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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Road To Islay Day Six: Dial "W" for Whisky

Yesterday was was the traditional clash of open days, in that Bowmore and nearby Islay Ales were showing their wares and the majority of Islay visitors descended to the middle of the island. We hadn’t booked into any events during the day, so had a leisurely stroll into the distillery for a dram of their festival bottling.

In previous years, Bowmore have opted to release 2 bottlings; a regular general release (and cheaper £50 option) and a super-limited, once in a lifetime type of bottling at a high price. This year, 100 bottles of a 1983 vintage were available from the distillery shop at £350 and, of course, the queues began at the crack of dawn.

Caskstrength had neither the will, patience, nor the finances to join them at 4am in the gale force winds and piercing rain, but we’re sure the end result will live up to expectation, given the quality of the recent 1982 vintage release. Here’s our thoughts on the more reasonably priced chappy…

Bowmore – Feis Ile 2011 bottling - Laimrig - 15yo – 51.4% - 500 bottles

Nose: A big slug of sherry wood, followed by dried figs, polished oak furniture, smoked roast pork, BBQ sauce, followed by lashings of wood smoke, the longer you leave it in the glass.

Palate: Thick and unctuous, dried cherries, strawberry jam on brown bread and very strong oak influenced flavours.

Finish: Gentle smoke, peppered with more sherry tones and sour cherries. On the death, there is a whisker of tropical fruit, but it’s gone in a heartbeat.

Overall: A solid sipping whisky- Bowmore have got this release right. There is enough maturation to justify the price and the release is limited to reward those festival goers who are dedicated Bowmore fans, but lack the wonga to become serious collectors. Well worth seeking out if you can grab one.

This seemed like a good day to try another Bowmore, this time one which we picked up at the nosing competiton earlier in the week. The chaps from Master of Malt have been over and they cheered up a bedraggled queue of folk waiting for the electricity to be restored by handing out some of their Drinks By The Drams, all gratis! What nice fellas. In the lucky dip bag we picked out the following:

Bowmore - 1982 - The Octave - Duncan Taylor - 27 Years Old - 50.6% ABV

Nose: Rich and Creamy with hints of subtle hints of smoke. Pure caramel pudding (with sea salt), green herbs and coconut.

Palate: This is very drinkable at cask strength, as the green herbs of fennel and thyme come to the fore, backed with wood spices and some delicate smoke kicking through at the death.

Finish: Again, tonnes of cream soda, smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Overall: A delicious whisky but I wonder if the smaller, fresh oak Octave cask which this has been additionally matured in has overpowered the base spirit and smoke a little too much.

As it started to absolutely throw it down, we decided to give Islay Ales a miss today (we’ll be visiting later this week) and in the early evening we headed back to Port Ellen for our main booking for the day. A few of the distilleries decided to do whisky & food matching evenings (Laphroaig organising something for the Friends Of Laphroaig and Ardbeg doing a BBQ for their committee members).

However, Lagavulin had put together a 3 course meal in conjunction with the Harbour Inn and we duly booked a couple of places. The meal and cracking presentation by the masterful Colin Dunn consisted of beautifully hot smoked salmon and oysters to start, accompanied by the Lagavulin 2010 12yo bottling.

The main course was pink Islay Lamb which paired well with the Lagavulin festival bottling and the absolute highlight was the dessert; a sea salt and caramel chocolate pudding w/ Caol Ila Ice cream, washed down with a choice of 2 whiskies- The Caol Ila Moch (which is fast becoming our dram of the Feis) and the Festival bottling.A few key folk from both Lagavulin and Caol Ila were present, including the new Lagavulin Distillery manager, Georgie Crawford and Billy Stitchell, Manager at Caol Ila.

A relaxing Port Ellen 4th release and coffee ensured that we were too stuffed to move a muscle and sadly the Ceilidh band missed out on Ridley & Harrison’s ‘ambitious’ dance moves, which was probably for the best.

With all the peat rattling around our gums, we felt like it was time to break out something a little softer, but wonderfully complex to go with our cigars (a Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure No. 1 and a Bolivar Belicoso Finos) and what better treat than Duncan Taylor’s magnificent Black Bull 40yo blend, which we picked up on route from Loch Fyne whiskies. All in all, a sensational end to the evening, although a spot of exercise tomorrow is probably now…