Provenance: Islay (Scotland)
Typology: Blended Scotch Whisky
Ageing barrels: Ex-Bourbon, finished in ex-Cognac and ex-Sherry
Additional coloring: No
Owner: Douglas Laing
Average price: € 280.00
Official website: www.douglaslaing.com
I return to the blog after a long absence with a very special subject for a review, celebrating the first day of the new year (and hopefully much better than the previous one).
This isn’t the first time Douglas Laing and his most famous creation, Big Peat, have been featured on the blog, so I’m going to skip the pleasantries and get straight down to this precious spirit. It’s a venerable blend of Islay single malts, sourced only from single casks at least thirty-three years old, selected to show what Big Peat’s recipe can do with significant maturation.
Because it might not seem like enough, Douglas Laing decided to subject the blend to a special finishing in Cognac and Sherry casks before bottling it at 47.2% proof.
By the way, be warned: this is a very limited edition of just 1,500 bottles for this 2020, sold at an already very important list price of over €280.
To the eye, it’s a pale straw yellow, only slightly veiled by golden reflections, testifying to the absence of coloring.
On the nose, it immediately demonstrates an elegance of the highest level. The Cognac and Sherry casks have done their duty in a truly delicate and evocative way. The peach dominates, both in the fruity and floral versions, then the orange flavoured cream, there is a mineral note, of petricore and limestone, finally a small oxidative and briny tip.
The entry on the palate is off-putting: it seems very light, so drinkable that you could almost make the mistake of swallowing it without tasting it. And that would be a serious crime because you would not be able to fully understand its very particular taste-olfactory structure. This whisky has a very fine balance between the tannic and astringent scents of noble wood typical of venerable whiskies, the unmistakable peated scents of Islay malts in a particularly ethereal vein, and buttery and malty notes sprinkled with grains of salt and touches of umami (back to the brine). Then tropical fruit and smokiness, grilled pineapple and tropical fruit flesh like mango and papaya. There is a further touch of umami reminiscent of soaps and oriental scents, such as sandalwood.
Keeping it in the glass it evolves, the nose becomes less elegant leaving room for melted butter, and in the mouth the more herbaceous and olive peat notes begin to dominate. The finish is always long, structured on all these scents that combine and intertwine in a very characteristic persistence…
…but the whole thing is very, very rarefied. Despite the 47% alcohol content, the whisky seems distant: with each sip you have to work and concentrate to bring it back down to Earth, to the presence of our palate. Obviously, it’s not meant to be an easy, immediate dram, but even with great profusion of effort, the more complex scents could be alien (sandalwood, for example) and very, very different from the classic Big Peat style. Moreover, its cost and rarity make it a whisky that is difficult to categorise and recommend, but this doesn’t mean we should curb our curiosity.
Given that there are still a few samples around, it’s certainly one of those experiences that should be had at least once in a lifetime. Perhaps on the most auspicious day of the year, when the feverish anticipation for the future mixes with nostalgia for the past, and sometimes you seek a taste experience beyond all expectations. Don’t eat too much though, otherwise your taste buds may be too saturated to appreciate it fully! On the contrary, but perhaps only for the more daring, it seems to me an excellent “aperitif” to open the festive celebration.
Other bottlings in the blog:
Big Peat Christmas Edition 2020