Aberlour 15yo 1988/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, DL REF 875, 306 bottles)

After all that recent stuff, today it’s time for an oldie from Douglas Laing. Here we have an Aberlour that was already bottled in 2003. Almost all Aberlours that find their way into the realm of independent bottlers seem to come from Bourbon casks or sometimes unusual, or (atypical for Aberlour), Sherry casks. Looking at the color, the amount of bottles drawn from the cask (at 50% ABV), I’m guessing this will be not too far from another independent Aberlour I reviewed earlier.

Aberlour 15yo 1988/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, DL REF 875, 306 bottles)Color: Sparkling light gold.

Nose: Fresh. Fruity, papaya and some passion fruit, with vanilla. Seems to me this came from a Bourbon Hogshead. Very clean and winey, but also some cold and fresh real butter. Some oak and residual sugar. Quite some aroma, since this leaps right out off the glass. Well balanced, but not very complex. Dusty. Low on spiciness, which is typical American oak.

Taste: Sweet, spicy and definitely some oak now. Quite hot. Somewhat fruity and sweet with typical vanilla and pudding aroma’s, and also some toffee and caramel. A desert in itself. Just like the nose, this is aromatic but not very complex. Medium length finish.

Totally anonymous typical ex-Bourbon casked Whisky. Lots of these Whiskies make a good dram and the beauty lies in the details. Just have a look at some bottles from independent bottles who get a chance to select their casks and find that beauty (like The Whisky Mercenary). With this example however, the Whisky is unmistakable good yet anonymous. This could have been anything. Lots of bottles like this were released by the bigger independent bottlers like Douglas Laing and especially Cadenhead’s, who for a while seemed to have some kind of monopoly on Whiskies from refill Bourbon casks. So not bad, but anonymous.

Compared to the Golden Cask Aberlour I mentioned above, I think the Golden Cask version had slightly more to say and was also slightly more complex. This Douglas Laing version was sweeter and therefore more easily accessible and likable.

Points: 84

Blair Athol 20yo 1993/2013 (51.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, First Fill Sherry Butt, DL REF 9908, 477 bottles)

The Glenglassaugh I reviewed recently was a first on these pages, but so is this Blair Athol. Blair Athol puts more than 90% of its new make into Bourbon Barrels and/or Hogsheads, and most of those are used for the Bells Blended Whisky. Less than 10% of the new make winds up in Sherry Casks and eventually most of those are used for the 16yo Flora and Fauna expression. Official expressions of Blair Athol are scarce. A long time ago there were a 8yo and a 12yo, and more recently a version of Blair Athol found its way into the Rare Malts series (a 27yo with distillate from 1975), and in the Managers Choice series (a 13yo with distillate from 1995).

When visiting the stand of Douglas Laing last year at the London Whisky Show, Chris Birthday Boy Leggat, gave me a sample of this and told me he was very curious what I would think of it, so let’s have a look…

Blair Athol 20yo 1993/2013 (51.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, Sherry Butt, DL REF 9908, 477 bottles)Color: Golden nectar with the slightest red hue.

Nose: Malty and full. Dusty and sweet. Sweet wine. Hints of cookie dough and warm apple pie. Hard to detect the fruitiness through the dough and the pie (and the apparent sweetness). Funky (in a Bootsy Collins kind of way) with the occasional whiff of fresh air. Aroma’s here are from the low-end of the spectrum, heavy and sweet, as opposed to acidic and fresh citrus fruits. With some breathing the oak finally emerges.

Taste: Sweet with pie again, but lots more wood than the nose suggested. The wood gives it character and hardly any bitterness. Very creamy, more like clotted cream than plain vanilla. There is however a little strange hint of acidity that affects the balance a bit, this acidity continues into the finish. It is strong enough to get in between of the sweetness and the cookie dough and cream. If you ask me more a kind of acidity from the wood, than the Sherry. With extensive breathing more wood emerges, just as in the nose, as does the smallest hint of fresh cola. The balance picks up with breathing, so don’t be too quick drinking this. Salty lips.

I’m guessing from a Fino Sherry Butt (or maybe even Manzanilla, which also seems a bit salty). Blair Athol isn’t one of those distilleries with a huge following and almost never is truly great. This one is as good as Blair Athol can be. Nice.

Points: 85

Port Ellen 31yo 1982/2013 (51.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 9964, 286 bottles)

Next up, yet another Port Ellen, yes, Master Quill gets spoiled again! This time by Cara Laing ehhh Leggat (daughter of…) and Chris Leggat (now the son-in-law of…). Yes in the time between me receiving this Port Ellen, and reviewing it now, these two got married! Congratulations (again) guys! So let’s call this Port Ellen their wedding dram, shall we?

For those of you who didn’t know already, there have been some changes within Douglas Laing company. Brothers Fred (father of… & father in law of…) and Stewart Laing parted ways and divided the old Douglas Laing firm between themselves. Fred retained the ‘Douglas Laing’ name, ‘The Provenance’ series and ‘Big Peat’ and last but not least acquired the help of daughter Cara, who had to be bought back from Bowmore.

Stewart had to think up a new name: ‘Hunter Laing’ (also a family name) and has the highly succesful ranges of the ‘Old Malt Cask’ (OMC) and the ‘Old and Rare’ (O&R) series. Although OMC is probably the most impressive series the brothers had together, Fred created the new series of Old Particular, not wholly different from the OMC (and O&R lettering, if you ask me). So the loss of OMC and O&R are almost painlessly intercepted with The ‘Old Particular’ range and the ‘Directors’ Cask’ range. The future is looking great for the Laing’s and Leggats!

Color: Almost copper gold.

Nose: Lovely old and mellow peat, not very smoky, although there is some wood-smoke in here. Swamp-like plants (although this sounds horrible, it’s quite the opposite). The swamp also contained some lavas. Small hints of licorice and tar (worn down tarred rope). Under this all, some yellow sugared fruits want to emerge. Old dried apricots. (No I’m not mad). unusually mellow Port Ellen, but therefore absolutely lovely. Great balance too.

Taste: Sweeeeeeet, sweet and chewy at first. Fruity sweetness with ash and licorice again. Again old peat, very mellow. Small hints of mint (the mint stays in the back of my throat after the finish, it’s absolutely there), almonds and clove. A little bit of wood, but nowhere near the amount to be expected considering the age, also no bitterness. Quite a lively and full-bodied Port Ellen, but not a lot of legs in my glass. Medium finish but that fits the profile, it’s in no way an extreme Islay Whisky, but a more introvert and stylish Whisky. I love it!

Nothing to complain then? Not really, life is great, still having these Whiskies around, although more and more expensive. I was a bit surprised the finish wasn’t longer considering it’s a Port Ellen at 51.5% ABV, and comparing this to DL REF 4112, but really, who cares. The Whisky is great, the packaging looks great, Cara and Chris look great, and at the time of writing, the sun is shining, what more can we ask for. Ehhh, so more Port Ellen maybe…?

Points: 92

Thanks go out to Cara & Chris for providing the sample!

Caol Ila 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 294 bottles)

Next up is this Douglas Laing bottling of a 1974 Caol Ila and most probably from a Hogshead, but you never know. 1974 is a pretty special year for Caol Ila because from 1972 through 1974 the whole of the distillery was rebuilt, completely! Everything, apart from the warehouses, was demolished and completely rebuilt. In 1974 six new stills were installed, so here we can have a taste of the first whisky that ran off the stills in 1974. This is the first of the “modern” Caol Ila as we know it today. Is it new and improved?

Color: Gold

Nose: A very refined yet fatty peat, quite sweet and floral. Fantastic organics! Grassy, lemongrass actually, in perfect harmony with excellent (fishy) peat. Do I detect some tarred rope? Pretty light for a Caol Ila, but so elegant and fresh, it does have some sea breeze to it. Oil spill on water. Beautiful bonfire smoke and leafy. Nice elegant wood. Bushes in summer in the rain. Nothing oomph or in your face, this a very refined Islay Whisky. I already like this very much, but the nose just keeps developing…

Taste: Again quite sweet, light peat and clay. A little bite from the smoke, than the wood and the smoke again (in that order), after that slightly sweet and a thin palate of yellow fruits. Very balanced. Lemonade fruitiness combined with fatty elegant peat (again) and nice smoke. The saltiness these old Caol Ila’s often have is absent from this 1974. medium finish that gets thinner, which underlines the brittleness of this malt. Old age. Still it is so good, the initial taste and the body are that nice, that I don’t care about the weaker, but not short finish. This is a lovely dram.

What a fantastic Caol Ila this is. Sure Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Laphroaig and Lagavulin all have fantastic old drams, and are big names, but those seventies and early eighties Caol Ila’s are right up there with them. How nice Douglas Laing had a 1974 Caol Ila, a shame only that it was only one cask… I would have wanted more.

Points: 91

Thanks Andries for the sample!

Highland Park 19yo 1984/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Sherry, DL REF 406, 636 bottles)

I saw some prices for official Highland Parks the other day, and I just had to try this one. It wanted to be picked. It’s and eighties Highland Park by Douglas Laing. A sherried one that was released almost ten years ago, and the cost then was next to nothing. (around 50 Euro’s). Well a lot has changed in the Whiskyworld the last decade. So Highland Park 19yo. Alas I wasn’t able to recover a picture for this bottle so I will show here a brother of the 19yo, the 17yo that was released two years earlier (Also a 1984). The 19yo I’ll review here will more or less look the same.

Color: White wine.

Nose: Apple sauce, very clean, a little bit of wood and a little bit of spice. Dusty but overall fruity. Lot’s of toffee and again warm sweet apple sauce. Although pleasant, it doesn’t seem quite right. There is something like coal smoke in the distance, maybe even some sulphur. A slight hint of burnt wood and paper and cardboard. The longer this breathes the better it gets. The apple bit wears off.

Taste: Short attack that dissipates quickly and falls again into a fruity sweetness. Alongside the apple there also is some blackcurrant. It’s nice, it’s a lemonade at first, that drinks nicely away. Prickly smoke in the back of your mouth. The 50% ABV delivers good oomph.  Licorice and a hint of wood with a lighter acidic and slightly bitter finish, after the ‘full’ body. The finish is the weakest part.

Likeable, but nothing special. It has its merits, but if I had tasted this blind, I would have never guessed this was a Highland Park. It’s quite far from the official Highland Park’s. I’m guessing Fino Sherry, but also a tired cask. In almost 20 years the Whisky hardly picked up any color, a not a lot of character from the wood itself. No use to compare, but the other Whisky from Orkney, Scapa, I reviewed for Master Quill’s 1st Anniversary was a lot better!

Points: 86

By the way. The depicted 17yo scored 85 Points.

Bowmore 12yo 1988/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Sherry, 702 bottles)

The Master of Malt version of an eighties Bowmore did not turn out to be a FWP-Bowmore after all. Looking though the whiskies that have accumulated at Master Quill’s castle, I found another eighties Bowmore. This time an oldie by Douglas Laing. At one point in time, the Laing Brothers thought they would have to show the public what are the ‘young’ whiskies in their Old Malt Cask range, so decided on red lettering and a red tube. Somehow this ‘experiment’ didn’t last for very long, so this look is rather scarce. Lets see if this time we have a genuine FWP-Bowmore on our hands? Is it lavender & violets or peat & smoke?

Color: Light Copper Gold.

Nose: Butter, popcorn, quite some hints of flowers, but not like a FWP. Peat and a decent amount of smoke. Deep almost brooding kind of licorice. Clay, smelly pond in summer, probably a sulphur compound. This organic smell is actually great in this Whisky. Ashes and gravy, meaty.

Taste: Nice elegant Islay. Soft tasty peat, with smoke on top. Lots of caramel, toffee. Nothing is over the top. Perfect non-sugary sweetness in the background. But as with the Master of Malt version, it breaks down a bit towards the end, and has a sweet yet ‘light’ finish. There is something else that is pretty similar with the Master of Malt bottling. Again, the acidity quickly follows the sweetness. They somehow are linked. Do I detect some soap at the end of the finish? If it’s there it doesn’t hurt the whisky much. On occasions it takes the properties of a rum.

Not a perfect Whisky. Has some distillation faults (butter) and some issues with the finish and stability (with air), but overall it’s a very drinkable and likeable Whisky. Again not a victim of FWP.

Beware, this whisky doesn’t take air very well, let this breathe and you’ll see how it breaks down in your glass. Break open a new deck of cards, invite some (lady) friends over for a nice and friendly game and drink the whole bottle in one evening, you’ll do yourself and the Laing Brothers a big favour.

Points: 88

Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, “Tactical”, 348 bottles)

A week ago “Het Genietschap” had its first ever tasting at my house. I’ve been a member for quite some time, but it took a while to get my ‘location’ added to the agenda. Well finally it was my turn. The organizer gets to choose a ‘theme’, and mine was “Talisker”. When I sent out the E-mail I got a lot of Talisker 10’s as entries, and even some replies implying that there wasn’t a Talisker in the house. Well that got me worried for a moment. My guest of the evening, Erik, asked if he could bring his Port Ellen 29yo 1982/2012 (55.5%, Old Bothwell, Cask #2041), and so the Port Ellen aftertasting was born. My entries for the event were the Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, Circa 2002, Map Label), Talisker 1988/2001 “Distillers Edition” (45.8%, OB, TD-S: 5CO), Talisker 25yo (56.9%, OB, Refill Casks, 2006, 4.860 bottles), and the ‘Tactical’ I’ll be reviewing now. For the aftertasting I entered my Port Ellen 25yo 1982/2008 (50%, DL OMC, Refill Butt DL REF 4112, 589 bottles).

Best bottle in the tasting was a young Port Ellen 15yo bottled by Cadenheads in 1996, Stunning! It was just a tiny bit better, or better: different, than the also stunning Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, Sherry, 9000 bottles). Also the pre Classic Malts Talisker 10yo was fabulous. Even today’s 10yo is pretty good, but can’t be compared to the taste of the old bottle. This ‘Tactical’ wasn’t bad either…

Color: White wine.

Nose: Creamy and clean. Seems sweet. Some wood spice. Mocha. Later more dusty and dry. A dry stack of logs. More meaty than peaty, I would say. Young. Not a typical Talisker. When aired a bit, some great notes come forward. Bonfire, outdoor life in general, accompanied by a tad of lemon. Nice. Let this breathe (for the nose).

Taste: Spicy and sweet, toffee with some liquorice and banana’s. The start is great. Lots of liquorice and a bit like a good Belgian beer. Nice peppery bite in the middle, so it’s a real Talisker. Towards the finish, when the pepper dissipates, some sour wood takes over and makes the finish thin and the balance a bit off. Actually a short finish. With wood, ash and paper. Funny how the initial taste is so different from the finish.

It’s a Talisker all right. The pepper attack is there. Still the whole isn’t typical Talisker. It smells clean, it tastes round and big bodied, but it has a ‘small’ finish, which is unlike Talisker.

Points: 87