Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2015 Hand Filled 7 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Bunnahabhain | Region: Islay | ABV: 58.6% | Colour: Oloroso
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
As I’m sure many of you know of my Islay escapades in May when I went there for the 2015 Festival shenanigans. Since it was my first time on Islay I pretty much went everywhere wide-eyed and mouth agape in excitement.

While my entire trip was something of a gorgeous fairy-tale it was the visit to Bunnahabhain, on their open day, that really set itself apart for me. My friend and I started with dropping our car off in a field and then proceeded to wait almost 45 minutes for the distillery bus to come pick us up.

So fierce was the wind that we almost gave up half way through and were actually entertaining thoughts of heading back. Good thing we didn’t.

We entered the distillery to live music, games and quite possibly the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. Already feeling quite happy we went up to the distillery shop to pick up some bottles.

Now I’m not a huge fan of the Bunna, the 18 and 25 are very good, mind you, but the other stuff I’m not a big fan of. However, when I was told we had the option of hand-filling our bottles straight from Oloroso casks there was no way I was going to pass up that opportunity.

We made our way into the damp warehouse where sat three huge Oloroso barrels. The sweet smell of sherry and whisky was in the air.

We drew from three casks that day. There was a 12 year old first-fill (Cask1490), an eight year old peated second-fill (Cask 3660) and the one that I’m holding in my hand right now, the seven year old matured in second-fill Oloroso Gonzalez Byass sherry, drawn from Cask 4903.

Bunna collage

I could see the gunk and the sediments from the cask as I held the glass up to the island light. I have never seen a whisky nor felt joy that pure. Quite possibly one of my finest moments as a whisky enthusiast.

My sample is from a personally sealed and signed bottle, distilled on 22.10.08 and bottled on 29.05.15 (by my self, I might add!) and served at a cask strength of 58.6%

Nose: Super sweet. So much Oloroso. Dry dates. Dry oak. Chocolate. Black pepper. Cinnamon. Brownies. Dry leaves. Cigar leaf. Almonds. Vanilla. Toffee apples. Mellows out a touch with a drop of water. Slightly more butterscotch. More caramel. Less oak. Beautiful. Sweet as! 23/25

Palate: Very creamy. Digestive biscuits. Quite spicy. Oak. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Chocolate fudge. Dates. Gets even more creamy with water. Becomes less spicy. Slightly more savory. Such a smooth and creamy palate. 23/25

Finish: Very long. Oaky. Hint of spice. Maybe a touch bitter. But more of a bitter chocolate. 23/25

Overall Comments: This is a gorgeous sherry monster. I love the fact that I’ve drawn this out of the cask full of all the grime and the sediments that come with a whisky this pure. It is quite wonderfully balanced between sweet and savory. The cask strength really brings out the flavors. I prefer it without water, too. Regardless of how they taste these whiskies will always remind me of my best day on Islay.

Review 92

Ardbeg Kildalton 1981

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 52.6% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
After much planning and fanfare I finally managed to make a trip to Islay for the famed Islay Whisky Festival. It was a long overdue trip made even better with the company of two of my whisky buddies.

While each Islay distillery had a certain allure for me it was definitely the mystique behind Ardbeg that I was most excited about. Of course, once I visited it I realized there was no real mystique behind the name any more. It was just another company that had now taken to producing slightly above average spirit dressed up in marketing glitter.

Quite sad really.

However, that’s the story today. But go back a few decades and you realize why this distillery commanded such awe. Before it closed doors in 1981 there was some real magic happening behind those doors.

Old stock released after it’s re-opening in 1997 shed a giant spotlight on the work that was done during that era. Sadly that era doesn’t seem like it’s going to be revived any time soon.

One of those old stock releases was the 1980 Kildalton and then subsequently the 1981 as a mini as part of the 2005 Story of Peat pack which included the new 10 year old, the Uigeadail, the super rare 17 and this 1981 Kildalton.

I took this very pack with me to Islay hoping to taste it at an opportune moment and it was my friend Nitin (@trailingTheMalt) who had the splendid idea of heading down to the Kildalton Cross, just ahead of Ardbeg, to open and sample the 1981 Kildalton.

The weather Gods were against us that day not giving us more than five minutes of sunshine but finally the sun broke through and for an hour it turned out to be a bright and beautifully sunny day.

And it was right under the Kildalton cross that we each raised our glass and toasted this whisky.

My sample is from a 50ml Mini bottled at 52.6%

Nose: Vanilla. Soft fruits. Honey. Hint of heather. Quite floral. The faintest of smoke. Extremely delicate. Hint of oak. Pineapple. Almost like nosing a fruity white wine. I’m pretty sure this whisky is unpeated or even if it was lightly peated has lost all of it’s peat reek resulting in a sweet delicate fragrance.

Palate: The fruit continues. There’s the hint of smoke again. Vanilla. White spices. Very delicate again. Milk chocolates. Melon. Pineapple. Delicate citrus. And the tiniest of mocha. Very smooth, sweet and fruity.

Finish: Oily. Mouth coating. Touch of oak. Touch of spice. Nice and long.

Overall Comments: I read that this whisky was originally commissioned by a private entity or individual but was instead bottled as a distillery release. May explain the departure from the original Ardbeg house style. Nevertheless this is a wonderfully delicate spirit which simply shows the softer side of Ardbeg. An experience made even better by the symbolic trip we undertook to taste it.

Rating: 93

Laphroaig 14 Years Douglas Laing Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48.4% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
As part of my trip to the Islay Whisky Festival a couple of weeks I tried to get into as many tastings as I could. One of them happened to be an interesting session with the guys over from Douglas Laing, the independent bottlers.

Douglas Laing are an accomplished whisky bottler claiming to stay as true to the original spirit as possible. The result is some fairly popular expressions.

Big Peat, Double Barrel, Provenance, Directors Cut and Old Particular are some of the names under which they market their wares. However, what I did not know was that they, too, release a festival bottling every year to mark Feis Ile and it is, of course, always something from Islay.

This year they chose to release a single cask Laphroaig aged for 14 years in a Refill Butt (Ref DL10694) under the Old Particular label. Distilled in February 2001 and bottled exactly 14 years later in February 2015 this is one of 636 bottles released.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48.4%

Nose: Touch of peat. Lime. Lemon. Walnuts. Hint of oak. Hardboiled lemon sweets. Raisins. Ginger. Warm tangerines. Quite fruity too. Peaches. Then the signature Laphroaig flavors come rolling in. A little medicinal. Seaweed. Cherry licorice. This is a wonderful nose. Adds a bit of restrained fruitiness over the traditional house flavors.

Palate: Citrus. Smoke. Barbecue. Peat. White pepper. Spicy. Iodine. After the initial sting of Islay the spirit mellows out towards the sweeter side. Caramel. Milk chocolate. Raisins. Salt. You know this is a Laphroaig but this one has a gentler side to it.

Finish: Sea salt. Char. Citrus. Touch of oak.

Overall Comments: This is quite a fantastic little dram which I’m sure will simply fly under the radar amongst the masses. Also because there’s only 636 bottles floating around for consumption. Which is a pity because I feel amid all the distillery fanfare where some of the big names are content to churn out whiskies that are barely decent there are little gems thrown in the middle that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Well I hope my millions of followers are listening and pick this lovely little whisky if they have the chance.

Rating: 92

Bowmore SMWS Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 57.1% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

Review
The SMWS bottlings have held a certain level of mystique over me for some reason. The way they don’t put the name of the distillery on the bottle and ‘hide’ it behind numbers and fancy descriptions.

The minimalism of their packaging. The near brilliant consistency of their whiskies. Everything ticks the right boxes for me.

I remember my first SMWS. It was a seven year old Ardbeg and, my word, it was delicious. Since then I’ve been on a quest to get hold of as many as I can get my hands on.

Which is not always easy.

And this I found out the hard way during my trip to Islay last week for the Whisky Festival. Because this release was no where to be found. Of course, missing their open day didn’t help!

However, I did manage to snag a dram at the Ballygrant Inn.

The SMWS 3.243 is a 17 year old Bowmore matured in ex-Sherry butts served at a cask strength of 57.1%. My sample is from an open bottle.

Nose: Lots of toasted barley. Lots of it. Touch of peat. Hint of char. Like a toasted papadum. As the smoke clears the honey shines. A mild dark honey. Almost bitter savory. Jute bag. And a sprinkle of black salt. Complex nose this. Wonderfully layered.

Palate: Black pepper. That same dark honey. Banana. Rum toffee. Butterscotch. Berries. Hint of dark chocolate. Cinnamon. The spirit is quite full bodied and the oakiness settles in the open cracks of your mouth. Makes sense?

Finish: Long. Oak. Spices. Chocolate.

Overall Comments: A tasty whisky this. Quite chewy and nice. Another reason to drink SMWS.

Rating: 90

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 59.9% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
I missed the Lagavulin open day during the Islay Festival. Which is a shame because I am genuinely a fan of this distillery. We did swing by on one of the off days and managed a distillery tour.

Though the first thing that greeted us as we made our way to the visitor centre was a large printed sign informing us that the Feis Ile bottling was all SOLD OUT!

Fine, we get it!

It was raining on and off with the wind threatening to push us off the pier as we stood staring at the LAGAVULIN written on the distillery wall. I managed to get some nice panoramic pictures before we decided to head on to see the Kildalton Cross. But that’s another story.

Since we couldn’t taste the Feis Ile bottling at the distillery we had to find one some where. This we managed to locate at a place called the Ballygrant Inn. Manned by an extremely anti-social bar tender it did have quite a wonderful whisky collection including the entire Feis Ile releases for this year.

And sitting among the lot was the Lagavulin. Triple maturation this expression. First in bourbon, then PX and finally a slow finish in old oak puncheons.

Distilled in 1991 my sample is from an open bottle and served at a stinging 59.9%

Nose: Burnt toast. Char. Smoke. Vanilla. Custard. Citrus. Green lime. Oysters. Gets fruitier over time as the nose adjusts. Pears. Lemon sorbet. Opens up a touch with water.

Palate: Intense. Maybe too intense. Spicy. Burnt toast. Char. Have to coax the sweetness. But it comes. Vanilla. Custard. Lemon tart. Hint of fruits. Gets fruitier and more lemony with a few drops of water. Certainly more palatable.

Finish: Long. Very long. Spicy. Lime.

Overall Comments: This is a solid dram. Not for the faint hearted. Reminds me a lot of the 12 Cask Strength even though it’s twice the age. I’m a sucker for high strength whiskies but even I feel that this needs to be mellowed out a touch. May have been perfect at around 55% but that’s just me.

Rating: 88

Kilchoman Feis Ile 2015 Release

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Distillery/Brand: | Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 58.2% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Kilchoman was pretty much on top of my must-visit-distillery list the moment I stepped off the plane on Islay. And luckily for me it was literally a 5 minutes drive from where I was staying.
Which meant I was able to visit it twice during my week long stay for the Islay Festival.

The first visit I managed a small tasting (Loch Gorm 2015, Original Cask Strength and a Single Cask PX) followed by an insanely delicious chocolate brownie soaked in Machir Bay. We actually ordered two more after devouring the first.

My next visit was for a quick distillery tour. Cute. Interesting. I enjoyed my self.

Kilchoman released two whiskies this year. One was the 10th Anniversary bottling and the other the 2015 Feis Ile expression. This is their oldest whisky yet – seven years to the day – and comprises of a vatting of three fresh bourbon barrels.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 58.2%

Nose: That all too familiar Kilchoman grist. A fine balance between peaty smoke and sweetness. Vanilla. Melons. It’s quite potent when you first get in there. But mellows out to a nice green apple sweet tartness. Hint of sea salt. Milk chocolate. Oak. This is such a typically good Kilchoman nose. Just good old fashioned whisky making.

Palate: Ooooh! Spicy! Lots of it. But let it simmer on your palate and the other flavors come out to play. Milk chocolate. Toasted barley. So much toasted barley. The green apples are back. Hint of mint. Oak. Coffee beans. A very creamy whisky if there was one. Quite a nice layer of flavors to play with.

Finish: Long. Oily. The spicy oak is back. So is the hint of mint.

Overall Comments: Quite liked this release. I, unfortunately did not like the 10th Anniversary one, though. But this one is just peachy. Well done Kilchoman.

Rating: 92

Ardbeg Perpetuum

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 47.4% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
This year I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a long time now. Visiting the tiny island of Islay during the Islay Whisky Festival to visit the distilleries that have had me captivated for so long.
And, of course, there was one open day that I was looking forward to the most. Yes, you guessed it – Ardbeg. I know they’ve been disappointing so many of us for so long now but there’s still something that draws us all back.

So we all got up bright and early and on May 30th entered the distillery grounds to much fanfare. A live band, smoked Oogies and Corrys, seafood stalls, an ice bar and of course the Ardbeg Perpetuum – this years’ Ardbeg Day Release.

I didn’t maintain any high hopes, mind you, given Ardbegs’ recent lukewarm releases. Which I think is probably the best way to approach anything in life. Less chances of being disappointed.

The final whisky contains a mix of different ages and casks (both bourbon and sherry), including a small amount of the oldest Ardbeg malt currently available. How small I wonder?

My sample is from an open bottle served at a funny 47.4%

Nose: It’s not bad. Nice peat smoke. Almost a char to it. A lot more vanilla than you normally find in Ardbegs. Smells quite creamy. Like custard. There’s a hint of iodine. More medicinal eucalyptus if you like. Touch of fruits. It’s not spectacular mind you. But I quite enjoyed nosing it.

Palate: Creamy mouthfeel. Lots of soot. Ash. Smoke. The vanilla is back. So are the fruits. Hint of oak. Spices. White pepper. Strong Earl Gray tea. Salty too. The first dram didn’t do it for me, though. Had to have a second to come around to quite liking it.

Finish: Quite long. Salty. With a touch of oak.

Overall Comments: This is quite a decent whisky. I like quite a bit. I don’t know if it was because I was on Islay since everything tastes amazing on that island. I’ll try it again in a few months and decide. Till then I am happy to give this my nod of approval.

Rating: 89