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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Road To Islay Day 2: Why isn’t this a rum blog? – we’d be in The Caribbean now…

9am Saturday morning and a quick glance out the window of our guest house tells us everything we need to know about how to dress for the day- Divers outfit would probably be best suited to Islay at the moment. Torrential (sideways) rain hits us as we head for the first destination of the day, Lagavulin, where we find a small band of (clearly mental) whisky fanatics queuing for the distillery’s Feis Ile special release.

As this video shows, it is so cold and wet that even a waxed overcoat coat is reduced to a dripping, whimpering wreck within 30 mins of standing outside the distillery. But spirits are high and those who have been there since 8am are rewarded by 10am as the distillery doors swing open and the first lucky few eagerly grab this year’s Feis bottling. Cask 1715 (a refill butt) has yielded 588 bottles and like every previous year of the Feis, anticipation is high. By 3.30pm, the whole lot has sold out and luckily we managed to get our hands on a bottle:

Lagavulin – Feis Ile special release 2011 – Date filled: 23/02/1998 - Cask no: 1715 (refill butt) -Bottled 2011

Nose: Surprisingly light and not at all like the previous Feis releases, or the 16yo. Cracked black pepper, into swathes of zesty lemons, grapefruit juice, with a big hit of sea salt and some gentle smoke.

Palate: The salt from the nose continues onto the palate, with a healthy dose of peat smoke, lemon juice and a hint of maltiness.

Finish: Lengthy notes of classic Lagavulin peat.

Overall: Light and drinkable, but in our opinion, not a patch on the previous festival bottlings, especially the 2007, which really remains the benchmark.

By now, our hands were beginning to warm up and after a few drams in the filling store (including the excellent Lagavulin Distillery Only bottling) we fill up on ham rolls and homemade lentil soup listening to the folk band bang out a couple of reels.

We sneaked into the back of one of the masterclasses, run by new Lagavulin distillery Manager Georgie Crawford, where it was fascinating to sample a freshly drawn batch of Lagavulin new make spirit, (lots of fresh fruit notes, with light swathes of smoke.) Clearly, a lot of the concentrated flavour in a whisky like Lagavulin 16yo comes from the careful management of cask.

4pm – and we decide to head for a spot of afternoon tea, Islay style and what better place than the Old Kiln Café at neighbouring Ardbeg. Their Feis bottling this year is a larger release on previous years, with 2, 13 yo Pedro Ximenez casks vatted together, yielding 1000 bottles and priced at £90 – less wallet popping than the previous Feis Ardbeg single cask bottlings. It’s a new experiment for Ardbeg and we look forward to trying it later this coming week, when it is released on the Spanish themed distillery open day. In the meantime, something a little lighter was in order and a little dram of Ardbeg Kildalton 1981 release was rustled up- something we’ve been itching to try for a while.

Ardbeg Kildalton 1981 Release - 52.6%

Nose: Sweet tea, very light peat notes, bruised strawberries and a buttery toffee. Vibrant and a very different beast to modern day Ardbeg releases.

Palate: A light maltiness, followed by speamint, vanilla poached pears and very creamy, sweet evaporated milk. With a dash of water, notes of homemade (real) lemonade come to the fore, giving this a fantastic sweet but slightly sharp zestiness.

Finish: Hints of yeasty Champagne and orange cream chocolates.

Overall: A terrific release, full of individual character- markedly different to the lightly peated Blasda with the extra strength giving this some real bite. It was available as part of Ardbeg’s now legendary Peat Pack Miniature set (which also includes the 10yo, 17yo and Uigeadail) and if you see one pop up for a reasonable price, grab it whilst you can.

In our next instalment, we head to Bruichladdich for their open day, sample some really nice gin punch and try in vain to keep our cigars from getting soaked through.