It’s been a while since any of Douglas Laing’s blended malts have been reviewed on Malt.
Most of the core range of the Remarkable Regional Malts and Gauldrons left such a good impression on me that I’ve become very open minded and eager to try any of their blends. For some added information on these blends, I asked Douglas Laing’s Asia Pacific regional sales manager, Paul Wang, some questions regarding these releases.
Their lowland blend, the Epicurean, didn’t really speak to me. I normally like spirit-forward drams, but I found the flavors to be one-dimensional and lacking complexity. I don’t see the lackluster nature of this blend as Douglas Laing’s fault, though. There aren’t a lot of single malt distilleries to source from. The distilleries that are sure to have some stock to spare are Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, and Bladnoch. Even if they’re able to source from the new ones like Daftmill and Kingsbarns, I’m likely to assume there aren’t a lot.
A friend sent me a sample of an Epicurean finished in ex-Tawny Port casks. Paul said this is just the regular Epicurean with a cask finish. I’ve never had a lowland whisky finished exclusively in ex-Port barrels, so this will be an interesting new experience for me.
The Epicurean Tawny Port Finish – Review
Color: Pale ale.
On the nose: Fruity and floral. I get light to medium aromas of Fuji apples, dried apricots, oranges, grapefruit, pears, and honey. Just before I get the pear note, the ethanol heat rises. The heat subsides quickly. After that are light and soft aromas of peaches, cream, cereals, honey, toffee, and caramel. There’s also a burst of sour fruit notes at the end. At the outer rims of the nose is a slightly sweet but mostly sour aroma that reminds me of grape jelly. This is probably the most port-like aroma I’ve smelled on this dram.
In the mouth: A bit hot. I get a lot of an incoherent mix of fruity tastes. It’s very hard to pick it apart. But I get some dried apricots, dehydrated lemon peels, sapodilla, and cantaloupe. In-between these fruity notes are subtle and quick tastes of mocha. At the end are subtle tastes of star fruit, more mocha and bits of cacao.
I find this very interesting due to the lack of dominant Port influence. In a blind tasting, I’d be hard pressed to guess this was finished in ex-Port casks. Paul reminded me that Fred Laing blends these in small batches. So, there’s bound to be differences between batches. I wonder if this batch was different from the batch I tried, because I never imagined a blend full of green and grassy flavors to be completely flipped by an ex-wine cask finishing.
Aside from that, I found the nose to be better than the mouth. It showed more complexity and coherence. I’d have given this a 7 if the flavors were more open and coherent in the mouth. Being stuck together made this harder to enjoy.
The Scallywag 12 year old Cask Strength is a blend of at least 12 year old sherried Speyside single malts. I asked Paul if, by any chance, Douglas Laing blended then aged some expressions? But they don’t. Their regular Scallywag is the most sherried of the core range, but this 12 year is completely sherried.
I only bought a sample bottle of this Scallywag due to my sulfur sensitivity. I didn’t want to waste a full bottle on something I would most likely not enjoy.
Scallywag Limited Edition Aged 12 Years – Review
Color: Pale ale.
On the nose: Surprisingly no alcohol burn, despite the ABV. I get light aromas of chocolate-coated oranges, canned peaches, mocha and gooseberries. The heat suddenly comes up which prevents me from picking up other aromas. After it subsides, I get more chocolates and mocha with brown sugar. But, this time, the fruits are orange jelly, sour strawberries and dried mango.
In the mouth: A bit rough at the start but it comes with chocolates. I get light to medium but short tastes of pears, apples, cream, oranges, honeydew melon, atis (sugar apple) and strawberries. The chocolate lingers so imagine these fruits tasting like they’ve been coated with chocolate. In between are subtle tastes of chocolate barley, toffee, caramel and honey. At the end is a very long but light taste of chocolate-coated orange peels.
The nose on this was disappointing. There weren’t unpleasant aromas, but the heat blanketing most of the aromas prevented me from enjoying this more. It redeems itself in the mouth though. This is the kind of sherried whisky I’d like to try more often. The sherry influence isn’t overbearing. I can taste the different distillery DNA mingling with the cask influence creating newer and better flavors. These last a while too.
If the nose were better, this would have gotten an 8. But this also gets plus points for having no sulfur, which means Douglas Laing used good sherry casks for this or they cleaned it properly. Huge props to them.
With the Fèis Ìle releases being hard to get at retail and expensive to acquire in the secondary market, I’ve always been curious about them. It’s a good thing that most of the Fèis Ìle bottlings are bought by single malt fanatics… which means they’re much less likely to notice blends or blended malts like this one. So, hurray for me for finally being able to acquire a Fèis Ìle release!
Paul said that despite this being a limited edition, they try to keep the DNA of Big Peat intact. So, whichever Islay single malts they use are likely the same. This being an eight-year-old means the blend will be different from the NAS since they have to use at least eight-year-old Islay single malt here.
Big Peat A846 Fèis Ìle 2020 Edition – Review
Color: White tea.
On the nose: Immediately smoke and some burnt things. I get light to medium aromas of ash, grilled citrus, Fuji apples, Granny Smith apples, honey, toffee, lemon peel (this makes me think of Caol Ila) and basil. The end reminds me of Elmer’s glue. After letting this breathe for a few more minutes, I get bits of guava, grapefruit and butterscotch (this makes me think of Laphroaig) in between the initial aromas.
In the mouth: Sharper compared to the nose, and it lingers. What I taste is pretty close to what I smelled. There are light to medium tastes of ashes, lemon peel, grilled citrus, honey, and apples. After a round textured taste of toffee, all of what I taste is suddenly green. Some of them are grilled green bell peppers, celery, cilantro and basil. At the end is a bit of nori tsukudani (Japanese seaweed paste with soy sauce) with brown sugar.
I love the nose on this. It’s layered and complex. It’s a bit disappointing in the mouth since they don’t share the same layering and complexity, but I blame this on the lingering ethanol sharpness. I find it to be a pest since it hinders me from enjoying more aspects of this whisky. Sadly, this lingering ethanol sharpness and ashy taste is common in most of today’s Islay single malts. I think these characteristics come from the faster distillation which causes these faults.
If I’m going to get these “faults” in Fèis Ìle releases, I think I’m better off not wanting them. It’s not because I find this whisky to be bad; I think it’s good. But the rarity and crazy prices lift the reputation up so much that I’d expect all of them to be worth it. The realist in me thinks it’s not likely to happen.
Epicurean image courtesy of Master of Malt. Scallywag image courtesy of Royal Mile Whiskies.