Customs, Coastguards and The King of Scots

First created in 1886, Douglas Laing’s King of Scots Blended Scotch Whisky and now over a century later, it’s still only the closest members of our family-owned company who know the particulars of its recipe. Celebrating the blend’s distinguished heritage, superior quality and provenance, each bottle proudly bears Scotland’s Lion Rampant, used by the Kings of Scotland for hundreds of years. The brand that started it all for Douglas Laing & Co., King of Scots is close to Fred’s heart, and when we recently redesigned the pack, we asked Fred what the first one was like. We weren’t expecting the Scotch smuggling secrets he revealed…


There was not a lot I liked at school back in the mid-1960s - maybe just French, German, Spanish, and lunch break being good. I was once strapped with a heavy belt across the hands for not having my name legible inside my school cap (well – the Brylcreem smudged it, didn’t it?), so it’s not at all surprising that I wasn’t a huge fan of the education system.


And so, our company founder (and my father), Fred Douglas Laing took me out of the school term to travel with him – twice in fact - in my last 2 years there. The first was around the Scotch Whisky markets of Central America (another story for another time!), largely to educate me in the ways of the commercial world and for me to translate as best I could during these meetings. So Mexico City it was, then Tegucigalpa*, followed by Panama City and Aruba. Time to work and time to play - heading to the Islas Perlas in the Pacific for R & R, when client offices were closed…Followed by a couple of “recuperative days” on the beach of Aruba, but only after having conducted some fascinating business first.


This island of Aruba was famous in the Scotch Whisky community - for its own smuggling community (into the high duty regime of Venezuela). For our Aruban clients, The King of Scots Blend had to be packed into branded wooden boxes - made by a company called Brownlies, up in Shettleston, I think, here in Glasgow. Such boxes were demanded by the smugglers because they were carried by sea in dead of night into Venezuela, and would sometimes run into local Customs & Coastguard boats. Unable to outrun them, The King of Scots boxes were jettisoned over-board in the chase, before the authorities overtook them. The smugglers’ boats were by then “clean” and evidence free – but they would return after dawn to pick up the boxes which were of course, still floating! Today of course, if you want The King of Scots, there are easier and more legitimate ways to access it. Perhaps not as thrilling, but the liquid is every bit as delicious as it was back then.


*In Honduras, to save you the time looking it up.