Once a year, the alluring west coast island of Islay welcomes thousands of visitors to its shores to help celebrate the Feis Ile. A week of distillery tours, music, celebration and you guessed it – whisky. Each distillery holds an open day, welcoming the hordes of passionate followers through their doors for tastings and special releases. Some might call it a pilgrimage for whisky fans and aficionados, and they’re not wrong.
I’ve only been to Islay once and it sadly wasn’t during the Feis Ile. In fact it was only two weeks post festival season. This meant that we got to visit the distilleries and try many of the special bottlings without having to battle through swarms of other whisky fans. (Saying that, I am desperate to make it Feis Ile some point in the near future). This leads nicely onto the Feis Ile Bottlings. As previously mentioned, each distillery releases a number of special bottles to celebrate the occasion each year and I was lucky enough to get my hands on five of the eight different distillery bottles, plus one extra one to finish with. So how did they do?
Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary (51.2%)
N: Withheld start. Wet wood, uncooked peppered steak. Iodine and chlorine. Peat seems slightly astringent, but there’s a nice cigar box note. Relatively old style Laphroaig it seems, but less intense than many OB’s. You won’t find much TCP, unless you add water.
P: Dark, dirty and earthy from the word go. The Laphroaig character is somewhat hidden under layers of dark fruit. Anise, salt water and cigar leaf. Quite a sticky undertone before the sweetness rolls around palate. Water brings our cherries.
F: Medium. Very drying, fizzy and pretty briny with some dust and diesel. This is interesting. I think with time in the bottle it become an easy drinker. Different and nice. Won’t blow you mind like some Laphroaigs though! 86.
Kilchoman 10th Anniversary (57.2%)
N: Wow, a pretty intense blend of flavours there. Barley, wood, vanilla and bourbon come through first. Wide splashings of peat with car tyres and dark sherried fruits. Slightly fragrant though with some menthol, especially with water. It is like a freshly valeted car. Polish and wax!
P: Powerful and dark with prickly peat – but less than the nose suggests. Nice balance of the peat with the sweet sherry and oaky dryness. Raisins and sticky toffee pudding swirls a nice sweetness around the palate, with it staying just shy of cloying.
F: Long, menthol, barley and fruits. Astringent spearmint chewing gum. This was a really solid dram. One that I would have bought if it had been available. Moorish and lingers beautifully. 87/88.
Caol Ila 17yo (1998) Feis Ile 2015 (57.3%)
N: Full nose, lots of big is lay peat and warm oaky tones. Wine tannins, dark cherry and hoisin sauce. Fiery and amazingly powerful. Water opens this a bit, with more salt water and lovely iodine like peat. I could nose this for quite a while.
P: Huge, peppery yet creamy peat. Strong yet still remaining delicate. The peat integrates so well the tannins. Dark forrest fruits, burnt treacle. Some really good casks seem to have been used here. Water dulls everything down, especially the fruit. I prefer it neat.
F: Medium. Brown sugar, dull sweetness and fizz. Peat lingers nicely. Water actually prolongs the finish and adds peppered sausages. Nice choice of cask for this. Another cracking bottle. My favourite so far. 89.
Ardbeg Perpetuum Distillery Release (49.2%)
N: Honeycombe, banana split and lavender. These seems like quite a light nose to start with. Evoked memories of swimming pool changing rooms with dull chlorine. After giving time to open up, there was some prickly petrol notes. Sweet notes dominate the nose with the peat masked by bitter sweetness. Sticky BBQ ribs towards the end.
P: I prefer the palate to the nose. A bit of Ardbeg character starts to shine through. All the warm peat I wanted on the nose appears, but it brings some pepper, grit and sweet rose petals. Slight brine. Lacks power and intensity I like in Ardbeg. Hints of sweet oak and sherry at times.
F: Short, drying and slightly bitter. Flavours disappear leaving some ashen wood and brine. It’s easy to drink, but lacks flavour and integration. Considering it’s an NAS, it shows its youth sadly. This just didn’t do much for me. Shame. A bottle of their 10 year old or Uigeadail is half the price and twice the whisky. 83
Lagavulin 24yo (1991) Feis Ile 2015 (59.9%)
N: Beautiful start. I’m transported to the Lagavulin warehouse. You can tell this is a more mature whisky. Light woody flavours, sticky toffee pudding, dusty sawdust. Leather, gentle peat balances beautifully with the sweet PX sherry. Raspberries, wood polish and chocolate.
P: Fantastic balance of peat, engine oil and ashen woodiness. Sherried fruits, slightly briny and cake mixture. Quite leathery and vibrant considering its age. Salty and sweet popcorn. Finally some BBQ mackerel. A palate that keeps on giving. Incredibly enjoyable.
F: Long, delicate and aged to perfection. Hint of bitter lemons on the end. Perfectly balanced with hints of tobacco leaf, minty chewing gum, cold meat and leather wax. This was awesome. Not quite as epic as the 2014 release. But that had a special place in my heart. It’s not far off though. 91 and best of the bunch (I’m glad I got a bottle).
And the final bottle is from my independent bottler, The SMWS. It’s a 17 year old Bowmore and big thank you to them for sending me a sample to review.
SMWS 3.243 ‘Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy) (57.1%)
N: Pretty dark and dusty with some big sherry from the offset. Much better with some time in the glass. The is a bed of smoke and mint leaves here, upon that plenty of chocolate and caramel. Sweet sherry soaked christmas pudding also. Towards the end the Bowmore Character appears above the sherried nose. Water definitely softens everything, bringing with it calm, nuttiness and some parma violets (oh hello older Bowmore).
P: So there *might* be some sherry here. It’s slightly overpowering to start with, before the briny and meaty notes appear, giving it more substance. Delightfully playful between the light and dark though and I really enjoyed the mix between the tar and leather. Brown sugar and the Bowmore character shines through toward the end.
F: Long and drying. Dark sherry, rough sweetness, dark berries and raisins. Slightly too sweet for me, although I’m sure many would appreciate this. Sad to see so many bottles on this on auction sites before the official release. I guess that’s the same with most special releases nowadays. Solid 86.
If you haven’t got them now, then you probably won’t…unless you’re happy to pay over the odds at auction. The Lagavulin and the Caol Ila were top tasters for me, so well done Diageo. The Kilchoman was strong too. Bring on next year.