On 28 March 2017, the wonderful people at Douglas Laing invited me to join the ranks of their honorary ambassadors. Going by the amiable name of the Fellows, these good-humored whisky enthusiasts help Douglas Laing to spread the word about their products, offers and activities – both online and offline. In my capacity as a Fellow, I have already written guest blogs, composed tasting notes, worked trade show booths, and shared a wealth of Douglas Laing-related content across social media. Most recently, I took part in virtual Fellows get-together. Our host that day: the one and only Fred Laing.
To make sure that our friends from Taiwan could join us as well, we started dramming a bit earlier than usual. Fred welcomed us all at 13.30 BST. Right from the beginning, he proved to us what an extraordinary guy he is: There were folks from Scotland, Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Taiwan present – and Fred greeted everyone in their native language! Knowing that I am from Hamburg, he even welcomed me saying “Moin” rather than “Hallo” or “Guten Tag”. I absolutely loved this gesture, which was both attentive and heart-warming!
For our culinary enjoyment, the Douglas Laing team had selected a four-piece line-up for us, which marked a great cross section of the Glasgow-based company’s widespread portfolio. In detail, we drank the new Double Barrel Lowlands/Speyside, a 31-year-old Girvan from the Old Particular range, an 18-year-old Laphroaig from the XOP line and – as the fumy finale – the upcoming Big Peat X-Mas 2021. Savoring these high-class drams in such an intimate expert round was quite an experience; especially since Fred and the other participants were very eager to share all kinds of insights, backgrounds and anecdotes.
We started with a whisky that Fred called a perfect palate opener: the Double Barrel Lowlands/Speyside. This easy-going blended malt was composed from only two casks. One came from an anonymous Lowlands distillery, whereas the other came from a secret Speyside unit. Though the bottle does not sport an age statement, we learned that the married whiskies were eight to ten years old. As for the ratio of the vatting, it is supposed to be about fifty-fifty. If there is an Islay cask involved, the whisky makers at Douglas Laing tend to use less spirit from that vessel and more spirit from the counterpart. “Islay whiskies tend to be rather dominant in blends,” Fred explained. “Thus, we have to use them in a more accentuated way than Highlanders or Lowlanders, for example.” In this case, however, none of the two malts overwhelmed the other. So both casks got featured in similar proportions. The result is a smooth, velvety dram with light and clean notes of vanilla, citrus, elderflower, pear, and mint. Plus a few grasses, herbs and spices.
It followed a well-aged grain from Girvan distillery. Bottled as part of the popular Old Particular range, this 31-year-old Scotch whisky was an absolute stunner. Its rich nose and palate brimmed with complex aromas of strawberry pudding, candy drops, cocoa powder, orange slices, millionaire’s shortbread, and molten butter. While we sipped it, Fred told us why Douglas Laing has such a rich stock of top-quality grains. “That’s because we come from a blending background,” he said. “In the past, we sold a lot of blends with age statements of 25 years or older to Asia. However, the market changed over time and we had to find another vehicle to move our stock. So we began bottling some of our grains as single casks. Luckily, people have been enjoying these releases a lot. So we can keep them coming.”
To finish the tasting with a bang, we then moved over to Islay. First, we drank a Laphroaig 18yo XOP from 2018. Second, we sipped the soon-to-be-released Big Peat X-Mas 2021. The ‘Phroaig was immensely sweet with a bright fruitiness and a delicate smokiness. As we enjoyed its maritime smells and flavors (dried seaweed, grilled pineapple, roasted bacon, sugared fruits and ashy peat smoke), we discussed an interesting issue: Did Laphroaig’s signature medical note diminish over the years? Here, Jan Beckers (who was a brand ambassador for Douglas Laing for more than a decade) brought up a valid point: “Maybe it is not so much the whisky that has changed,” he suggested, “but our palates? The deeper we dive into the whisky world, the more experienced our taste buds become; and the less hefty they react to extreme sensations like high levels of PPM or ABV.” One thing, however, remains untouched by this: No matter how accustomed our gustatory receptors might have become to smoky, fumy and peaty sensations, “he” will always give ’em their money’s worth! Of course: “He”, in this case, refers to Big Peat, whom Fred introduced as “our number one brand and a long-time friend of mine”. While it still takes a bit until this year’s X-Mas Edition of Big Peat goes up for sale, we already got an advance sip of it. The cask strength Islay malt is strong and punchy with lots of bold notes. Wet stones, rain-soaked moss and thick chimney soot clash with juicy raisins, sweet caramel and lavish chocolate. A great mix! Over the years, I have had the pleasure of attending quite a few tastings that ended with a dram of Big Peat. In any case, it was a thundering finale. This one continued the tradition!
Double Barrel Lowlands/Speyside (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Scotl. / Oak casks / 46% / EUR 45)
Girvan 31yo Old Part. (Sing. Grain Scotch Whisky / Lowlands / Oak casks / 48.9% / EUR 200)
Laphroaig 18yo XOP (Sing. Malt Scotch Whisky / Speyside / Oak casks / 52.9% / EUR 300)
Big Peat X-Mas 2021 (Bl. Malt Scotch Whisky / Islay / Oak casks / 52.8% / EUR 60)
*** I was kindly invited to the tasting by Douglas Laing. ***