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

Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2002 (43%, Douglas McGibbon, Provenance, Spring/Spring, Cask #2733)

For the Douglas Laing brand, It all started in 1998 with the Old Malt Cask series, to commemorate their 50 years in business. Therefore if possible the series is bottled at 50% ABV. Later a more luxury series was introduced called The Old and Rare series. Although it is better known as the Platinum Series. In fact there are a lot of ‘names’ on their labels. The third series I would like to mention here is the Douglas McGibbon’s Provenance series. A series placed under the Old Malt Cask series, also with lower ABV, usually 43% or 46%, but also cask strength and small batch versions exist. There are also some newer series, like the Director’s Cut, introduced in 2011 with cask strength single cask single malts and single grains. Other series by Douglas Laing are the Premier Barrel and Douglas of Drumlanrig.

So let’s try an oldie but probably goldie. Yes another Port Ellen. One bottled in 2002. You remember there are a lot of names and stuff on the labels. On this label it is also stated that the whisky was distilled in spring 1982 and bottled in spring 2002.

Color: Gold

Nose: Fresh, lightly peated sea air. Yeasty. Sour fruit, sour cherries and lemons. Small amounts of complex rubber. For me there are two types of rubber here. The orange rubber air tubes you encounter in a laboratory ánd the black inner tube of a bicycle. Slightly sweetish nose and the whole is a bit dirty. Total smell is light, probably through reduction.

Taste: Very grassy, malty and some sweetness. Lemon curd, black and white powder and just now the peat. Bicycle tyre rubber. No laboratory tube. There is also a biological side to it. Hard green leaves and crushed bugs. There is also some bitterness here. There is a lack of balance in the nose. It does have a few distinctive markers but they don’t necessarily work together perfectly.

A bit of a shame this got reduced. For me the ‘rubbers’ would have been great without reduction. Still this is an example of the uniqueness of Port Ellen. It doesn’t compare to all its sisters on Islay. Eternal shame the distillery seized making Single Malts.

Points: 87

Linlithgow 31yo 1970/2002 (52.4%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, 139 bottles)

This was staring me in the eye for a while now, and since this is my favorite Lowland distillery, no, one of my favorite distilleries of them all, it is time to try out a very old Linlithgow. Well Linlithgow’s on the label, but it is better known as Saint Magdalene.

What could be more appetizing to you than the fact that the site of St. Magdalene in Linlithgow, West Lothian, housed a Lepper Colony in the 12th century, or that the water didn’t come from an ancient super pure melted snow mineral water source, but from the Union canal nearby. But enough facts. If you want more, have a look at Tomas Karlsson’s site.

Founded in 1798 and closed like many (good) others in 1983. The distillery is no more and there are no casks maturing there anymore, only people. It’s an apartment building now. What a shame. Didn’t they know then, it was this good, am I wrong, or isn’t it about the quality anymore…

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Malty. Light citrus freshness and seems very clean at first. It doesn’t take long for a lot more to show up. Grass on a hot day. Dust and hay. It has a touch of floral sweetness to it. Given some time, there is a new depth to this. Or a “growing” depth you see in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Oily, fatty, toffee, licorice and hot tar (all in tiny amounts). No wood. Very special.

Taste: Thick, grassy and medium sweet. Dried apricots and apple skins. It isn’t the same as the nose (for me the nose was not fruity), but it complements it very well. Again there is almost no wood. It’s there really, but it is hidden well and transports the body. You can taste the balancing spiciness or distant bitterness (again, hidden well) and the sourness in the finish is from the oak too. Great balance.

For some people these whiskies are to light, or more of an acquired taste, but if you work on this a bit, it will be really rewarding.

It’s a first for me, but this is one, I’d recommend, you enjoy in absolute silence and by yourself. Almost any other Single Malt is best shared with friends, but this is a private one, maybe because the beauty lies in the details. But that’s not all. This has a lot to give and it doesn’t give it all at once. Again time is a friend here. I’m quite stunned also that this is a 31yo and that it’s from 1970, because it can come across much younger. For me it resembles some of the 1982 expressions also bottled by Douglas Laing. I’m a fan!

Points: 91

Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2006 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Butt, DL REF 2790, 716 bottles)

Instead of expanding into unchartered territory, let’s do something oppositional and do yet another Port Ellen, and another bottle by Douglas Laing. This time from the old series in the normal scotch whisky bottle and not from the new tall bottle. People tend to think this older look contains better whisky. Let’s see if that’s true. By the way ,I read somewhere that in the few months Port Ellen operated during 1983, there weren’t a lot of good casks around, and they filled almost anything they could get their hands on. This Port Ellen looks quite light in color. Is this from a tired butt or a normal refill Fino butt?

Color: Light gold, almost white wine.

Nose: This leaps out of the glass and can be smelled from a mile away. That’s good! Fruity, musty, animalesk and malty. Salty sea spray, fresh air. Apples with elegant peat and cardboard. Nice distant spice and no wood (tired cask?). Milk chocolate. Yes, this has the kind of orange air tube rubber I like so much in Port Ellen. Actually quite good, I like this nose very much. Does this show how the Port Ellen-spirit actually was? (because of the tired cask)

Taste: Peat and rhubarb. Sweet, big, leafy and chewy. Black tea with clean refined sugar. No rubber here and it’s no monster either. The peat is very mild here and the finish is quite simple. Still it seems to be very balanced, just not very complex. It has the dryness and a bit of the spiciness of the oak, but not the bitterness, and that’s a big plus (not a Chevrolet). It has citrus with cardboard in the finish. If tasted blind, I would have thought it to be some odd ten years younger.

It’s an end of an era, even if it was a tired cask, this is still very typical and good. Really a shame this got closed. In a way it resembles Talisker in it always being decent. This may be no high flyer, but is has a lot of fine moments to give. No I’m not sentimental, this is good in itself. A very nice Islay Whisky. As I’m sipping the last few drops: “Here’s looking at you kid…”

Points: 88

Glen Grant 34yo 1975/2009 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 5597, 278 bottles)

I did some rummaging in my boxes with samples and found another Glen Grant. Well I actually found several of them, but I just chose this one. You know Glen Grant, the place that was the first distillery that was illuminated without burning fuel by themselves. This time we have a Glen Grant bottled in the Old Malt Cask series by Douglas Laing. Again in the new tall bottle, just like the Glenfarclas and the Port Ellen reviewed earlier. We know that there are some stellar Glen Grants issued by Gordon & MacPhail. Yesterday we had a Berry Brothers & Rudd version from 1972 that didn’t impress me very much, lets see if Douglas Laing bottled a better Glen Grant. This time from 1975.

Color: (Light) gold.

Nose: This is sweet and fruity, apples and warm apple sauce, a profile that suits 70’s Glen Grants and Caperdonich’s. The next whiff was less balanced and shows some mustiness. Almost herbal, as in herbs that were in water too long. It still smells sweet and musty with some hints of cigarette smoke. Seems strange but isn’t bad. Another very strange smell that reminds me of the acid and estery smell of crushed beetles (not Beatles, have you never stepped on a beetle, when you were a kid?). There was definitively something wrong when distilling this, drunken maltman maybe? After some time some spicy wood comes through the sweet and sour sauce and even later hot butter. All in all it’s not thát horrible as it may read. But on the nose definitively not one of their best casks.

Taste: Sweet and sour again and little wood and ash. Very strange sensation in the back of my mouth when swallowing. Minty apple gravy? (if that makes sense?). It an experience this malt is (Yoda intended). It starts thin and volatile when this enters my mouth, and quickly becomes ‘thicker’, with an attack like pepper from Talisker, and turns into pineapple! The finish picks the wood up again, combines it with spice (pepper), almonds and a kind of sour bitterness from the wood itself.

This is one to remember, and is right behind the Signatory Teaninich that seemed to be carbonated.

A Glen Grant that is obviously flawed and seems much younger than it actually is, but the strange bits were indeed an experience, I wouldn’t want to miss. Luckily though, I bought only a 3 cl sample of this, because a whole bottle wouldn’t be funny…

Points: 85

Glenfarclas 42yo 1967/2010 ‘Probably Speysides Finest Distillery’ (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Sherry Butt, DL REF 6245, 385 bottles)

And here’s yet another Speysider and not just any Speysider but an example of Speyside’s finest distillery…probably. Just consider the statement for a moment (maybe not if you’re called Luc). There’s also Macallan, Longmorn and Strathisla in Speyside. I know there are others, but I didn’t want to make this list too long. Glenfarclas isn’t mentioned on the label, but let me tell you this is a Glenfarclas, and a very old one too. I have tasted several very old Glenfarclas, and sometimes they tend to be very woody, but that’s also because there are a lot of very old Glenfarclas around, and 42yo is a long time to spend in a cask. I’m 42 now and I wouldn’t want to spend my whole life in a cask.

To the whisky then. Glenfarclas is still a family owned operation that started legally in 1836. In 1965 it was bought by John and George Grant. Since then there were a lot of Georges and John Grants. Very popular names indeed in that family (and The Beatles for that matter). Sometimes they have extra letters for identification purposes. Next time I’ll be up at Glenfarclas, I’m dying to meet Ringo S. Grant! Good to see a still family owned distillery surviving competing with the big conglomerates like Diageo. There are several more like Bladnoch for instance. Power to them!

Color: Orange Copper

Nose: Musty and leafy. Fruity, spicy and maybe some acetone. The odd combination of gravy with honey. Thick. Body, yet not too heavy. Then a coffee note: something like mocha and cappuccino, maybe a whiff out of the old fireplace in winter. It’s a treat to smell this, but it doesn’t smell so old as you might expect.

Taste: Dry and spicy wood. Slightly fruity with paint, and even a bit hot, which in this case is great! Honeyed licorice. When freshly opened it had a strange finish, but after a month or so that’s completely gone. So time was on its side. It has some bitterness in the finish but that doesn’t mean the whole is woody or even overly woody, no, the wood is fine here.

To sum it up, it doesn’t seem so old, it sure is balanced, but misses some complexity you might want if you buy such an old whisky from the sixties. Still it’s not bad though, not bad at all. And oooh, I like the heat in this, definitively a big plus.

Points: 88

Note: When this was distilled in November 1967, The Beatles were at Abbey Road Studios doing mixes for their Magical Mystery Tour album, and recorded their Christmas disk for the fanclub…so now you know.

Port Ellen 25yo 1982/2008 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Butt, DL REF 4112, 589 bottles)

Its raining like crazy outside, and I have this Port Ellen on my lectern, so probably no better moment to have a go at this. Seize the day, the moment is now! There may be no tomorrow! Heed the call of the elements!

Douglas Laing sure did have a lot of Port Ellen ex-sherry casks lying around, and a lot of those casks were from 1982. Even though it wasn’t the best of years for Port Ellen (it closed just a year later), a lot of those 1982 casks turn out to be pretty fabulous. I bought this particular bottle because of the word “creosoted” on the label. I definitively want to find out what that tastes like.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Wow, always a great peat smell, Sweet and succulent, oily, old puffer, kippers and tar. Citrussy and grassy too. Powdery? This really smells like it’s dived up from the bottom of the sea. Even if this turns out not to be the greatest Port Ellen, this nose is all worth it. Dirty and clean at the same time. Ergo very balanced! Smelling this is great but it’s also intriguing. There is more lying around the bend. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is more to it than meets the nose…

Taste: Sweet and rubbery. Ash, liquorice and tarry rope (is this the creosote?). Definitively a fishy note from the peat, what suites this whisky well. Coffee, mocha, very appetizing. For a dead distillery, and a 25yo whisky, this is very lively. Candy with pepper in the finish and some slight bitterness (with tar), from the oak, but it has to be that way.

You might say it’s not up to par to other Port Ellen’s, since you could consider this not to be the most complex example or it’s drinkability and (virtual) lightness. But I’m having a lot of fun with this one, its lively and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m pouring myself another dram of this.

Points: 89