Keeping it in the family
The Ardnahoe Distillery may be the newest whisky distillery on the island of Islay, but its family owners are far from newcomers and invite their customers to be part of the journey
Whisky is in the blood of many Scots, particularly at the end of a long day, but few families are as intimately connected to the industry as Stewart Laing and his sons Andrew and Scott. The family have been involved in the whisky business since the 1940s, with a background in blending and bottling, but always with a passion to one day create their own single malt. That moment arrived in November 2018 when the Laings filled Cask No 001 at the Ardnahoe Distillery, the stunning distillery that the family designed and built from scratch on the famous whisky-producing island of Islay.
“The Ardnahoe Distillery uses traditional methods to produce a single malt,” says Andrew Laing. “We are the only distillery on Islay to use ‘worm tub’ condensers, an old and increasingly rare device used to condense the spirit into liquid from vapour to provide a unique taste.” The spirit is then matured in traditional American bourbon casks but also Spanish sherry casks to produce a single malt with a fruity, rich, spicy character. Visitors can take tours of the distillery and enjoy a purpose-built visitor centre and restaurant. The company also bottles single malts by the other great Islay distilleries, which can be purchased either in person or via the online shop.
Customers are able to invest in their own unique cask, either sherry or bourbon, which will be held in the distillery warehouse for maturation until the owner wishes to sell or sample, perhaps giving bottles as unique gifts. Those customers could even visit the distillery to check in on their cask of whisky. “That means they can become part of our journey as the youngest distillery on Islay,” says Andrew. Ardnahoe is the only distillery on Islay to offer this opportunity.
“Whisky lends itself to being a family business,” explains Andrew. “We are putting down whisky today that will be sold in 2050 so we have to plan and invest for the future right now. It’s a very long-term approach and our life’s work will be to produce the best quality Islay single malt for future generations of Laings to bottle. We aren’t cutting any corners doing this. We have a purpose-built distillery, we take water from the deepest loch on Islay and we use the finest sherry and bourbon casks and the best Scottish barley. That means in the future – whether it’s 30 or 40 or 50 years – we will have helped make something the family can be very proud of, the best quality Islay single malt whisky we could possibly produce.”
The Laings hope the arrival of a new distillery will also appeal to younger whisky drinkers, who are seeking something different to the dram enjoyed by their parents and grandparents. Ardnahoe’s first spirit officially became whisky at the end of 2021 – three years after being filled into casks – but it will not be bottled until it is at least five years old. Others will not be bottled for decades, such is the long-term approach of the whisky business.
“That first bottling is very important for a new distillery,” says Andrew. “We hope to do a five-year-old if it is ready. Islay traditionally produces a very peaty, earthy, smoky style of whisky and that can be very drinkable at a younger age because these desirable characteristics are already in the spirit before maturation. It will be punchy and exuberant. It has always been our dream as a family to one day make our own whisky, so this will be a very special day for Ardnahoe.”