Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2016 PHD

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Distillery/Brand: Bruichladdich | Region: Islay | ABV: 50% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 6.8 | Overall Score: 7.1

Review
If you’re into dancing and drinking whisky at the same time then I highly recommend visiting Bruichladdich’s open day during the Islay Whisky Festival.

Food trucks. Multiple bars. Live band. And over 300 dancing people at any given time. It’s an atmosphere hard to beat. Everyone’s having the time of their life.

Including us as we strolled in after a tasting at Ardbeg. After grabbing some much needed pizza we manhandled our way to the back of the distillery premises where the makeshift bars had been set up.

Along with this years’ official Feis bottle there were two more Laddies on the menu. The 2006 and 2008 Islay Grown both terroir whiskies from local processes. Both quite decent. However, the highlight of the day was the auction of two bottles of the 25 year old Yellow Submarine. Because once the auction was over they brought two more 30 litre bottles and proceeded to freely pour it out to an eager crowd. Mighty generous if you ask me.

After shamelessly going back for seconds (and it might have been thirds, too) I settled down at one of the picnic tables to sample this particular offering. This is a fifteen year old vatting of bourbon and wine casks with a virgin oak finish. It proudly states Progressive Hebridean Distillers – PHD – on it’s side followed by the age of the distillery : 135 (years). Hence, known as the Bruichladdich _PHD 135

My sample is from an open bottle (one of 1881) and served at 50% ABV

Nose: Quite sweet. Tangerines. Sweet melon. Vanilla. Cookie dough. It’s a touch floral. Some light honey. Poached red apples. At first there’s a hint of oak but which then starts to become quite prominent. White raisins. Lemon custard. Coffee cake. Not bad. 7.4

Palate: Ooooh. Oak. Maybe too much. Cinnamon. Very drying. Over brewed green tea. I’m not a huge fan of that taste profile, if I am to be completely honest. Ginger. Spice of an uncertain nature. Now more sweeter mid-palate. Dry honey. Melon. Kinder Eggs. Small oranges. Maybe some papaya. The over-oak prevents it from being very good. 7.0

Finish: Medium long. Quite drying. That oak again. That strong green tea. Again. My least favourite part. 6.8

Overall Comments: What can I say? It’s not an entirely bad whisky. I mean I wouldn’t call it lacklustre but it certainly doesn’t have the oooomph to send your tastebuds into overdrive. And I think it has to do with that damned oak. Not sure if the virgin oak is the culprit or it’s a few extra years too old. I guess we’ll never know.

Overall Score: 7.1

Bowmore 17 PX Cask / Feis Ile 2016 Hand-fill

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 56.1% | Colour: Burgundy
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.8 | Overall Score: 7.5

Review
Another day. Another Islay whisky reviewed. This time it’s the 2016 Feis Ile hand-fill from Bowmore.

Matured for 17 years in a single Pedro Ximenez cask this was scooped out of the barrel and served to us straight as we sat in the distillery’s tasting room at 10.30 in the morning.

The sunny weather was showing no signs of letting up as we sauntered down to the distillery which was but a few minutes stroll from our self-catering cottage on High Street. As we made our way through the gates we were greeted by a hundred strong line of eager shoppers as they snaked their way into the distillery shop and to the ever depleting supply of Feis bottles.

After picking up our tickets at the gate we milled around with the crowd until we were ushered inside to the tasting room.

Joining 20 odd people we took our seats and came face to face with four drams sitting right in front of us.

1. A 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead bottled at 53%
2. A 13 year old first-fill Oloroso sherry oak bottled at 54%
3. The Feis Ile 2016 vintage 25 year old finished off in Claret Wine and bottled at 55.7%

And finally number 4 : This years’ festival hand-fill. The 17 year old matured exclusively in a Pedro Ximenez butt and bottled at 56.1%

Now there was a serious debate between which of the two festival bottles was a better one. Some preferring the hand-fill (majority) while some preferring the 25 year old (me). Though, I have to admit it was a mighty close race. Even after I went back and re-tasted the two side by side. Regardless of what the critics say I still prefer the 25 year old. But that doesn’t mean the hand-fill is a sub-standard dram.

Far from it.

My sample is straight from the cask and served at 56.1%

Nose: The PX is up in your face. Very strong and dominant. The smoke is soft and nice. Quite densely packed with flavour. Seems heavy if you know what I mean. Some tannins. Earthy red rum. Like a savoury Old Monk. Molasses. Blackberry. South American chocolates. Grassy overtones. Like the dying embers of a spent forest fire. Opens up a touch with water. A little sweeter. 7.4

Palate: Damn. A lot of spice. Very drying. Full. Cinnamon. Liquorice. Juicy raisins. Bold oak. Black peppercorns. Mocha. That same South American twang. Peruvian coffee beans. Lindt 85%. With water a touch spicier. A touch drier. 7.4

Finish: Long. Again extremely drying. Oak. Cinnamon. Fills your mouth. With water it’s a little shorter. So don’t. My favourite part of the journey. 7.8

Overall Comments: I really like this style of whisky. Unadulterated. Untouched by human hands. Totally unique in it’s own form. I like that. Whether or not I like how it actually tastes is a simply a point of view. But I like this whisky. It’s bold. It’s flavourful. It’s just not spectacular, that’s all. And I have nothing against that.

Overall Score: 7.5

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

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