Martin - here is the response we received from Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd - perhaps a bit more than you asked for, but here it is nevertheless....
As a family owned company, we are always happy to discuss, clarify and amplify on any points and matters arising about our Provenance and Old Malt Cask bottlings.
The Provenance is bottled by our associated company, Douglas McGibbon, a family name on my mother’s side of the family – she was Morag Hamilton McGibbon and they were of Islay stock – with many of them visible 6 feet under the graveyard of the round Kirk in Bowmore. Morag married my father , Fred Douglas Laing – hence the two companies under the one umbrella.
My dad was a blender and bottler who actually bought out a group of Americans after WW2 inheriting the King of Scots and House of Peers blended Scotch Whiskies at the time with enough whisky stocks to see him through only 2 or 3 years. It was, therefore, necessary through 1948/9 and onwards to start a filling programme at the distilleries of his choice around Scotland to protect his position. That filling programme continues today and forms the backbone to our OMC and PRV selections – enhanced occasionally by exchanges that we make within the trade normally when we offer 10 – 20 casks of our younger stock for 5 – 10 casks of older stock that we might consider appropriate. As a Scotsman, this is rather nice as no cash is involved.
So in terms of the Forum question, no, we do not buy in stock for others. The only way we “refine them” is by deciding whether they are good enough for Single (OMC) Cask bottling of for small batch (PRV) bottling after which we will add distilled water only to reduce the strength to 50 or 46 respectively. We believe one of our unique qualities is that if we decide a Cask is good – but not good enough – then we can blend it into our King of Scots, House of Peers or JPS blended whisky programme.
It is nice to hear from Martin in the Forum that he likes what he has tasted and he noticed it was smokier than the original (though he did not mention the Distillery). I believe that is because we are still rather old fashioned in style and method. Yes, for commercial reasons to stretch the stocks we chill filter our blended Scotch Whiskies when we bottle at 40 or 43%. However, we believe the Malts are enhanced in terms of nose, mouth-feel, palate and finish when they are not chill filtered so that all the essential oils and fats/taste properties are left in the bottle. Martin is probably noticing also the finger printing and enhancement that selecting one or two barrels from a batch of 8 or 10 brings to the equation as these will have been the most interesting, arguably diverse flavours we found on the day of tasting.
We do not colour any of our OMC or PRV Malts so with these two selections you cannot gauge taste from the colour. You might catch a real wallop from an innocent looking wee blondie – so be careful!
Martin may have tasted a Caol Ila – perhaps a Port Ellen or a Bowmore from our Provenance selection – it would have depended how much money he had in his pocket at that time as the Port Ellen – closed in 1983 – does not come cheap but we are one of the few independents with great stock of it. In Europe the selection is wider as the rest of the world accepts 70 cl bottles whereas the USA only takes the 75 cls.
This is probably too much info for you/Martin but hope it helps and is in indicative of the way we try to handle all enquiries. --Fred