Douglas Laing’s Rock Island – Sherry Edition review

What is it about blended scotch and blended malt that turns some people off? Is it the level of the shelves many of them are placed on? Or the low price they are being offered for? Or even the false notion of their lack of quality?

It is true that some blends are not always of the highest provenance, but I could easily say the same of some single malts. And believe you me, you’ll be far more disappointed given the prices so many single malts go for these days.

When I first got into scotch, one of my first bottles was the Johnny Walker Green Label. Bottled above the JW baseline of 40% and even indicating the distilleries that it came from, I really loved this one a lot. Far more than the first bottle of scotch I ever bought (Oban 14).

Then something happened to me. I went through some weird phase where I saw blended scotch as being beneath me. Like it was a lesser product only meant for the newbies. After a year or so of this inexcusable snobbery, I got to know a crowd in the local community who were singing its praises.

After this, I decided to get out of my head and give blended scotch and blended malt another try. I have never looked back. The number of blends I have in my collection is still small, but is steadily growing…and that’s a good thing.

Before I go any further, let’s define some terms. Blended scotch is a mixture of grain and single malt. Blended malt, however, only consists of single malts from different distilleries. Any age statement that is on the tin denotes the youngest whisky that is part of the blend.

In particular, blended malt scotches are going through a bit of a renaissance these days. One of the companies leading the charge is the independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co based in Glasgow. Their Remarkable Regional Malt lineup of blended malts includes Scallywag (Speyside), Big Pete (Islay), Epicurean (Lowlands), Timorous Beastie (Highlands), Gauldrons (Campbelltown) and Rock Island (Islands). Each one exemplifies the character of its respective region, but Rock Island is a little different than the others.

When you talk about a blended malt coming from the Scottish isles, that’s a pretty all inclusive proposition. Traditionally, Rock Island brings in malt from Orkney (read Highland Park), Islay (your guess is good as mine, but there’s probably Caol Ila in there), Arran and Jura. 

The Sherry Edition, sitting in my glass, is not just a sherry cask finish. All of this whisky was matured exclusively in ex-sherry casks. This is an NAS whisky, but the minimum has to be three years. This is bottled at a respectable 46.8%.

Nose: Well, there’s peat in here. Surprisingly, I’m actually getting a lot of notes that remind me of a Ledaig matured in a refill sherry butt. It’s the slight burnt rubber note that’s tipping me off in that direction. But there is no Ledaig in here, so let’s turn off that road. There is definitely quite a “walking out on a tidal flat” note about this. The salty air, the seaweed drying in the sun, crab shells not yet picked clean. A sweet smokiness lurks in the background. Perhaps from a BBQ smoker rather than a campfire. It’s hard to get past these peated whisky notes, but there is some lingering fruitiness in there. Smoked raisins, plums and some lemon peel. There’s just a little bit of the Highland Park heathered peat and honey, but it does become more prominent over time. Earthy spices such as ginger, nutmeg and a hint of clove are in there too. I could nose this all night, but I’m just dying to take a sip!

Pallet: The entry is luscious and oily. Big Seville orange marmalade note right off the bat. My favourite, especially with thick chunks of orange peel. The really good stuff is slightly more sour and bitter than sweet. A good dose of ginger and dark chocolate as well. It’s slightly salty and mineral as well. The development is actually quite light on the peat. It’s mostly a sour note in the form of lemon peel. The influence of the European oak is kept in check by the marmalade and dark chocolate that are carried over from the entry. This is joined by raisins and dark stone fruits along with a good dose of ground cloves. Towards the end of the development, there’s the beginnings of a rich, warm, spice cake fresh from the oven.

Finish: That spice cake note carries over from the development and lingers all the way through the finish. At the end, it’s like a gingerbread cookie you rescued from the oven just in time. All of this helps to balance out the oak. Given the light color of this whisky, I’m not surprised this whisky is not aggressive in that department. A citrus zing and some dark chocolate are also in the mix. There’s a bit of wet ash right at the end.

With water added…

With water, the earthy baking spices and oak start to make their presence more well known. The clove note is really shining here. Interesting. That orange marmalade note, although still present on the entry, actually builds during the development. Now that spice cake is being slathered in marmalade towards the finish. Also, that burnt rubber note follows from the nose now, but it’s not very strong. The finish is pretty much unchanged with no noticeable differences.

Conclusion

I love this whisky both with and without water. I’m not a fan of overly oaked whiskies, but I was actually craving some of it as it was barely present without water.

Personally, I think this would be a great introduction to peated whisky for those that aren’t fond of or want to start to explore the genre. There’s enough peated notes on the nose and pallet to introduce you to the standard flavours without blowing your mind (and taste buds) with iodine, heavy ash and smoke. As an added bonus, the sherry influence adds a good dose of flavours that will be familiar to those that like ex-sherry finished or matured scotch.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to more of what the other Remarkable Single Malts have to offer.

Instagram: @paul.bovis