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Friday 16 October 2009

the final fling...

Well folks, here we have it. The last post in our series of 'Special' releases from Diageo.

Perhaps it's too early to reflect on a year gone by, but our hearts and minds are probably drawn back to Islay and the wonderful 10 days in May we spent on this glorious island, sun shining, wanting to be no where else than here, with a great whisky in hand. (Feis Ile, we thank you)

Islay has that unique thing- it can beguile and amaze you in the time it takes to uncork a bottle of scotch. Grown men and women in safe, happy and stable lifestyles have suddenly thought differently about their future when they've seen the view from Port Ellen when the sun sets. For us, that is the essence that should be bottled... surely an impossible task??

Islay aside, some of these whiskies have been stunning. The Talisker 25 and 30 were sublime, despite their premium price. But our final flight needs no real introduction. Palate wise, they might be from within a few miles from each other, but what they represent is vastly different. To sample an unpeated, young Caol Ila next to the oldest official release of Port Ellen might seem like madness. It probably is, but that's what the island represents right now- a celebration of flavour profiles which are so extreme, they surely need to be tasted side by side!

Caol Ila - 10 Year Old - Unpeated - 1998 - a whopping 65.8%-

Nose: Ok, this is ridiculously strong, but bear with it. We tried this in all manner of ways to see what would draw the best from within. Neat: Hints of white chocolate, sponge cake and very sweet butter candy. With a few drops of water: The chocolate notes intensify, with vanilla and fudge notes in abundance. Adding a little more water- and the spirit gives up its grasp and the true potential comes alive- hints of the fairground- toffee apples, candy floss and coal fired Wurlitzer pipe organs. (Ok, that was a joke, but there is certainly a coal note in here) Given more time in the glass and those massive fairground buckets of 'pick 'n mix' seem to spring out at you- it's sweet, slightly fruity and fresh as a daisy.

Palate: Crystal clear distillery character, with lemon, cereal, rich chocolate, sherbert and sponge-cake sweetness. It's fairly 'do or die' on the palate- an explosion of fresh flavours and then it's gone.

Finish: The creamy white chocolate notes continue, after the rest has subsided, but afterwards, it's zesty, fresh and lightweight as you would have expected.

Overall: Well, this takes all that the previous 8 yo unpeated can give and smashes it out the park. I don't know how they do it, but this is Caol Ila on a totally different plain. Almost like a different distillery- but yet, still totally Islay. We were scratching our heads after this one- A great young whisky from Islay, but something completely different aside...You tell us!!

Next up: Lagavulin 12 yo makes a welcome 9th return... deep down, Joel and I were probably waiting for this one with the most anticipation...

Lagavulin - 12 year old - 9th release - 57.9% -

Nose- Smoke of course, hints of iodine and seaweed, followed by soft butter thrown on to fresh pasta. There is a real 'airiness' about the nose; light but full of flavours, vanilla pods and a hint of thyme. The smoke dissipates into carbolic soap notes but it's exactly where you want it to be and is unmistakably young Lagavulin.

Palate- So smooth and easy to drink for something at 59.9%. It sits beautifully in the mouth with peat smoke, combining with cooked apples with sugar. No spices though, as you might expect from cooking apples. Hints of pear. A note of vanilla pipe tobacco (for those of you who may dabble) and again you're in unmistakable laga territory. Superb and fantastically balanced young whisky.

Finish: Medium in length, but the peat keeps coming at you.

Overall: One of the cheapest of the 'Special Releases' but clearly one of the most sought after drams on offer from Islay at the moment. We may well be biased, but we defy anyone to find holes in this. Great drinking, young peated whisky at caskstrength. Surely about as good as it gets.

Our final dram of the night and what a way to go out.... 30 year old Port Ellen. Just think about that for a second. The distillery that has probably come to define the mystique and magic of Islay just turned out a 30 year old whisky, despite being closed in 1983. Joel actually stammered as he was passed his dram of this. For him, a special year is upon us. Welcome to the 30 club, chaps!!

Port Ellen - 9th Release- 30 years old - 1979- 57.7%

Nose: Very light smoke- delicate and rounded. A hint of blue cheese, some rubbery notes (like primary school plimsolls) and some feint medicinal notes. You could easily lose yourself in this for hours. A wonderfully expressive nose, not too over complex but with enough going on to keep the nostrils busy!

Palate: Initially sweet (brown sugar) and then a big hit of smoke. The American oak (as opposed to European) hasn't smothered the spirit and has allowed the natural spices to develop and the sweetness to come to the fore. A lovely oily and thick mouthfeel is the prize.

Finish: Long and fantastic, with the smoky notes subsiding into lingering sweetness.

Overall: A very solid performance from Port Ellen. It must be getting harder and harder to find great casks of PE that haven't over-aged, but the 9th release shines as brightly as the others. It's a bit like the David Beckham of whisky: How long can they keep pulling out top draw performances like this for? At some stage it has to end... :(