This opinion isn’t original but I’m one of those who agree that blended malts are highly underrated. At times, I think the regular offerings of blended malt from companies like Compass Box and Ways are a step above most of the regular single malt offerings. Thanks to a virtual tasting with Paul Wang of Douglas Laing (DL), I’m able to add DL’s Remarkable Regional Malts as more examples of exceptional blended malts.
For a brief background of Paul, he is the Asia Pacific regional sales manager for Douglas Laing He is, I think, one of the very few Asian members of the Keepers of the Quaich. He has been in the industry for a very long time as he used to work for Diageo and Glenfarclas. Aside from these accolades, he also teaches for the Wines and Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) some times.
DL’s Remarkable Regional Malts aren’t new to me as I’ve seen Big Peat and Scallywag through social media. But I had no idea that they were conceived one by one. You’re going to notice that the ABV of each blend is different. Paul told me that the ABV of each blend is the same regardless of the batch. All of these have no added coloring and are non-chill filtered. I was able to buy the sample set for P2,000 which is about $40. There are five sample bottles so each 50ml bottle cost about $8. Pretty good deal!
The firstborn of this line-up is Big Peat which was first released in 2009. This blend of only Islay single malts has a PPM of 40 and is well-known for having a little bit of Port Ellen in it. But according to the back of the label, this is mostly made up of Ardbeg, Caol Ila and Bowmore. Paul says that Big Peat, being one of the best sellers, gets as big as around 5000 cases per batch.
Secondborn is the Scallywag. This blend was released in 2013. It is named after the long line of Douglas Laing family Fox Terriers. Paul comments that Fox Terriers are known to be the most mischievous breed of dogs. This blend of Speyside single malts is said to be the most sherried of the five. A few of the single malts that make up this blend are from Macallan, Mortlach and Glenrothes.
Next is the Timorous Beastie which was released in 2014. The back of the label says: “The original Timorous Beastie, immortalised in Robert Burns’ famous Scots poem “To A Mouse”, was a timid, little field mouse. Echoing our national bard’s wit, our is most certainly not for the fainthearted.” This blend of Highland malts has some whisky from distilleries like Blair Athol, Glen Garrioch, Dalmore and Glengoyne.
Fourth-in-line, formerly known as Rock Oyster, is the Rock Island. This blend came out in 2015 and is made up of single malts from the islands of Arran, Orkney, Islay and Jura. DL wanted to highlight the maritime characters of the whisky created in these island distilleries.
Last in this line-up is The Epicurean. This Lowland blend born in 2016 tells of the story of a 1930s Glasgow man. A real cheeky chap who was ever the life and soul of the party. He was also a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. According to Paul, this blend consists of 75% ex-bourbon cask and 25% ex-sherry cask matured single malt from distilleries such as Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Ailsa Bay.
I should note that there’s also the Gauldrons which is a special edition blend released in 2017. Sadly, this was not part of the sample set I bought. So, I’ll have to hunt down a bottle soon. This is a blend of Campbeltown single malts.
Epicurean – review
Bottled at 46.2% abv., this is available in The Whisky Exchange for £36.95, Master of Malt for £33.95, or available locally for $42.
Color: white tea.
On the nose: A coating of waxy apples and citrus zest which are followed by hints of sweetened nori and a round smell of marzipan. Another whiff gives of freshly slapped mint, green apples, honey and brown sugar. I get undertones of hay, something waxy again and guava.
In the mouth: There’s that waxy apple taste again but this time a bit flat. I get honey, brown sugar, hay, hints of sweetened nori, grass and almonds. A flash of lemongrass comes out. Then I get some apple juice, rock candy, dried stone fruit and more marzipan.
Timorous Beastie – review
Bottled at 46.8% abv., this is available in The Whisky Exchange for £36.45, Master of Malt for £36.95, or available locally for $42.
Color: white tea.
On the nose: A welcoming symphony of dried apricots, peaches, apples, pears and melons. There’s a bit of mint and thyme sneaking around as well. Then I get some waxy apples, more dried apricot and orange jelly. After a few more whiffs I get some kiwi with undertones of milk chocolate and mocha.
In the mouth: The milk chocolate and coffee appear immediately. But goes away quickly as well. A bit of thyme and basil appear. There’s more thyme again which is followed by apples, honey, cinnamon, peppers, melon-y syrup, muscovado syrup, toasted coconut chips stewed apples and browning plums. This makes me think I’m eating a pie of some sort.
Scallywag – review
Bottled at 46% abv., £36.45, Master of Malt for £38.75.
Color: pale ale.
On the nose: I get some sort of rough floral note that makes me think of chamomile, leather and honey. It gets a bit sweeter with vanilla, cinnamon, dates and dried apricots coming out. It suddenly gives a mild apple pie scent followed by a bit of sulfur, dark chocolate and coffee notes. Behind the sulfur scents are bits of lemon peel and Nerds flavored lemon.
In the mouth: Mild sulfur that’s followed by an odd mix of chocolate, lemon peel and Nerds lemon flavor. The sulfur, thankfully, dissipates and gives way for more pleasant tastes like honey, vanilla and a bit more of that apple pie. There’s that chocolate taste again but accompanied by mocha, dried apricots, orange jam and orange jelly. The sulfur rears its ugly head again at the end.
Rock Island – review
Bottled at 46.8% abv., this is available in The Whisky Exchange for £36.45, Master of Malt for £37.95, or locally for $45.
Color: chamomile tea.
On the nose: A mild flash of peat and smoke upfront which are accompanied by muscovado syrup, apple juice, dried apricots, honey and vanilla. Somewhere in between those a peppermint note comes out. Bits of different types of orange scents come out. The most prominent ones are orange gummy bears, peel and jelly. After those are undertones of mint, cinnamon syrup, vanilla and green peppers.
In the mouth: Oily, peppery and a little peaty all the way. There are that smoke and burnt rubber Jura note. I get round flashes of salinity, rock salt, fuji apple juice, honey, vanilla, melon, lemon peel oil, basil leaves, toffee, butterscotch and salted caramel. I get bits of thyme, cloves and dehydrated lemons at the end.
Big Peat – review
Bottled at 46% abv., this is available in The Whisky Exchange for £36.45.
Color: white tea.
On the nose: Immediately a fat mix of peat, saline, nori, thyme, peppers, smoke, ashes, honey and iodine. I get bits of rosemary, fuji apple juice, ginger candy and more honey.
In the mouth: Prominent tastes of smoke, ashes, charcoal, cloves and peppers. I get undertones of ginger candy, charred lemon, burnt grilled green peppers, honey and grilled lime.
The Epicurean is an interesting and enjoyable Lowland blend. DL does a good job of making this a step above easily found original bottling of Lowland single malts. It’s not light-in-flavor and boring. I like the texture and length on this despite being a NAS. It’s fairly expressive but lacks complexity. The flavors tend to be one dimensional.
This Beastie is a two-faced yet pleasant whisky. It’s my 2nd favorite of the bunch. It shows a timid facade by giving off a lot of tropical fruit scents. Then it shows off its feistier side with a more ethanol bite and darker flavors in the mouth. The light tropical fruits on the nose turn into darker flavors which can be condensed into confectionary and baked fruit notes.
The Scallywag is my least favorite of the bunch due to the sulfur notes. While not strong, it is persistent and is very noticeable. I think this ruins the complexity and gets in the way of the more subtle flavors in this blend. This whisky has a lot of layers and I think there’s more. But the sulfur just prevents me from tasting past the sulfur.
This just rocks. Rock Island is easily my favorite of the bunch. It’s complex, oily and very enjoyable. I don’t get any off-notes in this. The flavors consistently give way to one another while not being the same. There’s a good transition from Islay notes to confectionaries to spices and to tropical fruits. There’s just a lot of layering in this.
Big Peat is not very complex but it’s up in your face smoke and peat. We all look for peaty Islay single malts, don’t we? This is the classic peaty and smoky Islay character we peatheads have come to love and expect. This is slightly fruitier and sweeter on the nose. While it’s drier and a bit more bitter in the mouth. What more can I say? This is simply a love peat or hate peat relationship.
Overall, a very good line-up of blended malts. They’re all very affordable and very enjoyable. Each blend does a good job of representing the region they are made up of. They’re also another example of NAS whisky that can outmatch ones with age statements. I’d choose these over the mass-produced stuff any day! Highly recommended!
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John, nice review as always. There is always a clamour for the age statement Rock Islands and DL manage to get these out at a good price. The 21 is excellent.
Hi Graham, thanks for the comment. DL is heaven sent. I’m liking their single casks and blends due to the great price points and quality. I keep hearing the 21 is excellent! But havent found any yet. All I have are the TB 10 and 18
Great reviews as always. The Epicurean is a strange one I find, not unpleasant but just a bit odd tasting to my pallet. The scallywag is my favourite of the bunch you reviewed and has just recently started being sold in my local Morrisons supermarket for a reasonable £34.
Your right about DL making some great blends and I’m yet to have a bad one.
Hi Mark, thanks for the comment.
I agree that the Epicurean is strange. But it’s a welcome kind of strange seeing as the easy to find OB Lowlands are very meh. I can see why the Scallywag is the usual favorite. It might have been my favorite too if it were not for my sensitivity to sulfur.
It’s nice to know DL stuff become more accessible. I have limited experience with them but have liked them all.
I haven’t tried the others, but have been casually wrestling with a bottle of Epicurean for the past 2 months and am still struggling to finish it. The nose is fantastic with lots of blooming flowers and cut grass. The palette hits me hard with medicinal herbs. I find this much easier and more pleasant to drink with a splash of water. The finish is where this whisky really falls apart for me. There’s so much burnt sugar that it makes me feel like I’m drinking one of those hard liquors they serve at bars with a lump of sugar on top. I recently had a dram of Epicurean before sleep and woke up with that taste of burnt sugar still in my mouth. I can’t say it’s a bad whisky but it’s so oddly balanced that I can’t recommend it.