A DAY IN THE LIFE.. FRED LAING.
Since I started this series I have been very lucky to get some great names on board, but today’s guest is rather special.. I am sure virtually everyone who reads this article will have sampled the delights that Douglas Laing give us, the quality of product is second to none, and to get the Man behind the product to take part is very humbling..
The company was first established in 1948 by Fred Douglas Laing, before splitting in 2013.. Douglas Laing is an independent bottler who specialise in selecting and bottling the finest whisky Scotland has to offer..
I now hand you over to the man behind the company..
The one and only Fred Laing…
So, knowing that there is no such thing in my life as a “typical day” , I have combined 2-3 days into this crammed example, which starts, depending totally upon what I got up to the night before. In this case it was a tough game of squash, so no alcohol crossed my lips , but it could have been more of a night out with clients or ( a wilder one with)the boys with whom I play Squash and ski…….. and they are all a bit younger than me, so I have to work hard to keep up with them- in all departments ! The company is sponsoring the Whitecraigs Squash Club this year ( I’m the 2nd team captain !) and I have just signed off the new design of the team T shirts. Understated it is not, so when ready, I will copy you on it , if you want.
For the last 45 years, working here at Douglas Laing & Co has meant I would normally be in our tasting room around 7.00 AM. By that time I have already showered, shaved and walked Cooper our Fox Terrier , “the face of” Scallywag then I normally start to review between 5-8 different Malt or Grain casks, to consider or negate for single cask bottling .If the quality is what we seek then I write appropriate tasting notes , a real fun labour of love which takes me back to my roots and these days of working before joining the family business.
Since that first apprenticeship in Whyte & Mackay back in the 60’s when Major Hartley Whyte was my first boss , followed by a second served at White Horse Distillers with , amongst others, Mr Gardiner Ferrier the Master Blender, I have been fascinated by the blender’s skill , which is absolutely integral to the sales and commerce that subsequently spins out of his craft. When I later joined my Dad (Fred Douglas Laing/FDL) here at Douglas Laing & Co in 1972, he and I regularly worked on the blends at different ages. At the same time as contributing to company sales, we enjoyed the Director’s perks and benefits which went with working with some great old Scotch stocks being used within the “hot” 25-30 years old blend market of the Far East/Pacific Rim/Duty Free, relevant at that time.
Now that my daughter Cara , previously Brand Manager of Jura and subsequently Bowmore, and her husband Chris- formerly in charge of Suntory Sales for Europe- are both working here, I need only three days every week in the Tasting Room . Beyond my own selections, Jan Beckers, our Malt Ambassador and Cara with Chris also choose preferred casks, writing tasting notes for each one offered from our Provenance, Old Particular, Xtra Old Particular(XOP) and Clan Denny brands. It’s something we all rather like doing as it’s our first personal contact with clients and consumers- you can see our (bracketed) initials at the end of all tasting notes and check if you agree with them…….we acknowledge you may not, as we believe the consumer is the best judge of what personally suits his/her palate and taste . We have carried out those tasting notes since 2002 on all single cask bottlings , because certain nameless markets made it very clear (by the complaints they sent in) that they could not tell the difference between a Laphroaig and a Macallan !
So I have just left the Tasting Room and selected a wonderful wee cask of Cambus 25 year Grain (aromatic, citric and massively sugared and honeyed) together with an 18 year cask of Highland Park (incredibly sweet, toasty, cereal based and honied). Today was a light , but FUN, selection session- but I still need my breakfast of porridge, sugared with milk, but no more Scotch……. at my desk now checking out, and replying to emails. Amongst other things, a South African collector has asked the value of one of our 25 years old King of Scots ceramic decanters which we released (and I had designed !) back in the 1980’s ……… but we sold so many of them back then that it’s probably only worth a little more than its original retail price of $95. We have just set up an appointment next week with one of the distillers for an overview of business to date, and to give first indications of our 2017 filling programme. Beyond that, we have now received the all important 2nd order for all our Remarkable Regional Malts (Big Peat, Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster ,Epicurean and Scallywag ) from the USA – with all indications that the Argentinian Authorities have now approved their sale down there too. That’s great- that’s what it’s all about ! It’s all very commercial amongst the artisan and old fashioned side of the business- but that is what makes my world go around.
An American importer/retailer is with us over a quick sandwich lunch today. He needs to select replacement stocks for his Old Particular bottlings- so we have an array of sample bottles for him to nose, taste and select. As the USA bottles must carry 75 cls he cannot select from our 70 cls stock which is more commonly used through other markets. We have a nice range from each different region for him to sample , including some of the old , now closed Garnheath Grain, for which we still have some stock from days when FDL was buying it to blend into the King of Scots. (Finishing this overview a few days after starting it, I can tell you we sold the American that Garnheath 42 years old cask , with a half cask Laphroaig 27 years -restricted by us- and a Sherry matured Blair Athol 20 years old).
Talking of the Garnheath ,thank goodness some of FDLs’ future sales guesstimates were a little wrong – which is very beneficial for us today – as we see the Grain sector continuing to grow . This is great for us , coming from a blending background with some fine old (up to 52 year) Grain stocks in house. A good number are from silent stills like Dumbarton , Cambus and Port Dundas at interesting and distinctly characterful ages, all showing the vanilla, maple syrup, citrus and spices so typical of the Grains over 25-30 years of age.
My 4th wee espresso around 4 pm today sees me checking out with Cara and Jenny what progress we are making on different “special bottlings” . The Big Peat Christmas pack this year carries all the Malts of Islay and has just been released, whilst the freshly released 40 years old version of Timorous Beastie has just sold out , with enough speed of sales to justify another old , but slightly different, Malt Blend to follow. (I do so prefer the illegal terminology “Vatted Malt” to the legal “Malt Blend”). That new vatting will be my next job , but it’s for tomorrow ………………because now I can head home , just before the rush hour as I am due on Squash court for pre season training at 7.00 – not bad for an old git!- which neatly takes me back to my first paragraph.
I would like to thank Fred for taking time to participate in this feature and for continually giving us great whisky for us to savour..