask Caol Ila – especially bottled for Southport Whisky Club’s Winter Festival – were further rewarded with a complimentary Hunter Laing tasting pack. Hosted by Andrew Laing, this online tasting featured whisky from Islay, the island where Hunter Laing’s Ardnahoe Distillery is situated.

  • SWC: How does it feel to make the move from independent bottler to distiller?
  • AL: It feels nice but independent bottling and blending is still the heart of Hunter Laing.

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Scarabus 10yo [2020] HL 46% WB85.75[7]

  • N: This undisclosed single malt has an onion-y pickle-sweet nose with some textural squidgy depth. I get lemonade, a touch of gammon, boot polish, leather,…. whilst Steve spots “BBQ-ed pineapple”. Beautiful smelling spirit, this. 
  • T: Forthcoming barley juice, more sour than the nose had indicated – so sweet n sour. Flour-dry mouth on arrival with a relaxed totally straight-ahead chalky journey, likened to a relaxed James Eadie’s Trade Mark X [WLP87] in part.
  • F: Decidedly sour and ashy with a thinning dry barley spirit.
  • C: I’d say most peeps on the night preferred the Scarabus cask strength version [coming up], though the nose on this 10yo was far more colourful.

Scores 82 points

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Scarabus Batch Strength [2020] HL 57% WB84.60[12]

Around 6-7 years old, this composition utilises more virgin cask maturation than the 10yo. Stating ‘batch strength’ as opposed to cask strength allows HL to standardise tubes, packaging etc.

  • N: Firmly spirit-driven once again, this younger stronger version is [top-note] creamier, more toffeed, yeasty, slightly lemonade-y into passing suggestions of calvados, baked cooking apples, leathery half-baked currant buns, poached [firm] pears…. Though similar to the 10yo, I find this far more direct [chiselled] overall.
  • T: Distillate-forward with more oily saline calvados vibes. Again, this is bolder and sharper than the 10yo – unsurprisingly given its younger and stronger abv-wise. It’s sweeter too yet still with a sour side. More apple-y with some pears,…
  • F: ,,.. the peat blasts though in tandem with the spirits’ formidable drive. Slightly floury again and slightly puckering by the death. 
  • C: Formidable decent new make-y whisky, demonstrating once again, how well peat works with young-aged spirit – but watch you don’t get carried away,… that there’s something more sublime to it.

Scores 83 points

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Caol Ila 2011/2020 9yo HL OMC for SWC Winter Festival 2020 refill oloroso cask #HL18235 [300 bts] 57.9% WB0

This was bottled by Hunter Laing for the SWC at Victor’s request, for their/this whisky winter festival. Though bottled under the OMC moniker which frequently sees whiskies presented at 50%, this is presented at cask strength.

  • N: Most fruity and juicy with ripe red fruits, sweet-brine, sweaty leathery furniture polish, slight [sherried] syrup,…. The peat draws the sweetness towards a murkier more interesting jungle swamp, yet we’re never too far away from sweet slightly silverskin pickled onions. An hour later I pick up sherry-aged [Strathclyde] grain whisky vibes. An easy pleaser this.
  • T: More of the same to taste, an easy pleaser and an ideal winter dram. Sweet-salty, chewy, relaxed, dependable Caol Ila, matured and/or finished in a decent refill oloroso cask. After an easy arrival, there’s a middling astringency and limiting view, the key components just about in place at this stage.
  • F: The young and now fatty spirit soon drops into a lower-if-shallow dry bitter wood ashiness. As a dry finish, the lingering oloroso syrup sweetness mingles comfortably enough amongst the coastal iodine notes.
  • C: [Without setting the world alight], best whisky of the night.

Scores 86 points

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Laphroaig 2006/2018 12yo HL OMC #14745 for Ardnahoe Distillery Shop 50% WB86.18[24]

Tying us back in to Hunter Laing’s new Islay distillery, this refill oloroso butt was bottled exclusively for the Ardnahoe gift shop. We are told it acts/sells as their ‘house-whisky’. Was this a missed opportunity to introduce Ardnahoe whisky to a keen audience, or was there another bespoke tasting that included samples elsewhere?

  • N: Salty candle-waxy light dirty fruity, dry sour lemon, iodine, pongy fresh vibrant sweetened seaweed, meaty, yeasty vegetal [rum & mezcal-like] festerings…. classically coastal > vegetal nose with a boozy pong.
  • T: After a barley-floury-dry vegetal coastal dirty arrival, we soon head straight to the mechanics yard before hitting a gritty medicinal wave. Edgy overall.
  • F: Bitter surgical spirit over medicinal mechanics iodine – whatever that is?! Then we’ve some firm bitterness mixed with more sour lemon-y soft > > Swarfega and a couple of Fisherman’s Friends. Drying, it concludes slightly chalky & spirity with an aromatic peppery afterglow.
  • C: Certainly good whisky if a little tough to love. Chris tells us of the joys of drinking Laphroaig and coke. “If you haven’t tried it”, he says, “it’s an excellent drink”.

Scores 85 points

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With thanks to SWC, Hunter Laing and Andrew himself who – since the gruelling whisky circuit/circus has ground to a near-halt and moved onto a mainly online affair – is looking as relaxed as I have ever seen him. “Online is a make-do”, says Victor. Andrew hopes [at time of broadcast] for a real Islay festival for 2021.

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END

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