When picking a whisky, the mere age of the distillate is hardly ever the key criteria on which I base my decision. Having already enjoyed more than just a few NAS bottlings and youngsters of exceptional quality, I have learned that there are beautiful whiskies of all ages, shades and complexions. Yet, even I have to admit that a double-digit number on a bottle can be pretty awe inspiring – especially from the twenties upwards. So when I opened my latest Douglas Laing’s Fellows package and found six out-of-the-ordinary Scotch whisky samples inside, all of which were between 21 and 55 (!) years of age, I was absolutely stunned. While it surely felt rather surreal to savour spirits that spent more time slumbering amongst wood than I did walking this Earth, I have tried my best to put my sensations of Douglas Laing’s new Xtra Old Particular bottlings into adequate words. To make sure my malty mumblings will not get too long, I decided to split my blog post up into two parts, starting right here and now with my reviews of the North British 55yo, Littlemill 25yo and Macallan 40yo.
North British 55yo XOP
(Xtra Old Particular • Single Grain • Lowlands • 41%)
Having spent an unbelievable 55 years in the cask, this old-as-the-hills North British is the most ancient whisky Douglas Laing ever released. Naturally, approaching such a Methuselah of a dram is not easy. Cause what else but deep respect can I feel for a Scotch that is twenty years my senior? Still, I tried to stay as objective as possible in my tasting notes: When I drew the auburn spirit to my nose, I found its bouquet to be sweet, rich, fruity and full of splendor. Among others, I sensed dried oranges, warm buttermilk pancakes, creamy caramel sauce and just a touch of burnt sparklers. Upon sipping it, the first thing that struck me was the liquid’s full and thick mouthfeel. A moment later, a wealth of flavours began to unfold, beguiling my tongue with delicious notes of wholemeal muffins, raspberry froth, sugar canes and orange peel as well as baked raisins and molten chocolate. The long-lasting finish then offered an kingly finale with a lot of sweetness contrasted against a tad of that typical grain bitterness. Wow… just wow!
Littlemill 25yo XOP
(Xtra Old Particular • Single Malt • Lowlands • 50.9%)
There is no denying that independent bottlings from defunct distilleries have a special allure. On the one hand, such releases offer us the rare chance to become acquainted with malts from mythical units that no longer have their own whiskies readily available. And on the other hand, they give us the opportunity to try spirits from older times in which different sorts of barley were used or other types of equipment applied. This 25-year-old Lowlander originates from Littlemill distillery, which went out of business in 1992 and burnt to the ground in 2004. Vigorous and pervading, it brims with the aromas of squashed peaches, soft bananas, oven-fresh pastries and new-mown hay. The palate goes into a similar direction, offering rich flavours of grass, fruit, malt and lime zest – fortified by a strong but not overpowering dose of alcohol that ushers in a sweet, fruity finish of considerable length. If you are looking for a liquid, oh-so-tasty piece of Lowlands history, you do not need to look any further than this fabulous Littlemill 25yo from the XOP series.
Macallan 40yo XOP
(Xtra Old Particular • Single Malt • Speyside • 45.2%)
If I bought a full bottle of this four decades old Macallan, it would be the second most costly item I ever purchased. Only my car was somewhat more expensive – and since I drive a 13-year-old Daihatsu Cuore, we are really just talking about a wee bit here. As it is almost impossible for me to approach such a once-in-a-lifetime dram with a clear head and the required amount of objectivity, I hope you do not mind me getting carried away a little in my tasting notes, which read as follows: Prancing in the glass like liquid gold, Douglas Laing’s Macallan 40yo commences with a lush, elegant and velvety nose in which the luxurious scents of apples, grapes and spices intertwine to form a perfectly harmonic bouquet. It might be only in my imagination, but I also sense “old” notes of parchment and leather here. In the mouth, the spirit is full-bodied and well-defined. Plums step forward now, followed by juniper, wood, cloves and almonds. The finish is smooth and rewarding, leaving behind blissful flavors of grapes, oak and white pepper. This luxury whisky certainly is in a league of its own; but I am also 99 per cent sure that I will not be able to sip it again in this lifetime…
North British 55yo (Grain / Lowlands / 55 Years / Refill hogshead / 221 bottles / 41% / ~600 Euro)
Littlemill 25yo (Malt/ Lowlands / 25 Years / Refill hogshead / 300 bottles / 50.9% / ~220 Euro)
Macallan 40yo (Malt / Speyside / 40 Years / Refill hogshead / 240 bottles / 45.2% / ~1,830 Euro)
Glen Garioch 26yo (Malt / Highlands / 26 Years / Refill hogshead / 254 bottles / 56.9% / ~150 Euro)
Laphroaig 30yo (Malt / Islay/ 30 Years / Refill hogshead / 239 bottles / 53.5% / ~450 Euro)
Springbank 21yo (Malt / Campbeltown / 21 Years / Refill hogshead / 308 bottles / 51.3% / ~330 Euro)
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*** Whisky samples kindly provided by Douglas Laing & Co. ***