On the love of whisky, Scotland and the perfect dram

Jan presenting
O Jan Beckers, Global Malt Ambassador of Douglas Laing

Not only does Jan Beckers, the Malt Global Ambassador of Douglas Laing & Co, know everything about Scotch whisky but he also makes a delicious chocolate mousse with peaty whisky! – by Maria Th. Massoura

I met Jan Beckers when he visited Cyprus in order to present Douglas Laing range of whiskies in a series of tastings organized by Spectus in Nicosia, Limassol and Ayia Napa.

The tall Belgian guy, who was wearing the traditional kilt of Scotland, managed to guide us, in two hours’ time, to the wonderful world of the famous Scotch Malt Whisky through a tasting of ten different whiskies bearing the signature of Douglas Laing.

The whiskies we tasted, gave us a very good idea of the work and the philosophy of the Douglas Laing company from Scotland, founded in 1948, which produces special artisan malt whiskies in very limited quantities (the total production of most of whiskeys does not exceed one barrel per kind; that is approximately 300-400 bottles).  The fine range includes Regional Malts, whiskies from 5 regions of Scotland, Single Casks, whisky from a single barrel and a third category that includes Blended, Vatted Malt (i.e. Blended Malt), Single Malt, Single Grain and Cask End whisky.

bottles
The whiskies we tasted that day

During the presentation, we tasted the following ten Malt Scotch whiskies by Douglas Laing:

Provenance – Macduff: An 8 year old single malt, from the Highlands, with flavors of spices, cereals, sweet honey, toffee and a finish of sweet butterscotch.

Provenance – Graigellachie: A 7 year old single malt from Speyside, with complex aromas of spices and wood and tasteful notes of baked cake and molasses.

george nicosia
George Hadjikyriakos, Managing Director of Spectus

ProvenanceAuchentoshan: A 13 year old single malt from the Lowlands, with notes of fruits.

Old Particular –Auchentoshan 1997: An 18 year old single malt, with aromas of citrus, notes of herbs and a taste of barley, gooseberries, white grapes and a finish of sweet spices.

ProvenanceBunnahabhain: An 8 year old single malt from Islay, peaty with light citrus notes.

Ayia Napa Presentation
The tasting seminar in Ayia Napa

Douglas LaingRemarkable Regional MaltsScallywag: A whisky from the Speyside region with a light sweet nature, notes of vanilla, Christmas pudding, dark chocolate and spices.

Particular Old – Glenaachie 1999: A 15 year old single malt, from Speyside with peppery notes, autumn fruits, slightly spicy and sweet at the same time.

Director’s Cut-Glen Garioch 1993: A 22 year old single malt, with delicate spices like star anise and green apples.

XOP (Extra Old Particular) – Capedonish 1994: A 21 year old single malt, with intense spices in nose and exotic fruits with a nice complex aftertaste, with hints of mocha, cookies and butterscotch.

Douglas Laing – Remarkable Regional Malts – Big Peat: A vatted malt from the Isle of Islay, this the epitome of peated whisky! Smoked with sweetness at the same time and a nice aftertaste.

tasting nicosia
The tasting seminar in Nicosia

After the tasting, I had a very interesting face to face chat with Jan Beckers.

 Tell me a bit about your background.

It all started years ago, when I was introduced to spirits by my brothers and brothers in law, when I was about 16. While I was studying engineering in Scotland I was keen in learning how whisky was made. So, I applied for a summer job at one of the distilleries. I started working as a guide for Glenfiddich in ‘98 and I really enjoyed that. I worked for six summers there. During that period of time, I quit my engineering studies and trained as a chef. Something that comes very handy, when you want to do whisky and food pairing. At the same time, a former colleague of mine at Glenfiddich, started working for Douglas Laing, and introduced me to those brands. After 4-5 years she moved to another whisky company, I applied for her position and 8 years ago they offered me the job.

Jan Beckers 2

Tell me a bit about your background.

It all started years ago, when I was introduced to spirits by my brothers and brothers in law, when I was about 16. While I was studying engineering in Scotland I was keen in learning how whisky was made. So, I applied for a summer job at one of the distilleries. I started working as a guide for Glenfiddich in ‘98 and I really enjoyed that. I worked for six summers there. During that period of time, I quit my engineering studies and trained as a chef. Something that comes very handy, when you want to do whisky and food pairing. At the same time, a former colleague of mine at Glenfiddich, started working for Douglas Laing, and introduced me to those brands. After 4-5 years she moved to another whisky company, I applied for her position and 8 years ago they offered me the job.

What does it mean to be a global malt ambassador for the company?

They were a small company, so they were looking for a global malt ambassador. They were looking someone who could identify flavour and tastes in whisky. This is where my chef’s background has helped. My experience with Glenfiddich helped a lot there. I also speak languages and this is helpful as I get to travel the world. From the beginning I was working with them, side by side, for the selection of the casks. Soon, they trusted my judgement and after a point I could pick casks myself.

How is a normal day for you?

When I am in the office, which is 50% of my working time, very often my colleagues from the production site, will arrange a number of samples to be at my desk. When I arrive in the morning, I will start sampling the whisky and see if these whiskies are good for bottling or not. Then my colleagues from marketing will produce content for the websites, so I‘ll write stories and experiences about my trips around the world as well as share recipes about whisky and food.

You are really involved in the whole process…

That’s the great thing about this job! There are a lot of people who do the travelling and do the tastings but are not involved in the actual production of the whisky. I, on the other hand, can dip my finger in the whisky barrel and at the same time talk about the actual whiskies. When you look at the bottles, and see a ‘J’, those are casks that I picked, my tasting notes. If you see an ‘F, these are Fred Hamilton Laing has made. And sometimes you will see a ‘C’, that’s Cara’s selections, Fred’s daughter who is also involved in the selection of the casks.

What is the philosophy of the company?

We try to offer the whisky, as natural as possible. We don’t add colouring, we don’t do chill filtration. Our whiskys are as close as you would get it, when you take a sample straight out of the cask in a warehouse. We try to offer that experience to our consumers, in a single cask range. With our regional malts we try to create and sell whisky by putting together different casks from different distilleries. To create a certain style that we believe that represents the style of that region. Even though it is not 100% that style, because every distillery has its own personal style. But all people can see that Speyside is spicier, Highlands more fresh and fruity, Islay, typically peated whisky and island whisky is more iodine in style.

Directors Cut

You started this job, 8 years ago. What has changed now in comparison to that time?

In production, around out the world, there is better cask management. That means whisky matures very well at shorter speeds than it used to do 20 years ago. So you have more possibilities to have very good whiskies, balanced, full of flavour. Now we also have, more quality control in barrels. That means that you can release whiskies, at a younger age. But a lot of the distilleries are scared to show that young age. For example, we have a 7 years old Graigellachie. A lot of the consumers think that a whisky must be at least 10 years old. Many whisky companies decided not to put the whisky age on it when the whisky is 6, 7, 8 years old even though it is a good whisky. On the other hand, the consumers and the collectors, would like to know how old the whisky is but a lot of companies don’t show it.

Another things that has changed, is that there are also more and more women enjoying whisky. I remember in my first whisky shows, there were 80% men and the women who would join, half of them would be driving the husband, and half of them would actually be interested in whisky. Nowadays, you see groups of women enjoying whisky.

These days whisky is produced widely and in countries such as India and Japan that never had a tradition in whisky-making. What is the position of Scotch whisky in the world today?

Scotch whisky still has that mystical character of the Highlands. While other countries, such as Japan, use similar processes, Scotch is very specific and is associated with single malt and grain whisky. Other countries might experiment more with other cereals, something that is not possible in Scotland, because of the many rules we have. That also makes it more difficult to do innovations. On the other hand, a lot of people, like the idea that Scotch has certain values that can be followed e.g. the casks, the spring water and the cereals that are used and so on. It’s all going back to hundreds of years of tradition.

range
The range of the Douglas Laing whiskies is sold in Spectus, in Limassol and Nicosia

Cocktails are part of a huge trend these days…

Talking about cocktails, something we use very often is Big Peat, a very peated, Islay malt whisky. One of my favourite cocktails is whisky sour, where I replace bourbon with the Big Peat. When you shake the egg white, it gives a nice foamy top, where the foam carries the smokiness of this whisky. Then you get the freshness of the lemon in the cocktail. That drink reminds you a bit of a lemon meringue pie with a burnt effect. It gives extra layers of flavours in your whiskey. With Scallywag, our Speyside, spicy with sherry influence, whisky, I like to make a ‘Scottish mojito’ which is Scallywag, apple juice, ginger beer, a sprig of mint and a slice of orange for garnish. You get the freshness of the mint leaves, the spiciness of the ginger beer and the spiciness of the whisky. It works well in both summer and winter. We also use Rock Oyster, in margaritas, with the tequila, as it is slightly peated, it has more iodine so it adds to the saltiness of the cocktail.

Another trend, is food pairing. Combining food with whisky is something that in Douglas Laing and you because of your chef background, are interested in.

I personally use whisky in food and I use it to pair with food. With Rock Oyster for example, I add a couple of drops in an oyster and have the whisky on the side as well. Rock Oyster is quite balanced so it does not interfere with the delicacy of the oyster. Its saltiness/sweetness works well with seafood in general. I make a chocolate mousse using Big Peat, but I‘ll never share the recipe though!

What are you looking for in a whisky?

It depends on the whisky and my mood. Sometimes you want something really rich and heavy, a nice sherry-matured Islay whisky for example. It can be overwpowering so you are happy just to have the one dram. Sometimes, you are sitting at a table with friends and you want to keep the conversation going so you want a nice bourbon-matured Speyside whisky. It depends on how you are feeling, the time of the day and who are you sharing the whisky with.

Jan and George
Ο Jan Beckers και ο Γιώργος Χατζήκυριακος

The range of the Douglas Laing & Co whiskies, is sold in Spectus in Nicosia( 2, Kipselis, off Kennedy, 22 511 521) and Limassol (220, Makariou III Ave. 25 341 525), www.spectus.com.cy.

More information on Douglas Laing here

The photos used in this article, are courtesy of Spectus.

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