Douglas Laing Rock Island vs Ledaig 10-year-old

I am desperately trying to get to some sense of normalcy. Even if it’s a routine that is outside the normalcy as I’ve known it up till now. And this pattern, which I established and enjoyed at the end of last year [2021], had me pairing whisky side by side. This was before the almost weekly “sponsored” tastings, and thus I was the captain of my own adventure. So today, I go back to my shelves, pick up a 50ml miniature of Ledaig 10 [okay, it’s not a 30ml dram] and spend about ten minutes searching for what to pair it with. My first choice lands me on the Tobermory 12-year-old – it is indeed the same distillery that makes the smoky Ledaig. But I save that for another time. The next most obvious pick would gravitate me towards peaty whiskies, of course from Islay, but maybe also from beyond. I finally decided on Douglas Laing‘s blended malt they call Rock Island. So let’s see what this tasting brings, but first, you know that we need music! Now playing: 4T ThievesRaven’s Cottage.

A few compulsory stage words. Established in 1948, Douglas Laing is a family-owned independent bottler, lovingly packaging many of my favourite single casks under their Old Particular, XOP, Premiere Barrel, and many other labels. They also do gin, rum, and vodka among the many spirits, but I stick with the Scotch. One of their most interesting ranges is called Remarkable Regional Malts, under which I have discovered and thoroughly enjoyed Big Peat and Timorous Beastie [so far]. I have yet to try The Epicurian and Scallywag. But today, I’m checking out a blend of single malts distilled on “the glorious islands of Islay, Arran, Jura and Orkney (amongst others)“, as the description states, under the Rock Island label. It’s a non-chill filtered and uncoloured small-batch marriage of “most maritime and characterful aged single malts” bottled at a generous 46.8% ABV, and the description of the “wave soaked rocks” and “salty oceanic winds” certainly imparts a lovely bias. It’s pretty fair in colour, almost straw-like or light sand. It’s light and floral on the nose, like a warm summer breeze on the beach. There is, of course, slight peat appearing on the palette, but actually, it’s pretty sweet, especially on the finish. I add a bit of water to break up some of the oils. And now I pick up just a hint of caramel and smoke. With water, it is sweeter and much smoother on arrival, polishing off those rougher bitter edges in the finish. It’s got that Islay character, of course, but it is somewhere behind the curtains like a capricious child playing “hide and seek” – I wish for it to come out so that we could end this silly game.

I now come to Ledaig 10-year-old from the core range. You either hate or love this single malt, and let’s just say that I don’t loathe it. That being said, I have an unfortunate bottling of Ledaig’s 20-year-old distillery exclusive finished in Moscatel casks – and it has since gone off. No matter what I do with it or how I blend it, it tastes like rotten grape juice mixed with scotch. It almost turned me off to this delicious single malt altogether, but thankfully I’ve persevered. Actually, it was all due to the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar that made me try the Ledaig once again. And here it is compared against the Ardbeg 10-year-old. Hailing from the Isle of Mull (the one that may be missing from Rock Island), this is an uncoloured non-chill filtered single malt produced from peated barley at 30-40ppm. There’s almost woodsy peat here on the nose with just a hint of iodine and brine. And visibly darker and thicker in viscosity than the Rock Island while still remarkably smooth at 46.3% ABV. I think about adding water, but after the first sip not so sure. I put the glass down and take a gulp of sparkling water (as I do between each tasting), and it is somewhat strange: the water has that medical aftertaste. But let’s return back to the dram – no, I’m afraid I won’t add any water to it. I like it as it is, full and round on arrival, with a perfect balance of sweetness and smoke. I really should explore the older bottlings and stay away from Moscatel and other wine imparted casks [for example, I see there are Ledaig Rioja Finish and Amarone Finish casks – nope, not for me].

So there you have it, folks – another lovely tasting. I’ve got a slight dilemma to resolve. I feel that if I pair Ledaig with an unpeated whisky, it may take up the prize. I’m partial to the smoke, and hence there is that bias. This is a theory I should perhaps explore in later times. But if I pair Ledaig alongside Islay output, it may fall slightly short of all that peaty punch that I so crave. Again, perhaps I’ll try it side by side with Lagavulin next time. But in this pairing, I believe the choice was fair, and with that bit, I’ll say that Ledaig wins this round.

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