#EveryDramDrunk – Tour of Islay 2016

It’s finally here! My short film #EveryDramDrunk – Tour of Islay 2016

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Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 55% | Colour: So dark!
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 9.2 | Finish: 9.0 | Overall Score: 9.0

Review
Yes, I know. A million bloggers have already written about this one and I’m super late to the party. I have an excuse, though. I’ve been sick for a while and, frankly, quite busy with putting together my documentary Every Dram Drunk.

I’m calling it a documentary but, as my friend rather sarcastically pointed out, it’s actually just a pathetic attempt on my part to validate yet another boys trip. I can’t help but fear she’s right but, hey, you know what they say. Opinions are like butt cracks. Everyone has one.

Anyway, the whisky at hand.

Now Ardbeg have started doing this thing where they create two versions of the same whisky to release during the Feis. A Committee bottle and a Festival bottle. They did it last year for the first time with the Perpetuum and now this year with the Dark Cove. Usually the Committee bottle has a stronger ABV compared to the Festival release. While the Perpetuum had a 2% difference in ABV this years’ release has a whopping 8.5% difference!

The Committee release is bottled at a punchy 55% and the Festival release at a mere 46.5%

I wish I could understand the logic of it. I mean if the whisky is meant to be tasted at 55% let it be. Don’t go about watering it down to create more stock. Look, the Festival release is pretty darn decent by any stretch of the imagination but the Committee at 55% is a completely different animal.

And that’s what was sitting in front of me my first day on Islay.

After warming up our palates with the tasty Lagavulin 8 we ordered this one while sat at the Old Port Bar at the quaint Port Askaig Hotel.

There’s not a lot of literature on this one and even at the distillery everyone was quite vague. All they kept saying was this one has a lot of dark sherry in it. Apparently it’s a rare kind of sherry from Spain. But that’s all I know. Anyway.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at, as I mentioned earlier, 55%

Nose: Bam! Big big nose. Reminded me why I was in love with Ardbeg for the longest time. Touch mossy at first but then relaxes into a smoky haze. Wet barn. Wheat biscuits. Bung cloth. Cracking peat. Black fruits. Lots of toffee. Red peppers. Cinnamon. All-spice. Rather sweet on the nose. Love this bold approach. The peat and the dark sherry, whatever the hell that is, works beautifully together. 8.8

Palate: The true test of a whisky is on the palate and this is where this one comes through in spades. The 55% is the right strength for this spirit. Massive flavours. Solid oak. Cinnamon. Quite oily. Salty. Dark chocolate. Wait, bitter chocolate. Almonds. Toasted wood. Sticky toffee pudding. Liquorice. Dark fruits. This is unapologetic. Love it. 9.2

Finish: My hastily written notes say mad spice! So I’m going to have to go with that. Mad spice. Caramel. Smoke. 9.0

Overall Comments: Beautiful whisky this. While the Festival is nice in it’s own right the Committee is the one to beat. Reaffirms my faith in this distillery to produce knockout flavours. This one also marked the start of a memorable boys trip to the Festival and, thus, has a special place in my heart.

Overall Score: 9.0

Lagavulin 18 Feis Ile 2016

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 49.5% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 8.6 | Palate: 9.0 | Finish: 8.8 | Overall Score: 8.8

Review
For our trip to Islay for the whisky festival this year I ended up getting t-shirts printed with Malt Activist emblazoned on the front and the words The Perfect Dram / Feis Ile 2016 printed on the back.

Other than shameless self-promotion the idea was for the group to visit the island in search of the perfect dram. While there’s probably no such thing we did come quite close. Some in terms of the emotional draw they had for us and some simply for the quality of spirit.

This 18 year old from Lagavulin was one of the top contenders for The Perfect Dram simply because of how insanely good it was.

Lagavulin18 001

Having reached Islay a day earlier everyone woke up excited to an overcast day to visit their first distillery together. After parking two miles down the road we made our way to the small courtyard in front of the visitors centre where congregated over 300 odd whisky fanatics with half of them in line for the Feis bottle.

With waits of well over two hours to secure a bottle we said no thanks! and wandered around the grounds killing time before our Whisky & Bites tasting with a gentleman by the name of Dennis Mulder.

First we took part in a blind tasting (which I’m pretty sure I won – I’m just waiting for them to contact me) and and then spent twenty minutes watching a cooper put together a barrel. So far this was turning out to be a great day.

Lagavulin18 003

After countless drams of Lagavulin 16 and the Double Matured down at the warehouse it was finally time to meet Dutchman Dennis Mulder who was going to conduct the Whisky & Bites Masterclass. As we trooped into the malt room where the tasting was taking place the clouds burst again and showered us one last time before we went inside.

That would be the last time for four days that it would rain again.

We were ushered inside and were greeted with two extremely long tables where sat around 50 odd people. In front of each one were five drams. From L to R : Lagavulin 8, 16, Double Matured, 12 CS 2015 and this beautiful 18 year old released as this years’ Feis bottle.

In addition to the whiskies the entire table was lined with different types of bites and we were encouraged to pair each one with the different whiskies. There was dark chocolate along with milk and a rather fatty white chocolate. Strong mint drops, pancetta and pecan nuts made up the other edibles on the table.

I only wish that the food pairings were specific rather than a free for all but it was our second day on Islay, the first distillery open day, in fantastic company among friends and so there was little reason to be fussy.

Lagavulin18 004

All of us decided to sample the 18 before any of the others especially before corrupting our palate with all those bites.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 49.5%

Nose: The faintest of smoke. Delicate peat. The 18 years have really mellowed the spirit down. But it’s brought out so many other flavours. Crisp lemon. An even crisper lime. Small nectarines. Milk chocolate – but just a touch. Green apples. Green papaya. Olives. Let it sit and there’s a touch of something floral. Like white wildflowers. This turns to geranium after a bit. Beautiful nose. A very nice layering of aromas. If I didn’t have four other drams and 45 minutes before the session ended I could have sat with this for a while. 8.6

Palate: Bold. Strong. Full bodied. Coats the entire palate with a toasted white pepper oak. Sooty. Strong vanilla. Very creamy. Herbaceous. Those citrus notes are back. The lime. Lemon. And the nectarines. Confident palate. Doesn’t muck about with too many flavours. Everything is concise and in the right proportions. The best part. 9.0

Finish: Medium to long. Touch of oak. Nice and oily. Makes you want to chew it for a while. 8.8

Overall Comments: Lovely dram this. Just wonderfully crafted. Strong flavours all composed quite masterfully. Once again I am guilty of being partial to these set of reviews (the Feis bottlings) only because I have such vivid and fun memories of tasting these whiskies during my time on the island. But I won’t apologise for that.

Overall Score: 8.8

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Feis Ile

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Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.8 | Finish: 7.6 | Overall Score: 7.7

Review
I think the picture in this review sums up the perfect whisky drinking experience for me. Sitting outside the visitors centre at Laphroaig, overlooking the cold waters of the North Atlantic as they lazily washed over the grey rocks and, most importantly, two extra glasses for sharing my whisky.

The morning had dawned beautifully and we were all set to experience Laphroaig’s rather popular tour, Water to Whisky. This is where they take you out to the distillery’s water source, visit the peat bogs to cut some peat and then give you the opportunity to hand-fill a bottle down in the legendary Warehouse 1 from a cask of your choosing.

As everyone was prepping and getting their wellies in order I snuck three drams of their latest Cairdeas out for a quiet sip before heading out. (On a side note, let me tell you there is probably no distillery on Islay more generous with their drams than Laphroaig. You can literally drink to your hearts’ content at the bar inside the visitors centre for no charge.)

As my two other friends joined me we toasted to what turned out to be a an absolutely wonderful day of whisky drinking and exploring. But I will talk about that in a later post.

In the mean time we had in front of us a rather unusual Laphroaig. To the best of my knowledge this was the first time Laphroaig had experimented with a Madeira cask so, needless to say, everyone was quite excited.

This particular Cairdeas is a vatting of first-fill bourbons which have then been finished off in a Madeira hogshead. The result is a departure from the traditional Laphroaig flavours. My sample is from an open bottle and served at 51.6%

Nose: The sharp peat jumps out first. Quite spicy. A bit of oak. Becomes sweet and sour after a while. I don’t know if I’m getting influenced by the label but there’s red fruits in here too. Red berries. Raspberries. Liquorice. And finally that familiar Laphroaig iodine and seaweed that I was searching for. Dries with a touch of water. This is a good nose if you ask me. Just short of being fantastic but good in it’s own right. 7.6

Palate: Hmmmmm. This is where the Laphroaig distillate comes through more. Well rounded and crisp. The oak is there and it’s been dry-rubbed by those same red berries. The liquorice is back. And it’s back with some dark chocolate. And, as with the nose, the seaweed and iodine make a last minute appearance. It’s sweet and sour at the same time. Once again, like the nose, it does not blow my mind but I’m happy to drink it. 7.8

Finish: Smoky. Earthy. Hint of those red fruits again. 7.6

Overall Comments: I love Laphroaig. In fact I love pretty much everything about them. Especially the tour & tasting guides who go out of their way to make you feel special. This new Cairdeas is a departure from the typical Laphroaig house style but I think it works even if it doesn’t blow my socks off. I’m more than happy to drink this all evening. Preferably at the distillery’s visitor centre.

Overall Score: 7.7

Lagavulin 8

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 48% | Colour: Chardonnay
Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.0 | Score: 8.2

Review
It was raining when we landed in Islay. Cold and persistent. It was a day before the whisky festival was about to start and things were looking damp.

When you live in a place like Dubai where they actually have to fire water pellets into clouds to get some rain, believe me, weather like this is like dying and going to heaven. Only problem was we had a number of outdoor activities planned for the week and rain was going to be a problem if it persisted.

But as luck would have it the rain stopped the next morning, the clouds opened up and the sun shone like it had never before for the rest of the week. But that’s a story for another day.

Lagavulin 002

After checking into the Port Askaig Hotel (our first stop) we freshened up in our rooms (Mull & Rum – don’t ask me why) and headed down to the Old Port Bar for a bit of food and, of course, some whisky.

After being greeted warmly by the bar staff we settled in our seats and chose, instead, to start the evening with an Islay Ale. I quite like Saligo which is a sweet and rather mild beer. Much more to my liking compared to the darker ones. Besides I didn’t want to ruin my palate too much. I had the Lagavulin 8 looking back at me from across the bar.

I’m a huge fan of Lagavulin and I’m pretty sure I have yet to taste something from them that I don’t like. I may like some less than others but if there’s a distillery that’s got it’s craft down to the proverbial T it’s this one.

And what’s more they are unafraid. It’s 8 years old, the label screams. And there’s a reason for that you snobby bastard.

Alfred Barnard, the famous brewing and distilling historian from Britain, undertook an epic journey across Ireland, England & Scotland researching for his famous book ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’.

It was at Lagavulin or Lagganmhouillin, as I like to call it, that he tried an ‘exceptionally fine’ eight-year-old from the distillery. And it is to commemorate this event that the spirit inside this bottle is of this particular age.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48%

Nose: Soft. Smokey peat. Quite a bit of salt. Fishnets. Kelp. White pepper. Lemon rind. Lime. Cardamom seeds. Brine. Hint of aniseed. Touch of green herbs. Sugarcane juice. That lovely Islay grist. This is quite a wonderfully sooty nose. Lots of spent ash. Quite typically Lagavulin with a feistiness that I love. 8.2

Palate: White pepper pin pricks. Then the sugars crumble beautifully. Toasted barley. Not very very sweet. Lots of soot and ash. Limoncello. Dry ginger. This is so nice and complex. 8.4

Finish: Nice and satisfying. Drying. Touch of spice. 8.0

Overall Comments: This is such a solid whisky, I tell you. Really liked everything about it. The fact that it’s young and sprightly and carries this much flavour really works for me. It’s very reasonably priced on top of that. So all in all a great start to the trip. Despite the rain.

Score: 8.2

Lagavulin 003

Bowmore Vintage Feis Ile 25 Years Old

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 55.7% | Colour: Ruby Gold
Nose: 8.2 | Taste: 7.7 | Finish: 7.7 | Score: 7.9

Review
Bowmore has never really tugged at my heart strings even though I’ve given it enough opportunities. Though I must admit, of late, there have been some shining moments which have made me sit up and take notice. Most notably it’s Tempest series which is only going from strength to strength.

I stumbled upon the first release by chance and six releases later am still a fan. I think their Laimrig is also very nice. The Devils’ Cask too. Though I fail to understand it’s allure to so many people willing to shell out big bucks for it on the second hand market. It’s something like £500 on some whisky sites. It’s 10 years old guys and tastes very much like the cheaper Laimrig.

While some of their special releases do hold my attention it’s the core range that disappoints me the most. The 12 all the way through the 25 are lacklustre drams in my opinion. Of course I’ll be courting a backlash from the die-hards but so be it.

Anyway.

So there I was sitting in the Bowmore tasting room at the distillery on their open day with four drams laid out in front me.
Bowmore 25 tasting pic

We had signed up for a single cask hand-fill tasting during our trip to the whisky festival and, never mind that it was 10.30 in the morning, all of us were sitting there rubbing our hands in anticipation.

From L to R we had a 2014 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead single cask, then a 13 year old Oloroso Spanish Sherry Oak, this years hand-fill the 17 year old matured in a PX butt and finally, as the surprise dram of the morning, this 25 year old Feis bottling.

I know a number of people who had lined up outside the distillery 16 hours before the gates opened to get hold of one of 200 bottles released. I was not one of them, mind you. But, hey, more power to you if you were and congrats on your purchase!

After tasting the first three (all very nice, by the way) we made our way to the star of the show. This cask strength 25 year old was first matured for 12 years in first-fill bourbon and then transferred to a Claret Wine cask for another 13. The result is an extremely sweet and spicy dram which just might have been over-powered by the wine influence.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 55.7%

Nose: So sweet. Almost sickly sweet. Though just about manages to not be cloying. Just. Mulled wines. Hint of oak. Touch of all-spice. Black peppercorns. Soft red apples. Mushy red fruits. The nose is quite distinct, thanks to the Claret Wine. Though, this may have been a disaster if kept for another year. But it’s not. I think it’s nice. 8.2

Palate: Very creamy. I like the mouthfeel. Gets quite dry mid-palate. Those red fruits are back. Raspberries. Almost jam like. Cinnamon. Milk chocolate brownies. With water the ash comes out a bit more. As do the spices. I don’t like it as much as the nose. I think the Claret Wine influence is mighty strong and I like to taste the integrity of the spirit. Still, feels nice on the palate. 7.7

Finish: Very long. Very drying. With a late resurgence of oils. 7.7

Overall Comments: So what do I think? I like it. I’ve heard it being slammed by some critics. Even some friends. But I’ll chalk that up to creative differences. I don’t think it’s worth waiting in line for 16 hours to spend £350 on it, though. But it’s not a disaster as some claim it to be. And, to be honest, the real reason is that I was in Islay sitting inside Bowmore tasting this with close friends. And that means a lot. Enough to award this more points than it actually might deserve. Deal with it.

Score: 7.9