Croftengea 12 Year Single Malt Scotch

cask strength single barrel bottled for K&L (2018)

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 112 proof

AGE – 12 years

DISTILLERY – Loch Lomond Distillery (bottled by Langside Distillers, associated with Hunter Laing, under their “Hepburn’s Choice” label)

PRICE – $65

BUY AGAIN? – Already did. This is my second bottle. Wish I had a third!

Back in early 2018 there was a Ben Nevis 21 Year bottled by K&L under their own “Faultline” label in conjunction with Alexander Murray. It was exquisite, brimming with honeysuckle, cream, chocolate, stewed peaches and nectarines. By the time I uncorked it and knew just how exquisite it was, the rest of the lot had sold out.

So, later that same year, when I cracked a bottle of Croftengea 12 Year, bottled under Hunter Laing’s “Hepburn’s Choice” label, and was instantly gob-smacked by its fine blend of sweet peat smoke, rich vanilla-caramel and buttery pastry dough, I hopped online immediately and ordered up a second bottle before it was too late.

Now, roughly a year and a half later, I’ve cracked that second bottle. It’s been open for about a month and I’ve only had a few pours. I’m taking it slow, knowing there is no possibility of a third bottle and wanting to enjoy returning to it over time. Here are some notes in brief, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a clear, very lightly toasted lemon-yellow

NOSE – a lovely waft of sweet peat smoke right away, then lemon custard, vanilla, caramel, and a surprising sage note

TASTE – the lemon custard with cream up front, followed by smoky caramel and bacon, ending with a plume of the sweet peat smoke on swallowing

FINISH – a fine tingle of pepperiness from the proof, the vanilla caramel darkens a bit, and the sweet peat smoke leans in a slightly more savory direction

OVERALL – such a wonderful balance of sweet and savory, bottled at just the right proof to lift it all forward

How glad am I to have this second bottle? It nearly meets the similarly exquisite 2018 Lagavulin 12 Year Limited Edition on equal ground. The Lagavulin wins my favor by a hair, being creamier and its flavors just a bit more finely blended overall. But that’s me nit-picking. Both are exceptional, 12 years old, with similar cask strength proofs. Yet this Croftengea was well under half the price!

These Hunter Laing bottlings can be a crap shoot. That said, in my many experiences with them, none have been crap. They’re an exceptionally affordable way to experience well-aged scotch from reputable distilleries, almost always bottled without chill filtering, added color, or any watering down. So you’re getting well made scotch at a fraction of the name-brand prices.

For example, K&L, the California warehouse spirits chain, recently had an exceedingly rare bottle—one bottle—of a 2018 Macallan 52 Year Speyside Single Malt, bottled at 96 proof, priced at $60K. Sixty. Thousand. Dollars! Compare that with a 2019 Carsebridge 52 Year Single Grain Scotch, bottled at its natural cask strength of 86.8 proof by Hunter Laing under their “Sovereign” label, which went at K&L for $350. That’s no small sum either. But it sure ain’t $60K!

Of course, I’ll never have the opportunity to compare the Macallan and Carsebridge 52’s side by side. But I’ve tried enough independently bottled scotches next to name-brand bottlings to know that you’re paying for a brand when you buy a cask strength Lagavulin 12 Year, and you’re not when you buy a cask strength Croftengea 12 Year. Both are excellent. But the cheaper bottle demonstrates that rarity is not the key factor in pricing.

I’m in no way disparaging the quality of Lagavulin or Macallan. These brands are world famous for good reason. But as a freelance theater artist and teacher who has fallen deep into the rabbit hole of the whiskey world, I do appreciate the opportunities bottlers like Hunter Laing afford to those of us for whom $65 might be more wisely spent on groceries.

But I didn’t spend it on groceries. So I may not be wise. But I’m very privileged, and quite grateful, to be able to afford this passion I stumbled into.

Sipping it again now after eating a small homemade chocolate cookie delivered recently by a friend… Now it’s popping with even more caramel, alongside a stronger savory smokiness. The bready chocolate of the cookie is also teasing out some tropical notes, like coconut shell and grilled coconut meat. And some other woodier notes as well, like dry logs ready for the campfire. Some peaches and nectarines are now also surfacing, drenched in fresh cream. Very interesting.

This whisk(e)y journey continues…


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