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A couple of weeks ago I received an invite from the lovely folks at Douglas Laing to join them on a virtual tasting of some forthcoming releases. Naturally I gratefully accepted the offer. The line up featured four drams from their Remarkable Regional Malts range, including new versions of Timorous Beastie, The Epicurean, Scallywag and Big Peat.
Now, as it happens, I couldn’t tune in for the guided tasting. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, a starting time of 7pm is challenging for parents of young children. My wife had a community council meeting to tune into and our 5 year old daughter wasn’t really up for putting herself to bed. Secondly, the tasting pack came with a card that had a QR code on it. You needed to scan the code to join the tasting. I was unaware of this and binned the card, assuming a Zoom invite or something would be coming later.
Not to worry, I put the wee one to bed and sat down to enjoy the drams at my own leisure and decided to share my thoughts in a wee blog post. I’m not going to award scores, because I’ve no idea what these bottles will retail for and in any case, sinking all four in a row, one after another isn’t the most professional way to analyse the merits of individual Scotch whiskies. Still, I thought some tasting notes and overall impressions might make for useful reading.
Timorous Beastie “Meet the Beast” cask strength
Timorous Beastie is a blend of Highland malts, named after Rabbie Burns’ famous “To a mouse” poem. This appears to be a new cask strength version, bottled at 54.9%.
Smell: Light floral nose. Honey. Buttered scones. Apricot jam. Shortbread. Lemon. Apple. Pear. Water brings out some nice oaky notes.
Taste: Honey and biscuit arrival with a bit of peppery heat. Aniseed. Liquorice. Almost feels like a hint of smoke. Lots of flavour. Some good oils and a nice weighty texture. Drinks quite easily for almost 55%. Nice woody character on the finish.
Thoughts: Timorous Beastie doesn’t quite enjoy the fanfare of some of the other drams in this range but it’s nevertheless a pretty solid whisky. Dialling it up to cask strength doesn’t appear to have done it any harm at all. Its spicy but not overwhelmingly so and it delivers a satisfyingly full flavour all around the palate. An impressive start to the tasting.
The Epicurean Ruby Port Cask Finish
The Epicurean is a Lowland blended malt. This one comes bottled at an approachable 48%. It was finished in a ruby port cask that’s given the liquid a pleasingly pinkish hue.
Smell: The young grassy nose of the Epicurean is present and correct but there’s definitely some fruity notes from the Port. Strawberrry espcially prominent. Lovely malty base. Wee touch of oak. Red apples. With water some vanilla notes come through. Bit of butterscotch too.
Taste: Sweet berry notes on arrival. Raspberry, blueberry, strawberry. Maybe some cherry too. Ginger. Drying oak finish. A splash of water brings it all together. Quite light bodied but not too delicate thanks to the un-chill-filtered bottling style.
Thoughts: Very drinkable this one. The berry notes work well with the light lowland malts to create a drop of summer in a glass. Not the most complex whisky in the world but there’s enough flavour to keep it interesting.
Scallywag Chocolate Edition 100% Sherry Matured
Scallywag represents Speyside in this little series. Rather than showcasing the lighter side of the region, as seen with the likes of Glenlivet, Douglas Laing have chosen to go down a more robust, sherry-matured route.
Smell: Big chocolatey nose. I mean it’s right there in the name, and there’s no doubt the power of suggestion can play a role in the way you experience a whisky, but it’s definitely there. Dark chocolate and powdered cocoa. Coffee beans. Currants and sultanas. Cinnamon. Little bit of honey too. Wee hint of dunnage warehouse foost as well. Water releases a more of the honey and brings out some fruity notes too… apple, pear. Peach even.
Taste: Oh wow. A bit like a liquid gateau. Lots of chocolate and cocoa and coffee. Some dark, chewy caramel. Riesen chocolate chews (remember them?!). Little touch of ginger and pepper. Develops more of an oak character as time goes on. Water lessens the intensity of the chocolate and there’s a glimpse of a fruity Speyside character underneath.
Thoughts: I’m a sucker for big flavours so this one was always in with a chance. Unsurprisingly it hits the spot. Changes quite dramatically with water added but that’s ok – it’s almost like getting two drams for the price of one. For the record I think I preferred it after I added water. The chocolate character was still there but it wasn’t as dominant and the whole affair was a little more balanced, more complex and ultimately, more rewarding. Cracking dram.
Big Peat “Peatrichor” Cask Strength Edition
Big Peat is where it all began for the Remarkable Regional Malts. It’s the product that kicked off the whole series. This Islay blended malt celebrated its tenth anniversary a couple of years ago. No mean feat for a dram that surprised many with its presentation style upon first launch. Petrichor is the name for that smell you sometimes get when it rains. Dust particles are thrown up from the ground by raindrops and become suddenly noticeable to your senses. To be honest, it’s such a good word I’m surprised it hasn’t already been used for a whisky.
Smell: Typically coastal Big Peat. The nose is full of brine and seaweed and tarry old ropes. It’s smoky but not excessively so. There’s also notes of liquorice and vanilla. Some lemon citrus. Wee bit of woodiness – since it’s Big Peat we’ll say driftwood, soaked with salty seawater. In the distance a peat-fuelled bonfire blazes away. The smoke drifts along the beach on a gentle breeze.
Taste: More intense arrival than the nose prepares you for. Pungent peat rather than smoke, though there’s a chargrilled, charcoal quality as well. Now the smoke is there. That bonfire isn’t quite so distant anymore. Sea salt and black pepper. Drinks a little dangerously at 53.8%. One could very easily forget the potency of the thing.
Thoughts: Big Peat does exactly what it says on the tin. It always does. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad dram from the big Islay dude – and I’ve tried a fair few. If I was looking to be critical, I could possibly say that there hasn’t been enough variety over the years. The dozens of Big Peat releases thus far have all been variations on the same theme. Admittedly though, Douglas Laing do it very well and if it ain’t broke…
This was a very pleasant selection of drams. The core range of Remarkable Regional Malts remain some of the best bang-for-buck whiskies on the market but it’s always fun getting to try them at cask strength or with some interesting finishes.
It would be great to see some more experimentation though. How’s about a Big Peat sherry cask for instance? Or Timorous Beastie with a little added spice from some virgin oak? A couple of years back they released a special to mark ten years of the range and it featured malts from all the regions. Could they go further down that road? What about having different regions face off against one another? A blend of 50% Big Peat and 50% Timorous Beastie? Rock Island vrs The Epicurean?
I’m going to stop there because I’ve had a few drams and I’m beginning to think it might be a good idea to chuck what’s left in each glass together, just to see what happens. I shall resist the temptation for now and retire instead to my sofa to polish off the dregs.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to the folks at Douglas Laing for sending me the pack.
For more on Douglas Laing, visit here