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Monday 24 May 2010

Islay Feis Ile 2010 Day Two- Stick It In Ya Bloodtub....

We awoke on day two of our Islay trip to blazing, bright sunshine. This island really is one of the most beautiful places in the world when this weather strikes. The beaches look positively Caribbean, but this is no rum island, it's whisky land and today was Bruichladdich day.

Situated towards the North of the island, on the way to Port Charlotte, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman are not too far apart as the crow flies (a little longer as the hire car drives, especially if Ridley is behind the wheel...) sitting like small independent states on the edge of a bigger country. The night before we’d grabbed a chat with the legendary Jim McEwan, Master Distiller and head of all things whisky at ‘Laddich. In an impromptu moment he grabbed a piece of cardboard and drew us a picture of the “whisky cake”, a roughly drawn pie chart showing massive slices for Diageo, Suntory, LVMH, etc. Then Jim drew in Bruichladdich’s share... so small it didn’t even come in as a slice. 0.9% of the market, to be precise.

Bruichladdich come in for some stick, mainly due to the huge amount of bottlings they are now famed for releasing. But there is method behind the madness, reason in the season. When you only have 0.9% of the market, you have to make it work for you and Bruichladdich do this through releasing varied and interesting bottlings as and when it suits them. Not beholden to a marketing department or a think tank and focus group situated miles away from the distillery, if they want to release it, they’ll release it. And more power to them for this attitude.

Bruichladdich is also famed for their open day. Unique to ‘Laddich is their whitewashed walled quad which, along with being a suntrap also provides an excellent, controlled space for entertaining. Their open day, as with Ardbeg’s (the final Saturday of the festival), falls on a weekend so it tends to attract a greater number of locals, all looking for some fun on their day(s) off. We arrived at 12pm, after a lovely walk down from Port Mor, to hear strains of Europe’s The ‘Final Countdown’ blasting out from the quad, played brilliantly by the local school orchestra. My school orchestra used to make us play stuff like the 'Saints Go Marching In', so to hear one of your favourite tracks with full brass was fantastic- more power to the conductor!

The queue was already building up for the festival bottling so we joined the back, as this was one we certainly didn’t want to miss, having tried a sneaky taste the night before. It really is one of the best ‘Laddich’s we’ve tried in a while- the first bottling to use 100% locally grown Islay Barley (Chalice) from the Kentraw Farm.

Bruichladdich 2010 Feis Ile Valinch – 2004 – cask 1667 – Dist. 2004 – Fresh Sherry Butt. – Bottled 23/5/10 by me!! 57.5%

Nose: Big caramel notes, burnt sugar, vanilla, chopped hazelnuts, and bags of raisins. Lots of raisins. It is still showing signs that it is a very young, but with water, it becomes a lot more tame.

Palate: Initially sweet and nutty with Crème Brûlée topping flavours coming strongly to the fore. With water, the dried fruits are dominant . Very drinkable indeed, but does need water to smooth out some of the youthful notes.

Finish: The remnants of raisin and Demerara sugar linger on the palate. Excellent.

Overall: First ‘Laddich of the day and we’re off to a flying start. One to bag for sure if you can get a chance.

We felt a spot of lunch was in order, so visited the buffet bar, which is run by the local lifeboat charity. At £7, you get probably the biggest and best amount of quality food we’ve seen for a while, from curried scallops to venison. By the end we are totally sated and smiling from ear to ear...

Next dram was one of the other Valinch bottling offered on the day- The Italian Job- a cask from 1992, bottled especially for the festival. Rich apricots, banana and pancakes on the nose, followed by some slightly sugary rum notes. The palate reveals a little peat, backed with toffee,white pepper and some green chillies, fried in butter. It’s not a bad drop at all, but for my money, the official Feis Valinch pips this to the post in terms of excellence.

Our party of 3 were then spurred into action as the dramming bar was temporarily short staffed, so team Caskstrength (plus the Whisky Guy) were tasked with keeping the very thirsty visitors in whisky for a few hours. We were introduced to our 3rd Bruichladdich of the day by a friend and wow! all of us had one of those Eureka moments. For those of you that like wonderfully buttery, fruity bourbon influenced whiskies, look no further than the recent 16yo Bourbon cask release.

It is quite simply, a total stunner. Fresh crisp fruit (apple/banana), Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum, lovely oily mouthfeel and a sweetness to die for, it has all the hallmarks of a really well made vatting of brilliant bourbon casks. This retails for around £45 and is going to become a cabinet staple at Caskstrength towers.

Sadly, we didn’t win the raffle prize, offering a brand new Bruichladdich blood tub, but the day was drawing to a wonderfully relaxed end. A little hop and a skip around the quad for the Ceilidh was enough to get us red faced and in need of another dram and fortunately, some top lads from Falkirk just happened to have a little something up their sleeves- their own bottling of Port Charlotte!

Port Sgioba – 8yo – Cask 826- distilled 6/12/01 – bottled 2/3/10 – 66% vol – 286 bottles

Nose: Hint of gentle smoke, slight note of farmyards and wet hay. Underneath there is a huge woody sherry note and some lovely fruity sweetness.

Palate: Minty and fresh initially, the high alcohol strength gives palate a thorough coating. It’s dry, but the sherry notes are superb, with further swirls of smoke. With water and honey notes come to the fore and further notes of peat smoke.

Finish: Lingering notes of honeycomb and the dry/fruity sherry.

Overall: Sensational drinking. This has some excellent balance between the soft peat and powerful sherry wood influence. If you’d like to try it out, contact us for details and we’ll try to hook you up with the casks owners!!

Tomorrow’s post will sadly be our last from this wonderful island until next year’s festival, but rest assured it’ll be a cracker- Caol Ila’s open day, where we review the Feis Ile, Distillery Only and Managers Choice bottlings side-by-side. How’s that for a threesome!!