douglas laing 75th anniversary

Port Ellen / King of Scots / Speyside’s Finest (Douglas Laing 75th Anniversary)

Douglas Laing is one of the finest independent bottlers we have, and just recently they celebrated their 75th Anniversary. Quite the feat that was celebrated with a number of Xtra Old Particular Single Cask Diamond releases, including the Port Ellen 40 Years and Speyside’s Finest 55 Years we’re reviewing today. As a bonus, we’ll also be tasting the new King of Scots 50 Years.

douglas laing 75th anniversary xtra old particular diamond set
The entire line-up of Xtra Old Particular Single Cask Diamond releases

Whisky is a family affair for Douglas Laing, an independent bottler from Glasgow founded in 1948. The company is currently led by the second and third generations. Director of Whisky Cara Laing was born into whisky, and she generously spent some time with me and a few other drinks journalists to talk us through the 75th Anniversary of Douglas Laing.

cara laing fred laing charles maclean
Cara Laing (middle) with whisky writer Charles MacLean (left) and her father Fred Laing (right)

Cara conducted a virtual tasting (like it was 2020 again) and shared some interesting details on the below 75th Anniversary releases. The range is a show of force not many other whisky companies are capable of. Other than the whiskies we’ve tasted, the Xtra Old Particular Single Cask Diamond Set consists of a Blair Athol 30 Years, Macallan 35 Years, Port Dundas 45 Years and Cameronbridge 45 Years.

kings of scots 50 years douglas laing 75th anniversary

King of Scots 50 Years (46%, Douglas Laing ’75th Anniversary’, 2023)

King of Scots is the blend that started it all. Having served in the RAF during World War II, founder Fred Laing Snr (full name Fred Douglas Laing) encountered the American owners of the King of Scots brand, then established in New York. This blend, reportedly with a higher malt content than usual, was first created in 1886. Laing Snr initially was asked to accommodate bottling and shipping of King of Scots from the Glasgow docks, but soon acquired the brand along with a handful of casks, which was enough to last him a year.

It was to be the start of Douglas Laing, but replenishing stocks for his newly obtained blend was difficult in post-war Scotland. Through determination and sheer relentlessness Laing Snr was able to set up small filling programmes with distilleries, most of them without any written contracts. Remarkably, many of these handshake deals are still in place, even after some of the distilleries were taken over by bigger companies.

King of Scots is no longer the backbone of Douglas Laing, but is still an important part of the company’s heritage. It makes sense to highlight this with the King of Scots 50 Years, a limited edition launched for the bottler’s 75th Anniversary. It consists of about a 50/50 mix of malt and grain whisky. “A few people have raised their eyebrows when I’ve said that before, because it’s amazing how the grain character comes through quite strongly,” Cara mentioned.

The malt content consists of two Speyside whiskies of around 53 to 54 years old, “one with far more sherry heritage apparent.” Douglas Laing used a larger variety of grain whiskies of up to 60 years old, including North British, Cambus and Invergordon.

Nose: Grain character comes through strong. There’s lots of butterscotch, some crème brûlée, and ripe banana. There are some jammy apricots too, with a bit of dark caramel in the background, accompanied zesty oranges and leathery oils. Also walnuts and maybe even a bit of rancio.
Taste: Hints of aceto di balsamico alongside more traditional grain whisky flavours such as orange marmalade, toffee and butterscotch. Slivers of mead too, as well as a pinch of cracked peper, some vanilla custard and dried fruits.
Finish: Medium length with charred oak, chestnuts and lingering notes of butterscotch.

Maybe the best grain whisky I’ve ever had, except the King of Scots 50 Years isn’t a grain whisky. It’s just that the grain elements are dominant, but there’s a depth to this that maybe reveals the malt influence.

speyside finest 55 years 1967 douglas laing 75th anniversary 17773

Speyside’s Finest 55 Years 1967 (52.5%, Douglas Laing ’75th Anniversary’, C#17773)

The Speyside’s Finest 55 Years was distilled at a “family-owned Scotch whisky company.” While Cara wasn’t allowed to confirm it, I can say with a high degree of certainty this is a Glenfarclas. It matured in a sherry butt, though there’s no information on the exact oak type, as is often the case with these older bottlings.

“There’s such limited detail on these casks because they’re so old. The records are all a bit sketchy beyond that this is a single sherry butt. Now we keep a phenomenal inventory of where our casks have been sourced from. And when. Was it charred or anything before?

“But when we go this far back? We refer to a lot of single casks we bottle as a refill hogshead. But then you look at the colour and you taste the whisky, and it clearly spent most of its life in a sherry cask. It’s just that we have to mention the last cask it was in. Which in this case means a single sherry butt.”

Nose: A big, rich sherry-matured whisky with full-on notes of treacle, blackcurrants and cherry syrup, but also mint and eucalyptus.It is Armagnac-ish in some ways. Then notes of cocoa powder, plums, some orange zest. A little more candy-esque the longer it is in the glass. And finally touches of soy too.
Taste: The comparison with mature Armagnac holds. No word on the oak type, but European would be my guess. Bold oak spices, some tannins too, but balanced with milk chocolate, some balsamic and a whispers of star anise. A good amount of oranges, as well as some tangerines.
Finish: Medium to long. Somewhat dry, hints of menthol, syrupy fruits, berries, dark chocolate. You get the gist.

Immensely good whisky. Certainly more than worthy of the occasion it was bottled for. The Speyside’s Finest 55 Years is one of those whiskies that keeps on giving, and one dram should probably enjoyed over the course of a multitude of hours.

port ellen 40 years 1982 douglas laing 75th anniversary 17544

Port Ellen 40 Years 1982 (59.1%, Douglas Laing ’75th Anniversary’, C#17544)

According to Cara her family has a bit of a “weird emotional connection with Port Ellen.” It was never up for debate that they would bottle Port Ellen as part of their anniversary celebrations. It was her grandfather’s favourite distillery.

“We had a lot of enjoyment selecting which Port Ellen we would bottle for our anniversary, because we still have quite a healthy inventory. They’re obviously finite, but we still have a good number of great quality casks of Port Ellen.

“We do not know why the strength is as high as it is. But we quite often find this with our Port Ellens of this age. This one’s up at 59.1 per cent, which for a 40-year-old malt is quite insane. It’s still got a wonderful elegance though, there is no harsh burning quality.”

The Port Ellen 40 Years for Douglas Laing’s 75th Anniversary matured in a refill butt.

Nose: Such elegance. Such class. There’s a sweetness here that betrays it’s sherry heritage. Sugary. Cotton candy. But otherwise it’s Islay that speaks. Mineral notes ( wet pebbles) alongside a coastal breeze, charred lemons, smoked salmon and whispers of almonds. There’s whiffs of hessian too, accompanied by honeyed cereals.
Taste: Mouthfeel is spot on. The salinity is pretty remarkable. There’s a pinch of white pepper, some charcoal, smouldering peat and tangerines. Notes of waxy fruits, a good amount of lemon and some oyster too. Soot and leather too.
Finish: Long. Plenty of gentle peat smoke, but also lingering notes of pepper, a good amount of soot, and gentle orange zest.

Such a treat! This Port Ellen is 40 Years old, but could probably age for many more decades. It's mature and elegant, yet lively and vibrant. Just remarkable how well it holds up.

Samples provided by Douglas Laing

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