Whisky Review: Rock Island Mezcal Edition

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Douglas Laing & Co. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Douglas Laing & Co., independent Scotch whisky distillers, blenders, and bottlers, have released a limited edition of their Rock Island blend. With only 1,500 bottles released, this edition experiments with the regular Rock Island by finishing it for twelve months in ex-mezcal barrels. 

The original Rock Island is an award-winning blend of single malt whiskies from the islands of Orkney, Arran, Jura, and Islay. The final product carries some of the famous notes from these regions: salty, smoky, and earthy.

Mezcal is a spirit made from the agave plant, like tequila. The two spirits are similar in many ways, but in general mezcals have a smoky quality whereas tequilas do not. This has to do with how the core of the agave plant that is used in the spirits – the piña – is prepared. Mezcal piñas are roasted in pits in the ground while tequila piñas are steamed. 

If you’re thinking you’ve never heard of a mezcal finished Scotch before, that’s because they are a relatively new invention. Only three years ago, in 2019, the Scotch Whisky Technical File was amended so that ex-mezcal barrels could be used for the maturation of Scotch. I think this is a really exciting development as mezcal and Scotch have complimentary flavor profiles. After trying Rock Island Mezcal Edition I know I’ll be on the lookout for more mezcal-finished Scotch whiskies in the future.

Rock Island Mezcal Edition review

Rock Island Mezcal Cask Finished Island Malt Scotch Whisky (image via Douglas Laing)

Tasting Notes: Rock Island Mezcal Edition

Vital Stats: 46.8 ABV, ~ $60, There is no age statement for the blended whiskies, but it was finished for 12 months in mezcal casks.

Appearance: The liquid is a clear, pale yellow.

Nose: Moderate smoke is immediately evident. Lightly bitter dark chocolate and brine follow. Apples and stone fruit add sweetness underneath the more robust notes.

Palate: Smoke and spicy black peppercorns are two of the strongest notes here. Earthy, malty-sweet, agave and citrusy flavors reveal themselves shortly after. The whisky has a light oily feel on the tongue and finishes with a lingering smoky and spicy warmth.

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