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Thursday 29 May 2008

Feis Ile Day Seven: “Is That A Bearded Roy Orbison Driving A Kia?”

Day Seven: “Is That A Bearded Roy Orbison Driving A Kia?”

Today was the turn of Laphroaig, the choice distillery of the Prince of Wales who arrives on the island next week for a visit. This, along with the Feis Ile, means that the white walls of Laphroaig are shining brighter than usual to welcome us in for our morning tasting. On show, and presented with some traditional Scottish toasting by the North American Master Brand Ambassador, Simon Brooking, were the Laphroaig 10 YO Cask Strength, last years Feis Ile bottling and this years offering “Cairdeas”.

Laphroaig – 10 YO – Cask Strength – OB – 70cl – 55.7% Vol

Nose: Liquorice, lots of cereal, peat and classic Laphroaig brine.

Palate: An intense sweetness, cereal again, seaweed, iodine and more brine.

Finish: Long, more warming peat and apple sweetness.

Overall: Another big hitter from Laphroaig, a tad too abrasive in places and lacking in subtlety.

Laphroaig – 1989 – 17 YO – First Fill Bourbon - 5000 Bottles – Feis Ile 2007 Bottling – 70cl - 50.3% vol

Nose: Sweet, creamy, but backed with a real earthiness. A second nose gives a real underlying nuttiness; perhaps hazelnuts?

Palate: There’s those hazelnuts again. Almonds / Marzipan. Honey, oiliness and brittle sherbet.

Finish: A very subtle dryness, but more of the nutty flavours which means this dram develops incredibly well across the palate. Note: the amazing legs on this.

Overall: An excellent Laphroaig. Shame it only made 5000 bottles but well done if you secured one last year.

Laphroaig – Cairdeas – NAS – Feis Ile Bottling 2008 – 70cl - 55%Vol

Nose: Weak Earl Grey tea, sweet mint and cereal again, followed by freshly cut apples and hints of Darjeeling.

Palate: Coffee, sweetness, brown sugar and more cereal. Pretty darnn weak, especially for a whisky at 55%.

Finish: The best bit, with green apples, hints of smoke and grass. A firecracker finish of popping candy and gun powder.

Overall: Unimpressed. Nothing stands out with this bottling. This was blown away by the 1989, last years Feis Ile offering.

From Laphroaig to a hair-raising drive up to Port Askaig, in time for the lunchtime ferry over to Jura for their open day.

For anyone who hasn’t ventured this far on their previous Feis Ile trips, try and make the time next time around. The road through the island is a wonderful drive, passing some great, stop-you-in-your-tracks views and scenery.

Sadly our first cock-up of the adventure occurred – on arrival to the distillery we found they only took cash in payment for the blending and master class we were due to enjoy, leaving us in a quandary- turn around and head back, or explore the rest of the island. We plumped for the latter and it was clearly the right decision, as you’ll see from this picture....

In terms of whisky, Jura are doing a quadruple festival release this year- entitled ‘The Elements’ (Earth, Wind, Air and Fire, clever eh...) this is a limited bottling, encased in a leather holdall. Looks nice, but at £450 not something that really appeals to us at Caskstrength. (Rather like the ridiculous Ardbeg Double-Barrel, or a mini version of it).

This evening heralds a dance at Lagavulin. If the music is loud enough and the dancing wild, it may just be enough to distract the distillery workers while we nip into Warehouse no.1 and roll away cask number 4504... fingers crossed, huh!

Feis Ile Day Six: "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles"

Day Six: "I'm forever blowing bubbles."

Wed started with a fascinating warehouse demonstration at Lagavulin. Another eclectic mix of nationalities shuffled into warehouse no.2 to enjoy hearing distillery manager Graham Logie and the utter legend that is Iain McArthur talk (and taste) us through some young, middle-aged and very old casks.

Before we were allowed to tuck into any casks, there was a demonstration from Graham and Iain on the traditional process of measuring the alcohol content in whisky. The aim was to show the lowering of alcohol content during maturation and how this affects the flavour.

The first cask opened by Iain was an 8 Year Old Lagavulin (Distilled 2000 – cask no 426). Slightly harsh on the palate, as a young whisky tends to be, this is still unmistakably Lagavulin but missing what makes Lagavulin great; the woods and smoke hadn’t mellowed the whisky and none of the farm-yard quality that the 16 YO has had developed yet. This was an interesting cask to try as an example of how this particular Islay malt develops.

Next up was a 15 YO (Distilled 1993 - cask no 4504), the sister cask to their 2008 Feis Ile bottling and immediately it was obvious that we were drinking something great from a cracking cask. The classic hallmarks of Lagavulin were all there- amazing swirls of smoke, sweetness and then brine on the finish, really rousing stuff. With a little water, its soul really came alive with a new-make fruitiness, mixed with more of that delicate smoke flowed over the tongue and palate. A quick straw poll indicated that our enthusiasm was shared by all those assembled.... certainly in our top 5 drams of the week so far. Really very good.

To conclude the tasting, Iain drew some whisky from a very old cask: 42 YO - Distilled 1966 - cask no. 552. The narrative that this tasting had taken us on, was to show the aging process of whisky. It was concluded that Lagavulin reaches it peak at between 12 and 30 years old. This expression was over oaked, watery and weak at just over 41% vol. but was certainly very interesting to try. It could well work out to be the oldest whisky we try on this fantastic trip!

We left in high spirits (!) due to the fantastic presentation from Graham and Iain and headed off to the open day at Islay ales where we picked up a few bottles to take back home, including a Bruichladdich Ale, made with the mash from Octomore (the highly peated Bruichladdich offering) which we look forward to sampling on our return.

Wednesday also welcomed in the Open Day at Bowmore. Their Feis Ile release is an 8 YO, matured in ex-Bordeaux Limousin Oak casks from Warehouse No.5, :

Bowmore – 8 YO - Distilled 14th June 1999 – limited to 800 bottles – additional packaging of a velvet black bag - 70cl – 54% Vol

Nose: Heather, ginger, mint humbugs, menthol, faint smoke, lemon bonbon. Warm cotton towels. Gristy.

Palate: . Dry sherry/sweet fudge, cigar smoke and cedar wood. Dried berries.

Finish: Dry. Coffee liquor. Dark chocolate and Seville orange notes leave a long finish.

Overall: A unique Bowmore that isn’t over-sweet and packs a punch, especially on the finish.

Feis Ile Day Five: Is that a Gala pie in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Day Five: "Is that a gala pie in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"

The day started with much needed lie-in for We've been to Islay before but it is always a shock at how big this little island is. The travel + the drams = tired correspondents, so a leisurely morning was more than welcomed!

Our first appointment of the day was a tasting at Ardbeg lead by none other than the distillery manager, Michael Heads. The prelude to the tasting was a tour of the distillery with Michael and his personal and unique insight into Ardbeg's processes, including the astonishing Robert Bobe mill, installed in 1913. (Edit- Neil is seemingly obsessed with this for no reason other than the fact this is old, and still works- Joel)

After the tour, we were taken into duty free warehouse no.1 where Michael unvailed a dazziling array of cask samples for us to try (duty paid, of course).

First off was a 6 YO 2002, Bourbon cask. This was followed by a taste of the new Ardbeg Renaissance (tasting note to follow at a later date) containing 100% whisky from the new Glenmoranie-era of ownership, who have now been in charge for the magical 10 years. Then Michael really turned it up to 11, with a series of stunning casks. This started with a 1975 First Fill Sherry Butt; the depth and quality obtained from this 33 YO whisky is truely astonishing and is clearly down to the choice of quality wood. Mirroring the excellence of the '75, Michael followed with a 10YO also matured in a sherry butt, highlighting that a whisky one-third of the age of the previous dram can still hold eloquence and depth. Finally (and this time drawn direct from the cask) was a 1990, 18 YO, Fourth fill bourbon which proved to be our personal fav, so much so that we simply had to make tasting notes there and then:

Ardbeg - 1990 - 18 YO - Fourth Fill Bourbon Cask - Cask No. 2553

Nose: Lemon sherberts, gloriously sweet caramel leads to flavours of hazelnut and dark brown sugar.

Palate: an immediate, unbelivable sweetness followed by a drier fruit and spice (perhaps a touch of nutmeg) with cream and marzipan.

Finish: more smooth fruit mixed with the marzipan turning up a notch to help follow through flavours of dark chocolate, coffee and hints of orange blossom.

Overall: Subtle, brilliant and probably one of the finest casks we've ever tasted.

Ardbeg have not chosen to do a Feis Ile botting this year due to two releases coming in the first six months of 2008, with the Committee bottling of Corryvreckan coming out in April and the Renaissance hitting shelves in May. This gives an opportunity to review last year's offering, the Mor as well as finally getting notes up for the Corryvreckan;

Ardbeg - Corryvreckan - 5000 bottles - Comittee Members Only - 57.1% Vol - 70cl

Nose: Sweet oak smoke, buttery Werthers Originals and hints of red wine and soft brown sugar.

Palate: Dry oak, backed with cured bacon then the classic Ardbeg sweetness, creme brule, bombfire toffee and red berry crumble. (With water, the fruit and wine notes are enhanced leaving a more delicate palate).

Finish: smoked duck, a lasting impression of polished oak and old leather.

Overall: the nose is clearly bolstered by the french oak barrel included in this vatting. This is a really good comittee bottling but it does feel like a whisky that's trying to be older than it actually is.

Ardbeg - Mor - Feis Ile 2007 bottling - 1000 bottles - 4.5 Litres - 57.3% Vol.

Nose: Cloves, boiled lime-flavoured sweets, hints of smoked fish and spearmint.

Palate: Cereals, salt, pine smoke and malteasers.

Finish: course pate, with a delicate driness.

Overall: when first tasted this, it was perhaps over looked amoungst the other distillery expressions and because of the gimicky marketing. Tasting a year on, what is clear is that this is an excellent Ardbeg.

How does one finish a day like that? Arriving home to find mussels cooking in the farmhouse kitchen that, less than 2 hours ago had been living an innocent life in sea off the coast of Islay. Relaxing post-sea food with a dram of solid, single cask Port Ellen 1982 (Butt 2063 - 638 bottles - Bladnoch's), followed by a measure of the excellent Longrow 18, this was certainly a day to remember.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Feis Ile Day Four (Part 2): Dexy's Midnight Liars

Part Two: Dexy's Midnight Liars

Now the day could begin as we set off, resplendent in our tweed for a tasting with Billy Stitchell, the Operations Manager at Caol Ila. Hidden away in a store house, with casks of Caol Ila around us and their sister distillery, Lagavulin. The tasting comprised of 7 expressions from the distillery, including 2 new-make spirits and a bottling only available at the distillery from 2007’s Feis Ile.

The Distillers Edition (finished in Muscadet wine barrels for six months) was probably the most interesting of the tastings- disappointingly, they had decided to omit the 18 YO which we’d regard as our favourite from the Caol Ila range. (the scoop here is that Diageo need all remaining allocated stocks of 18 YO for their premium Johnnie Walker blends, such as the centenary edition Gold and Blue Labels.

Onward from Caol Ila, to nip around the corner to Bunnahabhain where we tried their Feis Ile bottling:

Bunnahabhain – 21 Yo – OB – Dist 1986 – 512 Bottles – 46.7% Vol – 70cl

Nose: rich sherry and marzipan hit the nostrils like and indulgent Christmas cake, followed by almonds salt and the faintest whiffs of dying embers.

Palate: A rich, oily mouth-feel with masses of honeycomb and chocolate (crunchy bar, anyone?) followed by sweet fudge undertone and hints of malt.

Finish: Long, smooth with hints of woody spice, balanced off with cocoa and raisin.

Overall: A really drinkable and enjoyable dram. The downside here is the price, which at nearly £200 doesn’t mirror the fair play of some of the other Feis Ile releases.

With nostrils refreshed by a swift briney costal walk (god, did we need it after such an early start!) and bellies full of a sumptuous sausage casserole, our next challenge was the traditional blind nosing competition, held at Ramsay Hall in Port Ellen.

The principal was simple- identify 10 island malts from identical blue glasses, including 2 new make spirits, purely by their distinct aromas. In practice, this proved harder than Caskstrength imagined....

After much to’ing and fro’ing from various stalls (and with some light-hearted National Rivalry at stake with some Dutch Malt fans) our choices were made. Some newly made local friends also kindly gave us their entry form (which we filled out and entered as a former Dexy’s Midnight Runner, who shall remain nameless!)

The end result was tensely waited for over a dram of Lagavulin 16.... and.....

Well- we didn’t win, but got a respectable 7/10 which made us nose-happy. Congratulations to Anders who won the event with an amazing 9/10 and Angus with 8.

Avoiding the midges we headed home, proudly patting our prized proboscis’s!!

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Feis Ile Day Four (Part 1): "Mission (Almost) Impossible

Feis Ile Day Four: “Mission (almost) Impossible”

Part One:


Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is to acquire a bottle of Port Ellen - 1981 - Official Festival Release, available from 9am at Caol Ila Distillery.

This blog will self destruct in 10 seconds...”

--- GULP!!

With such and important mission, it was vital for to plan ahead our morning journey to Caol Ila. The buzz across the island over the pervious few days surrounding this release was electric. Anyone would have thought the Beatles had magically reformed to play a secret free gig at Caol Ila’s still room. The only hard-and-fast facts were the venue for the release and the time of sale: 9am. We figured that, with such anticipation an early start was required. Rising at 5.40am to a gloriously sun drenched island with similes on your faces, we made our way through the Islay rush hour (which involved Neil herding sheep and large cattle out of the rural roads) across the island and down to Caol Ila. As we made our decent down towards the distillery, it was clear that a few other people had the same idea and a short queue had already formed with a truly international feel. Much like the 12 days of Christmas, it comprised of: “4 sleepy Swiss, 3 Whisky dealers, 2 distillery workers, and a handful of islanders.”

Although the glorious sunny weather prevailed, sadly a large part of the queue was in the shade of an office block. That coupled with the icy wind blowing through the Paps of Jura, it made for a cold and blustery wait. Thankfully At one point, a very friendly distillery worker, arrived with bacon rolls and tea, lifting everyone’s spirits!

Our previous Festival bottling purchases had led us to believe this could be a fairly competitive experience, but a real sense of camaraderie prevailed.
As the doors opened dead on 9am, it was unfortunately clear that a large proportion of the now very long queue now assembled would leave empty handed. Everyone (including the Distillery Manager) seemed shaky on the exact number of bottles available, with figures ranging between 115 and 200. However we were able to ascertain from one source that the numbering of the bottles was somewhat erratic with some numbers missing from the sequence and in one case, 2 bottles identically labelled (apparently both with the number 0007)

A special note of congratulations goes to the Swiss gent (who bore a striking resemblance to the great Ronnie Corbett) on being the first through the door. His sacrifice- arriving at the distillery at 8pm the previous evening!!!

Fair play to Diageo for pricing this bottling at a very agreeable £99.99p.

Mission accomplished; we left with beaming faces for a warming shower and some breakfast, each cradling a bottle of Special Release Port Ellen.

Feis Ile Day Three: A B/laddy Good Time

Awoke on the farm at 8am and decided to blow the cobwebs of travelling away with a brisk costal walk around Loch Gruinart before heading over the Bruichladdich Open Day.

When we arrived, their was already a fantastic village fete atmosphere in their sundrenched courtyard. Word is that the Bruichladdich Open Days, along with that of Ardbeg, attract a fair few locals which has the knock-on effect of creating a pleasant, community atmosphere which was enhanced a pipe band, freshly cooked scallops (again!) and various local craftwork stalls. Bruichladdich’s creativity and innovation could be seen stamped across this Open Day, which included items for sale such as a special Bruichladdich Whisky Cook Book, penned by Canadian chef Ferne Glaser, which includes a recipe for chocolate chip cookies using 3D3...Yum! Jim’s team has been blessed with spectacular weather for the last seven Open Days, making this THE festival attraction for locals on the North side of the Isle.

The distillery shop was brimming with excitement at this years festival offering from the “boys at Bruichladdich”. A short queue had already formed to purchase a bottle which you filled yourself from the cask. Your good friends here at have endured the hardship of tasting the release (!), a 1 Year Old (so not even a whisky). See below for the exclusive tasting notes which we posted live from the distillery.

Having filled out own bottles of the X4+1 and passed around the stalls, it was time to hit the Murray McDavid tasting session with Andrew Gray (Sales Director) and Andy Hogan (Regional Sales Manager) in the warehouse called “The Vatican” (All warehouse with whisky in are Duty Free area’s so Bruichladdich name theirs after tax free states...). Murray McDavid is an independent bottler owned by Bruichladdich, who add an interesting twist to casks they acquire from a range of other distilleries. The examples of these in our tasting were:

Clynelish 1995 – 12 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: A mix of Madeira and Sherry Casks
Notes: The sweet nose of liquorice and sherbet leads to a smoky palate with ginger and spice overtones before a long, warming finish emerges.

Glen Scotia 1992 – 15 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: Rum Casks
Notes: Red berries, bubblegum and zesty cinnamon-toast emerge, before evocative flavours of caramelised sugar, tropical fruit juice and hit the palate and lead to a sweet and salty toasted barley finish.

Highland Park 1989 – 17 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: Grenache Blanc Casks
Notes: A pleasant notes of cereal, toffee, brine and pear mix with a deep and rich palate flowing with oak, fruit and smoked soft cheese. A very long finish of sea-salt, brown sugar and peat.

Caol Ila 1991 – 17 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: Chenin Blanc
Note: This incredibly silky and oily malt gives way to citrus fruits, orange blossom and caramel interspersed with toasted malt barley and charcoal and earthy tones in the palate. A lingering, dry finish.

Macallan 1990 – 18 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: Chateau Haut Brion Casks
Notes: Juicy, sweet fruits and vanilla caramels are balanced with hints of bourbon and plum from the additional maturation. Cloves, ginger and wild heather intertwine with mint and barley to create a pleasant, classy dram.

Bunnahabhain 1976 – 31 YO
Matured: Bourbon
Finished: Fino Sherry
Notes: An incredibly eloquent mix of cut green apples, dark chocolate and hints of smoked fish lead to a creamy mouth-feel of brown sugar, custard creams and zesty lemonade.

For the record, Joel’s top choice from above was the Clynelish while Neil chose the Bunnahabhain, both closely followed by the Glen Scotia.

Having concluded this excellent tasting selection, found ourselves in the privileged possession of a small dram of PC7. Code named “Unity”, here our tasting notes for this next Port Charlotte release:

Bruichladdich - PC7- Unity - 7 YO Port Charlotte mix of Bourbon and Sherry casks - Distilled: 2001 - 61% Volume

Nose- blue cheese, silky peat, earth and fresh cut grass with fresh butter.

Finish: More peat, mild chilis, well done steak Beanaise, Bitter dark chocolate, swirls of oaky smoke .

Overall: excellent. Very much like Ardbeg Almost There. PC is really maturing into something special.

This sumptuous Open Day was perfectly rounded off by a quiet dinner with our wonderful hosts at the Bridgend Hotel. Godspeed our journey into Day Four of the festival, with bellies full of venison and Islay Ales.

Sunday 25 May 2008

WORLD EXCLUSIVE LIVE FROM THE DISTILLERY - Bruichladdich - Valinch X4+1 Deliverance - 1 YO (yes, ONE) - New Spirit - 50cl

Bruichladdich - Valinch X4+1 Deliverance - 1 Year Old new spirit 50cl

Nose: Spirit. Candyfloss. Vanilla. Toffee apple. Very fresh. Cedar wood.

Palate: licorice, lemon meringue pie, apricots, hints of peach melba or Del Monte fruit salad, (that stuff that come in tins in syrup!). Ginger and cinnamon.

Finish: Chi spices, cloves and that meringue again. A real Sweetness lingers longer than the spices and last possibly as long as a Rick Wakeman Concert.

Overall: We were told last night by two lovely folks from Bruichladdich that this spirit defied its age; it was hard to believe until we tasted it, but this is actually true. The freshness and zest are powerful and refreshing. Shame it's only a 50cl bottle
, as at 55 quid it isn't cheap.

Feis Ile Day 2: "we're not from london, you know."

“We’re not from London, you know.”

Phew. What a day. Sea air, sunshine, Scotch and sea food (oh, and Average White Band).

The day started early with a 7.30am drive from the hotel (meaning rising at 6.30am for a 7am brekky) to the ferry port in Kennacraig. Thankfully the sun was bright and the sea calm, despite the excitement of the passengers, many of whom were adorned in their Swedish / German / Dutch / Narnia Whisky Club fleece tops. T-shirt of the day goes to a gent at Lagavulin which had the ‘Walt Disney’ logo adapted to tastefully read ‘Malt Whisky’.

Also following on from our Grobbelaar spot at Heathrow airport, special mention must go to the leather waistcoat wearing Will Ferrell / Mick Fleetwood Hybrid who seemed to be stalking us from Lagavulin to bunnahabhain.

Anyway, to business with the whiskies and it’s been a real whirlwind.

We’ll start with our breakfast dram of choice so far-

Highland Park – Old Malt Cask- 23 YO – NAS – 50% Vol – 50ml

This miniature was procured on our drive down the Kintyre Peninsula from Loch Fyne Whiskies and seemed like a most suitable way to start the day in style!

Nose: Fragrant notes, heather, all- spice and sweet sherry all rush thru, with a really pleasing aroma of real ginger beer.

Palate: At first, a briney wave hits the tongue and distracts your taste buds- whilst sweet, zesty and spiced notes kick the back door in! The alcohol level in this bottling is just right in our opinion and you get a very smooth, warming sherried mouth-feel on the death, which is prevalent in most of the older HP’s we’ve tried.

Finish: More brine again but hints of spring onion start to appear as it continues and there’s a welcome return to the sweetness.

Overall: A nicely rounded HP, perhaps showing its age a little now. Not quite as magnificent as the 18 YO, but a rousingly pleasant experience enjoyed at 10.30am on a blustery ferry crossing!!

Lagavulin Open Day:

As our CalMac sea beast lumbered into Port Ellen, we had only 2 things on our mind- Lagavulin and fresh seafood (oh...and Average White Band)

We were not disappointed. The Lagavulin open day, not only delivered great whisky but an array of freshly cooked local scallops and homemade cakes. Complementary drams of Joel’s Favourite expression the 16 YO were passed around and a bottle each of the Feis Ile Special release purchased:

Lagavulin – Dist. 1993 / Bottled 2008 – 15 YO – OB – Cask No. 1403 – 52.9% Vol.

We will be drinking this at the managers tasting later in the week, so we will post comprehensive tasting notes and details of this bottling once we have had time to ingest it with it’s creator.

All in, the Lagavulin open day seemed a roaring success with the bright sunshine beating down it’s blessing upon the Isle.

The evenings entertainment was supplied by the good people of Bruichalddich at a soiree in Port Charlotte. Needless to say, Bruichladdich put as much creative effort into their entertainment as they do their whisky. If there is one aspect of the Feis Ile that will linger in the memory, it is the fantastic hospitality and extreme generosity of the island folk. The Bruichladdich soiree typified this, with an awesome array of food (more scallops, this time cooked with Bruichladdich by Marco the Chef as we looked on, local shellfish, meats and cheese from Orkney) and entertainment supplied by an excellent a young, local Ceilidh band. As Saturday evening drew to a close with the sun melting into the sea and a glass of Bruichladdich Fifteen in the hand, it provided the perfect end to our first day on the Isle and a wonderful prelude to Sunday’s open day at ‘Laddie.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Feis Ile Day One: "Old Wobbly Legs"

“Old Wobbly Legs”

Its midday on Friday and you know it’s going to be a good ‘un when, in the departures lounge of Heathrow airport you chat with a 1980’s footballing legend... Neil and I look at each other in amazement and without hesitation; “Sod the whisky!.... It’s Bruce Grobbelaar!” A brief chat ensues with the ex-Oxford United (and, er, Liverpool!) player and then it was time to think whisky.

On landing at Glasgow airport we swiftly locate our hired ‘Kia’ and its off down the A82 towards the awe inspiring views of the Kintyre Peninsula. And what a drive it is. (For the uninitiated, do not hire a Kia – try to get something resembling a Mark II Jag, for maximum enjoyment)
Our first stop finds us with the prospect of a cheeky dram with the lovely folks at Loch Fyne Whiskies, where we leave with three interesting miniatures; Old Malt Cask Dallas Dhu 21, Old Malt Cask Highland Park 23 and Loch Fyne’s very own blend.

Dallas Dhu - Old Malt Cask – 21 YO – Ex Sherry Wood – 50% Vol – 50ML

Nose: Too much sherry, a hint of sulphur, coal, apricot and tiny hints of Lavender. Rather like Sunday lunch at your ageing grandma’s cottage.

Palate: big sweetness, but sadly curbed by a rubberiness followed by what could be a promising cederwood hint, which comes and goes way too quickly.

Finish: perhaps hints of black coffee, zesty lemons and then dry, dry oak and chilli. Very quick.

Overall: Not how we had hoped to start off our malt mileage. We only purchased 50ml thank god. Clearly size does matter!!! In essence- this is more JR Hartley than JR Ewing....

Onwards to our homestead for the evening, the Hunting Lodge Hotel near Campbeltown. Famed for its award winning whisky bar, many of the 500+ has now gone due to new ownership. There is, however, a few gems left. Let’s get on with the reviews:

Royal Bracklar – Rare Malts – 20 Years Old – Dist. 1978, Bottled May 1998 – 59.8% Vol – 70cl

Nose: Grassy. A huge alcohol hit (as you would expect from 59.8%) with hints of coal dust and a dry nose.


Without Water: Spices, Chillies, totally overbearing.

With Water: Much better. Much more open with big fruit notes of strawberry and grapefruit coming through. Subtle but nice.


Without Water: packs a punch with oak and not much else

With Water: Cream adds to the strawberry flavours. A touch of bitterness from the grapefruit and a short, clean end.

Overall: Not bad, but not astonishing either. I expected more from this Rare Malt (always a bad thing to do) and it let me down, until the addition of a little water when it really came to life. Good but not great.

Tomintoul – Mackillops Choice – 35 YO – Dist. 1966 – Cask 6073 – 46.5% Vol – 70cl

Nose: Syrup, candied pears, Demerara. (i.e.- very sweet). Infused with hints of heather, strawberry and marzipan.

Palate: Cinnamon, “all spice” mix and cedar wood. Hints of desiccated coconut and cream at the death. Due to it’s age, the oak clearly shows through later on the palate.

Finish: A zesty burst of alcohol (a cask strength whisky at 46.5%. Wow! This is really showing it’s age!). More hints of fruit and cedar return. Again, dry oak and hints of bitterness.

Overall: Extremely pleasant sweet and spicy malt, but a little too old now to be considered a great. A bit like Bruce Grobbelaar, really...

Tomorrow the fun really starts with our ferry over to Islay, but it is an early start. So time to get some much needed kip before we hit the fabled shores.

Monday 19 May 2008

Ruddy Good Port Ellen

We love a bit of Port Ellen here at HQ (who doesn't? apart from the "man" who closed the ruddy place down in the early 1980's...) and it is always nice to see a new bottling spring up from time to time. Earlier this year, it was the turn of Berry Bros's and Rudd to knock out another limited run (as always with Port Ellen) of two casks they married together, both from 1982. Let's get on with the notes:

Port Ellen - Berry's Own Selection - 1982 / 2008 (25 YO) - 70cl - 46% Vol - Cask No's 2030 / 2035

Nose: Some initial savoury notes, then a fresh cereal aroma, alongside some fresh-cut apple peel. Becomes waxy, with faint peat and hints of chamois leather and some doughy and cardboard notes. With time, a biscuity shortbread note appears. Complex and absorbing. Not overally peated. Wafts of vanilla at the death round this off beautifully.

Palate: Medium-full. A dusty entry, with a big raw peat and cereal hit, then hot buttered sweetcorn and an explosion of chilli, ginger and pepper. This is mouthwatering and amazingly lively for a malt of this age.

Finish: Continues to develop, with bitter orange zest and vegetal notes. The cereal and peat notes persist, although the citrus wins out in the end.

Comments: A fascinating bottling, with a vibrancy not often found in malts of this age, alongside a delicious and complex palate.
Hum: if you can't get a bottle of this BBR, try the exact same whisky is this form:
Port Ellen - John Milroy Selection - 1982 / 2008 (25 YO) - 70cl - 46% Vol - Cask No's 2030 / 2035

- Tim (additional comments by Joel)

Sunday 18 May 2008

Johnnie Walker - Gold Medal and Blue Ribbon

A while ago we did a latteral tasting of JW Gold (Cent. Edition) and Jonny Walker Blue. Here are Tim's notes from that evening:

Johnnie Walker - Gold Label - Centenary Edition (18 Year Old Blend)

Made from a blend of 15 different aged whiskies, a bottle of this will set you back about £55.00 (give or take!).

Nose: More perfumed and floral than the Blue Label; candy sweet rather than syrupy. Some very appealing oily and toasty notes.

Palate: Spices, delicious oak, sponge cake, cereal, honey, syrup, ginger and dried orange peel. In a word, delicious.

Finish: An elegant dance of the above, with some delicious pepper and spice notes and hints of mixed peel.

Comment: This pretty much epitomises everything that blend-lovers love about blends: Quality, Harmony, Complexity, Grace. Beautiful.

Johnnie Walker - Blue Label

This is the premium blend for JW and a 70cl bottle of this, in the UK, will currently set you back about the same as a good Port Ellen (£110+).

Nose: Smooth, silky cereal, syrupy flapjacks, polished oak. Dessicated coconut, then other nutty notes: unsalted peanut, brazil nut.

Palate: A silky caress. Unexpectedly strong spicy entry, but always honeyed and rounded by some toasty oak. The honeyed malt is beautifully interwoven around the venerable grain, which must be absolutely ancient.

Finish: A perfectly-integrated slow fade of the palate. Mouthwatering grain, and the honey and spices fade slowly. Extremely long but still very gentle.

Comment: The daddy of premium blends divides fans as to whether or not it merits its price tag, but there is definitely something esoteric about the basically flawless balance on display here. Smoother than a hot-buttered, freshly-shaven diplomat in velvet trousers.

- Tim

3D3 - Better Than 3D TV.

I know, I know. It's been a while since our last posting. Apologies and all that, but we've been really busy. Part of being busy bees has been our preparation for Feis Ile 2008. We leave THIS WEEK (ooo eeerrr) and hope to have plenty of active tasting notes and pics up from said festival. Now, to kick us off, let's review a bottle that I picked up last year at the distillery shop at Bruichladdich. I'm now on to my 2nd bottle of the stuff and it is pretty hard to come across down here in London, so it is a case of grab it when you see it...

Buichladdich 3D3, Norrie Campbell Tribute Bottling - 3rd Edition - OB - NAS - 70cl - 46% Vol

The 3rd in the series of "3D" bottlings, this edition hit me between the eyes last year when I was on Islay. Norrie Campbell was a traditional peat cutter on the island and lends his name to his bottling as, no doubt, he would have loved the huge peated nature of this 'Laddie. It is said to contain Octomore (Bruichladdich's supercharged Peat edition, yet to find it's own bottling).

Nose: Youthful spirit (that'll be the Port Charlotte that is also supposed to make up this edition) with a hit of Peat. Lemon juice also. It reminds me of the Caol Ila Rare Malts 1978 reviewed earlier in the year. It is remarkably fresh on the nose.

Palate: Smooth hit at first, but quickly the peat hit. It's remarkable how the smoothness creates a bed for the Peat which in-turn ushers in spices (red chillies, black pepper) and the salt smooths it all off the top.

Finish: Just as the salt seals in the spices on the palate, they return with a vengeance on the finish, driven by the peat. Excellent balance, if not a little bit too salty (but only very slightly). This is an impressive bottling. Well done, Bruichladdich. They'll be another bottle of this (my 3rd...) making it's way back to London from Islay next week...

Overall: It is an honest coincidence that this bottling features in the main picture above, but I am glad it does. I think this is a wonderful bottling; well done Bruichladdich. It shows (if proof be needed) what a serious contender Bruichladdich will prove to other distillieries. With their "non-chill filter" and "no colouring agents or flavouring" policy, one can do nowt but praise what Bruichladdich are trying to do. Full marks too, to their bottling plant which does a whole heap to employ all of Islay's "unemployable" (if such a term can be used). More of the this level of quality, please...
- Joel