Douglas Laing

Review: North British 53 Year Old 1961 Single Grain Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing XOP) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.8%
Aging
53 Years; Refill Sherry Cask
Recipe
N/A
Distiller North British (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Scottish Grain whiskies are broadly similar to Canadian corn whiskies (I suppose that is my reference point!). They represent a portion of the Scotch whisky segment which is quite different from Single Malts - the distilleries can use column stills and any grain they wish - usually corn (the cheapest) or wheat. The segment has grown, but most of the whisky goes straight to supplying blends and is not released in the same way that single malts would be. The easiest access to them is through independent bottlers, like this one. Also, because they are not in high demand, you can get very old whisky at a fraction of the cost of a similarly aged single malt.

North British was founded in 1885, and is the only remaining distillery in Edinburgh. As a single grain whisky distillery for Scottish blends, it is massive distillery which distills 180,000 tonnes of cereal (traditionally corn) each year in their coffey continous still. It is jointly owned by Diageo and Edrington group.

This is old! It is not often you find a whisky more than 50 years old. This was matured in a refill sherry butt.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 10708 (186 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Classic aged grain whisky on the nose – buttery, rich and oily grain, vanilla, and lots of oak. The oak breaches upon bitterness here – no surprise after 53 years! Dried elderflower, roasted stem tea, earthiness from all the wood, and there’s still a bit of white grape in this – but semi-dried. Quite a magnificent nose. A bit of rubber, too. Lots of beeswax.

The taste is quite cereal-led, with a good dose of earthiness (cacao!) and a slowly unfolding finish full of spices and held firm with tannin and a bit of bitterness. The bitterness isn’t strong enough that it is negative, but I also wouldn’t say it is positive here – I would say over-oaked. The lightest touch of edgy sherry too.

The finish has lots of vanilla and oak. Relatively clean – cloves and corn still on the end though as well. It is complex, and the cacao in the middle significantly elevates this one. The bitterness doesn’t help – a terrific whisky, sitting somewhere between my reference points of Ninety 20 Year old and Canadian Rockies 21 Year old for whiskies in a similar camp. However, terrific to be able to taste.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very low, based on $670.


Review: Big Peat Christmas Edition Blended Islay Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~55%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky
Distiller Multiple (Islay, Scotland)

This is a cask strength, beefier version of Big Peat - released annually for Christmas every year by Douglas Laing. It has many admirers - I originally picked it up because it won Whisky Advocate's Blended Malt of the Year in 2013. It is not only high ABV, but also higher grade whiskies going into this - so not only is it bigger than Big Peat, but also better. And, great bottle!


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2013 (54.9%)

  • Bottling Code: L 29 08 13 3 10:40 88 BATCH53

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Medicinal, tarry peat, and quite sharp throughout. Thick, indeed, with peat, and some vanilla and creaminess poking its head through. Largely, it would appear, it's the two camps - the creamy vanilla and intense, complex peatiness (both earthy and smoky) which are integrated together. Vegetal undertones, like green pepper and asparagus. Follows through on the palate, showing dark earthy chocolate as well...with the smoke and vanilla and sweetness all balanced quite intricately. Oily too, and has the rawness and power of younger whisky. Long, ashy finish. The complexity comes out in bulk if water is added, and the nose comes alive. dried leaves on the finish, and drying...umm....terrific blending. It is young, which I actually like here and don't like.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $102.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2014 (55.7%)

  • Bottling Code: L 15 08 14 3 09:12 88 BATCH61

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Sharp, chiseled peat, it would seem. A bit more wood, and a bit calmer, than in 2013, and a bit more balance right off the bat. Some bourbon notes, tar, custard, asparagus, agave, lemon zest, banana. Pepper, and a good dose of creamy and buttery notes as in the standard big peat – only, bigger. Finishes with a good dose of earthy smoke with light wood tannins. Thick with vegetal notes – asparagus (as with the 2013), green pepper, celery, and lots of mineral notes, quite reminiscent of rockpools. Terrific tannins on the finish. Oh, and lots of smoke! Finishes with roasted black pepper, wood smoke, peat (the dirty, vegetal notes of the actual stuff), and creamy banana custard. More charcoal and smoke than 2013, though, it would seem, a tad less complex. I wasn’t gonna bump it up to 90, except for a beautiful dry, smoky, and sweet finish that I just can’t get enough of. And, great balance and minerality – a quality I quite like with my peat. Beautiful stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $102.


Review: Big Peat Blended Islay Malt Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky
Distiller Multiple (Islay, Scotland)

This is just what you might expect - lots of blistering peat - commendably bottled non-chill filtered and without added colouring by the independent bottler Douglas Laing.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Lots of young, bold peat here. Fairly sweet, with some creamy, buttery notes – vanilla cream pudding, stewed pears, charcoal, celery, and lots of vegetal notes as well. The palate is soft and sweet at first, before mineral, sea-weed like peat (think laphroaig) kicks in, with some vanilla and creaminess and banana holding everything in balance too. Quite peaty, and yet still quite easy due to the creaminess and the sweetness. Banana cream pie on the finish, alongside some light ash and minerality and a slight tannic drying of the mouth. It is, for a peat monster, a bit too sweet and easy for me. I prefer the cask strength Christmas expressions…a bit more oomph and spice amidst the sweet buttery-ness.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $82.


Review: Caol Ila 19 Years Old 1996 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing Old Particular) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.5%
Aging
19 years; Refill Sherry Cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Caol Ila (Port Askaig, Scotland)

This is a single cask bottling by Douglas Laing of Caol Ila spirit matured 19 years in a refill sherry hogshead.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 10971 (313 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

The peat has certainly shifted – much of the big smokiness is faded and the mineral and marine character of the peat is at the fore. Oak, dried fish, rockpools, stewed summer fruits, burning leaves, oak embers, stewed peach, white gooseberry, and light oiliness. Nice on the nose, but not yet a world of its own.

On the palate, the peat is quite delicate but ashy and dry in a very compelling way. The tannins feed in nicely, and there are some lighter vanilla notes alongside rich cinnamon and clove. And some distrinct jalapeno. The cask strength is a great strength to drink at, and brings forth the elegance of the whisky. It is very good, and goes down easily – but there is less complexity than ideal here also. The finish is smoky, with stewed fruits, toffee, custard, and light rancio. Very nice whisky.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. A pretty expensive buy.


Review: Longmorn 1989 25 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing XOP) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
51.2%
Aging
25 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Longmorn (Longmorn, Scotland)

Longmorn, another distillery which is a powerhouse for blenders, produces wonderful malt. I love the 16 year old, though now it has been turned into a "luxury" expression where you get the same thing for twice the price. Too bad. Because there aren't many distillery bottlings, if you can find them, most of the bottles of Longmorn are single casks from independent bottles like this from Douglas Laing. Each cask is different, sometimes significantly - but it really let you explore the distillery characteristics.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 10803

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Amazing that a 25 year old longmorn can smell so fresh – green pear, peach, caramelized apricots, vanilla, oak, toasted cumin, dried apricot, leather, flax, bourbon, candle wax…The palate is odd. Sharp, with lots of fruit – orange, apricot, freshly stuck match, and caramel leading into a spicy finish full of cumin, orange peel, blueberry, and rancio. Slightly earthy throughout. Big, complex, full..

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, based on $265.


Review: Strathisla 21 Year Old 1992 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Douglas Laing Director's Cut) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
57.6%
Aging
21 Years; Refill hogshead
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Strathisla (Keith, Scotland)

Strathisla is the oldest continually operating distillery in Scotland (by their claim, although the truth here is a bit dubious - in the Highlands - yes), but, because most of its distillate goes into blends like Chivas Regal, we don't see many official bottlings (i.e. from the distillery) coming from Strathisla - the 12 year old is the most common, I believe. Thus, the distillery's profile has to be accessed from independent bottlings, like this one from Chivas Regal.

Douglas Laing, an independent bottled, used to have this Director's Cut as its oldest and rarest whiskies - but now XOP - extra old particular - contains these.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 9541, distilled 1992

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

A big, malty, fruity nose – with lots that comes through especially with some added water. Fresh grape, raisin, butter tarts, apples, pear, stewed fruit, vanilla, peach crumble, and light oak. Quite a terrific nose. Very light oak, custard, parmesan cheese, and a bit of earthy barley.

The palate follows suit, with sherry, grape, cinnamon, orange peel, and Thompson raisins coming to the fore with some absolutely terrific maltiness and butter. The finish evaporates quite quickly and is lightly bitter, but has some raisins, malt, and caramel and milk chocolate truffles. 

I prefer this one with a bit of water added in – the complexity really shines through. At cask strength, it might be called a sherry monster – but there’s not quite enough sherry, and it’s balanced terrifically by some solid malt. Very nice! Too bad about the lacklustre finish, or this would be a step higher.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at $295.