Yes, I know, there wasn’t meant to be an article on Malt today. After all, it is Christmas and things come to a grinding halt. The Malt machinery has been working flat out in 2018 to bring you something daily. There should be a pause – even for us when we’re all wrapped up in seasonal fare and family events. Ultimately it is family that this time of year should truly be about and a much-needed opportunity to switch off.
But then I reconsidered following a discussion with family. There are some out there who don’t acknowledge and celebrate Christmas for a variety of reasons. And we shouldn’t forget about them or deny our regulars a wee slice of whisky banter on this day. In an executive JJ decision i.e. I’ve not told Mark – so he’ll see this post with great surprise – we’re publishing this seasonal release from Douglas Laing & Co. A family whisky firm with a love for branding and releasing whiskies from Islay and the other Scottish regions.
It’s the family love of Port Ellen that means arguably Douglas Laing has more stock than most of this iconic distillery. A pretty penny’s worth I’m sure. The price of single cask bottlings is rising and Port Ellen the original is becoming firmly out of reach of the masses. Even the prospect of the Frankenstein Port Ellen 2 creation from Diageo will be costly as Adam recently debated the value of the project. Money talks more than whisky and Diageo could not afford to let Port Ellen die from a brand sense.
Whilst it is interesting to see these distilleries revived, there isn’t any doubt they won’t be the same. Historians will highlight the industry is quite adept at demolishing distilleries and rebuilding them in a new sleek modern style. Glenburgie in 2004 was a recent example of a levelling and reconstruction. Then during the 1960s there were a series of ground zero approaches to decaying and historical distillery buildings. Efficiency and profit are the wise men of the industry that cannot be ignored or denied.
Once it’s demolished then it is gone forever. End of and that’s the reality. Imagine if someone decided to purchase Millburn in Inverness and start distilling whisky in the kitchen area. Would this be Millburn? From a geographical perspective yes, it would indeed be. If the naming rights could be snatched from the cold hands of Diageo then it is a possible project, but again, would it truly be Millburn as we know it from bygone decades? No is the unanimous answer.
Let us leave the ghosts of Christmas distillery past exactly where they should be. Instead, let us embrace today and the rosy future for many. 2019 is going to be a wonderful year for me personally, the team here and what we’ve created. I hope that good fortune, happiness and prosperity knock at your door and in true first footing style is welcomed inside.
Meanwhile, let us consider this annual edition from Big Peat, which is in its 8th incarnation. A blended malt vatting from some of Islay’s distilleries minus a few chancers such as Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Kilchoman. This is always a small batch release and is naturally coloured and without chill-filtration. Bottled at a robust 53.9%, it’ll set you back an acceptable £51.95 via the Whisky Exchange or a digestible £52.56 from Amazon, or with widespread distribution including from the Carnegie Whisky Cellars in Dornoch who provided this sample, you can pick up a bottle locally, or Douglas Laing still has online stock.
Personally, I’ve always found the vatting involved in a blended malt to be an intriguing subject. I don’t go as far as Tweedlord to proclaiming that it is the true guiding light of whisky. I still prefer the funk and rollercoaster nature of the single cask format and that’s the real interest for me. However blended malts, or even the art of blending is fascinating, as shown in a recent blog post by Mark Watt from Cadenheads. A piece that is worth a few moments of your time if only for the level of detail and openness about the process and the individual elements.
Sadly, we don’t have that level of detail from Douglas Laing for the Big Peat release. Although a little birdy told me that in recipe terms, the second highest component within this 2018 edition is actually Port Ellen. This if true, does come as a surprise given the inclusion of Ardbeg and Bowmore. Expensive names but nevertheless more widely available than a cask of Port Ellen. You’d expect Caol Ila to form the main bulk of any percentage in the series with a lashing from other distilleries and in William Grant fashion, a teaspoon of Port Ellen. But perhaps given the volatile nature of Port Ellen whisky and its variable nature, Douglas Laing may have had some borderline or inactive casks that could do some good in a Big Peat release. The upshot being that this is for many the cheapest way to say you’ve had a slice of liquid history without taking out a new loan to purchase a bottle of Port Ellen.
Big Peat Blended Malt 2018 Christmas Edition – review
Colour: Almost colourless with a touch of faint brown.
On the nose: A sweet and gentle peat with a sprinkling of autumnal essence. Fresh cotton sheets with a mixture of brine and salt crust. Chalky, with candy floss and lime juice. A creamy grapefruit with a touch of smoke and salted peanuts. Memories of Rice Krispies are also revived.
In the mouth: A more earthy peat steps forth now, with cinder toffee, a dirty vanilla, damp wool, gorse and treacle. A short finish in reality. A spent campfire residue the day after and salted popcorn.
Satisfying if a touch simple. More subtle then I was expecting. Far from big, this is the Tom Cruise of peat. I’d consider a bottle as the price is thereabouts and thoroughly quaffable. Just don’t step into this one expecting a lavish or ferocious experience. Meanwhile, enjoy your family time.
Lead image from the Whisky Exchange and the sample kindly provided by the Carnegie Whisky Cellars in Dornoch. There are also commission links within this article but these are for your convenience only and don’t influence our opinion, pout or otherwise.