Sunday, 22 September 2013

Four single casks from Hunter Laing & Co. Ltd.

Whisky Discovery
Four single cask samples arrive at Whisky Discovery HQ
Hunter Laing and Company was formed when the brothers behind Douglas Laing & Co Ltd. decided to split earlier this year. Stewart and Fred Laing went their separate ways commercially in May 2013 after running the company they inherited from their father more than 40 years ago. The brothers are now at the helm of two separate business featuring key roles for their respective children.

Stewart Laing has been joined by sons Andrew and Scott in their new venture, Hunter Laing and Co. Ltd. Retaining half of the original companies brands including Old Malt Cask, Old & Rare, Douglas Blend, John Player Special and Sovereign as well as it's bottling operation in East Kilbride.

Samples of four of their latest single cask releases were sent to me recently, three from their Old Malt Cask range and one from their Sovereign range.

Old Malt Cask is probably one of the most established brands in the single cask market. Invariably bottled at 50% abv, each expression is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. 

Whilst releases are regular, being from single casks, the number of bottles available are of course, limited, being dictated by the original size of the maturation cask, and the 'Angels Share'. These releases are also spread amongst a number of retailers.

The Sovereign range does what Old Malt Cask does for Single Grain Whisky which looks to be bottled at natural cask strength.

I decided to sit down one evening and run through the range in age order, I'm an engineer and I need order, so this is the order they were listed in the Liquid Log.

Whisky Discovery #520

Old Malt Cask Braevel 15 Year Old (50% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Price TBC 70cl
Whisky Discovery
The Braeval Distillery is located in the Speyside region of Scotland, currently owned by Chivas Brothers Ltd (Pernod Ricard). Founded in 1973 and originally called Braes of Glenlivet until 1994, it also went through a short period (2002-2008) of being closed or mothballed.

There are no official bottlings from this distillery with the whole production being used for blended Scotch. Independent bottlings come up from time to time, and this refill hogshead cask was filled in September 1997, and just 309 bottles have been released.

So What Did I Think?
The nose opens with a slightly charred wood note before settling down with sweet baked apples and lemon zest. Malty biscuit notes develop, not unlike Malted Milk biscuits, which is followed by vanilla creams.

On the palate this is not quite as sweet as the nose was suggesting, but has some lovely crisp pear flavours intertwined with the malty biscuit notes. Citrus flavours, more Mandarin orange than lemon pushes through while gentle cinnamon spice fleets across the taste buds. As the cinnamon fades a faint charcoal notes returns at the very end.

Whisky Discovery #521

Old Malt Cask Mortlach 18 Year Old (50% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Price TBC 70cl
Whisky Discovery
The Mortlach Distillery is another Speyside distillery and in terms of capacity is of a similar size to Braeval. Own by Diageo, Mortlach is a key component of their blended Scotch and in particular Johnnie Walker Black Label. The are no current official releases from Mortlach and so single cask releases are the usual route for the whisky connoisseur.

This 18 Year Old was distilled in June 1995 and matured in a refill hogshead yielding just 279 bottles when bottle in June 2013

So What Did I Think?
A sweet rich and malty nose with hints of dark chocolate right from the start. There are some sweet citrus notes alongside creamy vanilla toffee, Demerara sugar and honey. I love the sweet richness of this nose.

Matching the sweet nose, the palate meets expectations. It's rich and creamy and oh so smooth. Opening with the sweetness of honey, the woody peppery spice builds before revealing notes of malt, tangerines and chocolate.

Whisky Discovery #522

Old Malt Cask Ledaig 20 Year Old (50% abv)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Price TBC 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Ledaig is an odd one. Firstly it's not pronounced how it reads, Led-chig is a little closer, and is Gaelic for the original name for the area, apparently meaning 'safe haven'. Secondly the Ledaig Distillery is now known as the Tobermory Distillery. 

Founded as the Ledaig Distillery in 1798, the distillery was finally closed in 1975 following filing for bankruptcy  When it reopened in 1979 it was renamed Tobermory after it's location and is the only distillery on the Hebredian Isle of Mull.

Ledaig unlike Tobermory is distilled form heavily peated malted barley and reintroduced in 1996 when it was decided that they would recreate the old style of Tobermory Single Malt.

This 20 Year Old Ledaig was distilled in March 1993, matured in a refill hogshead and yielded just 162 bottles in June 2013.

So What Did I Think?
The nose is surprisingly light sweet and fresh. I was expecting a much mustier nose for a 20 Year Old, but this feels remarkabley lively. Sweet fresh green wheat and barley fields in warm summer sun come to mind, fresh beansprouts, quite herbal and 'hedgerow' like. Not the peaty monster I was initially looking for. Vanilla eventully breaks through but I was finding sherbet sweets; Refreshers and Flying Saucers.

While starting light and thin on the palate, it seems to noticeably 'thicken' in the mouth. sweet and malty, like chewing sprouting barley, turning creamy with vanilla, baked apples and lemon zest. Towards the end it turns more malty and woody with some pepper spice.

While I was initially expecting the Ledaig to be peated, it is certainly evident form my notes that the malted barley used in this distillation was not.

Whisky Discovery #523

The Sovereign Cameronbridge 23 Year Old (50% abv)
Single Grain Whisky
Price TBC 70cl
Whisky Discovery
The Cameronbridge distillery is said to be the largest of the grain distilleries in Scotland. Now owned by Diageo, Cameronbridge is no longer solely a large-scale grain Whisky distillery, being changed into a dual purpose site in the late 1980's manufacturing Grain Neutral Spirit for white spirits and sweetened products (Gin, Vodka and other flavoured spirits and liqueurs).

Ordinarily the grain spirit distilled and matured in oak is used in their blended Scotch but occasionally casks are matured for a considerable time resulting in long aged single cask releases such as this 23 Year Old, distilled in 1990 and bottled at cask strength in June 2013.

So What Did I Think?
The nose is very 'Bourbonesque' with vanilla, Demerara sugar, cloves, cinnamon and white pepper. There is just a hint of coconut too. On the palate again you could quite easily think you were sipping a Bourbon, the faint coconut notes picked out on the nose becoming more prominent. The spices build with cloves being the dominant flavour, remaining smooth and creamy with vanilla and more coconut  until rich, woody pepper spices close the experience, leaving a tannin dry mouth feel.

And Finally

Many thanks to Hunter Laing & Co Ltd for getting in touch with me and sending me these four samples. I've seen Old Malt Cask releases in a few Whisky shops before, but these were the first  I'd tasted on this journey to date. My favourite of these four would be the Mortlach.

I've not been able to find any of these releases for sale yet, hence prices TBC. Whether these are still available or yet to reach the shelves, I'm not certain.

To find out more about Hunter Laing & Co Ltd. check out their website

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