One of the most common adages is to not judge a book by its cover.
Sadly, most consumers forget about this when it comes to booze. This ends up being one of my main gripes about the alcohol industry: big brands’ genius marketing will always find ways to make their products more attractive to the less informed. Just look at brands like the Viking-themed Highland Parks and the different Don Papa expressions. How common is it these days to find a limited-edition expression with an enticing story, great packaging, limited availability and premium pricing, only to find it contains a lackluster product?
Thankfully, today’s subject, while being everything above, is far from lackluster. Its price won’t make you shed a tear, either. Douglas Laing’s (DL) The Gauldrons (which means “a bay of storms”) is a limited-edition small batch release of blended malts. Before some single malt snobs lose interest upon seeing the word “blend,” let me remind you: rather than being the more commonly found blend – which are combinations of single malt and grain whisky – this is a marriage of different single malts. I also find that blended malts from smaller companies like DL and Wemyss are more affordable, yet better than most easily found single malts. I intentionally left out Compass Box, as I think their quality has dipped lately.
I’ll admit that appreciating designs isn’t a strong suit of mine, which is why I barely talk about the aesthetics of a product. I focus more on its intrinsic quality. That said: just look at the label. It’s flashy, yet simple in a way. This, I think, sets it apart from other labels with its the subtle use of simple gold and black, though there’s a bit of red and white, too. The spider and its web remind me of Spiderman.
Apparently, the spider served as inspiration to King Robert the Bruce. After having been defeated by his enemies, he saw a spider building its web with great patience, yet difficulty. It encouraged him to try and try again.
Similar to its Remarkable Regional Malts siblings, this expression is composed of single malts from just one region. That region is Campbeltown. I consulted their Asia Pacific Manager, Paul Wang, as in previous times that I tackled DL’s products. According to him, the reason why each release was numbered per batch is due to how relatively few whisky are bottled. There were about 3,000 bottles released per batch. There have been six batches so far, but DL is said to have secured enough supply to ensure a continuous stream. Thus, going forward, they will no longer release this per batch.
The decline of Scotland’s former whisky capital has left the Campbeltown region with only three single malt distilleries left. It would be easy to assume that this expression is composed of single malts from all three remaining operations, but Paul can only state with certainty that this is a blend of at least two distilleries.
Hopefully, that doesn’t make you less interested. After all, each of the distilleries makes different styles of single malt. Springbank makes the unpeated Hazelburn, the semi-peated Springbank and the heavily peated Longrow. Glengyle Distillery makes a peated and a heavily-peated single malt. Glen Scotia makes both peated and unpeated malts. They have two different fermentation lengths as well. This means they could actually be making at least four different styles of whisky, so the whisky used to make Gauldrons may have merely come, at minimum, from two different distilleries. No matter what, it’s highly likely to be composed of different styles of single malts.
The Gauldrons Batch 4 – Review
Color: Darjeeling tea.
On the nose: The different aromas form a fluffy-like and puffy texture that’s unfamiliar to me, but quite pleasing. Upfront are notes of Springbank-like peat & smoke and salted vanilla caramel. The fluffy aromas give me an image of a cotton candy composed of the above notes.
For this layer, the texture shifts to something more sharp and prickly. Imagine a confectionery-store sweetness kind of sharp tang. I get a mix of salted caramel, nori, honey, vanilla and milk chocolate. A subtle digestive biscuit note pops in and out of that layer.
While being enveloped by the aromas of the second layer, at the end emerge subtle citrus notes that make me think of caramelized orange peel, grilled lime, pink grapefruit, dehydrated lemon peels and peppercorn.
In the mouth: More jumbled up. It’s like citrus, salt, smoke and confectionery notes all fight for position, but it has a really oily texture that strongly encourages me to keep chewing, and to let all of the notes play out. Will this be like Willy Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper in Campbeltown-whisky flavored form? The more I chew, the more I taste, and there is no falling off.
Initial notes are a mix of citrus; I get burnt lime and caramelized orange peel. Slightly-more-subtle salt, Springbank-like peat and smoke, salted vanilla caramel, honey and biscuits come next. The sensation gives me the image of biting into a fine dining restaurant’s version of a Twix, but with sea salt sprinkled on top and candied citrus peels tucked sparingly in the dessert.
The end brings on a very subtle barley tea, sugarless Frosted Flakes and lemon meringue.
The nose is the best thing about this. I don’t know what else I could ask for in this aspect of the whisky. The flavor notes are very easy to pick out, and all are pleasant and recognizable. In addition, that fluffy, puffy texture makes it even more heavenly.
I have a minute complaint about the mouth. The initial sensation when this whisky touched my tongue contrasted sharply with the nose. It was very messy, so the close-to-perfect impression that emerged from the nose was ruined. Thankfully, the everlasting parade of flavors that remain make up for the mess.
The reasons I’m not giving this a better score are due to the initial sensation of the whisky and the lack of variety in flavors. Still, it comes at a damn good price. Whisky this good usually comes from IBs and is at least in the $100 price range.
If every Snickers or Twix were as good as Gauldrons, I’d probably end up with the worst kind of diabetes. I might also regret reviewing this really fine whisky. Even in more mature markets, Douglas Laing seems to be one of those best-kept secrets. Paul: if you ever read this, and should Gauldrons stock dry up, please keep my local market in mind. At least keep the allocation the same.
Conclusion? Great packaging, amazing whisky, reasonable availability, and excellent price. But this may not be suited for fans of brands like Macallan and Glenlivet. The not-so-smooth texture in this will take some getting used to. This is something Springbank fans will appreciate more.
(at local and TWE prices; 7/10 at the Astor price.)
Image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.