Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A whisky tour of Scotland, Douglas Laing style!

Lovely to say I'm happy this is one of my first solo whisky blogs.  I believe in supporting all aspects of the #whiskyfabric and saying yes to as many open doors and opportunities because, honestly, do we ever really know how one simple gesture can change the entire way you look at something or how it can propel you in a direction you simply wouldn't have even considered? 
Earlier this year, two brothers made the choice to split a very well established whisky company in half.  One brother, Douglas would retain the name of the company as well as some of the whiskies in question.  The other retained some of the line and started a new company and at this time both seem to be doing quite well with the new changes and directions.  And that's where I come in...  hehe.  Another fabulous part of being a contributor to the #whiskyfabric is talking, meeting and making contacts when it comes to whiskies.  The day Douglas Laing Co. announced the split was official, I was fortunate enough to be in touch with Cara Laing and was honored and privileged to be one of the first to interview her after she joined her father in the family business.

Again, you never really know where things will lead in life, but as a result of being introduced to Cara I made it a point to try and get a few whiskies from Douglas Laing.  Alas, as always in Canada when something is good it doesn't stick around for long and I was SOL.  After a few tweets about how I was going to make it a goal to try and get some this year, a nice little package arrived and I was overjoyed.  As I do with every sample I receive from all around the world, I immediately nosed to my heart's content.  The lovely aromas did not disappoint and in some instances completely surprised me and I'd be happy to tell you why...  keep reading.

First and foremost let's talk about what the "Provenance" line is all about.  It's a series of specialist Single Cask and/or Small Batch bottlings where many of the legendary Scottish Distillieries are featured.  It's bottled in a traditional style - no color or chill-filtration and typically at 46% ABV.  I looked at the lovely handwritten notes and descriptions and couldn't wait to sit down to try them all. 
The three I received were from the summer range.  So, come with me now and let's take a walk on the outer edges of Scotland.  Better grab your hiking boots and a good flask, there's quite a bit of road to cover.  Shall we!?

Let us start in the southern part and take a ferry ride over to Isle of Arran where we find one distillery that I really enjoy.  The island is 20 miles long and only 10 miles wide but is rumored to have had almost 30 illegal distilleries at one point in its early history.  Now there is only one and it's quite legal.  It's fairly new having opened in 1995.  The whiskies:  No complaints from me.  I love most of them with only one mild disappointment in the last 5 years so I couldn't help but wonder as I poured the sample into my Glencairn if I was going to be able to taste the "Arran" in this one.

Douglas Laing's Provenance Arran 16, 46%

Color:  Considering this line is not colored, it's quite beautiful.  It reminds me of golden straw.

Nose: Hints of cereal, and salted caramel.  A bit earthy, like the smell of a wooded path after a rain storm.  Very lovely aromas.

Palate:  Nice mouthwatering mouth feel with hints of chocolate covered ginger. Sweet like clover honey.  Much more on the palate then the nose seem to promise.

Finish:  Drying, quite peppery at the very end, almost a bit of surprise.  Nice, long and lingering.  Quite smooth.

I had the chance to try the Arran 16 with Ralfy in May of 2013.  I'd dare say this could easily stand up and in some palate preferences surpass that distillery bottling.  Quite a nice start to our little journey!

Where to next, let's see do I dare be bold and go Islay or shall I bypass and wait?   Nope, I'm going against the grain (pardon the pun) and Islay here I come!   The next lovely sample I opened was the Big Peat.  
Another bottling at 46% ABV and from the looks of the picture, the gentleman is getting quite a gust of something hitting him?  Ohhh, I was a bit worried but poured a good size dram in my glass anyway and put my hair in a pony tail.  Going in!


Color:  Almost the color of a light white wine.  Barely any color at all really.  

Nose:  Well, as it states BIG!  I put the glass on the kitchen table and from where I was sitting I could smell the peat enveloping me.  BIG PEAT IS RIGHT!  If I had closed my eyes, I could have sworn I was sitting on the beach tending the driftwood bonfire I built while the salt air breeze played havoc with my hair.  Once you are past all that, there's also a sweetness of deep red cherries or ripe summer fruit.  Quite nice actually.  Sweet peat!

Palate:  A bit harsher than I expected after reveling in the sweetness.  It was more industrial in nature, a bit like band-aids or a bit of burnt rubber.  It's a full bodied dram that doesn't disappoint if you are a peat head.

Finish:  Light, doesn't last long and then the surprise:  When I exhaled, I felt like I had smoked a cigar!?  Quite a cool feeling actually.

No disappointment there!  I finished up that lovely dram and went on to the next whisky distillery on the tour:  Laphroaig 10.  Another peaty mind blowing experience, or at least I thought...


Color:  Light sunlight gold.  Almost a sparkling yellow.

Nose:  Recognizable peat from the get go, but because of the preceding dram, I seemed to have the ability to nose out the remainder of the aromas more clearly?  I was getting huge citrus - lemon meringue pie almost.  I also found hints of seaweed tucked in there.  

Palate:  Recognized the Laphroaig instantly.  No doubt in my mind.  It's one of the few Islay's that I can detect black licorice in & it was plentiful in this dram.  Mouthwatering, smoky flavored licorice.  Delish really!

Finish:  Long, quite warming, more so that the Big Peat which surprised me.  Nice peppery, lingering heat.   

Again, a triumph.  Glad I did the Big Peat first as I feel it allowed me to zero in on a few lovely flavors in the Laphroaig.

And last but not least, we are headed north.  As north as you can go.  Highland Park.  Another very distinctive flavor profile whisky that has a huge following.  How would this one compare?


Color:  Deep gold, or old gold.  Quite lovely knowing it isn't colored.

Nose:  Can smell the sherry influence on this one.  Stewed dried fruits.  Quite sweet.  A bit oaky, hints of smoke.

Palate:  So spicy:  Ginger, cinnamon, cloves.  Everything that reminds me of Christmas?  I was a bit confused but went on...  I waited for a few minutes and came back to this one.  It wasn't as spicy as before, but it was still there.  Gingerbread cake?   Not at all what I had expected after nosing. I literally checked the label just to make sure it was a Highland Park...

Finish: Fairly long.  Stayed with me for quite some time.  Very satisfying dram, heat, a bit of smoke and still spicy.

Not at all what I was thinking?   

So of the four whiskies I tried I would have to say the last surprised me the most.  I can't help help but wonder if it's because I went against convention and had peaty whiskies first?  Did this cause me to nose/taste in a different way.  I would have never thought the last one was a Highland Park?  Or maybe it was the sherry influence?   I'm not sure but of the four I'd pick that one to buy as it totally threw me for a loop and it's completely different than what I consider a traditional Highland Park whisky.

The Arran was very nice and I'd likely buy that as a nice sipping whisky or a "summer evening" whisky. 

The BIG PEAT and the Laphroaig 10, (Exhales smoke...) are phenominal if you are a huge peat lover.  If you are not, or are thinking of "trying" peat, I personally would not recommend these as your starting point.  You might want to wait until you have a few under your belt.

And like I stated the Highland Park 14 so perplexed me, I'm choosing it as my favorite of the four.  

Either way, the Douglas Laing Provenance Line is quite remarkable and in some cases I would dare say surpasses what the distilleries in question are putting out in the market.  If you have a chance to get any of the bottlings, I highly recommend them.  

A huge Whisky Lassie thank you to Cara for this opportunity.  Now I'm on the hunt for these whiskies, I hope you will be too!  

The exciting adventures continue...  


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