Bowmore traditionally follows Laphroaig [WLP], but there’s a new contender in town. Off to Ardnahoe I go!
Disappointed to have missed out on tickets for Ardnahoe’s cask sample tastings, I did manage to get on a distillery tour. With a few hours to kill beforehand, I decide to take a stroll down to Bunnahabhain.
En route, I get offered a lift from Scott – one of Bunna’s Ambassadors. Now at the visitors centre, he invites me to take a dram on him.
I plump for a peated number as I tend to neglect the Moine, unwittingly. I’m told Bunnahabhain make available, two distillery-only hand-filled bottlings a day. Here’s one of today’s offerings:
Bunnahabhain 2005/2022 17yo Ob. Moine oloroso cask #31 Warehouse #9 52.9% WB89.33
From the horse’s mouth, I was told this was a 17yo and not a 16yo as sometimes stated.
- N: A most inviting nose with its malty sweet nuttiness. The 40ppm peat spec isn’t particularly upfront, but then perhaps my palate is more than acclimatised to phenols after yesterday’s Laphroaig Day shenanigans [WLP].
- T: Beautiful juicy arrival with the smoke immediately present, soon followed by the oloroso. This reminds me somewhat of Bunna 12yo from the 1990s, albeit with a heavily peaty ashy bonfire quality.
- F: Heavy sustaining peatiness with an almost slick grape juice – 1990s styley once again – promoted by the addition of water.
- C: Not a great deal to it, but what it does, it does well. A great example of a distillery-only single cask oloroso-maturated peated malt but at a price [£130].
Score 87 points
I was initially unsure of Distell’s white-wash program for Islay’s ‘Ugly Duckling’, but the distillery looks all the better for it. Furthermore, there’s a spanking new visitors centre & shop which will be inundated by malt heads in two days’ time.
Having returned to Ardnahoe, I’m offered a Caol Ila 11yo that I shall try again on the distillery tour.
Caol Ila 2010/2021 11yo HL OMC Ex-bourbon & Porto barrel #18878 [274 bts] 50% WB86
- [No notes but,…] on paper, it’s an 11yo [single cask] Caol Ila for £95. To taste, you might think otherwise. I can see why even the staff were buying up bottles.
Scores 88 points
Walking through Ardnahoe’s stunning visitors centre, I approach the Illicit Still Cafe.
Beautifully laid out and with up-to-date menus, the [Hunter Laing] whisky selection is fabulous and the prices very reasonable. I plump for a 21yo single cask Inchgower at just £5.
Inchgower 1995/2017 21yo HL OMC #14253 [708 bts] 50% WB84.31
- N: Picking up on light bourbon-y cream first up, I look for toffee. Toffee found and with a vegetal [lettuce/cress/pumpkin-y] character. Up at 50%, we’ve a congenial nose as is so often the case with the timeless Old Malt Cask range – on a personal level, one of my all-time favourites.
- T: On the palate, we’re talking toasted pumpkin seeds with more of that quirky vegetal [Garibaldi Biscuit] raisiny/waxy/greasy ‘thing’ – not unlike Inchfad [an expression of which I tried in Campbeltown only days early WLP], and will try another in a few moments time.
- F: More on this light milky toffee and that vegetal/greasy > Vaseline slick.
- C: An excellent dram and a great showcase for this largely unknown/under-the-radar distillery.
Scores 87 points
We are taken around Ardnahoe by Distillery Operator Stuart Hughes who had previously worked at the Loch Lomond distillery since the early 1990s before being headhunted for this job by Jim McEwan.
Like the Illicit Still Cafe, the distillery is immaculately laid out, just so.
- 2.5-tonne mash
- a malt spec of 40ppm
- 4 [oregan pine] washbacks
- a fermentation time of 70 hours
- one pair of stills into worm tubs
- all-manual operation
- output = 160,000lpa though production capacity is far larger
At 24.5 feet, Ardnahoe claims the longest lyne arms in Scotland, beating Glenmorangie’s by 1 inch.
Construction is ongoing to complete warehousing for around 80000 casks. The headline here then is ‘Islay whisky actually maturing on the island!’
Stuart describes the joys of working on the night shift at Ardnahoe, a shift that encompasses the sunset which emblazons the Paps, the sunrise which appears from behind them, bathing otters, and the “mawwing” deer.
Not only are we able to take photos in all areas of the distillery [without it exploding!], we are even invited to dip cups into the washback to taste the wash. How to win over a new audience. Way to go Ardnahoe!
Ardnahoe Wash  abv unknown
- C: With a light fizzy/creamy husky milky peaty citrus quality, it’s an Intriguing beer for sure, different from other more generic washes.
As for the whisky itself, Mark [in the visitors centre] had said “I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s the best new make I’ve tried”. Stuart meanwhile said, “it’s the best new make I’ve ever made”. Though I respect Hunter Laing’s resolve, it’s a big shame we can’t try the new make or any of their maturing spirit.
Instead, we’ve two drams to send us on our way. Whilst the second is the Caol Ila I’d previously tried in the shop, the first is an Inchfad that Stuart tells us he made during his days at Loch Lomond. Rightly proud, it’s an honour to have a whisky poured by the person who made the stuff 17 years ago.
[Loch Lomond] Inchfad 2005/2018 13yo Langside/HL Hepburn’s Choice Single Cask [345 bts] 46% WB78
Inchfad, we are told, is a 50/50 combo of Craiglodge and Croftengea, making it a rarely-seen malt. Thankfully, we are seeing a few coming out of the woodwork of late [TBWC: WLP] & [NNS: WLP]
- N: A good-odd, greasy courgette-y bourbon-y number, more on waxy chocolate with additional water.
- T: Waxy-greasy mouthfeel [different if not dissimilar to Glen Scotia], with toffee,… into JW black vibes!
- F: Good-odd finish/mouthfeel.
- C: A brave tour pour indeed. For me, a fine single malt with an idiosyncratic style I’m warming to. This is my third Inchfad in as many months including one at last week’s Whisky Show [notes to follow in due course].
Scores 85 points
Stuart leaves us with this tasting tip:
- The front palate, he explains, is where you get the shivers/prickles/spiciness/heat of a spirit. Take in the first sip of the dram straight to the back of the mouth, he suggests. What then happens is, the whisky unravels itself onto the palate back to front without the heat and more of the flavour. Check it out!
Can’t make the trip to Ardnahoe yourself? No worries. Stuart will take you around virtually instead:
2 thoughts on “Feis Ile 2022: Ardnahoe!”