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Wednesday 26 May 2010

Islay Feis Ile 2010 Day Three - Everyone's Got A Caol Ila

After the show it’s the after party

And after the party, it’s the hotel lobby.

And ‘round about 4 you gotta clear the lobby

- R Kelly, Ignition (Remix)

These immortal lyrics were sung by R Kelly on his 2002 hit “Ignition (Remix)” and sums up pretty much the goings on between the end of the Bruichladdich Open Day and the start of Islay: Day Three.

Needless to say, there was a very slow start to Caol Ila day...

After a wonderful fry-up at Chez Middleton, it was time to hit the road. The weather had turned a wee bit cooler, but the skies were still bright blue and the sun was bright and sharp. Our first port of call was to nip up and have a nosy around Kilchoman. The distillery isn’t far from the Islay Outpost and our journey took us on a fantastic ride along the bottom of Loch Gruinart. Anthony showed us the new tasting room, which is an excellent addition to the already successful cafe. The Festival bottling will be released on Thursday, a single cask of just over 250 bottles. Sadly we won’t be around to try it but no doubt, it will be a cracker.

Our next stop was Caol Ila, standing tall on the majestic Askaig coastline over looking the wonderful paps of Jura. We love visiting Caol Ila, especially when the sun is out- a perfect balance to the briny blasts of wind which certainly perk up the skin.

We had with us a sample of the new Caol Ila’s Manager’s Choice bottling and this seemed like as good a time as any to do a little comparison between this single cask release and the two other bottlings available for the festival- The official Feis bottling (an 11 yo Ex-European Oak single cask bottling) and their regular Distillery Only bottling, from 2007.

Caol Ila – Feis Ile Bottling 2010 – Distilled: 19/08/1999 – bottled: early 2010 – 11 years old – ex European oak – cask number 305646 – 61.9% vol – 70cl

Nose: Huge amount of toffee (Werther’s Originals), baking soda, peat, menthol and walnuts. With a little water, some sweet condensed milk notes are noticeable. Very sweet and rich.

Palate: The sweetness from the nose initially follows through to the palate, but eventually gives way to a pleasant woody dryness. Hold this in the mouth for any length of time and you’ll get an Incredible heat. Spiced notes (we’re not talking subtle here, so think small, sweet but powerful red chillies and Cayenne pepper). With water: hazelnut and almond flavours begin to come through and the whole complexion softens, but given time in the glass, it starts to sparkle in a sherbert’y way. Very nice indeed.

Finish: Long, spicy and fruity with rich red fruit compote. With water, the finish shortens slightly and there is a drying hint of bitterish oak- nothing unpleasant though.

Overall: a really solid and complex dram that certainly needs water to soften the blow a little and bring the rich, spicy flavours in to focus.

Caol Ila - Managers Choice Bottling – 1997 – European Sherry Oak – 58% ABV – 70cl

Notes: peat, slight hints of marmite and freshly cut pine. Shoe polish and leather. Hazelnuts. With water there are hints of green apple and the toffee is all but gone.

Palate: Immediately there is a sweetness which hits through the fresh pine and menthol notes. It grows increasingly in warmth and wholewheat notes with some sherry richness and brown sauce spices. With water: as with the nose, this becomes really apply, like freshly sqeezed cloudy apple juice. Much more subtle and far less interesting with the addition of water.

Finish: Long and lingering with roasted coffee. A real plum tones hits through on the final finish. With water: softer and duller, but with a good length to it.

Overall: the opposite of above as the addition of water to this dram just takes all the interesting aspects of the palate away and leave mainly apple flavours. Not bad at all, but one to be drunk neat.

Caol Ila- Distillery Only bottling – NAS – 58.4% - Bottled in 2007

Nose: Natural caramel, Dime bars, sweet coconut, dark chocolate covered brazil nuts, and a little hint of something fresh- runner beans. A lot more youthful smelling than the other bottlings in our taste-off.

Palate: Quite hot and spirity. Soil, soot, pepper and a healthy dose of clove oil. Becomes a little more biscuity (Digestives) with water.

Finish: Long, with malty cereal notes and classic sooty Caol Ila peat lingering in the mouth for a while.

Overall: Good stuff and certainly right in there with the Caol Ila family, but best enjoyed with a drop of water.

Verdict: We’d go for the neat Managers Choice over the other two, however the Festival Bottling 2010 is excellent, but certainly needs water to bring out the subtle and complex flavours.

Despite the bracing Caol Ila wind and several caskstrength drams, the previous 24 hours exertions were starting to take their toll; our delayed hangovers from the night before were starting to collectively kick in! Thankfully, help was at hand when a text came through from our host, Joanne. Homemade fish pie in oven- help yourself!! Just the sort of news we needed to hear, as Joanne’s fish pies are legendary for their restorative powers.

The road home took us via Bowmore where we nipped in to see David Wood and his Queen Of The Moorlands tasting at the Islay Whisky Shop (check out the heavily peated Bunnahabhain bottling they’ve done for the festival) before hot footing it back for a hearty measure of pie. After a quick scrub up we headed back down the island to Port Ellen for the now famous Blind Nosing Competition held at Ramsay Hall. In previous years we’d done ok, and this year we returned full of confidence only to turn in a disastrous performance!! It’s a lot harder than you think!

This year was not easier and despite leaving it to our instincts we only managed to get 4 out 10 whiskies correct. Well done to the Japanese chap who got an amazing 8/10 and to Angus McRail who took 2nd place with 6/10. As the sun set over the Port Ellen maltings, we picked a few Gorse flowers (we’ll be knocking up a liqueur from an old family recipe we found, so watch this space folks for some notes).

A melancholy descended over us as we headed back towards Guinart for the final time- this was our last night and as with every year we’ve attended the festival, the friendship and goodwill we’ve experienced on this fantastic island is overwhelming. Many thanks to all those who have made our time on Islay so special, but once again special thanks to Joanne and Derek Middleton- your generosity knows no bounds.

We’ll be doing a ‘tribute’ post later this week in homage to the Ardbeg Open Day, including details of the festival bottling but before that a final Feis Ile 2010 post on our journey home including details of an interesting competition. Until then, Happy Feis and see you again in 2011.