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Tuesday
May082018

Scotland Day 5: Old Friends New Future

My final day in Scotland was spent renewing our relationships with two of our best suppliers. This family has been integral in our growth as one of America's leading sources for Single Cask Single Malt. The Laing brothers, Stewart and Fred, are really the reason we’ve been able to do what we do here at all. We owe alot to their generosity and willingness to look at this industry differently from so many of their compatriots. Over the course of the last eight years they’ve been excellent partners in this unusual and sometimes difficult business. 

I’ve always looked up to both the Laing’s. They've truly became a resource for us. When shit hits the fan these guys have always stepped up and made it work. We worked hard to gain their trust and they reward us with access to some amazing products and a small window into the very opaque world of whisky. Scotch is not an open industry. To learn the inner dealings you must tease at the edges and perhaps you'll catch a few glimpse of truth. I’m certain there are still many secrets left for me to uncover behind the copper vale, but each of these men has always answered any question honestly and thoughtfully, even when they can't answer my questions at all.

Few, save maybe George Grant, are more willing to describe the inner workings of this fascinating industry. Indeed both the Laings and the Grants, on very different sides of this industry, provide incredible insight into their respective specialties. When the Laing brothers split their stocks and their company to make room for the next generation, it was honestly a somewhat somber moment for me personally. There was something interesting about the dynamic between Fred -boisterous and effusive- and Stewart, always more reserved and stalwart.

They were a fun pair. As we’ve come to meet their progeny, who have become our equal partners, I’ve realized that sometimes more is actually more. Now that the new generation is taking the reigns in both houses, there's even more opportunity then ever before. At one end, the husband and wife team of Cara Laing and Chris Leggat, a kind and dynamic duo who balance the personality perfectly of Cara’s Father Fred. And on the other the new brothers Laing, an ambitious duo as open about their dealings as their father ever was. With them this year, we finally got to peak into part of the Laing’s operations side.

A twenty minute drive from Glasgow, their small bottling hall is where countless rare and legendery casks handled. Ardbeggedon, Brorageddon, our Port Ellen Sovereign etc. It’s done all by hand. It seems absolutely tiny until I’m shuttled over to the new warehouse they’ve built across the street. While the scale seems huge, it won’t be long before Hunter Laing needs another warehouse just like it. Their operations manager Ian was there directing the crew. It will get tight in here quickly once the stills start running. Right now they’re aging grain stocks as well as finishing various malts, moving casks in from rented warehouse space, now that they command their own future. Soon they’ll fill the place with Ardnahoe. That distillery, which won’t be a tiny one, will quickly out grow the space reserved for on island aging and this is this is home base for blending and bottling. 

Honestly, I'm a bit crushed that I'll miss the Islay portion of this trip considering all the incredible stuff going on there and the hard work our old partners put in out by Port Askaig. What an incredible feat that will be, to have completed a new Islay distillery, despite the logistical nightmares that endeavor involves. I realized after I’d left that we still haven’t pre-purchased our first Ardnahoe casks. It seems that with Jim McEwan at the helm it will no doubt be spectacular spirit. You can still grab a cask yourself if you’ve got the inclination.

As my colleagues went off on a glory tour of Scotland, I spent my final hours with Douglas Laing. Sitting back in that same old tasting room where it all began, I was filled with nostalgia. The samples lined up on the giant wooden bellows, just as they’d been the first time we’d met nearly a decade before. Important people from that era were missing, but the excitement was palpable as it always is when present with this veritable buffet of godly nectars. Even on her day off, Cara nonetheless arrived as gracious and thoughtful as ever. After introducing the samples, which she’d selected and evaluated personally, she wished me the best and left Fred and I to discuss the state of our business. After nearly two hours of substantive exchange I realized I’d a flight to get on! I gathered the incredible array of samples and thanked my dear friend for his unparalleled generosity. I’m off to Gascogne to overeat. I know just the perfect thing to settle the stomach though, a glorious glass of Gascogne gold.

-David Othenin-Girard