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Kristiane Sherry

May 23, 2024

Ardnahoe Inaugural Release: A classic Islay whisky with a modern twist

The family-owned Islay distillery has released its first single malt. We get under the skin of Ardnahoe Inaugural Release.

Earlier this month, Ardnahoe Distillery made history. The official release of its first whisky cemented its status as Islay’s ninth distillery and drew attention to several records. First, that the whisky is made using the longest lyne arms in Scotch, which stretch to an extraordinary 7.5 metres. Secondly, it points to the use of worm tubs, the only ones to be found on the island. In short, Ardnahoe is intending to make a classic Islay whisky – but one that at the same time is remarkably singular.

“We’re pretty certain that we’ve come up with something quite distinctive and unique,” explains Scott Laing, director at the distillery. It is Hunter Laing, founded by his father Stewart, who dreamed up Ardnahoe. As an independent blender and bottler, they needed a distillery to grow the business. What started out as a lucky glimpse of a slope of land with a stunning view – ‘Ardnahoe’ literally translates as ‘height of the hollow’ in Scottish Gaelic – has now come full circle. The first whisky is here. A bold, vibrant five-year-old expressionAnd right now, we’re in the still house, drinking in magnificent views across the Isle of Islay to neighbouring Jura, ready for a taste.

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“We always knew it was going to be peated. That was the first thing on the agenda,” Scott continued. What was still to explore was the impact of the lyne arms and worm tubs on the spirit. The concerto barley is peated to 40ppm at the Port Ellen maltings, and average fermentation with Mauri yeast spans 60-80 hours. Everything is set up for this to be a bold, flavour-forward spirit. “The main aspect is to create good whisky,” he states.

A distillery journey

And that journey to good whisky started some time ago. Stewart, and Scott, along with Scott’s brother Andrew, decided in 2015 to make their distillery dream a reality. The site, with those dramatic, sweeping views, was acquired in 2016, and planning permission followed shortly after. At that time, there were grumblings from locals and whisky lovers that Islay had too many distilleries (it was the ninth, there are now 14 either operational or in planning). But the rest of the journey gently quelled those concerns. From build to production in 2018, and now with the release, Ardnahoe has brought jobs and tourists to the more remote north. “You’re using critical mass to bring people to this corner of the island,” Scott says.

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A new whisky icon?

Come for the views, stay for the whisky. Tasting Ardnahoe Inaugural Release in the stillhouse was an enchanting moment – and those who make the long trip to the remote maker will be well rewarded.

Matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks, this isn’t a whisky that shouts at you from a cask perspective. Both influences are present, balanced and well-integrated. After the sense of harmony comes the realisation that this, despite what your palate tells you, is a young whisky. At just five years old, you’d expect heat or a spikiness. This is elegantly restrained – perhaps by the thicker texture that comes with worm tub distillation.

How peated is it? As a ballpark, it’s much quieter than the hard hitters of the south, but the bonfire smoke is ever present. Yet it never drowns out the custard and red fruit notes that I hope become a fixture in Ardnahoe whisky. At 50% ABV it’s no wallflower, but it certainly isn’t bolshy either.

Ardnahoe Inaugural Release is a bold, assured start from the Islay maker. Raising a glass to the team at the very heart of the distillery, I’m excited to see what comes next.

Ardnahoe Inaugural Release tasting note:

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Nose: Opens with a basket of green apples and red hedgerow berries, with a rich biscuit-like maltiness. A subtle smoke drifts through fresh grass, before lemon meringue pie, raisin and pastry notes arrive.

Palate: Quite creamy with a mouth-coating texture. There’s an immediate waft of definite bonfire smoke ahead of liquorice, marzipan and shortbread. Scones with jam and cream, deep spices and buttery croissants build in a sweetness against a honeyed meat backdrop.

Finish: Medium to long with that lingering robust smoke.

Overall impressions: Remarkably round and well-integrated for a youthful dram. An exciting first release that shows accomplished whisky-making – and great promise for the future.

“We’re pretty certain that we’ve come up with something quite distinctive and unique” -  Scott Laing, Ardnahoe Director

Buy Ardnahoe Inaugural Release:

Ardnahoe Inaugural Release

Rich and round with a texture that belies its age, this bourbon- and sherry-matured expression brings a glorious fruit-forward maltiness backed by a robust bonfire smoke.

A new classic expression from Islay's ninth distillery.

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Ardnahoe Inaugural Release


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