Douglas Laing’s Lowland Blend Epicurean 46.2%

Last in our Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regions blends was Epicurean from the Lowlands

Douglas Laing Epicurean 46.2%

  • Nose – Yheasty, butter caramel, slightly raw, herbal, sour peaches, basil, almonds, quite tangy with tamarind, puckering citrus, almond face oil, the peaches quality became increasingly pronounced from raw to steamed to canned peaches
  • Palate – Sweet almond paste, spice, cinnamon, bitter, burnt citrus
  • Finish – Quite nutty, light sweet and lingers, rubber, coffee
  • Water – Initially brought out honey then dissipated almost immediately

For many this was a favourite of the Douglas Laing trio… for others the salty quality of Rock Oyster was a welcome departure. What we can say is the Epicurean paired rather well with a cigar.

Here’s what they have to say:

Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky tells the story of a 1930s Glasgow man, a real cheeky chappy who was ever the life and soul of the party, and a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. A dram we describe as “city born and bred”, The Epicurean is a blend of some of the finest Lowland Malts; a marriage of the best that the East and the West of Scotland have to offer. This small batch bottling is proudly without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46.2% ABV.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose – In a tipple of our Small Batch “The Epicurean”, you can bet on a nose that is barley-rich, citric, floral and herbal.
  • Palate – The mouth-coatingly sweet palate displays crunched sugar, burnt citrus, mixed spices, thyme, peaches and hard candy…
  • Finish – All charmingly underpinned and enriched in the finish with more of that earlier herbal character, in a gristy style with almonds, cut grass and burnt sugar.

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

What were the whisky blends explored?

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Peat Unusual – Ailsa Bay 48.9%

1st up in our Peat Unusual session was Ailsa Bay…

This Lowlands distillery is part of the Girvain complex, owned by William Grant & Sons. Most of the output makes its way to blends however there was a recognition that a single malt expression should also make it to market.

What did our cigar chomping gents think?

Ailsa Bay 48.9%

  • Nose – Sweet and peat, raw bacon, honey cured ham, black pepper then cinnamon spice, smoked paprika, very sweet
  • Palate – Nice light spice, dry oaky candy, acrid smoke
  • Finish – Long bitter then turns sweet…. long
  • Water? Sweet toffee, butterscotch, no bacon and almost syrupy, even more sweet on the palate, still a bitter long finish

We set it aside to revisit… much more enjoyable however still more on the sweet side, not much variety, could even be described as ‘linear’ with a wintry quality.

Overall we thought not a bad start but not one we would run out to grab another bottle immediately.

So  what do we know?

Alisa Bay is purported to find balance between sweet and peat… which they strictly adhere  to 21 PPM for the peat then also measure the ‘sweet’ side too with their SPPM – at a level of 11 SPPM. They also use a ‘micro maturation’ process with the new make spirit filled into Hudson Baby Bourbon casks (25-100 Litres vs standard barrels with unto 200 Litres) for 6-9 months for an ‘intense rapid maturation’ then transferred to a mix of virgin and 1st fill American oak casks.

And Alisa Bay’s  tasting notes?

  • Nose: FRESH WOOD SMOKE WITH NOTES OF SMOULDERING DAMP HEATHER AND AN EXTINGUISHED BONFIRE. FOLLOWING THE SMOKE IS A WAVE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND HOT BUTTERED TOAST WITH AN INTRIGUING HINT OF CARAMELISED APPLE.
  • Taste: AN IMMEDIATE PUNCH OF PEAT IS QUICKLY BALANCED BY A BURST OF VANILLA OAKINESS. THE FLAVOUR MEANDERS BETWEEN SMOKE, FRUIT, CREAMY TOFFEE AND BACK AGAIN. WITH EVERY SIP THE COMPLEXITY OF THE WHISKY DEEPENS AS LAYER UPON LAYER OF FLAVOUR IS REVEALED.
  • Finish: AN INTRIGUING BALANCE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND PEATY DRYNESS.

Would we agree? Mostly… however complex? Not what we found.

While I can’t definitively confirm, I suspect this particular bottle made its way to us via The Whisky Exchange where it can be purchased for approx £55.55.

Our “peat unusual” whiskies….

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BMC Peat Unusual – Alisa Bay, Ledaig “Very Cloudy”, Loch Lomond Peated, BenRiach 25 Peated

It is finally slipping into “winter” (by Indian standards), with the pollution smog haze rarely lifting, and somehow the weather and climatic conditions seem to be influencing whisky preferences… to peat. And no ordinary peat… an exploration of a few whiskies one would not normally have on the top peat picks list from regions not immediately associated with peat. Because why should our familiar friends over in Islay corner the market when other options exist?

As this was a BMC session, we had no pretence of hiding the bottles… instead merrily dove in to our discoveries eyes wide-open!

Our “peat unusual” whiskies….

Our host shared that it began with the BenRiach 25 year peated… and morphed from there… each selected to be peat with a twist. For example, you don’t typically find BenRiach whiskies peated… Then it continued with Loch Lomond – again not normally peated. So why Ledaig you may ask? By their “nature” Ledaig is Tobermoray’s peaty whiskies. Yes indeed. However the “Very Cloudy” Vintage 2008 is known to have a lighter dusting of peat rather than full force peat. And Alisa Bay? Not only is it newer to market as a single malt, it breaks with typical Lowland convention to combine peat with sweet…

Read on over the coming days to see what we found…

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Auchentoshan Heartwood 43%

What to do when you discover a common thread in standard duty-free offerings? Coin a new term! In our case, none were “nasty” merely “NASpy.” Confused? Read on….

Auchentoshan is known for its lighter whiskies, triple distilled in the Lowlands. Their Heartwood combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry Olorosso casks.

Auchentoshan Heartland 43%

  • Nose – Fermented fruit, pear, light honey, melon, pine, warm vanilla, a slight piquant (not spice), pear tart, fresh fruit basket, custard which settled into a soft caramel with basil
  • Palate – Light on the palate, there like a whisky rinse
  • Finish – Bitter light burn with wood

Overall quite fruity – particularly pear – sweet, light and a dash of other elements. In short, we found it not unpleasant though entirely innocuous.

Between this and the Highland Park Einar we sampled next, we coined a category of whisky where one could say “You know, it just simply is rather NASPy.” Referring to a generic travel retail breed of No Age Statement palates that aren’t awful but are certainly not awesome either… in other words something that may be acceptable for parties but not a whisky we would deliberately buy.

Here is what the folks over at Auchentoshan have to say on the bottle note:

Released for travel retail, the Auchentoshan Heartwood is made with triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky which has been matured in both Oloroso Sherry casks and bourbon casks, resulting in a very well balanced expression from the Lowland distillery.

No other tasting notes… so for your amusement, I suggest you check out what the Whisky Wafflers have to say about Auchentoshan’s Heatwood.

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later from a mini sample with friends in September 2017.

Curious about other Auchentoshan whiskies sampled?

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Douglas Laing’s Old Particular – Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year 51.5%

Our Single Grain trio evening continued with Strathclyde single grain from Glasgow. Originally built in 1927 on the site of an old cotton mill to produce gin, it has gone on to pump out grain spirit, primarily for blends for its current owner – Chivas Bothers Holdings, part of the Pernod Ricard group.

Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year (Aug 1990/Sep 2016) Refill Barrel DL11335 51.5% Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, 116 bottles

  • Nose – Unmistakable varnish – full-on, then caramel, banana, light flowers, then nuts like walnut, coconut, dried fruits, shifted into a creamy aroma – like sweet coconut cream, becoming increasingly sweet like butterscotch – loads and loads of butterscotch, then baked banana bread, roasted almonds, a bit of chocolate, then just as earlier it was unquestionably butterscotch, it was sawdust or fresh wood shavings, after airing even more like marshmallows!
  • Palate – Cinnamon sweet, the 2nd sip was quite bitter and a bit harsh, the settled into mulled wine, while pleasant, nothing remarkable
  • Finish – Bitter long, with a spice chaser, very dry and closed with nail polish
  • Water – Don’t. Loses the nose which is by far the best aspect. However it did bring out the most compelling nescafé instant coffee taste!

The nose was the most interesting element of this grain whisky. It was remarkable how it kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.

And yet, as we re-calibrated ourselves to grain, there was no doubt this was the clear favourite of the three single grains sampled!

Here is what the folks over at Douglas Laing have to say:

  • Nose: Round and full of sweet golden syrup with a floral, herbal and gristy style
  • Palate: Carries a mouth coating molasses character plus spice-studded orange
  • Finish: Long, with gentle vanilla toffee, muscovado sugar and late sweet spices

For another perspective, here is what the chaps over at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Milk chocolate, thyme honey and a pinch of spicy clove.
  • Palate: Cardamom and cinnamon up front, followed by waves of caramel and brown sugar.
  • Finish: Minty, with heaps of chocolate-fudge brownie later on.

While I can’t say where this particular bottle was purchased, it is available through Master of Malt for $82. We sampled it on 31 August 2017 from a closed bottle.

What else did we sample in our Single Grain Trio with Indian Whiskies Duo evening?

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Berrys’ Girvan Single Grain 8 year (2006/2014) 46%

Our Single Grain trio evening began with a ‘statutory warning’… a not so gentle reminder to free ourselves from expectations of superior single malts and instead consider the humble grain that mostly goes disguised into blends…

And what did we find?

Girvan 8 year (2006/2014) Cask 532398 46% (Berrys’)

  • Nose – Though only 46%, had an initial ‘hit’ of pure alcohol! Quite grainy, then slowly sweet bananas, some vanilla from the oak wood, lemon drop sweetness peeped out… all the elements were very subtle with the overall scent of light varnish
  • Palate – First pronouncement was “Well… it isn’t unpleasant” Hmm… Oddly, the 2nd sip was a bit harsher, back to the initial nose of alcohol… as we continued to sip, a bit of coconut could be found..
  • Finish – Yes… there is a finish… of pepper and spice
  • Water – Add a few drops or dollop and it pumps up the spice, shifting to quite a bitter quality
  • After airing – We set it aside and returned after nearly an hour to find it had settled into quite a sweet nose – almost cotton candy like! Whereas the palate and finish remained much the same

Overall… it was interesting to sample a single grain but it wouldn’t be the whisky of choice for any of us. I flipped back to notes from an earlier experience with the Girvan 28 year – clearly age helped yet there was enough to discern some similarities.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 unchillfiltered and uncoloured.

For another perspective, here are the producer notes:

”This ex – Bourbon barrel single grain whisky has pronounced fragrances in vanilla, custard creams and some lively citrus. The palate is surprisingly full and oily with waves of coffee cream, spice and juicy lime. To finish there is a delicate spicy prickle.”

While I can’t say for certain, I strongly suspect this bottle was purchased from LeClos, Dubai Airport for $42. We sampled it 31 August 2017 from a closed bottle.

What else did we sample in our Single Grain Trio with Indian Whiskies Duo evening?

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Exploring Aged Grain Whiskies – Girvan, Strathclyde + Invergordon

Once upon a time if you had asked me to characterize our Bombay Malt & Cigar club, I would have said it was a set of gentlemen in pursuit of the finer things in life. In terms of their preferences – quality older Scottish single malts would be the ONLY whiskies to make the cut.

Fast forward to find we’ve come a long way… we’ve explored a Westland trio from the US, undisclosed distilleries, blends, bar night fare, proving these gents aren’t so stuffy after all!

So when our August 2017 session featured a trio of single grains followed by a duo of Indian whiskies… we knew we may not be in for the BEST whiskies but we were game to try some DIFFERENT drams.

Single Grain Trio:

Indian whiskies duo:

Would any of these whiskies be ones any of us would want to run out and buy? No. But was it worth spending a bit of time trying? Absolutely!

For our tasting notes, read on over the next few days…

This session also happened to be our annual partner’s night… A chance for our better halves to enjoy an evening, jointly socializing after the ‘serious business’ of whisky tasting concludes and desultory puffing on cigars with conversation commenced.

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Girvan Patent Still 28 year 42%

One doesn’t often come across an aged grain. So it was such a surprise and treat to have this 28 year old Girvan close our tasting trio. We sampled blind from a freshly opened bottle, having no clue what we were sipping. Here is what we found…

Girvan Patent Still 28 year 42% No 1 Apps KA269PT

  • Nose – Nail polish remover, paint, some fruit, furniture polish, reminded one of a Chemistry lab with a bio-chemistry sweet note, staying steady, not evolving beyond an oil and spice, then after tasting the nose transforms – revealing fruits, pudding, opening up in a beautiful way
  • Palate – Sweet honey water, Parsis toffee green mathai (sweet), then began to open up to reveal a quality almost like an eclair, then a bitter caramel rum ball
  • Finish – Initially a spicy finish then a sweet, walnut bitter, with a chocolate noughat, held and genuinely very nice
  • Water – Nope. Don’t. Just enjoy it neat.

There was something quite unique about this whisky. We began to speculate that perhaps it was finished in a white wine cask – perhaps muscatel or sauternes? Perhaps not a single malt at all? Some corn? With such a honey light colour it was hard to pin point. All we knew was it was quite unique with a very distinctive and interesting character.

And the reveal? An aged Lowland grain! Wow!

Girvan goes by the name The Girvan Patent Still referring to their continuous distillation method using Coffey Stills which they credit for creating “a delicious spirit full of a rich intensity.”

Here is what the folks over at Girvan have to say:

Filled to American White Oak our whisky’s soul is forged from wood & mellowed by time. Naturally golden amber in colour – this is Single Grain Whisky at its finest.

Notes of honey, toffee, vanilla & caramelised fruits. It is, quite simply, Deliciously Different single grain whisky. 

  • Rich & Complex
  • Vanilla
  • Toffee Apple
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus/Chocolate Orange

I suspect, but cannot confirm, this whisky was bought at Dubai’s Le Clos for $361.

Bottom line, did we enjoy? Absolutely! It was a unique experience – both distinctive and memorable.

Also from our evening:

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What a range! Rampur, Royal Lochnagar, Girvan 28 year

What a range! From Rampur, Uttar Pradesh to nearby Balmoral Castle to a unique aged grain Girvan, our original Mumbai tasting group had quite the June session.

Here is what we we explored:

Our main sampling was followed with a bonus…

Just click on the links above to read more…

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Birthday whisky – Auchentoshan 40 year 41.6%

After our untraditional ‘risky whisky?‘ trio of lesser known whiskies from France (Brenne & AWA Pinot Noire) and the US (Virgil Kaine), we turned to a very traditional Lowland… and no young thing either… a mature 40 year old Auchentoshan no less!

And why such a rare aged whisky magically appearing in our Whisky Ladies of Mumbai midst?

It was all thanks to a Whisky Ladies’ birthday… 40th birthday… from an uncle who knows nothing would be more appropriate than giving the birthday lass a venerable 40 year old whisky! And generous soul that she is, our birthday Whisky Lady both hosted the evening and shared her special gift!

Auchentoshan 40 year (4 Nov 1965/4 Aug 2006) Bourbon Cask 41.6% Bottle No 196/200

  • Nose – A sense of very mild old sherry, a light sharpness, fresh pears, hint of ginger with a slight citrus twist, light toasted nuts
  • Palate – Very clean, elegant and clearly a ‘proper whisky’, figs and prunes yet all with a light touch
  • Finish – Lasting mild-mannered finish, one where you can really take your time, mellow, mellow, mellow…

Such an easy drinking whisky… most of all the descriptions “elegant” and “mellow” are most apt!

In the Glencairn vs Norlan glass experience, the Norlan gave a totally different finish – very spicy and more ‘alcohol’. Definitely one to have in the Glencairn!

What is also interesting is this is apparently matured only in a bourbon cask yet had some of the soft sweetness one associates with sherry finish.

Sipping this whisky sparked a wee debate on whether such a price tag was merited… a figure of some $2,000 was mentioned that had most of us aghast. Seriously?? No… not worth that price, especially as we could have bought some 15 – 25 other interesting whiskies for such an amount! Yet… none of use regretted an opportunity to sample such an elegant mellow Lowland dram…

Here’s what the producer has to say:

Rich, old gold in colour, the nose is a delicious combination of sweet vanilla, delicate lemon and orange citrus notes, a touch of almonds and a light, leafy freshness.  The palate is clean and zesty but is beautifully complemented by hints of vanilla and a touch of raisins.  The finish is soft and mild.

What else did we sample that “risky whisky” evening?

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