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Douglas Laing Whisky Tasting

My hands are rather tied on the introduction to this one, as I cannot in good conscience divulge much, if any, of what was discussed during the tasting. Suffice it to say, whisky was not exactly the sole topic of conversation. The first rule of Fred Laing should be that you do not talk about Fred Laing. I will say that we were treated to a fantastic evening’s entertainment by an extremely affable, larger than life and eccentric character. Whiskies aside, I highly recommend that you jump at any opportunity to join a Douglas Laing tasting.

Thanks as always to the London Club for organising by far the most intriguing whisky tasting I have had the pleasure to attend, virtual or otherwise. I laughed. I cried (with laughter). I may have gasped once or twice. Then I laughed some more. I am chuckling now just thinking about the story with some very unladylike ladies. I have said too much already! Let us crack on with the actual whiskies.

Timorous Beastie 18 year old – review

Bottled at 46.8%, a Highland vatted malt, which retails for £90 on the DL website, or you can save a few quid by ordering via Master of Malt for £84.95. Amazon will do even better at £76 a bottle, so it pays to shop around, as the Aberdeen Whisky Shop have this on sale for £56.

Colour: Cloudy apple juice.

On the nose: Sharp and sweet at once. Vanilla, sweet and crisp apples, lemon peel, cinnamon and pepper. Sticky ginger cake. A little wax in the background. With time some chalk too. I prefer this without water, dilution makes the flavours feel disjointed.

In the mouth: Good mouthfeel and delivers well on the promise of the nose. Sweet and crisp apples, cinnamon and pepper heat. Vanilla and some burnt sugar. Lemon zest and pith. Crystallised stem ginger in the finish with lingering spices, toasted oak and lemon thyme. With water, it suddenly feels quite thin, even with a couple of drops. It becomes sharp and dry in the finish. Better without dilution.

Score: 6/10

Old Particular Elements Jura 12 year old – review

A single cask finished in PX sherry, bottled at 53.7% strength. Retailed for £64.99 on the DL website, or Nickolls and Perks have it in stock for £55.99, but as always, please shop around your independent retailers.

Colour: Amber with red tinges.

On the nose: Quite a spicy bite. Very strong eucalyptus oil, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Tart raspberries and strawberries. Salted caramel in the background. Orange marmalade. Water tones the spicy bite and brings plenty of sea spray.

In the mouth: A surprisingly smooth arrival. Chocolate covered raisins, cherry liqueur and cinnamon. Dates, prunes and strawberry jam follows. Sea salt and orange zest in the finish. Water gets me no further.

Score: 5/10

Private Stock Inchgower 21 year old – review

Matured in a refill hogshead and bottled at 53.4% strength. This retailed for £124.99 on the DL website, but has since sold out.

Colour: Pale gold.

On the nose: An enticing chewy toffee with vanilla and cinnamon. Ripe barley and baked apples sprinkled with brown sugar. Less attention-grabbing with water, it becomes creamier and softer. Also, a little citrus.

In the mouth: Great mouthfeel, just as chewy as the nose suggests. Baked apples with caramelised raisins, cinnamon and soft brown sugar. Barley, malt and vanilla follow closely behind. A long finish of toasted almonds and oak. Some walnut skins in the aftertaste. Water brings quite a heavy dose of citrus peel and not much else.

Score: 7/10

Old Particular Easter Edition Invergordon – review

This 22 year old, was matured in a single refill barrel and bottled at 48.9% strength. Retails for £85 via the DL website where it is an online exclusive.

Colour: Straw.

On the nose: Sticky toffee pudding, vanilla essence, cinnamon and toasted oak. A little glue and coconut water. All quite mild. Water takes me no further.

In the mouth: Extremely moreish mouthfeel, chewy and creamy. Loads of toffee sweets and creamy fudge. Heaps of cinnamon. A sprinkle of pepper and nutmeg. Rum and raisin ice cream in the finish with a pleasant lingering warmth. With time coconut macaroons appear. Water brings no new flavours and ruins the incredible mouthfeel.

Score: 7/10

Rock Island 21 year old – review

Island vatted malt with whiskies from Islay, Arran, Jura and Orkney and bottled at 46.8% strength. Retails for £82 on the DL website. Whereas Master of Malt will demand £78.95, The Whisky Exchange demands £75.45 and the Aberdeen Whisky Shop have this on sale for just £65.

Colour: Straw.

On the nose: Floral honey, sweat apples and barley, all covered in a blanket of bitumen and iodine. Wet gravel, lemon zest and wool. With time the mouth-watering note of salty pork broth. Water brings more lemon zest and sea spray.

In the mouth: Fat and oily. Big bonfire notes come through first with wood smoke, charcoal and ash. Honey sweetness follows with some barley sugar, apples and pears. Glazed BBQ meat appears and lingers well into the finish. Lots of earthy thyme and lemon peel round things off beautifully. With water, the bonfire becomes peatier and earthier. Walnuts and damp earth in the finish. More, please!

Score: 8/10

Xtra Old Particular Laphroaig 21 year old – review

Matured in a single refill hogshead and bottled at 53.4% strength. Retailed for £360 on the DL website, or Master of Malt will sell you a bottle for £326.

Colour: Pale gold.

On the nose: Boot polish, sweet buttery pastry and vanilla essence. A touch of antiseptic, barbecued lemons and a damp cloth. Seaspray runs throughout. Water gets me no further.

In the mouth: Creamy mouthfeel. Full-on peat, antiseptic and barbecued lemons from start to finish. Lingering ash, sea salt and walnut follow. With water the delivery is less punchy, however, nothing new develops.

Score: 5/10

Conclusions

A perfect start to proceedings with a sweet, but also crisp and fresh dram in the Timorous Beastie 18. I found a good deal of complexity too, and many enjoyable flavours, especially the sticky ginger and hints of waxiness. The mouthfeel was also excellent, however, I found dilution to be detrimental. This is a whisky that delivers exactly what it promises, which is a theme I found common to several of the samples. The website price point is much too high, and even with some minor discounts elsewhere, I feel that value for money is slightly lacking, which is what has prevented me going higher on the scores. If you find this discounted to the £60 mark then I would say it is a purchase worth making.

The Jura is not for me, however, I think that I am in the minority, as many of those present during the tasting immediately raided retailers, and the DL website promptly sold out. I did not find it harmonious, and the PX finish is all that exists for consideration. There is not even a whisper of peat, or that gassy hay note that I have found previously in Jura, and so I am left asking what exactly is the point of this release? As discussed in a previous piece, something so heavily sherried as to eliminate any whisky character is no longer that exciting for me. Having said that, it is not a bad dram, per say, with no glaring off notes, so I have scored it accordingly.

Another favourite of the evening, Inchgower is a distillery that I am only now starting to discover. What I have learnt so far is that it has a very impressive chewy mouthfeel, which I find extremely delicious and moreish. The flavours of this dram are quite simple, however, they are delivered perfectly. As I have mentioned in a previously, I feel that simplicity is an often undervalued characteristic these days. I enjoyed this dram immensely, and the price seems perfectly in line with other independent bottlers. This one also promptly sold out following the tasting. This has also cemented my resolve to explore Inchgower further.

In some respects, the Invergordon was the most interesting whisky of the bunch. Grains are again something that I am currently getting more acquainted with. In this instance, I thought I was going to be bitterly disappointed by the nose. The few flavours present were nice enough, however, they felt very subdued and distant. I was in for a pleasant surprise with the first sip. The palate is exceptionally fulsome. A great mouthfeel is backed up by punchy uncompromising bursts of flavour. This is dessert in a glass, and yet not too sweet or cloying at all. In terms of price, this provides excellent value for the experience on offer. At the time of writing it is still available.

As you will have guessed from the scores, the Rock Island 21 was my favourite. Surprisingly fat and oily, it is a perfect marriage of lighter fruity notes, earthy peat, and a sprinkle of those meaty notes that I find so magical. If I were to guess, I would say that the main components are Arran and Caol Ila, however, it does not make much difference one way or another. This is also the sort of dram to convert any blend naysayers out there, being much more than the sum of its parts. This is now firmly on my future purchasing list, and I am glad that something of this quality is a mainstay of the core range offering great value.

Last, of all we were treated to a Laphroaig 21 year old from the XOP range. To begin with, without being told I would never have guessed that this is 21 years old. While the flavours were perfectly enjoyable, the whole thing felt a bit one dimensional, and I think you can get much the same flavour profile from many younger and cheaper examples. It also seems highly-priced when compared to other similarly aged examples of Laphroaig, both official and independent releases.

Forgetting the scores for a moment, there was not a single bad whisky here. The Jura and Laphroaig were the only two that did not quite deliver for me on the promise of the contents, however, I would happily enjoy another glass of either one without any complaints. Tasting all of these blind would have been an interesting experience, without the bias that necessarily comes with prior knowledge. I admit that Douglas Laing is something that I have overlooked previously as a company, and that has now changed. Once again, I cannot stress enough that you should seize any opportunity to sign up for a tasting with Fred if you ever have the chance, and hopefully, when another future club tasting inevitably takes place, I hope that I will have a bottle of that wonderful Rock Island to toast him with.

The devil is in the details. Image #2 is from Douglas Laing, Images #3-#4 come via the Whisky Exchange. We also feature some commission links, but as we’re big supporters of independent shops, we’ve also included some commission-free links where possible.

  1. Avatar
    Alasdair Gray says:

    A superb enjoyable evening and great banter from Fred. The Timorous Beastie 18 Year old, started the evening perfectly for me, this is such a good Highland blend. For me the Inchgower and Laphroig were my favs . Was surprised by the Jura. For me, the Invergordon was a bit bland, but I would love to give it another go on its own. Having a real appreciation for single grains just now, having taken part in the recent single grain tasting by Fred at the Stockport Whisky festival. Would highly recommend, the Port Dundas 13 and 15 year olds , as well as the Loch Lommond 22. The Garnheath 45 year old was a real treat.

    As you have already said, if you get the opportunity of a whisky tasting from Fred, take it!

  2. TheWhiskySleuth
    TheWhiskySleuth says:

    Hi Alasdair, thanks for stopping by. It’s a valid point you raise about tastings. I made sure to have these all solo on seperate occasions and it did occur to me that the subtleties of the grain could have been lost amongst some of the other power houses of drams for those drinking them all in succession. There wasn’t a bad dram amongst them though, and only perception of value helped separate one from the other. Hopefully we’ll have Fred back before too long to regale us with more tales.

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