The recent “Whisky Discovery” tasting by Douglas Laing marked a novelty in the company’s 70-plus-year history: This was the first time that the Glasgow-based malt mavens gave their fans the chance to taste a new selection of drams exclusively before the official release. “Guys, ain’t this great?”, said Brand Ambassador Stuart Baxter at one point throughout the Zoom session. “Apart from those who made them, all of us here are the very first ones to ever drink these fabulous whiskies!” And indeed, it was really awesome to get such a comprehensive “sensory sneak peak” at four all-new creations from one of my absolute favorite spirit companies.
All of the bottlings we sipped came from Douglas Laing’s multi-award-winning range of blended malts, the Remarkable Regional Malts. Whereas the company follows a pretty traditional approach with its single cask releases (e. g. Old Particular, Provenance and XOP), it acts out its eagerness to experiment with these oh-so-lovable blended malts. Among others, the innovative spirit and rule-breaking nature of the Remarkable Regional Malts becomes obvious in the packaging, the storytelling, the attitude and – occasionally – the choice of casks.
We began with an expression from the Wood Series of The Epicurean. What is special about these releases: Each of them is a blended malt from the Lowlands that got finished in a single cask. Previously, Douglas Laing had already put The Epicurean into vessels that were preoccupied by côte-rôtie, cognac and rivesaltes. Now, the dapper fellow also got a 9-month finish in a ruby port pipe. This has given the whisky a wonderful pink color and a juicy nose with lots of berries and pineapples. For sturdiness, there is a good amount of buttered popcorn, too. During the sniffing, the archetypical dustiness of a classic port cask maturation is quite apparent. It interplays very well with the intense, sapful fruits. The palate is sweetness galore! The fullbodied, creamy spirit brims with cocktail cherries, strawberry milk, cotton candy, orange slices and jellied lemon bits. The aftertaste is so long that it literally sticks to the teeth. It starts with banana sundae and caramel sauce. Then follow brittle, cake and cocoa. A few zesty notes provided a extra layer of complexity. That was an impressive start – wow!
Next up, we met the beast! The new Timorous Beastie Cask Strength is basically an amplified version of Douglas Laing’s classic Highlands blended malt. “Compared to the regular edition, this one’s far more intense and pushed forward,” Stuart exclaimed while we sipped it. And indeed: The latest addition to the Beastie family ain’t no cute, little cuddler. It is a real mighty mouse! The whisky is fully matured in ex-bourbon barrels (most of them 1st fill) and bottled with an ABV of 54.9 per cent. It smells buttery and sweet with crisp fruits, whipped cream and thin cookies as well as a ton of white chocolate. In the mouth, it develops a pronounced spiciness. Here, the bold smacks of pear and citrus clash with white pepper and grated ginger. Another fine detail I discovered during the degustation: a well-pronounced elderflower note. Once gulped down, this cask strength whisky produces one last wave of flavors! The white chocolate from the nosing makes a prominent return now. It is accompanied, among others, by vanilla, raisin, cereal and lime. When we spoke about the dram afterwards, many people in the audience pointed out that they did not expect so much aroma and character from a whisky that looked almost like water in the glass. This proved once again that one should never judge a book by its cover; or a dram by its color! This mouse might be small on the outside, but it is humongous on the inside!
In regard to the description, whisky number three did most of the work for me: The Chocolate Edition of Douglas Laing’s signature Speyside blended malt Scallywag bears its name for a reason! As Stuart told us, this limited edition was exclusively composed from sherry casks that brimmed with pronounced notes of chocolate, cocoa, hazelnut and the similar delicacies. This clearly shows in the final product. In addition to an assortment of dried fruits, the sweet nose also has a lot of cocoa powder, nougat creme and chai latte. From further back, a bit of citrus chimes in as well. The palate is rich with Bounty bars, orange zest, bramble jam and all kinds of other chewy and chocolate-y treats. Towards the end, the whisky gets a bit lighter. The finale still has a lot of chocolate and nougat. Yet, it is also bursts with caramel, raisin, coconut and mild spices. From the first sniff to the last sip, this one had me drooling nonstop.
Traditionally, most tastings of the Remarkable Regional Malts end with a glass of Big Peat. The big-hearted Ileach, about whom Stuart said at one point that “he is a person rather than brand”, is the perfect choice for a farewell dram. He is so bold, so bulky and so fumy that any whisky following up on him would have a tough time breaking through the massive wall of peat. As the big finale of the “Whisky Discovery” tasting, we drank Big Peat’s dedicated Feis Ile 2021 bottling: the mighty Peatrichor! This cask strength Islay blended malt is immensely maritime, brimy and smoky. The first assosiation it raised in my head: a rich seafood platter with fried squid rings, king prawns and fish chunks drenched in a generous squirt of lemon juice. Around the platter, there is thick plume of steam (cigar puff, BBQ smoke, engine grease, phenols). When given some time, the Peatrichor also develops a mouthwatering sweetness that shows itself in the form of apple puree, brown sugar and marzipan creme. This was the fourth absolute highlight in the tasting’s four-piece line-up. While this is pretty amazing in its own right, it also presents me with a challenge: Apparently, I now have to find space in the whisky shelf not for one, two or three new bottles, but four!
The Epicurean Ruby Port (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Lowlands / Ruby port finish / 48% / EUR ??)
Timorous Beastie “Meet the Beast” (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Highl. / ex-Bourbon / 54.9% / EUR ??)
Scallywag Chocolate Edition (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Speyside / Sherry casks / 48% / EUR ??)
Big Peat “Peatrichor” (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Islay / Oak casks / 53.8% / EUR ??)
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*** I was kindly invited to the tasting by Douglas Laing. ***