Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Rock Island is a Blended Malt Scotch Whisky from Douglas Laing, an independent bottler based in Glasgow. It forms part of the Remarkable Regional Malts series, which aims to capture the essence of each of Scotland’s whisky regions. The Epicurean represents the Lowlands, Timorous Beastie the Highlands, Scallywag Speyside, Big Peat Islay and The Gauldrons Campbeltown. This particular expression is a relatively new addition which has for the first time introduced a permanent age-stated expression to the range.
Technically speaking, the islands don’t officially count as a region, as far as the Scotch Whisky Association are concerned (but what do they know?!). For me, it’s never felt appropriate to refer to an island’s whisky as a Highland, in the same way, you’d never refer to a person from the islands as a Highlander. Granted there is a big difference between the whiskies produced in, for example, Arran, Skye and Orkney but is it any greater of a difference than that which is produced at Ben Nevis, Glengoyne and Pulteney? Personally, I don’t think so and in my own internal Scotch Whisky Regulations, the islands will continue to be their own distinct region. Obviously, Douglas Laing agrees with me.
Scotland’s islands are steeped in whisky but also in history and folklore. One of the most often-told legends involves the Blue Men of the Minch. These mythological creatures were said to inhabit the stretch of water from the Outer Hebrides to the Scottish mainland. Looking much like humans, apart from their blue colour, they swam the waters looking for sailors to drown and ships to sink.
When the tide is at the turning and the wind is fast asleep,
And not a wave is curling on the wide, blue Deep,
O the waters will be churning on the stream that never smiles,
Where the Blue Men are splashing round the charmed isles.
As the summer wind goes droning o’er the sun-bright seas,
And the Minch is all a-dazzle to the Hebrides;
They will skim along like salmon- you can see their shoulders gleam,
And the flashing of their fingers in the Blue Men’s Stream.
But when the blast is raving and the wild tide races,
The Blue Men ere breast-high with foam-grey faces;
They’ll plunge along with fury while they sweep the spray behind,
O, they’ll bellow o’er the billows and wail upon the wind.
And if my boat be storm-toss’d and beating for the bay,
They’ll be howling and be growling as they drench it with their spray-
For they’d like to heel it over to their laughter when it lists,
Or crack the keel between them, or stave it with their fists.
O weary on the Blue Men, their anger and their wiles!
The whole day long, the whole night long, they’re splashing round the isles;
They’ll follow every fisher- ah! they’ll haunt the fisher’s dream-
When billows toss, O who would cross the Blue Men’s Stream?
– The Blue Men of the Minch – Donald Alexander MacKenzie
With such terrific danger to be found in the waters around their island home, is it any wonder the folk of the Hebrides took to making whisky? What better way to fortify the mind for the long and perilous journey ahead?
Rock Island 10-year-old
The whisky is a blend of malts from distilleries on the islands of Arran, Orkney, Jura and Islay. It’s aged 10 years and bottled at 46% abv.
Smell: As you would expect, it’s coastal and briny and smoky. It has a fresh lemon scent – almost like an air freshener. There’s also malt, honey and a wee bit of biscuit. Burning straw. Sea shells and campfires.
Taste: Everything you’d expect from Rock Island. In fact, it aligns very well with the nose. Perhaps only medium-bodied but the natural oils help to coat the mouth. Lots of pepper. Sea salt. Brine. Malt. Honey. Touch of citrus. Vanilla ice cream. Buttercream. Salty aftertaste with subtle peat smoke – not as prominent on the palate as it was on the nose.
Thoughts: It feels like this age-stated version is a wee bit mellower than the original no-age-statement expression – perhaps a little less intense with its coastal sea spray but it’s still recognisably Rock Island. Everything I love about the original is still here, it’s just evolved slightly. I don’t think it’s better or worse, actually. Just a different take. I’ve always enjoyed the Remarkable Regional Malts and Rock Island may be my favourite of the range. It’s very much a spirit rather than cask-led whisky, with the distinctive nature of the component malts allowed to shine. Quite right too.
Price: £45. At less than £10 of an increase on the original, this is a tempting wee prospect. Not sure I’d replace the original with it, but maybe I could alternate from time to time. Either of them make for delicious and highly sippable everyday drams. Better quality than they have any right to be at the cost.
For more on Douglas Laing and Rock Island visit: https://www.douglaslaing.com/