In good spirits
Douglas Laing & Co is a third-generation family business and has been creating artisan Scotch Whisky since 1948
When people hear the word ‘Scotch’ the first word that comes to mind is likely to be ‘whisky’. One company that has been at the forefront of this has been artisan Scotch producers Douglas Laing & Co. Established by Fred Douglas Laing in 1948 the business may have changed during that period but it remains very much a family affair as Commercial Director Chris Leggat recalls: “When the business was first founded it was all about blended Scotch and there was massive global demand for it. Then when Fred’s son Frederick Hamilton Laing joined from White Horse Distillers and Whyte and Mackay he brought the single cask side of the business to life as people wanted premium brands. Now we are in the third generation and the emphasis is on blended malts, or ‘vatted malts’ as we call them in the industry.”
Douglas Laing sources fine single malts from selected distilleries, carefully selects the wood for the barrels before allowing the drink to rest in the warehouse; as Chris explains this is a crucial part of the process: “Quality is paramount, there may be a premium to pay for it but we believe this comes first.”
As is tradition oak casks are used. This is due to the fact that this is a ‘pure wood’ as opposed to pine or rubber trees, allowing the strong flavours to pass through as the spirit matures, while at the same time providing an additional element from the material itself to add to the overall taste experience. With a single malt this is one single distilled drink from the source whereas a blend can be a mix of anything from 15 to 50 different types. The spirit takes three years to mature and then it is ready to be bottled and distributed. As Chris reiterates: “We have great fun in this arena and the skill is in the blending!”
Chris outlines the difference between a single and blended malt, giving insight into the process as he does so: “Blended malts are better in my opinion,” he states, “A single is like an instrument. For example if you have a violin and you start playing it can produce a wonderful sound. However with the blend this is more like a full orchestra, offering the full range of music and giving you the best possible experience as the percussion, strings and so forth all play together. We believe that by putting these various regional ingredients in one product we are offering the ultimate taste of the local area that they represent, for example our Scallywag Malt is sourced from the Macallan, Glenrothes and others, creating a level of quality and depth epitomising the Speyside region.”
Essentially the process is one of experimentation. As with wine grapes a different region can have its own character and when these spirits are put together some may be more compatible than others. Therefore it is important for a producer to know what tastes work before a product goes out to market.
There are various views on the ‘right’ way to enjoy a dram. One that often results in disagreements is whether or not you should add water or ice to your single or blend, with some arguing that excessive ice can impair it while others suggest that you should only use a few drops so the spirit is not too diluted. Fortunately Chris has a very simple way to settle this particular debate: “Drink it however you like!” he laughs, before adding: “Sometimes cask strength whisky needs a little water to open up the flavour. Just remember that if you do add too much water all you need to do is add some more whisky!”
Traditionally a Scotch is thought of as something you have after dinner, however this does not necessarily have to be the case. As with wine, Chris demonstrates that certain whiskies can work well when paired with certain foods: “ Our Highland Malt Timorous Beastie has a honey-like quality that matches a good cheese perfectly, while Scallywag has a heavy sherrylike maturation that works well with dark chocolate. The best match is our maritime Rock Oyster with shellfish, including oysters, a marriage made in heaven!” he declares.
Chris believes that Scotland has the edge when it comes to producing whisky due to its climate and facilities: “We have a nice, steady climate that’s not too cold in the winter or hot in the summer so this works well when it comes to a consistent and controlled maturation process.” On top of benefiting from the Scottish weather Chris also feels that the company itself has a few advantages over other producers: “We are a passionate family business with history and heritage. Our stocks are phenomenal and we will continue to invest there. We also won some innovator awards recently that are a nice stamp of approval. Ultimately I think we offer a unique opportunity, a fun and informative package combined with the fact we are super serious and transparent about whisky,” he proclaims. In recent times there was some concern due to reduced demand in China, though Chris insists that this has not been an issue for its business: “Some markets are flat or at a two per cent decline but for us we are experiencing 20 per cent year on year growth for the last three years so personally in our case the market continues to remain strong with a positive outlook for the future.”
Indeed the company is looking to further strengthen its presence in foreign markets: “We just recruited a new regional manager to help us deliver more growth in the bigger Asian markets like Taiwan and Japan. The USA is also set to become a much larger market so we will be preparing our supply and stocks for that,” he declares.
In order to meet this increased demand Douglas Laing is making a series of investments and developments: “Brand wise we are going to be growing our Remarkable Regional Malts alongside some exciting new marketing programmes and limited editions. Meanwhile back in our HQ we are going to be moving to an allencompassing site that will include a new office, bottling hall, warehouse and distillery in Glasgow, all of that should be complete sometime in 2019,” he outlines.
This represents an exciting period for Douglas Laing & Co as it builds on the experience of the past as well as creating the facilities to safeguard its future. Chris sums it up pretty succinctly when he says: “We aren’t standing still!”