Good news, savory drink-loving friends: if your standing bar order is a Bloody Mary or Dirty Martini, I may have found just the scotch for you.
Rock Oyster, a blend that comes to us from the Douglas Laing company, is what we'd call a "vatted malt." It's a blend, but one that contains only single malt whisky, and no grain whiskys. True to its name, Rock Oyster is an attempt to double down on the maritime flavors that some scotches pick up, and comes entirely from four islands of Scotland: Islay, Jura, Arran, and Orkney.
The best way I can describe this stuff: imagine the ocean battering against marine rock and barnacles, and now make that moment drinkable. Rock Oyster smells like the crushed shells and sea spray you'd notice while walking along the beach, and brine is a consistent part of the tasting experience from the immediate arrival all the way through the finish. And in the development, I'll be damned if it doesn't taste like seafood from time to time. There's a little bit of sweetness and umami reminiscent of chilled shrimp or fresh oysters.
What's marvelous is that this is all a far cry from taking a big gulp of salt water. There's a sweetness and vibrancy that tempers the whisky: just as enjoyable is the hint of lemon and cream in the development, and a gentle sweet-and-smokey finish that's very reminiscent of Highland Park. It's even got a good nose: I sussed out a bit of herbal complexity and some fresh green apple.
Note that this can potentially be a hard sell. A few nights ago, my girlfriend asked what I was working on for the site and I gave her the highlights of the Rock Oyster. "Shellfish and vanilla?" she asked. I'd never seen her nose wrinkle like that before. "That doesn't sound very good." And indeed, it is a little weird, but weird in the best of ways. I recommend just pouring it for someone and then describing what you like about it.
The geeks will likely want to speculate on the exact makeup of the whisky. Jura and Arran are the only distilleries on their respective isles, so that takes care of half the guess. As for Islay and Orkney? I'm not as good at this game as some, but I will venture a guess: I wouldn't be surprised if the peat was provided almost entirely by the Jura, leaving the lighter Scapa (or, admittedly, Highland Park) as the component from Orkney and the barley-heavy Bruichladdich representing Islay and giving the whiskey some real chewiness. My guesses, anyway.
To me, Rock Oyster is the perfect encapsulation of what a blend of malts should be all about. In particular, I've never fallen in love with either Jura or Arran, but here they're clearly supporting (or being supported by) a few whiskies that work extraordinarily well together. The flavor of this stuff is positioned perfectly along the axes of sweet, smoke, fruit, mineral, herb, and salt. Some might say $60 is a bit much for a "blend," especially one without an age statement, but when the result is this good, it's money well-spent in my book.
If you happen to spot it and savory things are your jam, then buy this without hesitation.