Re: Islay tasting Edinburgh 3rd March 2011
Its official, the worlds gone mad, the last Islay tasting was NOT sold out. 5 drams from the island paradise including a Port Ellen for £20 and there were half a dozen tickets left, yet the next tasting is all but sold out and not a dram revealed.
Whatever. We kicked off with the somewhat traditional, for these tastings, non-peated Caol Ila- the current issue from 2010. I don't bother vetting this one any more as it is so interesting and to follow the editions is quite curious - will a consistency emerge? The first batch was conspicuously peaty. For me this one, the oldest yet, was somewhat muted on the nose but explosive on the palate despite a calmer 57.4% (I think) weigh-in unlike earlier super heavy weights. The palate unwatered is likewise flat, for me, while the diluted option seems to awaken little. A sweetness is detectable along with a crisp maltiness but thats all I'm getting. Sorry but a bit of a non-event for this reviewer, not bad just totally lacking charisma or indeed identity. Odd. I have been told Diageo have stopped producing non-peated C.I.- the shadow of Roseisle might be cast far. My lack of enthusiasm is untypical but seemes not to be entirely reflected in the scoring- 11234555555677 an acceptable 48%. 'Stranraer', 'sweet and boring', 'flowers', 'a Franz Klammir - pretty good', 'baw bag', 'Pitlochry', 'hot and peppery', 'like Jimmy Chjos - posh shoes I think'.
Next a Cadenheads 15yo 46% Bowmore from a Bourbon hogshead bottled a couple of years ago. Its been in the shop for ages and while not a stunner it's inclusion as a nice example of a poised low key Bowmore is well warranted. As I have reported before I turned a corner with Bowmore a couple of years back- I now get it and am very pleased I can appreciate the qualities of the distillery whilst not overlooking it for the 'bigger' hitters from the island. Indeed I think my shift away from the bruisers, especially the younger examples seems to be a developing trend. Anybody else feel disenchanted with ppms being all important? Here the unique scented trait is not overplayed leaving a very impressive development and finish which altogether results in a subtle but impeccably constructed whole. With a hint of water the 15 years are more obvious and leave a feeling of a very settled set of ingredients. Nice one. 144556666667777 a distinguished 61%. 'Perth', 'leather, kelp, honey, tea leaves', 'leather jacket', 'a Nash + Dixon - no bad', 'no a bad c**t', 'Oban', 'herby cough sweets', 'smells like wellies'. There is a bit of manure on the nose too but thats okay, isn't it?
Next was the reverse of dram 1 - a peated Bunnahabhain, An Toiteach 46%. I first encounterd this in the Bon Accord bar in Glasgow after a marathon Arran tasting at Oran Mor. I don't get out much and I enthusiastically combined the Arran event with a determination to visit as many Glasgow whisky bars as possible. This was my last dram, I think, and seemed just what I needed at the time but I always felt trying it on a fresh palate might be a good idea. So a couple of days before the tasting I was a bit unsettled to find an apparently youthful peat fest- not really what I had in mind, my confidence was already shaken with the line up being less than eye popping. However after a couple of warmer uppers it came into it's own and was a bit like a Darrach Ur Islay stylee. The wood and peat went well alongside the youth leading to a barbecue with a sour sherry sauce. The weight on the palate especially mid flow is impressive and the follow up finish adding to the appeal. On the nose an akwardness tricks you enough so that the palate easily out performs expectations. The last write up saw the Springbank being my glass refiller, tonight the fourth dram effect has moved forward to this cheeky little number. Bravo. After Signatory doing so well with peated Bunnies is great to see the distillery put out a contender. I'm looking forward to trying the revitalised standard 12yo now it is unchillfiltered and up to 46.3%. The last time I tried the 12yo was at 40% and even then the peatyness was apparent, I'd actually quickly grapped it as a representive of a non-blended, not old, malt not from sherry casks and the guys at the tasting mostly commented on how smoky it was- I thought I'd accidently given them the peaty dram we were meant to finish on. The An Toiteach again has the farm yards when diluted, just another string to it's bow. Distillery bottlings have really come a long way in just the last couple of years- people power! I like it, they're listening to us. Long live the revolution, perhaps a bit early to make a headstone for caramel but lets keep chipping away at the source and our cause will be done, brothers and sisters, etc. 44555666677778 a deserved 'winner' with a bold 66%. 'Bridgend', 'smells like sweaty socks', 'lovely peat', 'a Torvill and Dean - great', 'a brammer', 'Uig, Lewis', 'the most interesting', 'comfy nice boots'.
Now for the main feature. Port Ellen. I left it to the last minute on my selection. This stuff is getting rare and expensive. I have some bottles put aside. I bought them shrewdly as their prices were very appealing when I bought them and now are frankly ridiculous. Amongst them the best I've tried from the distillery- a Golden Cask bottling. However if the tasting was not a sell out I would be unhappy at sacrificing one of my babies. To be fair to myself I guess the ticket price, which is set by the amount spent on the bottles, should have been decided this time by replacement costs for Port Ellen rather than purchase costs. A look at websites showed nothing below £100 was to be had. Last year we tried a dissappointing G&M PE. I was determined to get cask strength. RMW had run out of a recent MacKillop's bottling which seemed a good deal at £150 and having been at a Lorne MacKillop tasting I was pretty sure his selection was unempeachable. Drat. A McTears sale two days before the tasting was a possible source- it was exclusively island bottlings and a lot of PEs were featured. However my pals who normally proxy bid for me had decided not to attend as they felt the auctions were becoming too frequent and their spending power was not unexhaustive. As it turned out there was nothing below £100 and what was in the low centuries was of the namby pampy G&M 40% or Douglas Laing 46/50% level. My get out was three cases of 20cl 'Ultimate Islay Selection' getting dusty in the shop. At over £100 they were not moving but contained a 7th release PE. Pro-rata expensive but the latest official PE was knocking on £300. Lady luck was on my side. With no chance of test driving it I had to trust in Diageo, I remember the 5th release (I think) being poor. This is everything it should be. The nose carries the age just the way I like it- all time and cask- nice and musty. The distillery/Islay contribution is there in style. Yet there is a melancholy aspect, this is the work of artists who were undone by commerce, their sacrifice necessary for the survival of the machine. Without food the beast wlll starve and as the health of the giant suffered a diet of less extravagance was called for, now its putting on weight again it is sad we can't dine on such delights for much longer. Sorry I've obviously been hit with the verbose blethers stick tonight. 25556666667788 a proud and distinguished 65%. 'Portree', 'balanced, sweet', 'viola', 'a Graham Bell - one of Scotland's best', 'good gear', 'Skye', '£300, ha ha', 'pair of Couboutins, ok not sure about the spelling but they are posh boots, I was shocked to see some at £440 in a sale'.
Finally, Lagavulin. Never a dram conspicuous by it's prolific nature. With a themed tasting of Lagavulin coming up I had little up my sleeve. So The Whisky Exchange's LG1 was knicked from the themed tasting for tonight. LG2 will hopefully replace it in July. How I regret selling a 25yo to C57 and not stockpiling 21yo, the 30yo never even blipped my radar. Hopefully another pal will take back a distillery only bottling from Islay next week. After TWE's AR1, which held the highest score for some time at these tastings, this bottling was going to end the night on a good note. Due to its peaty extravagence there was no other place than the last dram but unfortunately it had nothing much to compete with the PE or even the Bunny. Don't get me wrong, this has Kildalton written all over it but the grafitti artist was no Banksie. A sweetness is noteworthy and the abruptness is not necessarily a failing however when the distillery constantly proves itself there is a lot to live up to. Had this been a young Kilchoman or such perhaps we would have been more generous but i think some people were comparing this to Ardbeg on an off day. In it's favour was a stark, gruff nature which reminded us of how much a product of the landscape whisky is- if you have ever experienced the west coast of Scotland in inclement conditions you'll know how elemental things get. Here we have in a glass just such a dark night. Maybe some of us just like our shelter from the storm. See told you: blethers. 11144455666888 a wobbly 53% but note the vote spread. 'H', a regular, said- in typically admirable frankness, the best Port Ellen and the worst Lagavulin. Mind you he did talk about a brotheliser rather tahn a breathaliser, someting on your conscious 'H'? 'Port Askaig Hotel', 'fusty', 'rubber bullets', 'the Eddie The Eagle of the night', 'Glen Affric', 'a big beast', 'Converse'.
the next tasting is Thursday 17th, Peaty/Old/Unusual/Rare/Sherried, line up will be blind £20/17- almost sold out. Iain will do his Japanese tasting next Thursday which will be featurted here too, can't wait.