Just in case you hadn’t noticed: Christmas is coming! Alongside all of the other preparations, school nativity plays, and decorations festooning the house as if they’ve shot out of some kind of indiscriminate tinsel cannon (thanks kids!), whisky social media has also taken a festive turn.
It is swamped with whisky advent calendars, Whisky Santa, Golden Bottles, and all sorts of seasonal giveaways. Advertising has gone into overdrive, with many a whisky described as “the perfect Christmas dram,” each brand clamouring for attention in an ever more crowded marketplace.
All this comes at a time when many customers are feeling the pinch of having less expendable income. Even if Omicron runs riot and Christmas is pretty much cancelled by COVID-19 restrictions once more, thanks to the internet, the show will go on for all those who need to sell their wares, and those with money to spend will not go without their whisky needs being met.
In the midst of all of this, there have been a number of Christmas special releases. Douglas Laing certainly has its bases covered in this regard, with no fewer than four seasonal bottlings. In this, they demonstrate the wide breadth of their portfolio, with Scallywag and Big Peat representing the Remarkable Regional Malts, and single cask expressions from Dailuaine in the Premier Barrel range, and an Old Particular bottling of Ledaig.
Big Peat and Scallywag have become regular Christmas fixtures, as in fact they are at any time of year, thanks to the continuous roll out of small batch releases. It has now been over 12 years since Big Peat made its debut in 2009, and this is the 11th iteration of Christmas Big Peat. It is bottled at cask strength and brings some much-needed vigour to the bearded sailor in the colder months, compared to the regular 46% bottling that is much more sweet and approachable. Scallywag has been with us a few years less, and from 2016-2018 had a lower strength reindeer themed bottling, since being replaced with a higher ABV “Winter” edition in 2020 and 2021.
I’ve written about the Regional Malts previously, as have other Malt contributors, so there’s no need to re-hash that here. Yet, it’s only fair to point out that since I wrote the previous piece it has been made clear to me that there is more than just a teaspoon of Port Ellen in the Big Peat recipe, although the actual amount included remains undisclosed.
I joined Douglas Laing for an online tasting, at my own expense, to try these four drams. It was a pleasant evening with CEO Chris Leggatt and Rebecca Fennell, even if I did spend much of it with my camera off, and trying to convince my children to go to bed! There was also an unexpected bonus as I was lucky enough to win a bottle of the Big Peat at the end of the tasting, which will save me from buying it myself this year. If you’re reading this at Douglas Laing, thanks a lot!
Without further ado, it’s time to see if these Christmas editions are worthy additions to your festive drinks cabinet. A reminder that Malt’s scoring bands can be found here.
Premier Barrel Dailuaine 10 Year Old – Review
46% ABV. £63 (on sale from £70) from Douglas Laing.
On the nose: A spice bouquet; cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, ginger and red peppercorns. This gives way to Eccles cake, malt loaf, baked apple and honey.
In the mouth: Starts sweet, again taking me to the pastry section of the bakery, reminding me of an apple turnover, with a little toffee sauce. As it develops on the palate Christmas mulled spices begin to come through. Whilst the sweetness remains in the background, it is smothered by more spice, and the finish is fairly dry, with peppermint, tobacco and tea leaves.
Scallywag Winter Edition 2021 – Review
53.1% ABV. £50 from Douglas Laing.
Colour: Amber ale.
On the nose: Lots of dried fruits, figs and prunes, Christmas pudding, candied orange peel, coffee grounds, malt extract, nutmeg, ginger snaps, and a hint of tea.
In the mouth: Rich and instantly satisfying, high quality chocolate raisins, fruitcake, and dark caramel. It’s balanced by some leathery and herbal notes, alongside vanilla, pepper, and cinnamon.
Old Particular Ledaig 13 Year Old – Review
53.8% ABV. £90 (on sale from £100) from Douglas Laing.
Colour: Pale pinot grigio.
On the nose: Tyre smoke, wafting peat, charred citrus, strawberries and cream boiled sweets, red currants, black pepper.
In the mouth: A good balance between ashy smoke and sherry sweetness. Standard Ledaig minerality, rubber and vegetal notes come through, alongside briny peat, but it’s all lifted by muscovado sugar, mincemeat (of the Christmas mince pie filling variety!) and cinnamon.
Big Peat Christmas 2021 – Review
52.8% ABV. £48.59 (on sale from £53.99) from Douglas Laing.
Colour: Heavily diluted elderflower cordial
On the nose: Lemon juice, wafting peat, sea air, TCP, and freshly laid tarmac. Subtle and surprisingly restrained, especially given the ABV.
In the mouth: It comes alive on the palate, medicinal Islay peat, pepper, vanilla and a background syrupy sweetness, as well as some charred lemon, all enjoyed besides a beachside BBQ.
This is a solid set of releases, all bringing something different to the Christmas party. You’ve got lower strength and cask strength sherried drams, the full-on Big Peat, and the more refined and balanced, yet still gloriously oily, rugged, and smoky Ledaig.
Here we have a good reminder that single malt whisky, from a single cask, is not necessarily better than a blended malt. I struggled with the Dailuaine, finding it to be too much of a seasonal spice bomb for my taste. Maybe my expectations for it were set too high thanks to other very good single cask Dailuaine bottlings I’ve tried recently, but I couldn’t help being a bit underwhelmed by it. It is presented in a quaint ceramic barrel decanter, which you’ll either love or hate, and mainly leaves me wondering if it’s at all recyclable or destined for landfill.
Everything the Dailuaine was lacking was present in the Scallywag. There was a sweet and rich decadence to it, alongside some welcome punchiness thanks to the higher ABV. Given the lower price, and the knowledge shared in the tasting that the whisky in the blend was of a similar age to the Dailuaine, the decision over which was the better tasting and better value of the two sherried drams was an easy one to make. It was the Scallywag by a long way! It stands up well to its competitors in the sherried blended malt field, Old Perth, Wemyss Malts and the like.
The Ledaig was a very good whisky, with a well-executed finish that gave the spirit a lift and added a layer of complexity without taking over. It still held all of the instantly recognisable Ledaig characteristics, whilst containing the seasonal twist that a short four-month stint in a sherry cask was able to bring. My one complaint is the £100 price tag, especially seeing as I was able to buy a similar Old Particular Ledaig bottling earlier this year for £62 from the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. I know retail prices across the board have been creeping up all year, but it seems the Christmas label and needlessly wasteful wooden presentation box come at quite a premium. At a more reasonable price – say £75 to £80 – I would have scored it an 8/10.
The Big Peat was satisfying, and tasty, without being particularly remarkable. It did exactly what you’d expect it to, bringing a good whack of peat and sea air, alongside some vanilla sweetness and lemon citrus. These are the notes that Big Peat always plays with, accentuating different elements through the different expressions. This time, coastal smoke is at the forefront, and the citrus is dialled back a bit. I’ve always found Big Peat to be a dependable and safe purchase. This edition continues that trend; I just have a nagging feeling that I preferred the Easter 2021 and Christmas 2019 bottlings. However, I have no way of making a direct comparison, as they are both long since finished, and I will definitely appreciate the bottle I won in the tasting.
On the whole, these Christmas releases hit the spot. It seems that Douglas Laing continue to marshal their abundant whisky stocks well, and I hope there’s more casks to come from that package of Ledaig! The blended Remarkable Regional Malts range still offers consistency, good quality, decent value, and enjoyable whisky. Hopefully, by the time we get to Big Peat’s 2022 Christmas Edition, we will be able to savour it without a pandemic hanging over us; we can but wait and see.
Lead photo author’s own. Bottle photos courtesy of Douglas Laing.