Back in 2009, the indie bottlers Douglas Laing launched their first instalment in what has become the revered “Remarkable Regional Malts” series. That release was none other than Big Peat – a blended malt scotch whisky, featuring purely Islay single malts – namely Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, and the long-departed Port Ellen distillery.
Off the back of the success of the grizzly Big Peat character, came Scallywag in 2013 – a blend of Speyside single malts. The terrier-branded blended malt was then succeeded by Timorous Beastie in 2014 representing a blend of Highland single malts, followed by Rock Oyster (now Rock Island) covering the Islands. In 2016, the series gained another character by way of The Epicurean who represented the Lowlands single malt makers. Finally, the 6th and last of the traditional scotch regions, Campbeltown, has been now gained representation courtesy of Douglas Laing’s The Gauldrons. Why this name? Well…
“Occupying a remote location, even by Campbeltown’s standards, on the extreme west coast of Scotland, ‘The Gauldrons’ literally means ‘Bay of Storms’. But it’s not just the dark storm clouds gathering out in the Atlantic that set the pulse racing here and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end…
As you step onto The Gauldrons’ fine, clean sand, you also step back in time. In the distance is where a spider building it’s web with great patience but great difficulty inspired King Robert The Bruce to try, try, and try again. Having been defeated by his enemies, all around, you can sense the ghosts of the long lost distilleries that once proudly proclaimed Campbeltown “Scotland’s Whisky Capital”.
Classically Campbeltown in style, Douglas Laing’s The Gauldrons takes you down the long and winding road, over moorland, past now abandoned distilleries and villages to one of the most isolated whisky outposts in the world.”Douglas Laing – The Gauldrons
Whilst it is not confirmed on the packaging, The Gauldrons must therefore be comprised of at least 2 single malts of the remaining Campbeltown distilleries from the former “whisky capital”, so you’d think Springbank, Glen Scotia, and/or Glengyle (Kilkerran) would feature.
Each of the Remarkable Regional Malts have a ‘standard’ no-age-statement bottling, which feature the signature profiles from those traditional regions bottled around 46% ABV. Beyond those bottlings, there are numerous variations of the regional blends, featuring age statements, cask strength editions, or certain cask finishes.
The bottle reviewed here is the ‘standard’ release of The Gauldrons – specifically Batch 6 – and it has been bottled at 46.2% ABV and is readily available via Douglas Laing directly and various decent retailers.*
* If somewhere stocks Douglas Laing, I generally consider them to be “decent”
Quite sweet but musty upfront. A real medley of flavours jumping out: sweet, salty, fresh, funky, oaky, and spicy. Cinder toffee and milk chocolate are the first flavours I can pick out from the crowd. It has little flashes of fruit like sharp apples and lemon slices. A bit of maritime sea salt / salinity and oak spice bring a savoury salt and pepper combo to it too. It’s a really inviting and intriguing nose that is actually stopping me from going straight to drinking it straight away.
The first thing I notice before any real flavours hit is the syrupy sweet coating of the tongue that this whisky delivers. It then has a caster sugar / icing sugar sweet style start, and has a strong vanilla flavour that brings ice cream to mind. The oak cask spices then start to ramp up and bring a white peppery fizzle to the whole mouth. There’s also a slightly perfume-y sweetness that reminds me of parma violets too. It doesn’t sound too attractive but there is also a sort of dusty flavour to it too that really starts to conjure mental images of an old fashioned sweet shop(pe).
That cinder toffee note really stands out and lingers. Weirdly though – the more you drink, the more that the salt and pepper fizzle takes over and even leaves behind a touch of smoke.
I like this a lot. It seems to bring a lot to the table. As you can tell from the notes above it has many contrasting influences and flavours, without ever really compromising one from another. What I mean is that it really has that savoury meets sweet thing working for it. It is a lot like salted caramel in that sense: Why would adding something so savoury and… well… salty to a deliciously sweet treat make it so moreish? I’m not sure of the science behind it, but it works. Same applies to this whisky. You have a vanilla and toffee set of sweet flavours that are countered / complemented by the maritime seasalt style flavour and the peppery oak spice. The texture is syrupy and sweet but still remains fresh and light. It has a clean sugary body but then some dusty/musty funk and complexity. The flavours mostly have a white sugar vs white salt thing going on but then there are these little flashes of fruity complexity with the apple and lemon notes and even a little hint of smoke at the end. Intriguing.
Unfortunately, I would say that I have not tried enough Campbeltown whisky to determine if this is always the case for traditional whiskies from the area, but this whisky is really making me think about exploring Campbeltown whiskies some more.
I have said it before but I love what Douglas Laing have done with their Remarkable Regional Malts series. I tend to react adversely to marketing BS on the back of a bottle, but I do find The Gauldrons’ story to be really interesting. It may seem a far fetched concept at first glance, but if this whisky is to represent an area, then exploring and celebrating a little local history should be encouraged. And that bottle itself is class too. The Douglas Laing team have once again done a cracking job with the branding on this one. The gold on black imagery is classic and bold, whilst beautifully tying the in the spider and cobweb theme to bring something edgy that would readily fit Halloween or just stand out on your whisky shelf or cabinet (in a good way) any time of the year to be honest.
Back to its contents and this really is an intriguing and inviting whisky. It just begs to be explored more and I have happily done so – and will continue to do so.
Sample disclosure: This bottle was gratefully received as a gift from my family. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky itself, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.