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Douglas Laing is a Glasgow-based blender and bottler of scotch whiskies, founded in 1948 by Fred Douglas Laing. When the founder passed away in 1982 the business was taken over by his sons Fred and Stewart who worked together until going their separate ways in 2013.
Fred kept the Douglas Laing name whilst Stewart took the Old Malt Cask label to his new company, Hunter Laing. In order to replace this departed single cask range, Fred worked with daughter Cara, herself an industry veteran with experience of working with Jura, Bowmore and Glen Garioch. Together they developed Old Particular, a series of single cask bottlings, sourced from distilleries across Scotland.
Launched in 2013, this range of fine drams comes at higher strength with spirit aged 18 years or less bottled at 48.4% whilst 19 years and over comes at 51.5%. The thinking behind this move was to smooth out some of the feistiness that can be present in younger malts, whilst also allowing older liquid to shine to the fullest, having already mellowed somewhat with age.
Old Particular Bowmore 18 Year Old
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay and one of the oldest in Scotland. It was founded in 1779 by John P Simson but later came under the ownership of James Mutter, a man of German descent who’s family would retain control for well over a century. By the 1950’s Bowmore was running under the stewardship of William Grigor & Sons before being acquired by Stanley P. Morrison in 1963. Mr. Morrison built the reputation of the single malt so successfully that 1960’s Bowmore remains highly sought after today, commanding impressive sums at auction. Morrison Bowmore Ltd was taken over in 1994 by Japanese distilling giant Suntory who retain ownership today.
This particular dram was distilled in December of 2001 before being bottled in late 2019. It was bottled at 48.4% and retailed around £110.95.
Smell: Coal fire smoke and ash. Then honey and wonderfully fresh orchard fruits. Nice peppery spice and plenty of coastal salt.
Taste: Creamy malt, touch of citrus and fruit jam. Pepper. Wonderfully salty. Charred oak and thick wood smoke.
Value for Money: The official bottling of 18 year old Bowmore retails around £75 to £80 so whilst I have found this Douglas Laing offering to be a very enjoyable dram, the price seems a bit of a problem for me. Of course, there are, or were, only 339 bottles and the liquid came un-chill filtered at higher strength but even still the price comes across a little high. There was a time when independent bottlers seemed to offer better value for money than the distillers themselves but it pains me to say that I see less and less evidence of that these days*, at least where the big names are concerned.
*Like all reviewers, I reserve the right to completely contradict myself, as you will discover a little later in this article.
Bowmore can be absolutely fantastic when bottled at higher strength and this Douglas Laing offering is no different. A lovely dram that tempted me to score closer to 90 but that price would be a bit of a stumbling block for me and the score had to reflect that. Great dram, just a little too rich for me.
Old Particular Caol Ila 14 Year Old
Caol Ila was founded in 1846 by one Hector Henderson though was taken over within a decade by Norman Buchanan, then owner of the Jura distillery on the neighbouring island. After multiple changes in ownership, the Distillers Company Ltd acquired a controlling interest in 1927 before Scottish Malt Distillers purchased all shares just three years later. The distillery would remain with the same owner from then on, as it morphed through takeovers and mergers into the behemoth that is now Diageo.
In 1972 Caol Ila was completely demolished and rebuilt to the design of George Leslie Darge, a man who worked on nearly 50 distilleries throughout his long career. The still house features near floor – to – ceiling curtain windows that provided an excellent view onto the sound of Islay, in a design almost identical to that deployed at the likes of Clynelish and Teaninich.
For blending purposes Caol Ila distillery is used for a small portion of the year to produce an unpeated malt of a highland style. This spirit is occasionally bottled as part of Diageo’s Special Releases range but I’ve never come across an independent bottling of it… until now.
Distilled August 2005 and matured for 14 years in a refill hogshead before bottling in January 2020 at a strength of 48.4%. Retails for £76.95.
Smell: Lemon and vanilla. Honey. Biscuit. Bread. A little sea salt, plenty of pepper and a wee touch of brine.
Taste: Oatcakes and honey. Salted caramel. Apple. Buttery vanilla. Pepper. Dry oak. Prominent barley finish.
Value for Money: What was that I was saying about independents not offering the same value for money anymore? Diageo’s 2018 bottling of 15 year old unpeated Caol Ila retailed around £100 a bottle, and here’s Douglas Laing with a 14 year old at nearly 25% cheaper…. You get great value for money with these independent bottlers. I’ve always said so.
Possibly a wee bit underwhelming at first but it soon opens up to reveal a wonderfully malty dram with a lengthy finish. There is an undoubted novelty factor with such a bottling but that doesn’t mean the liquid lacks substance. Indeed it is a fine dram that makes me wish there was much, much more of the unpeated stuff about.
Learn more about Douglas Laing & Co here.
Learn more about Bowmore here.
Learn more about Caol Ila here.