On 10th December, whilst rushing through the city of Chester to get some last minute inspiration for Christmas presents, I stumbled into a fine establishment on Watergate Street called Corks Out. It was not the first time that I’d been to this place, but it was the first time that I’d been able to explore the shop thoroughly (for present ideas for someone else of course…), and it turned out to be a great chance encounter. Whilst closely examining their whisky stock, I overheard some chatter from the bar area about an upcoming tasting. Having quizzed the shop assistant, I discovered that it was in fact preparations for a free whisky tasting that evening! Flash forward several hours and I found myself back in the shop with a tactical bellyful of grub.
The rep, Ellie from Cellar Trends, was acting on behalf of Douglas Laing for the evening and she had brought the four whiskies that comprise the Douglas Laing Remarkable Regional Malts range, along with an Asbach brandy and the Canadian ice wine, Neige. Ellie certainly knew her stuff and happily told me all about the Douglas Laing family business as independent bottlers, and whilst I was aware of Big Peat and the business’ limited single cask bottlings, I was not aware of these other blended offerings, so I was all ears.
Before even cracking into the drams available, it was clear to see that the marketing and packaging of these whiskies were strong. Again, I was aware of Big Peat and the marketing behind it, but the other 3 in the range had a distinctive look about them, and almost looked as if they’d fit on a Victorian medicine cabinet. I was told that the design work is put together by Cara Laing, daughter of current owner Fred Laing Jr, and, personally, I think she has done a fantastic job (see also their Old Particular whisky’s branding).First up for tasting was the Rock Oyster. This is a blend of Scottish Island malts with components from Jura, Arran, Orkney and a bit of Islay. This was the lightest dram of the evening, and obviously the best place to start. It had a distinctive salty and fresh nose, which carried on through the taste with honey-like sweetness and a late, faint peaty warmth. The finish was fresh and fairly quick but that lovely peat lingered. Shame the sample didn’t last that long…
Next was their highland blend, Timorous Beastie. This was another light dram but with a fair few more tastes fighting for prevalence with a full, fruity nose and a bit of sweet spice on the taste. This was a very well balanced dram with the original malt tastes coming through. Like the Rock Oyster, the Timorous Beastie, is bottled in small batches and released at 46.8% without colouring or chill-filtration. The key parts here hail from Dalmore, Blair Athol, Glen Garioch and Glengoyne – which are all pretty damn fine distilleries. The name incidentally is a Rabbie Burns reference and might just influence me to get some in for January 25th!Next up was their Speyside blend, Scallywag and this dram seemed to have even more flavours and smells fighting for pole position. I was told that the main component here is from Macallan and it was helped on the way by being casked in sherry butts, and that was clearly the forerunner on the nose. This thing smelt like Christmas. It was a little more syrupy than the 2 before it and it had a rich fruity sweetness from start to finish. The power of suggestion won me over when my evening’s guide suggested dark chocolate too. This was an enjoyable dram, and I think one that should be savoured and enjoyed slowly. This was 46% ABV and was again a purer dram for being non-chill-filtered and without any colouring. The fact that it contains Mortlach and Glenrothes would also mean that it would catch the eye of fond Speysiders.
The last dram was old friend Big Peat. I’ve enjoyed this dram before but amidst other peaty monsters, and on its own it certainly delivered, and was, with no disrespect to the others, easily my favourite of the evening. To be fair, anything that contains Ardbeg would probably win me over, but this blend of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and a dash of the liquid gold from Port Ellen was the bees’ knees on the night. As a dram, it simply delivers peat throughout, but still remains quite fresh and light enough to leave you wanting more, rather than the full peaty blockbusters that can leave you shaking and savouring just the one as a night cap.
The pleasant company, relaxed atmosphere and cool surroundings of the Corks Out store made this a very enjoyable encounter, and being able to taste and talk through the decent and different drams one-on-one made me appreciate it even more (along with the brandy and ice wine, which were also pleasant to boot). At an average of £46 per bottle, these are definitely more premium blends than your standard supermarket fodder, but, having tasted them, I can safely say that you are getting your money’s worth.