Douglas Laing is one of the (very few) prominent indie blenders the Scotch Whisky industry has to offer. Where the star of the show – Compass Box – is pretentious and high-falootin’, Douglas Laing is laid back and rough around the edges. Their branding feels a little… odd, somewhat try-hard, and ends up feeling like one inappropriate dad-joke after another. But beneath the occaisionally horrific bottle artwork (ugh, Big Peat) and the comfy-old-socks brand identity, you’ll find blended expressions that cover every major Scotch style the Land of the Brave has to offer.
Much like Compass Box, they specialise in a core range of NAS, naturally presented expressions with specific flavour profiles. Every now and again, they decide to cash in on the whisky-nerd-hysteria and release a limited bottling with an age statement or some other selling point – “Christmas” editions of their infamous Big Peat expression, for example. Depending on your perspective this is either shameless marketing or a real treat for whisky aficionados.
(As an aside, if there’s one piece of advice I’d ever give to a budding whisky enthusiast it would be this: choose one. Choose one distillery, brand or blending house to become a fanboy of, to prevent yourself from shelling out too much of your hard earned cash money on every over-excited limited release that hits the shelves.)
Scallywag is their sherried expression, with Macallan being one of the flagship components. This limited release – with a 13-year age statement – is 100% sherry cask matured, dark as hell, bottled at 46%, and dripping in Christmas Spirit. Here we go!
Ruby red, with an orange haze.
At first schnaaf you’d be forgiven for thinking this was weak. Watered down. Pitiful. Fischer Price. However a little time in the glass and Scallywag 13 opens its doors on to… olfactory vistas. Aromatic horizons. Marmalade. Apricots. Mince pies. Chocolate raisins. Paprika. Light aniseed. But despite these lovely aromas, the nose can barely foreshadow the taste that comes…
Lord, is that you?
Yes my son. Open your eyes.
No! I cannot, lest I be blinded. The light…
All will be well, have faith. Your vision shall be restored.
It cannot be!
There’s a little trick I’ve learned over the years. If I find that my eyes close involuntarily while drinking whisky, it’s a good sign. The sensory overload accompanied by an incredible dram means one’s body naturally tries to shut out light and sound in fear of running the brain into meltdown. This is one of those whiskies. Rapture.
Perfect, perfect sherry casks. Not too sweet, not too dry – like the middleground between Pedro and Oloroso. Ultra complex, deep, chewy, delicious. Three glasses in and I’m already struggling to type to describe what I’m tasting. It’s… the dream dessert. Like ice cream, creme brûlée and chocolate mousse had a forbidden lovechild. A sweet – but not too sweet! – toffee and candy apple richness.
A mild nuttiness creeps through on the finish – almonds, sunflower seeds. Something oceanic – anchovies without the salt. Seaweed. Salmon.
THE PERFECT STRENGTH. So balanced it hurts. Better even, than (oh Lordy Lordy Lord) the Spice Tree. Perfection. As I type this I’ve been varying between knocking it back like orange juice and finding it too overwhelming. Wow, that’s strong – does it need water? NO FOOL! It’s far too drinkable. Wait, what are you talking about? This stuff is intense, playa – smack some water in there. Nooooo!
Heaven. I’m a believer.
It seems ludicrous, at face value: One of my favourite whiskies, of all time, is one from a fairly obscure blending outfit with a monocle-wearing dog on the bottle. Grandpas drink this stuff because “the dog is cute”, or whatever.
Scallywag 13 is the best sherry monster I’ve ever tasted, and, at the time of writing, one of the most enjoyable whiskies I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling. While not quite at the level of pure enlightenment bestowed by the one and only Highland Park 25, Scallywag 13… is… (gulp) a close second. Woah. Woah ho ho. There goes my “cred”.
Fuckit. This stuff is a unbelievably well composed, masterfully blended and brilliantly balanced. While cask strength sherry monsters might get all the attention (Glenfarclas 105, Aberlour Abunadh) Scallywag 13 effortlessly shows that strength isn’t everything – it’s the recipe that counts. Well played, Douglas Laing – those legions of red nosed, whisky-addled octogenarians on your staff seriously know their stuff.
Must try, must own. Wowza!