Return to Regionality
As many of you know, we’ve been working directly with Douglas Laing for many years now to do our independently-bottled Old Particular casks. What you may not have known is that Douglas Laing was and has always been primarily a blending house and Fred Laing one hell of a blender. In Compass Box style, Fred has put together a series of artisinal blended malts that showcase the regional styles of Scotland. Not only are the whiskies seriously tasty, they’re indicative of an era that is beginning to fade in Scotch whisky. Because Scotland’s focus with modern connoisseurs has shifted to single malts over the last decade and because each producer is now its own brand, the distilleries are less motivated to create one singular style anymore. The corporations have decided they must offer everything to every customer, so as not to lose a sale elsewhere. At this point there are dozens of distilleries that make both light and heavy whiskies, peated and unpeated whiskies, and both sherried and unsherried malts. There was a time, however, when Scotland’s main regions were very specific. Highland’s were lithe and elegant, Speysides were sherried and rich, Lowlands were light and fruity, Islands were salty, and Islay malts were peaty. Back when blending houses were still contracting their whiskies (today they outright own their means of production), they would put together recipes for blends based on these styles. You still find old recipes that say things like: two parts Speyside, one part Lowland, one part Islay, like the one pictured above from Alfred Barnard's old book. It’s from Scotch whisky’s history of blending and from the lessons taught to Fred by his father Douglas that the DL regional malts were born.
I have to say there is one saving grace for me in the new age of NAS single malt whisky: the recent drop in quality will serve as an important lesson. When I was in the Paris duty free this past week, I just sat there stupified looking at all the junk that's piling up there—five different versions of Talisker that aren't even close to as good as the ten year, eight different Highland Parks that have no explanation other than some mythical Viking nonsense, that type of stuff. There's a reason K&L switched over to a single malt specialty store about fifteen years ago. It WASN'T because single malts are inherently better than blends, but rather because the blends had become too big for their own good. Single malts aren't better whiskies than blended whiskies, in my opinion; it's just that for years they were made in smaller batches. Quality with anything comes from tight-knit control. The more you expand, the less you can provide that same level of attention. I'm prime example number one. When my job at K&L was solely to buy spirits, I was putting on tastings, dinners, and educational events non-stop and I was in the store all the time talking to people about booze. Now that I'm managing ten different buyers, putting together marketing emails, working on outside projects, and working heavily with Bordeaux/Burgundy, I no longer am capable of giving whisky customers the same level of attention as previously. That's a fact.
It's the volume game that put blended Scotch in the toilet, not something inherent in the whiskies themselves. The same phenomena is going to happen to a number of fine single malt brands very soon and then the proof will be in the pudding. If you're someone who thinks that blends are inferior to straight single malts because there's something purer or higher in quality about one whisky from one distillery, I present to you the whiskies below. Not only are they better than many of the fifty to sixty dollar single malts we currently carry, they're a lot more fun. I really have to hand it to Fred and the team over at Douglas Laing. This is exactly what Scotch whisky needs right now: small batch, meticulously-blended expressions that prove to the public Scotch whisky is more like Voltron than the Transformers (Google it if that reference is lost on you). The Epicurean, for me, was like a potent blast of fresh Scotch fruitiness of a style I haven't tasted in years. Bravo.
Douglas Laing's Epicurean Lowland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $46.99 - Our friends at Douglas Laing in Glasgow, with whom we do the Old Particular bottlings, have put together a series of regional malt blends that wonderfully showcase the stylistic flavor profiles of Scotlands main whisky producing sectors. Not only are the whiskies accurate reflections of a dying era in Scotch whisky production, they're some of the tastiest and most enjoyable whiskies we've discovered in ages. The Epicurean is the "Lowland" expression that absolutely brims with fresh fruit, sweet barley, and hard candy. It's a barley-rich malt that is likely a mix of Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie (or maybe even Bladnoch), but while we can't say for sure, we can say with absolute certainty that this is a must try whisky for those looking for something fun and delicious.
Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster Island Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $54.99 - The Rock Oyster is an Island blend that uses whisky from the Arran and Jura distilleries, along with other malts from the islands of Islay and Orkney. The whisky is an explosion of sea salt, wave soaked rocks, smoke, honey, peat, ash, and pepper. It's a textural malt as well, one that envelops the palate under all that potent island flavor.
Douglas Laing's Scallywag Speyside Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $64.99 - The Scallywag is the Speyside entry in the series and uses whiskies from Macallan, Mortlach, and Glenrothes to create a sherry-matured delight. It's full of rich vanilla, chocolate, fudge, and orange zest with a bit of tobacco and fruit cake on the finish. A classic Speyside malt if there ever was one!
Douglas Laing's Timorous Beastie Highland Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $54.99 - The Timorous Beastie is the Highland edition that uses whiskies from Blair Athol, Glen Garioch, Dalmore, and Glengoyne to compose an elegant and finely-tuned Highland expressions. There are flavors of sweet barley, honey, sweet fruit, and cereal grains on both the palate and finish. The texture is also as soft as silk.
This one we all know already as it's been available in the U.S. for years:
Douglas Laing's Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $64.99 - The Big Peat is a blend of Islay's finest distilleries: Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and the rare Port Ellen, it is exactly what you expect when you taste it. The aromas are of smoke, and salty seaweed with a slight medicinal note, and the palate shows more campfire smoke with a saline and herbal character. The finish is rockin' and the length on it is incredible. It lingers in your mouth for minutes as hints of fresh chopped spearmint and pepper start to appear. This is an aptly named whisky that is very much a big and peaty drink.