I don’t really do Twitter tastings any more. Mainly it’s because I seem to be quite good at missing them, but I also like the idea of getting more new people involved – most who see me tweeting along will probably already know about the drams I’m trying if they care about whisky, and if not they’ll be following someone else who’ll be taking part. However, every now and again one pops up that tickles my interest and drags me out of my self-imposed retirement. One of those hit recently – a preview tasting of the new Douglas Laing Old Particular range.
Douglas Laing is a well known name in the independent bottling world, founded in 1948 by the late Fred Douglas Laing. His sons Stuart and Fred took over in more recent times and earlier this year the company split in two, with each brother setting up on their own. Stuart and his sons formed Hunter Laing, and Fred and daughter Cara continued on with the original company name. Hunter Laing took many of the original company’s big name brands, including Old Malt Cask and the Old & Rare Platinum Selection, while Fred kept the Provenance range, Clan Denny and his pet project, Big Peat.
Left without a general single cask range after Old Malt Cask went to Hunter Laing (Provenance focuses on young whisky and Clan Denny on single grains) they’ve been working to create a new brand, which was finally released after much teasing earlier in September – Old Particular. Steve Rush, now very much the go-to guy for organising Twitter tastings, assembled a gang for the tasting and we got to have a try of a few of the expressions, scheduled for release in October.
We had more drams than usual at a Twitter tasting, with five on the mat, and Steve was joined by Cara Laing to moderate the evening. They decided to go for a blind tasting, revealing each dram after we’d talked about it for a while. And with five drams there was a lot of talking…
The first dram had a nose of pine jelly, green grass, vanilla, pear drops, hints of nutmeg and green apples, with some rich malt and musty bung cloth developing over time. Along with that came some medicinal hints, Haribo Cola bottles, baked apples, sponge cake and dried fruit – there was rather a lot going on and it changed quite a bit as it sat in the glass. On the palate it was quite soft to start, with sweet apple, but that quickly faded through tannic apple and pear skin, with building woody spice and vanilla. The woody notes continued to grow, swamping the vanilla and adding some bitterness. Behind that there was still some apple, with both fresh fruit and fruity chews (nailed as Apple Chewitts by Mr Rush). It finished with more apples, with creamed apple and skin balancing woody spice and lingering green grassiness. In the end much softer than the nose promised and not quite as interesting as was initially hoped.
The whisky was revealed to be an Auchentoshan 15yo, which was quite surprising. As Auchentoshan is triple distilled it’s quite a light new make that generally tends to be wood or spirit dominated once mature. In this case they managed to find a cask that had picked up a good amount from the wood without becoming overwhelmed, as well as keeping some of the appley, spirit notes. A fine whisky, if not quite as good on the palate as the nose.
Dram two was greeted with tweets proclaiming that it was cheesy. It certainly had a cheesecake hit on the nose, with red supermarket cheesecake-topping berries. After that it changed its character quite a bit, going towards shoe polish from the tin, sharp and fresh leather, and a spirity character. Apples developed as it sat in the glass, but the sour polish and leathery notes sat around underneath. More waxy notes and spice developed, along with a touch of sweet pineapple as the sourness faded slightly. To taste it was sweet and sour, with sweet grain and sour apple skin. There was also herby mint, anis and menthol touches, synthetic apple, bitter wood and a chunk of alcohol heat. A drop of water brought out more wood and spice on the nose, with cinnamon fireballs and overripe sweet apples, and more wax and sourness on the palate, with a touch of sour sugar and sherbert. It finished with apple skin, tingly mint and a touch of menthol.
This was the first whisky of the night that I guessed and I was as successful with it as I usually am when guessing – I was wrong. The hints of wax along with the fruit and spice suggested a Clynelish to me, but it was revealed to be an 18yo Caperdonich. I’ve not tried many whiskies from the distillery and now that it’s been both closed down and demolished the chance is rapidly fading.
Whisky three continued the cheesy theme, with sweetened cream cheese being the first hit on the nose, followed by green ferns and gravel. It developed some mineral-heavy smokiness, green bananas, lemon and a touch of fragrant earthiness. Sweet malt, Digestive Biscuits and leathery hints appeared, although with the mineral notes underneath. To taste it was soft with rich undertones that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a whisky that was so light in colour. There was dried fruit, prickly spice, old leather, and sugared raisins. As it sat the fruity flavours were overtaken by salted caramel and treacle toffee, with floral notes on top and liquorice underneath balanced by bitter metallic touches and green fruit leaves – blackcurrant leaf, maybe. It finished with fruity dark chocolate, resiny wood and light, perfumed notes. A drop of water took the alcoholic edge off the nose and revealed more dark flavours in the body, with liquorice and blackcurrant sweets, cinder toffee, and leather.
I went for another guess and was as successful as with the previous whisky. I said Bunnahabhain, with some of the darker earthy notes and hint of smokiness fitting in with some of the unpeated whiskies I’ve tried from the distillery, but the label said 16yo Glen Ord. You don’t see many Ord whiskies on the market these days, especially since owners Diageo rolled their official single malt production into the Asian edition of Singleton. This went down as one of the favourites of the night amongst the tasting crowd, and I know that a few of us have started scouring the web for me examples.
Dram four kicked off with a strange combination of caramel popcorn and black rubber. Tropical fruit developed, with bananas, guava and unripe mango joined by some gummi fruit, as well as fern, praline, aftershave and damp wood, with the wood slowly becoming dominant. To taste it was elegant and woody with rancio (the flavour much looked for in old cognac – forest floors, damp wood and almost mushroomy touches that scream ‘age’), lemons, leather, red fruit, hazelnut, mint chocolate, treacle and menthol. It was lightly spicy, with clove and cinnamon, but was focused on elegant old woody flavours. It finished with aniseed and mint, damp forest paths and old wood.
I had no clue what distillery it was from and my guesses about it focused on the ‘old’ flavours I got on the palate. However, rather than an older dram in its late 20s or early 30s, as I’d thought, it turned out to be a 21yo Glen Scotia. I was impressed by the amount of maturity the whisky had at such a relatively young age and am rather pleased, as at 21 years old it should be vaguely affordable.
The final whisky was obvious as to its origin from the first sniff – floral and smoky. Violets, lavender and floral soap kicked in along with flower heavy pot pourri, some green grass and gentle smoke. However, I’m quite sensitive to the big floral notes found in this dram and it was hard to get past them. On the palate it was very soft and easy drinking, although dominated again by the floral notes, predominantly citrusy violet. Behind that was a touch of cream, brine and some sweet vanilla, although with a slightly soapiness. The finish was long and heavy on the floral notes, with a touch of citrus and woody spice hiding underneath.
The second sentence of my notes on the night was “If this isn’t Bowmore I’ll be very surprised” and I wasn’t surprised – a 25yo Bowmore. That age puts it at the end of the 1980s when this profile of whisky was very much the order of the day – very floral and for many people, myself included, too much so. Sensitivity to the floral notes seems to be very much vary from person to person, with some not noticing and some, such as myself, being overwhelmed by them. There are even a few people who are both sensitive to the flavours and love them, but I reckon they’re weird. A very divisive dram this, with a lot of love and hate. Unfortunately I fell into the latter camp.
Some very interesting drams and a definite sign of a decent release line-up for the range. There will be more whiskies appearing with the five above in October when Old Particular hits the shops and after some worry after the company split I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48.4%.
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48.4%
Glen Ord 16yo
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 48.4%
Glen Scotia 21yo
Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 51.5%
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 50.2%