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Thursday, 29 May 2008

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.