Distillery/Brand: Port Ellen | Region: Islay
I’ve been sitting on these tasting notes for a few months now. Apart from the fact that I’m a lazy git I genuinely wasn’t quite sure how to put pen to paper. I mean how are you realistically supposed to write a review about five Port Ellens? That’s right, FIVE of them. At the same time. Sprung on us as a surprise tasting on a rainy Islay afternoon.
By now I’m sure you know of my short hop over to the peaty island a couple of months ago to meet up with some friends from the other side of the world. To say the five of us made some crazy memories is an understatement.
Distillery visits, NFL picks, bouts of arm wrestling, making friends, discovering Punk IPA, drinking 50 year old Lagavulin, scrambling up slippery ruins to gaze out over the Straits of Moyle, playing Guess The Malt with Jackie from Ardbeg – it’s hard to imagine we managed all of this in four days.
Yet none of that compares to one miserable afternoon we spent shut indoors thanks to a torrential downpour and gale force winds. Our planned journey to Jura on the day was aborted when we realised we couldn’t even walk without the wind knocking us off our feet so crossing over on a ferry was out of the question.
However, my buddy Curt Robinson had better plans for us miserable louts. He had, extremely generously may I add, carried with him all the way from Canada a number of Port Ellen samples for an occasion such as this. I mean it was Islay – we were bound to get rained in at some point, right?
So there we were, in our cottage in Bowmore, excitedly sat around the table, me with my note pad in hand, staring with gleaming eyes at this buffet of awesomeness.
Granted we look like a motley gang of ex-cons planning a bank heist but that’s just you being judgemental.
We tasted them Right to Left with each one nominating a different favourite. I thought of rating each one but there’s really no need. They were all fantastic and there’s no point in splitting hairs.
1. Port Ellen 24 Years Old
Dewar Rattray Cask Collection
Distilled : 13.10.1982
Bottled : 17.09.2007
Nose: Citrus. Green lime. Lemons. Some vegetal notes. Green herbs. I like the barley sugars here. Crisp. Dry hay. White pepper. Smells quite sweet.
Palate: Big! Thank you 60.6%! Quite spicy. Oily. Buttery. Dries mid-palate. Soft smoke. That barley sugar I got on the nose. The greens are back. Unspecified vegetation. Cereal notes.
Finish: Very long. Drying. Oaky.
2. Port Ellen
5th Special Release
25 Years Old
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2005
Nose: Very oily. The smoke is quite faint. Just a year older than the Rattray but has an added complexity. Quite fruity. Soft melon. Sweet candy. Oranges. Similar unspecified greens. Quite earthy now. Damp dunnage. But in a good way. Pink grapefruit. Vanilla.
Palate: Drying. Again quite big. Settles down to a more fruity profile. Melons. Tropical fruits. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Oaky.
3. Port Ellen
6th Special Release
27 Years Old
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2006
Nose: Hmmmm. Immediately seems better balanced than the first two. Which is saying a lot since they were pretty top notch. The mix of fruits and smoke is perfect. Tangy oranges. Sweet lemon candy. Lime. Tangerines. A very citrusy notes counter-balanced by the smoke. Beautiful.
Palate: Sweet as well. Oaky. But a good oak. Again the balance here is lovely. The circus comes screaming through. Limes. Lemons. Oranges. Now red berries. The smoke is understated but apparent. Oily.
Finish: Long. Quite magnificent if you ask me. Dry. Love it!
4. Port Ellen
8th Special Release
29 Years Old
Distilled : 1978
Bottled : 2008
Nose: Not as big as the first three. A little mellow if you ask me. This one has more dark chocolate. Oily. Butter. The smoke is peaty. But mildly so. The familiar citrus overtones but now with a touch of pineapples. And the tiniest of oak.
Palate: So sweet. Sweeter than all the others. Smoke. Oak. Quite dry. Sweet lemons. Fruity. Hint of cinnamon. Maybe. This one has big flavours but certainly not as complex as the 5th Release.
Finish: Medium. Dry. Toasted barley. Oak.
5. Port Ellen
9th Special Release
30 Years Old
Distilled : 1979
Bottled : 2009
Nose: Quite tangy. Sour candy. Pink grapefruit. Quite sweet. Faint smoke. Sweet barley sugar – quite a common thread here. Tropical fruits. Red liquorice. The same generic greens. And, of course, the citrus. Lemons. Lime.
Palate: Very drying. The oak is king here. Sweet. Lemon. Limes. Sweet candy. Herbaceous. Smoke. Vanilla custard.
Finish: Long. Sweet.
Overall Comments: There’s nothing much to say here other than God, damn what a rush! Miserable afternoon turned into one heck of a tasting proving once and for all that whisky will solve any problem. All the whiskies were quite scrumptious but my pick of the session was the 6th Release. That one just worked for me. Each one of us had a personal favourite which, again, is another thing that never fails to amuse me. Another memorable memory to add to my growing list of Special Islay Moments.
Special thanks to Curt for hooking us up. Big time!
Our time on Islay was filled primarily going up and down the nine distilleries (yes, I’m including Jura, smart ass) and sampling the various wares each had on offer.
But unbeknownst to few there are a host of other tastings that happen on the island during the Festival. One such tasting was the one organised by Douglas Laing called Favourite of the Feis.
Conducted by Jan Beckers, the affable Belgian, they put on a good show and it’s always a fun to try some non-Islay whiskies while on the island. You know, just to get some perspective.
Fine. It’s just an excuse to drink more whisky. But you already knew that.
We trudged up the road from our cottage in Bowmore to the Gaellic School where the tasting was happening and were greeted by Caroline, Douglas Laing’s event coordinator and all round great gal. After taking over an entire table we sat down to see what the fuss was all about.
Big Peat / Feis Ile 2016 Limited Edition / 48%
Nose: Light. Quite delicate. Touch of peat. Hard boiled sweets. Hint of lime. Melon rind. Red berries. Touch of honey. Vanilla.
Palate: Quite oaky. Spicy. That melon again. Hint of smoke. Hint of peat. Some citrus. Vanilla. Green berries. Garam masala.
Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 6.7
1999 Bowmore 16 / Old Particular / 48.3%
Nose: Quite fruity. Like an assorted fruit basket. In an orchard. An orange orchard. Cinnamon. Granny Smith apples. Freshly grated coconut. Young leather. Caramel. Feels like a solid bourbon cask in play here. Parma violets. Super nose.
Palate: Very creamy. Lovely mouthfeel. Hibiscus. Quite buttery. Hint of all-spice. Very mild peat. Clove. Really liking this little gem.
Finish: Long. Floral. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 8.5
Rock Oyster / Cask Strength / 57.4%
Nose: Very spirity. Almost raw. Lots of lime. Wet wood. Buttery. Green leaves. But overwhelmingly spirity. Don’t like it.
Palate: Oaky. Cookie dough. Citrus. Touch of nuts. But that spirit feels far too turpentine-ish for me to take it seriously.
Finish: Longs. Spicy. Longer with a touch of water. Sweeter too.
Overall Score: 6.2
Aultmore 7 Years / Provenance / 46%
Nose: Sherry. Cigar leaf. Wet wood. Or wool. Take your pick. Blood oranges. Afternoon grass. Green tea. Milk chocolate. Wet clay. And now a sniff of some decay. Can’t put my finger on it. Cask about to go bad?
Palate: Very sweet. Milk chocolate. Nuts. Cinnamon. Oak. Quite oily. Soft delivery. But that nagging cask…
Finish: Medium. Roasted coffee beans. Touch of spice. Tobacco.
Overall Score: 6.7
Strathclyde 10 Years / Old Particular / 50.9%
Nose: Burnt caramel. Woody. Oranges. Rose water. Burnt toast. Fudge. Toffee. Butterscotch. Cream coffee liqueur. Like Baileys. I like it. Maybe because I like Baileys.
Palate: Soft. Well rounded. Nice delivery. Butterscotch. Quality Street toffee. Cinnamon. Touch of oak. Creamy caramel. Cadbury plain. Lovely!
Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of spice. Really like this one!
Overall Score: 7.9
Bruichladdich 26 Years / XOP / 52.1%
Nose: Lemon. Lime. All kinds of citrus. Sweet sugarcane. Assorted dinner greens. Quite herbaceous. Morning dew on freshly cut grass. Gets sweeter over time. Toffee. Canadian maple syrup. Brittle sugar candy. Soft fruits. Touch floral. Looks like they saved the best for the last.
Palate: Drying. Touch of oak. Milk chocolate. Garden greens. Melon rind. But now with just a hint of something bitter. Not in a bad way. This is quality stuff.
Finish: Beautiful. Long. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 8.6
Seems like they saved the best for the last. Good call. Great evening overall with a surprise thrown in the end which I’ll talk about later. The Douglas Laing gang is a good bunch to have a tasting with. Lots of individual attention and care for everyone. Makes for a fun evening. Throw in a couple of stunners and you’re set.
Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 56.1% | Colour: Burgundy
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.8 | Overall Score: 7.5
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
It’s finally here! My short film #EveryDramDrunk – Tour of Islay 2016