Exciting Scotch whisky news! The first single malt from one of Islay’s newest distilleries Ardnahoe is here. This is the first new Islay whisky since Kilchoman released its first single malt in 2009.

It’s always a big moment trying the first whisky from a new distillery but Ardnahoe is a particularly special one for me as I visited back in 2019 just after it had started distilling. I remember tasting the smoky but also enormously fruity new make and wondering how it would taste after years in cask. Well I don’t have to wonder any more. But before we dive in, let’s take a look at Ardnahoe. 

Ardnahoe inaugural release

We are family. From left, Scott, Stewart and Andrew Laing

The Ardnahoe story

Ardnahoe is located in the north of the island, facing Jura and near Port Askaig. “We think it’s the most perfect location from a scenic point of view for a whisky,” Andrew Laing from Hunter Laing told me back in 2019. It’s a family business run by Stewart Laing and his two sons, Andrew and Scott. The company, which bottles whisky and rum, has been going in its present form since 2013, though the Laing family has been in the whisky business much longer. 

A distillery of their own was the inevitable next step. “We looked at a couple of options to buy distilleries, but it became apparent that for reasons of cost and for reasons of finding the right project, that we really needed to build one rather than to buy one,” Andrew explained. “ If you’re building a distillery, from our point of view, the only place to build one was Islay.” The Laing family has history on the island. “On my grandmother’s side, on my dad’s side, we have a family connection to Islay going back to the 1700s. More recently my father studied whisky making at Bruichladdich in 1966,” he continued. Pater familias Stewart Laing described having their own distillery as “a personal ambition of mine ever since I was posted to work on Islay at Bruichladdich back in the 1960s.”

Adnahoe officially opened in 2019 and has become such a fixture on the Islay scene that we sometimes forget that until now it had not released a whisky. The advantage of being a whisky bottler like Hunter Laing is that they have no shortage of things to sell to visitors. 

Ardnahoe Distillery Still Room

Ardnahoe Distillery still room

Making whisky at Ardnahoe

The Ardnahoe set-up will get whisky fans all hot under the collar. It has Oregon pine fermenters, two lantern shaped pot stills (a 13,000 litre wash still and an 11,000 litre spirit still), the longest lyne arm in Scotland (or so they tell me), and worm tub condensers. “That slower condensing that we get from the worm tubs and the fact that we’ve got more copper contact in vapour form gives us a wee bit more character, texture and complexity,” Andrew explained. “We thought even if it makes one percent difference to the whisky, it’s worth the extra expenditure.”

Soft peated water comes from nearby Loch Ardnahoe. They use malt with around 40ppm from Port Ellen malting. Distillery manager Fraser Hughes described the resulting new make as “dynamic but not dirty or in your face”. According to Andrew Laing, that fruitiness comes partly from a long slow fermentation, around 72 hours.

Industry legend Jim McEwan who worked on the revival of Bruichladdich consulted on the project. He joked that finding the cut point in the spirit was as difficult as giving birth. The Laings are clearly delighted to have worked with McEwan and vice versa. “To be honest, he didn’t take very much persuasion to come out of retirement for this project,” Andrew Laing said.”He was very excited and who can blame him! To build a new distillery on Islay!”

The distilling began filling casks in 2018. According to Andrew Laing they use about “70% first-fill bourbon barrels; then about 20 or 25% first-fill oloroso hogsheads and some butts. And we’ve got some other wines casks, such as Port, Madeira, muscat, Rioja, and some rum.”

Worm tube condensers Ardnahoe distillery

Look at those worm tubs!

Tasting the Ardnahoe Inaugural Release

This first release was matured in a combination of bourbon and oloroso sherry casks for five years. It’s bottled at 50% ABV with no chill-filtering or colour added. Andrew Laing commented: “With the Inaugural Release, Ardnahoe has released a whisky that shows signs of one day being regarded as an Islay classic.”

So big expectations and largely Ardnahoe delivers. It’s richly fruity on the nose with a cooked apple quality. Just a little water brings out a distinct lemon note which carries through on the palate. The smoke is pronounced but gentle and there’s none of the medicinal and seaweed notes that you get in other Islay whiskies particularly Laphroaig. The finish is pure sea breeze coastal. It’s truly a refreshing dram. 

The Laing family have managed to craft something that while definitely Islay is also very much its own thing. No mean feat. It promises much for the future. Scott Laing explained: “Watch this space for more exciting releases in the months and years ahead from Ardnahoe.” We cannot wait. 

Ardnahoe Inaugaral Release single malt is available from Master of Malt. Click on link for prices and to buy.

Ardnahoe inaugural release

Tasting note from The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Bonfires, smoked meat, bacon, toffee, and baked apple. A little water brings out  lemon zest.

Palate: Peppery, orange citrus, smoky but overpoweringly balanced by a toffee sweetness. Dilution brings out a distinctive lemon note. 

Finish: Clean and refreshing, with a sea breeze quality.