After checking in at our hotel downtown and grabbing a quick pint at the local pub, we headed to the new office of Hunter Laing – located just a few blocks from the old one in a picturesque neighborhood with gorgeous 19th-century era Victorian architechture. Stewart Laing used to run Douglas Laing & Co. with his brother Fred, but the two recently decided to divide the stocks and move in different directions as the next generation of Laings begins to take over. Stewart now runs Hunter Laing with his son Andrew and they're still our source for the Sovereign whiskies we import each year. Our latest batch of Ardbeg 21, Laphroaig 20, Caol Ila 32, GlenGoyne 16, and Glenrothes 8 year has already been a huge success offering big names and collectabilty along with supreme value and high quality. However, the supply of mature whisky with independent bottlers in Scotland is as bad as it's ever been. If we're going to come back with fresh and exciting selections in 2014, Stewart's available stock is absolutely the best place to start.
I wish I could cleverly capture the interior of these red sandstone buildings – the white walls with green and blue tartan for carpeting and an obvious hint of Greek classicism in some of the decor and wall carvings. It's really quite inspiring. As we approached the Hunter Hamilton office we couldn't help but peek inside the various residences and daydream about possibly occupying one. For now, however, I'll have to just make do with photographing the tasting bar in Stewart's new sampling room. While many other bottlers are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for whisky right now (literally), the Laings are still in pretty good shape all things considering. We immediately set Stewart's mind at ease by letting him know we weren't coming for more Port Ellen or Ardbeg.
"We need more value," I told him, straight off the bat.
"That's good news," he said, "because we're in a great position to provide you with it."
Even with value on your mind, however, there's so much whisky to taste through and only so much your mouth can handle in a single evening (especially when it's been travelling for fifteen hours). We narrowed down our criteria further by looking for sherry-aged malts, young peated whiskies, and mature grains with modest price tags.
"You fellas do alright with grain, do ya?" Stewart asked.
"Definitely," Kyle answered. "We did a cask of Cambus with Signatory last year that was very well received."
With those descriptors in mind, we began scavenging through available stocks and tasting through selections.
We really enjoy working with Stewart and, now that his son Andrew is on the staff, we're looking forward to his input as well. Over the past few years he's become one of our favorite appointments and I think he gets a kick out of us as well. One thing that's been on my mind for the past few weeks is how important it is in life to surround yourself with good people. We have so little time on this planet, so why waste it dealing with the insufferable when you could utilize it by working with people you like? I enjoy drinking whisky with good people, so in turn I've grown to appreciate buying whisky from good people. To some, there's little room in the business world for sentimentality and emotion. I'm not one of those people, however. More and more, I'm gravitating towards the people who appreciate our relationships and treat us with honesty and respect. I'd like you all to get to know these folks, as well, so maybe we'll make this an on-going theme for our trip.
What did we find, you ask? Plenty of good leads. If you remember the Girvan and Caledonian grain casks we did a few years back, then you'll know that the Laings have some pretty fantastic grain whisky lying around. We're looking at more than ten different candidates, including a possible grain whisky retrospective if we can find enough samples we like. As for sherry-aged selections, we really wanted to taste everything, so we started with some of the lesser-known distillery names in the hope of finding something tasty, yet inexpensive. I think we all really enjoyed a Craigallachie 18 year old sherry butt that exploded with baking spice and rancio oloroso notes. A 12 year old Braeval also made the short list.
We finished the evening by dining with both Stewart and Andrew at a local Chinese spot and talking about the lasting news in the booze industry. There have been some very interesting developments over the past 48 hours that are going to significantly affect our trip (more on that later). We might have to do a bit of rescheduling, but I think we're off to a good start.