Aug 252015
 

Cameronbridge is a real monster in terms of the amount of whisky it produces, we’re talking about 140 million liters per year. This is ten times larger than Glenfiddich, which is the largest malt distillery.

This is the old Haig distillery (hence Diageo naming the single grain brand coming out of Cameronbridge ‘Haig Club’) which opend in 1824, but was producing grain in a Stein column still (built by John Haig’s cousin, Robert Stein) by 1830. Thus, Cameronbridge became the first distillery in the world to distill grain whisky commercially, after Stein’s own attempt at Kirkliston Distillery in 1828 failed. As part of Haig’s, it became part of DCL, and later Diageo, and is today the main grain producing distillery for the drinks giant, who also owns half of North British (as mentioned in my review of the 21 year old North British found here).

Photo Credit: lesfleursdumalt.blog.lemonde.fr

Photo Credit: lesfleursdumalt.blog.lemonde.fr

In addition to the 100 million liters of grain whisky used in Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bell’s, Black & White, Vat 69, Dimple/Pinch (Haig), Haig Club and White Horse, Cameronbridge produces 40 million liters of grain neutral spirit for Diageo’s liqueurs, gins and vodka.

Today’s tasting is of the 25 year old single cask Douglas Laing recently bottled at natural cask strength (60.6% ABV), as part of the new Old Particular Single Grain series just started. I will note that this is a 25 year old whisky was filled from a refill butt, so unless the angels were extremely greedy, only part of this butt actually got bottled in the 282 bottles in this expression, using only slightly under 200 liters:

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain Cameronbridge 25 Year Old, Distilled June 1990, Bottled June 2015, Cask DL10806, 282 Bottles From a Refill Butt (60.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Light gold, legs are very thin and slow forming, ending up leaving a residue of droplets on the glass.

Nose: Honey, grassy, some fresh green leaves, a fabric softener, faint note of apple cider, some paint thinner (typical corn spirit note), and a light spicy note. Water brings out a sharper alcoholic burn (strange, but true) and actually heightens the feinty and grassy notes in the glass. The honey is all but gone. Left covered to rest for a few minutes, it remains leafy and feinty with a whiff of vanilla and custard coming and going.

Palate: Feinty, with paint thinner or solvent melting into honey some faint spice. At 60.6% ABV, this whisky really isn’t intended for drinking without water. With water, it’s bitter and slightly drying, with a light fizz in it, rather like a cognac.

Linger: Before water the linger is quite feinty, leaving a taste that conjures up paint or acetone. With water, there’s some bitter citrus and spice on the palate, and some spice down the gullet. The linger isn’t short and after about 2-3 minutes hints of sweetness return on the finish.

Conclusion

Definitely one of the more complex drams of the quartet, yet I don’t think it’s the one I’d vote for as the best. I think that accolade would go to the Strathclyde (reviewed here).

All in all, the single cask grain project is an interesting extension of the Old Particular brand.

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.

Aug 242015
 

Built by television?

Well, yes…In 1955 Britain entered the television age, and with it, came TV advertising. Only there were no advertisements for Scotch whisky. The reason is the DCL, which pretty much dominated the industry, and it did not want to get into advertising in this new media. Basically, they took the view that if they weren’t going to advertise, nobody in the industry should.

Photo Credit: potstill.org

Photo Credit: potstill.org

That view held fast until 1962, when Grant’s decided to use “the telly” to advertise their ‘Stand Fast’ brand (Today’s Grant’s Family Reserve). In retaliation, DCL was “suddenly overcome” by an unexpected shortage of grain whisky for the following year, and would thus – regrettably – be unable to supply Grant’s with grain whisky in 1963. Charles Gordon, though, wasn’t a man to back down, and he found a suitable site for a grain distillery in Girvan, and had this distillery up and running in nine months flat!

Grant & Sons has recently begun to market aged Girvan grain whisky, and this bottling by Douglas Laing would fit right in the official bottlings. In fact, it would be very interesting to contrast this expression with the Girvan Patent Still 25 year old….

Anyway, on to our tasting:

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain Girvan 25 Year Old, Distilled December 1989, Bottled June 2015, Cask DL10805, 232 Bottles From a Refill Barrel (51.5% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale gold, very slow thin legs.

Nose: Very typical grain with earthy cereal, honey, candied apples from the carnival and some freshly mowed grass. A light hint of sweet spices comes through the sweetness, with a note of toffee.

Palate: Intensely sweet, with some pepper. Subsequent sips tip the sacles toward the pepperiness with the addition of a note of green cardamom and marshmallow.

Linger: A long lingering milky sweetness on the tongue, like after eating panna cotta, and a spicy after taste that lingers without overpowering. It leaves a warmth deep down the gullet for quite a long time.

Conclusion

Of the three I’ve tasted so far (I haven’t tasted the Cameronbridge at the time of writing), the Girvan is the most ‘typical’ grain whisky. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and definitely delivers on a good sipping whisky. It’s not complex, and was really never meant to be…

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.

Aug 222015
 

Strathclyde is Chivas Bros’ grain distillery, operating in Glasgow. The distillery has seven column stills used to produce grain whiksy, and while they also have the capacity to produce neutral spirit, the distillery doesn’t use that feature. The grain whisky is intended for use in the Chivas Bros’ blends.

Strathclyde distillery was founded in 1927 by Seager Evans, who produced gin, and created the Long John Blended whisky which was named after ‘Long’ John McDonald, founder of Ben Nevis.  Of note is the fact that, between 1958 and 1975, they operated a single malt distillery within the Strathclyde factory, named Kinclaith. And while Tormore was Long John’s signature malt, the single malt from Kinclaith was used almost exclusively for the Long John Blends. Kinclaith was dismantled in 1975 to make way for more column stills for grain production after Long John was sold to Whitebread, and Strathclyde made its way to Allied’s hands, eventually becoming part of Pernod Ricard.

The distillery is closed to the public, and anybody with a keen enough interest in the distillery to make a pilgrimage to it, will have to satiate their interest by walking or driving around the distillery, as did this frustrated fan of Strathclyde:

Which brings us to 2015, where Fred Laing went into the vast warehouse of whisky wonders and selected four single cask grains to bottle in their Old Particular range. This is the first foray into bottling Grain whisky under this brand, although a 40 year old Strathclyde has already been bottled under the premium ‘Xtra Old Particular’ label, which replaced (only by name, the bottle design is the same) the ‘Director’s Cut’ label. It seems that the recent bottling of these four grains in the Old Particular range signify a planned move to consolidate the Douglas Laing brands around fewer marketing focal points, one of which being the ‘Remarkable Regional Malts’ (combining the highly popular Big Peat with Scallywag, Timorous Beastie and Rock Oyster) and the other being ‘Old Particular’ as opposed to today’s 12 brands under the Douglas Laing pagoda.

This brings us to the inevitable focal point of this post, the whisky review. This one is fascinating, as given in a blind tasting (in a dark blue glass) I’d swear it was American bourbon. Granted, in Kentucky this would be achieved in less than a tenth of the 27 years this liquid spent in a cask, but hey, this is scotch…

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain Strathclyde 27 Year Old, Distilled September 1987, Bottled June 2015, Cask DL10804, 198 Bottles From a Refill Barrel (51.5% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, thin legs forming rather quickly and rolling down the glass.

Nose: Sweet corn notes – really bourbon like, spice mix with pepper and a note of turmeric and some floral notes.

Palate: Thick, bourbon-y with some oak and a lot of pepper with a pronounced layer of sweetness. In fact, the spiciness and the and sweetness battle for dominance with the spice winning by a margin.

Linger: Starts out sweet, giving way to a light bitter note with dryness on the palate and some spice in the back throat in a rather long linger.

Conclusion

This is a very bourbonesque Scotch grain with a nice lightly bitter finish. That finish is quite endearing.

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.

Aug 212015
 

North British is a 130 year old grain distillery jointly owned by Diageo and The Edrington Group, so you’ll find their grain whisky in both The Famous Grouse and in Johnny Walker (alongside Smirnoff Vodka). The distillery goes through 3300 tons of corn per week (and some malted barley, needed for every grain mash), and the corn is clearly evident from the spirit.

The distillery was founded in 1885 by Andrew Usher, John Crabbie of Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine and William Sanderson of Vat 69, and eventually made its way into the Diageo corporate leviathan. When we talk about malt distilleries, the really big ones (Glenfiddich, Roseisle, Ailsa Bay, Glen Ord and Glenlivet) only produce 10-14 million liters a year. By comparison, North British produces 65,000,000 and Cameronbridge produces more than double that, 140,000,000 liters per year. So these are completely different scales of production.

Photo Credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

Photo Credit: dailyrecord.co.uk

This is the first Old Particular release of single cask grain whisky, and this series of four bottles are all from currently operational distilleries (Edrington and Diageo’s North British 21 year old, Pernod Ricard’s Strathclyde 27 year old, Diageo’s Cameronbridge 25 year old and Grant’s Girvan 25 year old). I got a sneak peek at the selection of the four grain whiskies, and will review them in this weekend series, starting with the North British.

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Photo Credit: douglaslaing.com

Douglas Laing Old Particular Single Cask Grain North British 21 Year Old, Cask DL10797, 294 Bottles From a Refill Hogshead, at Cask Strength (50.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Light hay, thin slow legs with droplets clinging to the glass.

Nose: Corn spirit, vanilla, honey, soft spices (allspice and a shaving of pepper), fresh cookies and the sweet smell of a fairground with cotton candy, corn on the cob and honey roasted nuts with some orange potpourri and a faint note of paint thinner.

Palate: Sour and sweet, with chili pepper and some alcoholic burn and a very light grainy/cereal-y note in the back.

Linger: Light sourness on the palate with the lightest spice high in the throat with a slight salty note remaining.

Conclusion

This is a nice, very typical, grain whisky. The corn in evident on the nose and this is a good gentle sipper, perfect for a summer’s night.

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing & Co.