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!