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.


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


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


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


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


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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