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

Ardbeg 1815

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 50.1% | Colour: Dirty Gold

Review
It’s been exactly one day since I’ve been back after spending almost ten days on Islay for the 2016 Feis Ile. It’s a massive re-adjustment, I tell you. I was there last year as well but for half the amount of time and it took me almost six months to recover. Lord only knows how long I’m going to take this time around.

Add to the fact that I went with six other friends is only going to make the memories better and harder to get over. So here’s a tip of my hat to a very special boys trip!

Our last day on the island started off cold and windy. It was 8AM and we were stood in line outside the Ardbeg gates hoping to be one of the first to pick out one of many mystery tastings that were happening during the day.

Seems like Lady Luck was shining down on me as I ended up picking a Golden Ticket to one of the mystery tastings. The only thing they told us was that the tasting would be with Micky Heads, the distillery manager.

Ardbeg 1815 001
After solving the (rather easy) cryptic message on the paper we discovered the tasting was due to happen at midday, with Micky & Philco at the Not So Dark Cove.

We first collected at a gate behind the Ardbeg sea-view cottage and were promptly informed that due to unavoidable circumstances Micky would be unable to attend. In his place Philco would conduct the tasting. There was a collective groan by everyone but the promise of large drams brought out a big cheer proving once and for all that all whisky drinkers care about is whisky and nothing else.

As we made our way (around twenty of us) to a secluded rocky inlet by the water there sat Micky, dressed up as a funny looking smuggler complete with flowing black robes and a fake beard. Big cheers followed and we settled ourselves on the sharp rocks to saver some serious whiskies.
Ardbeg 1815 002

The first out of the chest was the Ardbeg Dark Cove, the Festival Release. Lovely dram and I think one of the better Ardbeg Feis bottlings in recent years. Accompanying the whisky were lovely black Ardbeg Night glasses produced specially for the day.

This was followed by the Ardbeg Alligator Committee Release and then a lovely and delicate bourbon single cask from 1974 – Cask 3498.

Ardbeg 1815 002A

Beautifully constructed flavours on the all the whiskies and, so far, things were going swimmingly well.

However, this all paled in comparison when the last whisky of the tasting was pulled out for all to gasp and whoop in joy. Philco stood proudly displaying it to a cacophony of clicking cameras and the occasional wolf whistle. For he had in his hand the Ardbeg 1815.

Ardbeg 1815 004

Ardbeg 1815 005

Released last year for the 200th Anniversary of the distillery the spirit inside this bottle is quite special. A mix of 1974 first-fill bourbon and 1975 first-fill sherry it was vatted together in a glass container for six months before making it into 400 bottles. The younger spirit is approximately 33 years old and is quite a throw back to the days when Ardbeg reigned supreme.

I thought of pulling out my notebook and taking down some notes right there. I even thought about decanting the spirit into a sample bottle and trying it later at home. But both options meant that I would be unable to enjoy the spirit and the place that I was in. So, with a little bit left in my glass, I chose, instead, to sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the ocean to enjoy this fine spirit.

Beautifully oily on the nose. Quite sweet. Hints of nuts. A rounded earthiness that showed it’s character. Something salty and mineral – maybe because I was sitting on sea drenched rocks. Sweet coffee beans and milk chocolate on the palate accompanied that same oiliness I found on the nose. Those nuts again.

Again, it’s not the most magnificent whisky I have drunk or ever will, but it is certainly one of the most special. Yes, it costs £3000 pounds a bottle and there’s only 400 bottles of it ever produced.

But the fact that I sat amongst fellow whisky nuts savouring this special spirit with the highly likeable Micky Heads at one of my favourite distilleries was the real treat. Add to that this was the way I was closing off one memorable trip made the moment even more special.

The rest of the day went by in a blur as we drank more and more Ardbeg, danced in the open courtyard, made new friendships and cemented existing ones.

As one of our friends so rightly said on the trip : I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but today is a good day.