Feis Ile Special Releases Tasting

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%)

laphroaig-cairdeas-2015N: 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%)

kilchoman-10th-anniversaryN: 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%)

caol-ila-feis-ile-2015N: 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%)

AA-JW-3N: 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%)

lagavulin-1991-2015-feis-ile-2015N: 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%)
Bowmore 17yo

img_3958N: 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.

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SMWS 3.79 : Day 13 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Another one from Phil Story’s marvellous collection. Can I stop for a minute and just say that  this is the 79th cask to come from distillery number 3 (Bowmore cough cough) for the SMWS. We are now on 3.234, so the 234th cask…. and this is just the 79th. Nice work Phil! I’m a big fan of society Bowmore’s, so let’s check this one out.

SMWS 3.79 14yo (1989) [name unknown] (53.3%)
DSC_0066 N: Very different from some of the modern Bowmore’s. Fragrant and oily with quite a bit of peat reek. Doesn’t have the restrained noses that most OB Bowmore’s seem to have, in fact this opens right up into some deep floral tones with honey, heather and quite a bright fruitiness. After some time, I got pepper, chilli and some brine. It stuck to the typical 80’s Bowmore profile, with parma violets and a bit of FWP. Peat subdues over time in the glass, smelling quite like a highland whisky towards the end.

P: Certainly tastes more like a Bowmore than it noses. Pepptery, anise, slightly hot on the tongue with some chilli. I found it quite meaty and briny with some gristly peat appearing just after arrival. Quite sandy too; it’s like drinking seawater.

F: Very long. Peppery, tingly and lingers very nicely. Peat provides a bed for some bitterness and salty seafood along with the parma violets.

Comments: Pretty straight forward mid-teen Bowmore. Not the most balanced SMWS dram I’ve had and seems to lack character, whilst remaining robust and full of flavour. Being distilled in 1989 gives some good strong aged qualities and it’s lovely to try a bottle an SMWS bottling  from  2003.

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Thanks again to the mischievous Phil Story.

SMWS London Visit

Like many whisky drinkers out there, I had heard about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). Until last year however, I had never realised there was a tasting room/bar in London. And it wasn’t until 2 weeks ago that I discovered how brilliant ‘St Greville Street’ was! Cue Adrian Barnet (@mynameisgone), a brilliant member of the twitter #Whiskyabric who I had got to know over 2013. He asked if I fancied meeting him and a few others up there on the first Saturday of January as he could sign me in. Well….. How could I decline?!

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[For those who don’t know, SMWS bottle single cask whiskies. Each outturn of each cask is given a unique numerical identifier, representing first the originating distillery and second the individual cask from which the bottle was taken. The Tasting Panel also gives each bottling an awesome name with some whimsical tasting notes. It’s my kind of place]

 

After a nightmare journey to Farringdon, I arrived to meet Adrian. This was only the second time I’ve met someone from the #Whiskyfabric, and the first time I had met Adrian. Top bloke. He took me into the rooms, where I discovered some sofas, a fire and what can only be described as a treasure cove of whisky. I also discovered two more drinking buddies in the form of Dave and Scott. Dave Worthington (@whiskydiscovery) was one of the first whisky-ers I followed on twitter, and is the author of the first whisky blog I properly read. We had chatted many times before online, but again, this was our first meeting. Scott (Saunders_AFC) on the other hand, had only cropped up on my twitter feed in the recent weeks, but this didn’t stop us getting along like a house on fire. Great company all round.

 

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SMWS 84.12 ‘Party in the Vineyard’ (58.2%)

Glendullan, 12yo
This was our first dram of the afternoon and chosen by Scott. This was my first Glendullan and I was pleasantly surprised. On the nose it was sweetly floral with some oakiness. On the palate it became incredibly fruity, especially green apples. Hints of woodiness became more apparent with time. This was Incredibly smooth for 59%. It was quite dry on the finish but retained its sweet quality.

 

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SMWS 2.84 ‘Katherine Hepburn in a Vintage Jaguar’ (53.3%)

Glenlivet 20yo
For the second instalment, the gentleman that is Joe McGirr (@SMWSlondon) brought over this little treat for us from the January Outturn that had been causing a stir on twitter. It matured for 20 years in a first-fill ex-sherry cask, with only 77 bottles of this release. The most notable thing about this dram was its unusual dark colour… Especially for a Glenlivet. The nose on this was fantastic. Huge sherry notes, woody/sawdust, nuttiness and some cocoa too. My main note was “Nose = Lovely”. On the palate sweet syrup, liquorice, anise, chocolate. Lovely level of woodiness. I did find this a tad thin on the palate, but man this has a smooth, delicate, lingering finish. This was special and know why people will go for it.

 

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SMWS 3.193 ‘Baby Faced Arsonist’ (58.2%)

Bowmore, 14yo
Dave’s turn to choose and he brought over one that really excited me. Originally the nose was interesting. Farmyard peat, peppery & nice sherry. Dave & I detected a slight hint of struck match, but not in a bad way. I wouldn’t have guessed bowmore straight away. The palate made me smile. Real POW factor. Beautiful marriage of slightly harsh peat and sherry, it tingled on tongue perfectly. There were sweet juicy fruit flavours at the front, whilst an explosion was occurring at back of the palate. This Bowmore didn’t hang around, and left my mouth feeling slightly abused, but clean. If there were any bottles left I would have bought one without a doubt.

 

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SMWS 29.150 ‘Hand Rolled Cuban Cigars’

Laphroaig, 18yo
It was my turn to choose the weapon of choice, and after looking through the menu, one particular bottle caught my eye. I’d heard SMWS Laphroaig’s were pretty nifty, so when I saw an 18 year old on the menu I jumped & ordered one for us all. I had also tried the OB 18yo on the #LaphroaigTT in November, and I LOVED it. The nose had similarities to 18yo OB. Rather sweet, with a smooth level of peat & smoke. Not as heavy a peat as 10yo or Quarter Cask. Beautifully medicinal. The palate was beautifully balanced. Peat works the tongue smoothly, whilst the sweet woodiness takes over. Medicinal, but less so on palate. It peters away nicely, with the gentle smokiness lingering beautifully. Great stuff. Plus I love the label!

 

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At this point, I thought we were drawing to a close. We’d had four great drams, and had been there a few hours. This, however was when Philip Storry (@philipstorry) jumped into the equation. I had never met Phillip before, but had been told he was a bit of a stalwart member of the SMWS. He was with another group, but that didn’t stop him popping over to chat throughout the afternoon. After a while he brought over a glass for each of us. “What dangerous substance could this be”, I thought to myself. He then handed me the bottle. It turned out to be a 1986 Bruichladdich bottled in 2005. I have come across very few independent bottlings of this awesome distillery, especially before it’s re-opening. It was sublime to say the least. The generosity of the surrounding whisky drinkers didn’t stop there, as two more “Money can’t buy bottles” found their way into my glass. Firstly a 20yo Heaven hill SMWS bourbon, followed by a Brora 2005 30yo special release. I was not only amazed by this generosity, from people who I had never met before and might never meet again, but the quality of these three fantastic bottlings.

 

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SMWS 23.52 ‘Teenage Dreams’ (55.9%)

Bruichladdich, 19yo
Some classic Laddie notes on nose, but amplified and more refined that usual OB’s. Beautiful, light, slightly floral, balanced, hints of peat there too. At first taste I fell in love with the stuff. It is Bruichladdich as its meant to be. Peat is there, but only showing its face now and again. Some real salty brinyness holds it all together. It stuck to my tongue and wouldn’t let go. Making sweet love with my taste buds. Incredibly drinkable. Correction. Incredible. [I love what Dave wrote on his blog: “Distilled in 1986, this would have been the Bruichladdich Mark Reiyner would have been enjoying before realising his dream and reopening the distillery in 2001”. Well said Dave.]

 

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SMWS Bourbon (66%)

Heaven Hill, 20yo
Dusty, woody, yet sweet on the nose. Really pure & classy. I haven’t had a huge experience of bourbons, but man this was good. Full. Powerful. Massive on upper palate. Strong & sweet. Lingers forever… I was tasting it 2 hours later. Incredibly smooth for 66%. So different, yet so enjoyable.

 

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Brora 30yo Diageo special release 2005

I was so excited to try this, especially after a 10-minute chat with an enthused Philip on Brora/Clynelish. On the nose there were similarities to certain Clynelish bottlings. Spicy, coastal brineyness. Peppery, with hints of fruit & smokiness. The palate was serious stuff though. Meaty, peppery. Heavy and strong, sticking to my palate and powering through. A lovely delicate whisp of smoke on finish. Slightly dry, holding my taste buds for what seemed like days. After 15 minutes in the glass,  it just got bigger & smokier. Wow, this was something special!

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I had a truly wonderful afternoon. My eyes were opened to the glory of the SMWS & St Greville Street. I got to meet some cracking guys, who I look forward to meeting again. And it showed not only how fun the #Whiskyfabric can be, but how generous and encouraging too. Here’s to many more.