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It doesn’t feel like all that long ago I first decided to write down my thoughts on the whisky in my collection but here we are, four years and 300 reviews later.
Naturally I wanted to pick an interesting dram to write about and there were certainly plenty of options – there are some great whiskies coming up! – but thanks to a timing coincidence there was one that seemed particularly appropriate. The 25th of January is known across the world as Burns’ Night, a celebration not just of the beloved poet but of all things Scottish, with many a haggis and countless drams consumed in the process. Fitting then, that I mark the occasion with a 25 year old malt, named after one of his most famous works.
Timorous Beastie is a blended malt from Douglas Laing & Co, the Glasgow based independent bottler-come-distiller, following their recent acquisition of Strathearn in Perthshire, a move soon to be followed by the construction of the new Clutha distillery on the banks of the River Clyde.
Founded in 1948, Douglas Laing found a new lease of life with the introduction of their Big Peat blended malt in 2009, a fantastic Islay dram that was soon followed by blends representing each of Scotland’s other whisky producing regions. From the Highlands came Timorous Beastie, a dram named after one of the most famous and beloved works of Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland.
Burns himself was no stranger to the amber nectar, writing about it on more than one occasion. In the winter of 1785, he wrote ‘Scotch Drink‘ a piece that begins in celebration of the humble dram before shifting focus to criticise recent changes in the taxation of spirit produced at the Ferintosh estate in Ross-shire, one of the most important distilling hubs of the time.
Back in 1689, the Laird Duncan Forbes of Culloden had his estate sacked by a marauding Jacobite force, upset at his support for King William III. In 1690, as thanks for his loyalty to the crown, the Scottish Parliament allowed him to distill and sell whisky free of duty for an annual fee of 400 merks. His family grew increasingly wealthy over the decades that followed and the whisky made on his land gradually found its way to all four corners of the country.
With the passing of the 1784 Wash act, new lines were drawn to distinguish the lowlands from the highlands and prior agreements that gave certain distillers an unfair advantage were abandoned. The Forbes family were awarded £21,580 in compensation but would thereafter be forced to pay duty on any whisky produced on their land.
It was a situation that enraged Burns who saw it as further oppression of Scottish freedoms by the despised Excisemen.
Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an’ barkin hoast
May kill us a’;
For loyal Forbes’ charter’d boast
Is ta’en awa?
Thae curst horse-leeches o’ the’ Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han’, Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An’ bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn’d drinkers.
It is a sentiment repeated in ‘The Author’s Earnest Cry and Prayer‘, a satire on the taxation of whisky written the following year:
Freedom an’ whisky gang thegither!
Take aff your dram!
What Burns would make of having a whisky named after one of his poems, more than 200 years after its writing is anyone’s guess but personally, I like to think he’d be quite pleased by it.
This latest Timorous Beastie release is a limited edition 25-year-old, aged predominantly in ex-bourbon barrels before being bottled at 46.8%. It retails for approximately £140 a bottle.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge so that I might share my thoughts with you, the reader. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Amazingly fresh and vibrant for a dram of such age. Barley flour and lemon curd. White Chocolate. Caramac! Orange. Custard creams. Straw. Sawdust.
Taste: Honey and breakfast cereal. Biscuit. Lemon curd. Black pepper. Vanilla. Toast. Ever so slightly oaky just as it goes into the finish.
Thoughts: £140 can’t exactly be described as a bargain for a bottle of whisky but it compares favourably to similarly aged malts.
The spirit hides the tell-tale signs of age well but perhaps therein lies the problem. Were I in the market for a malt of this maturity I may have found myself slightly disappointed with the relatively youthful nature of this dram.
Having said that, if I judge the whisky on what it is, rather than some pre-conceived notion of what it should be, I have to concede that I really rather enjoyed it. Is it different enough from the regular expression to warrant the extra investment? I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for. If you seek to add a little age to your cabinet for a reasonable price, this must surely be a contender. If you want to taste the age of of your whisky, this fresh Highland malt may not be to your liking.
Visit Douglas Laing here.