The Whisky Tasting Club

Saturday 1st. Ardbeg Day

Although Tony and Michelle had notionally booked two tickets for a tasting today, they never got to use them (long story) so Bex and I set off ahead with the plan to meet up later. And we managed to park. Blimey!! There was lots of parking at Ardbeg, and, with the sun bright and hot, everyone was there, even people from other distilleries. Clearly, this final day is a special one for the island and it was good to see so many illeachs turn out.

The theme this year, in case you hadn’t noticed, was the world cup. The festival bottling was called Auriverdes (green and gold) and there were lots of footie related activities, ending in bog football, which, with the lack of rain, looked more like a bad council pitch than it did a bog. No matter. The colours were green and yellow so we felt right at home, given that our local premiership team wears more or less the same strip.

Never let it be said that the Scots are penny-pinching. At several points around the distillery, you’d see an employee carrying either a huge gold bottle of Auriverdes or the 10, dishing out free samples. You also got two free drams with your entry ticket (actually, it was a footie-style programme, done with Ardbeg’s typical humour, and only £2) plus an Arbroath Smokie from the legendary Iain Spink. God, that was good. We went back for seconds but alas…..

We were content to sit and soak it all up, the atmos and the sun, and, as we weren’t booked in to any events, this meant we didn’t have to move and lose our rather comfortable barrel-style seats. We sat next to a lady who evidently makes a decent living from her investment whiskies. Her partner is a school teacher on Islay who knows all the distillers, who give him advance warning of any new potentially investable expressions which are about to be released. Nice work, if you can get it (apart from the teaching!!).

This was our last day on the Island and so I went mad in the shop, buying two bottles of Auriverdes (which I still haven’t tried, thanks to the cold), an Ardbeg football scarf, a Rollercoaster baseball cap (only a fiver!), and an Ardbeg/Brazil-style t-shirt, plus a job lot of seafood from the adjacent van. Tony, of course, could drink to his little heart’s content as he, Michelle and Lottie were booked into the Ardbeg storm pod, about a mile’s walk away at Lagavulin (wtf?!) so all free whiskies went to him.

The day finished with the ‘bog football’, to which anyone could enter a team to challenge each other and the Ardbeg team, captained by head distiller Mickey Heads. Well, that was the idea. Mickey made the mistake of showing off by riding out of a warehouse on the Ardbeg chopper and putting his leg too close to the exhaust pipe and receiving a bad burn for his troubles. Ouch! That was him out.

The pitch itself was, to say the least, agricultural. They had tried to water it to achieve the required bogginess but no luck.

Four teams entered, I think, and, after a press conference with the Ardbeg team and a highly dodgy speaker system, it was time for action. I left halfway though, but judging by some of the tackling that went on, I’m glad I wasn’t tempted to enter and wrekc what little cartilage I have left in my knees.

All in all, a great day, and a good way to finish the Festival.

Final thoughts: I’m not convinced the festival bottlings are worth the wait, except maybe Lagavulin. I’m certainly not convinced it’s worth queuing up for them on the day. There appeared to be lots of the Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and even the Octomore left at the end of the week. The Ardbeg will be widely available, too. Save your queueing energy for the Bunnahabhain, Bowmore (one of which was available two days early) and the Kilchoman. Of course, this could all change next year, but it seems the trend is towards larger batches of each expression which means there is little point in buying them an investments. This is probably a good thing. It certainly means that fewer people feel they have to be stuck in queues not able to make tasting events or buy from the numerous traders that populate the distillery days. If it means that everyone can buy a bottle, everyone’s a winner.

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Friday 30th. Bunnahabhain Day

In a rare fit of shame, I had decided I had better placate my wife on this trip, so I booked two places on the ‘Tales of the Sea’ event at Bunna. Here, the Swedish artist who designed the rather fab label for one of their Festival bottlings (Westering Home), talked about her inspiration for the design.

Well, this took about 4 of the 60 minutes we were due to be there. Luckily, there were a couple of chaps from the Fisherman’s Mission, for whom all profits for this expression were bound, to discuss the charity, what it is and what it does. We also had the distillery manager, Andrew Brown, talking about the distillery’s relationship with the sea, the wreck of the Wyre Majestic, just round the corner from the distillery (on some rocks somewhere) and, importantly, a dram of the afore mentioned Westering Home, a 17 year old expression which spent 12 years in a refill bourbon cask, 4 years in a cognac cask and the final 3 in a sauterne cask. We were determined not to buy the Feis Ile expression, because we thought it was going to be a 10 year old Madeira finish. This expression, I thought, was worth a punt until I saw the price of £250. Eeek! Nice, though, lots of honey, barley sugar, exotic fruits, and marmalade with a finish of crème brulee and exotic spices (their notes). There was another festival bottling, though, a 10 year old marsala-finished expression. I couldn’t face another queue, so Bex and I joined Jim and Alice who were loitering outside.

It’s not a pretty distillery, by any means, but its situation is fantastic and, as I’ve said numerous times, with a lick of paint and some love, this could be a superstar in the making. Still feels like a prisoner of war camp.

After a monster plate of oysters from Loch Gruinart, we headed off to Caol Ila to pick up a couple of the festival bottlings, if there were any left.

There were. Lots. And there was no-one else there. Hurrah!

And so to Ardnave beach for some sunbathing. Yes, we sunbathed in Scotland.

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Thursday 29th. Kilchoman and Jura Day

We decided to ignore Jura, partly because we’re not a big fan. Additionally, in my case, no-one responded to my email to the head distiller asking when I can reclaim my voucher for a free VIP tasting that came free with the Jura 21 y.o. 200th anniversary bottling. So, I’m taking my toys home. To Kilchoman, then.

We got there just in time to buy two of the Festival bottlings (a limited number of 525, so this was a surprise) from a tiny queue. Tony and I had booked a Members’ Masterclass, where, in theory, we were going to see the difference between various types of barley, namely that grown at Rockside farm (that owns most of Kilchoman and the most fertile point on Islay) and that imported from elsewhere. Except that’s not really what happened. But no matter, this was good fun, refreshingly free of bullshit and corporate speak.

 

Anthony Wills, the ‘owner’, did the spiel and was a little reticent at first but soon got into his stride, slagging off those who put every barrier in his way for the necessary planning permission, the banks who weren’t keen to lend money when it was needed and but offered lots of money when it wasn’t, and explaining how the peating levels at Kilchoman are sometimes a bit hit and miss because some of it is done on site. He also revealed that, whereas most people see a 10 year old expression as the first serious age of a malt and thereby a distillery’s coming of age, Wills doesn’t see this as a milestone that requires any special celebration at all. He always wanted to release his whisky at a fairly young age (5 years). There will be older expressions, of course, but clearly not his main business. In terms of the future, he is looking to produce 200,000 litres next year, and max out around 350,000 in the future. I sincerely hope it works for him because his passion and commitment is obvious and they produce bloody good whisky.

The following notes were filtered through two highly defective noses, courtesy of stinking colds.

First up was a new make 100% Islay lightly-peated spirit aged for one month in the standard Buffalo Trace casks. This was very drinkable, very sweet, floral and drying. We could drink this.

Next came a 2012 100% Islay bourbon cask offering (61.5%) which was lovely, very toffeed and chocolatey.

Third was the 2008 100% Islay, with much more citrus and coffee, dark chocolate, chili. Much more heavily-peated than the previous two (by design? Who knows?). Interesting how this spirit has developed over the 6 years to a stage where this is eminently drinkable.

Now normally you would have provided similarly-aged samples using different non-Islay barley (in this case from the Port Ellen maltings) to produce a decent comparison. What we actually got were three malts made from Port Ellen barley but which used non-bourbon casks. Never mind.

Fourth was a 2010 Madeira finish, which made me sit up as I’m a huge fan of Madeira. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great. Initially, it was velvety, raisiny, chocolatey on the nose, and then grapey, sweet, spicy and ashy on the palate with more than a touch of limes. Anthony Wills asked us what we thought and then proceeded to tell us he thought it was “a bit shite”. Err…OK. An honest appraisal. Then we saw his point. It started to fall apart on the nose with a nasty rubbery and sulphury quality. He didn’t rule it out as a bottling contender at some point in time but it wasn’t close to that now. Apparently, whereas bourbon casks are easy to handle and predictable in their behavior and the taste they produce, Madeira, port and sherry casks, etc. are far more capricious, and here was a case in point.

Fifth was a 2011 oloroso hogshead (60% – 50ppm) which was fabulous. Even my defective nose could detect candyfloss and chocolate fudge and a superb rich, buttery and ashy palate. We both liked this and, when available, will be on my shopping list.

Lastly, was another 50 ppm sherry butt, this time from 2007. This was much sweeter than the fifth dram, full of vanilla and limes (is this a signature taste of Kilchoman?). On the palate it was spicy, citrusy and ashy and again very good.

Then, into the courtyard for other japes and larks. The problem with Kilchoman is scale, in that there isn’t the room to have the sheer range of food outlets that the bigger distilleries have. What it did have was a personal touch. Anthony Wills’ sons also work in the distillery and seem to man every conceivable opportunity to dispense drams and show us the operation of the stills. A fun day, and you have the added bonus of the Kilchoman café, where you can get an excellent Cullen Skink.

Then, back home for a much-needed sleep. It’s tiring, this boozing lark.

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Weds 28th, Bowmore Day

Weds, and michelle and I split off for the rest for a Douglas Laing tasting in Bowmore. Lottie safely packed off with Jim and Alice as we head down to the pier to catch the boat.

The boat we didn't do the tasting on

Unfortunately, time and tide wait for no man, and Douglas Laing showed themselves to be a bunch of lubbers when our boat trip was cancelled due to the fact there was not enough water for the boat to actually get to the pier. The DL team rescued the situation but hosting an excellent tasting with canapé on the benches on the pier.


I have a cold, so read everything I write with that in mind. We started on Bowmore beach with a Double Barrel, a vatting of Bowmore and Glenallachie. Floral, with oily peaty undertones on the nose.
Taste: creamy and butterscotch to start, with some peat in the middle that fades quite fast with a hint of Bowmore parma violets. Nicely bitter at the end, not particularly long. Cara Laing called it an aperitif whisky, and that is on the money. I think this vatting works well, the flavours gel. This was paired with some smoked salmon.

Next up was a Provenance Bunnahabain called young and feisty. Very salty with lots of barley, nothing complex but I liked it. It was also helped by a load of tasty oysters. I’m not convinced with the whole putting whisky on your oysters thing, but I wasn’t one to refuse.

Next, an Old Particular 21 year old Jura. As I understand it, Old Particular is the brand Douglas Laing are pushing after the split with Hunter Laing (which we were all tactful enough not to ask about), whereas Provenance is being wound down. This is just my impression, I could be wrong, but the packaging of Provenance definitely looks a little dated compared to Old Particular. This was chocolaty and rich, but I’m afraid I’m not that much of a fan of Jura, and this did nothing to change my mind. Still, it is relatively cheap at around £60, so if you are a fan I would recommend it. We had some lovely scallops with this.

An 18 year old Bowmore followed, and this was my favorite. Some light FWP to let you know its origin but also lots of peat and some body. Very long. I’d guess it costs around a £100, cant find it online.

Then it was a 25 year old Bruichladdich which Cara swiped from her father’s collection! My notes and recollection are getting ropey now, but this was light and delicate, fairly complex and pretty damn good.

Finally, an 8 year old Laphroaig. This was a lovely young Laphroaig, you know what they taste like. As an aside, what is going on at Laphroaig these days? The last three releases I’ve tasted (QA, Select and a port finish) have been hugely disappointing, and I am a massive Laphroaig fan. What has happened? I’m at a loss.

It is great to see independent bottlers running events at the festival, and this was better value and more fun than most distillery events. Douglas Laing are an interesting company to me, because I found it hard to estimate how big they are. They do not sell direct, have a high minimum order for people like us and you dont see them in supermarkets. They also no longer sell through Gordon& Macphail or the whisky exchange. So how big are they? Turns out, bigger than I thought. The year before the split they turned over £6.5 million with a very healthy profit of £1.2 million. Must do a lot of international trade!

Both this and the whiskylounge events were good and I think we might do a pack for both of their whiskies.

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Tues 27th, Laphroaig Day (err….Ardbeg)

In theory, this is Laphroaig day. Not for us, however. Instead, we’re heading to Ardbeg for 90 minutes with the head distiller, Mickey Heads, and several of his favourite casks. I can’t help feeling that Laphroaig have slipped a little of late, with the release of three not-brilliant expressions (Select, QA, PX) that haven’t exactly set the world on fire, so the chance to take part in an intimate gathering down the road was too much to pass up.

We get there, and MY GOD!!! we get a parking space each at Ardbeg where there are very few people, the rest of humanity having stopped at Laphroaig some four miles away. Apparently, we have booked three tickets, not the two we thought we had booked. So, it’s a toss-up between Michelle, Alice or Jim to accompany Tony and me. Alice wins.

There are only 15 or so people on this “Heads Up” tasting, with Mickey Heads and his warehouseman Dugga. So, to warehouse 3 we go

First up, it’s a 1998 first-fill sherry cask (56.9%, matured in oloroso). As with Bruichladdich on Sunday, this is a cracking place to start, lots of butter, salt, and coffee at the end. It’s not too sweet and it’s a belter. It goes really well with the stilton that is placed on a plate along with cheese biscuits and chocolates which are strategically-placed nearby to accompany the whiskies.

Better still, is the 1999 bourbon first-fill (51%) that comes next. All three of us would choose bourbon casks over sherry casks, and this indicates why, full of tropical fruits, pineapple and salt on the nose but with much more of the signature smoky bacon on the palate. It’s very drying and goes very well with the milk chocolate chunks nearby.

Next up is a 1994 refill bourbon cask (55%) which is a blast of rum and raisin ice cream, despite the fact that it’s never been near a rum cask. Along with the rum is a white chocolate theme with dry smoke, melon and late vanilla.

Next was a slight break where we were led to a different part of the warehouse (and banned from taking photos) to where a barrel was placed next to two wooden runners, to recreate the problem of getting filled barrels the right way up on the racks. The problem is thus: given that you want the barrel to end up on its place on the rack with the bung facing up, you need to work out where the bung is when you first roll the barrel onto the runners. I’m not good at geometry so I volunteer, take a guess and start rolling my barrel and am 90º out. Next up is Tony, who should be better at these things given his mathematical bent. He is 180º out. Ha!!! So, back to the tasting.

Fourth is a 1998 refill sherry (oloroso – 52.6%). On the nose, Alice reckoned apple crumble and vanilla custard, with tangerines, blackberries and cinnamon on the nose, and a lovely smooth velvety palate, quite drying, with sweet smoky bacon and more of the vanilla and salt from earlier drams.

The penultimate dram was a 1998 refill sherry which was filled only a few weeks before dram number four. This is a lot more woody (cherry wood Alice thought), with red fruits and slightly menthol and salty. Also, the peat is much more in your face than its younger brother and much sweeter later.

Lastly, we were given a choice of a mystery dram or one of the other casks chosen by Mickey/Dugga. The mystery dram was a unanimous winner. Dugga disappeared and returned with a flask full of what tasted like a very young and sappy malt, fresh, herbal and with lemon. Strange, we thought, had he taken the piss and given us an eaux de vie for the insult? Nope, it turned out to be a 39 year old 1975 (56.4%) expression matured in a third or fourth refill sherry cask. Interesting, but would anyone have identified it as an Ardbeg? No! Worth trying, though. When else would we get to try and 39 year old Ardbeg?

Overall, a great 90 minutes in the company of Mickey and Dugga, both of whom are very modest and good company. This is the reason why, if I was pushed to select my favourite Islay distillery, Ardbeg would win it. It doesn’t feel corporate or too slick and is ultra-friendly. Oh, and the whisky is good too.

After this and a spot of lunch in the always good Old Kiln Cafe, Alice walks with Jim along the newly constructed distillery footpath to Lagavulin for a warehouse tour. Meanwhile, we all go our separate ways for an hour and a half while Jim and Alice go through the contents of six Lagavulin casks.

Hmm, I think I might have a day off drinking tomorrow.

Pat

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Monday 26th, Caol Ila day

last time we were at the festival, caol ila day was accompanied by a full scale gale. Confident of no repeat, this year we chose to take a trip on a sailing ship organised by The whisky lounge. The Bessie Ellen is a Ketch that runs pleasure cruises and ships luxury goods.

Despite never having sailed, I am a little bit into ships, due to repeated readings of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubery and Maturin series. A whisky tasting on a boat was then for me a perfect combo, and happily the weather was ideal.

The boat pulled out from Port Askaig into the quite extrordinary 8 knots current, nominally under sail but really just coasting. There were about 30 punters, including Billy Abbot , one of our first ever punters, and other whisky exchange folk.

The whisky was six Caol Ila. First up was Moch, always a favorite, a pleasant summery dram. Next up were the last three unpeated releases. The 2011 , 2012 and 2013 versions. The unpeated Caol Ila is one of Dominic Roskrow’s favorites. It is a fruit salad of a dram and fairly unique. iirc the malt maniacs used it in a blind tasting and very few guessed the distillery. The 2013 version is called Stitchell Reserve in honour of recently retired master distiller Billy Stitchell. To me, it was quite peaty, but what do I know!

The last two were crackers, and both new to me. The distillery bottling 25 year old was deep, smooth and really well balanced.

The Frisky whisky, a 27 year old bottled by John Milroy by Berry Brothers is a more lively, jumpy whisky full of life and peat. Both were excellent.

Great trip, thoroughly recommended.

Tony

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Sunday 25th, Bruichladdich Day

Bruichladdich have probably the premier distillery event of the festival. They have tastings, bands, food stalls and crafts and the square is always rammed. the sun always shines on Bruichladdich, and this year was no different. I was on childcare duty and took Lottie to the Port Charlotte playground. It is a very good playground, in case you are interested, including a zip line. However, pat did the Laddy tasting and these are his thoughts. Tony

Day 2 – Bruichladdich

After the usual first night’s alcohol fuelled extravaganza, it was a bleary-eyed blogger who drove him and his co-drinkers (Michelle, Jim and Alice. Tony was daddy day care) to Bruichladdich for Jim McEwan’s masterclass. We got the warehouse with about 2 minutes to spare to be told ‘Mr McEwan is waiting, you knock-kneed sassanachs. If you dinnae get to your seats in twentae seconds flat, I’ll disembowel the lot o’yae’. Actually, I made most of that up, but they were very keen not to keep him waiting.

They had crammed about 350 people and a CBS camera crew into one of the warehouses, so there wasn’t exactly much room to shimmy between the rows of drinkers and find four spare seats. In fact, there were lots of spare seats and I instantly regretted not bringing lots of spare WTC sample bottles. We could have made a decent pack out of stolen samples, but I figured that might not go down too well with Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich and their new parent company, Remy Cointreau, who probably have lots of powerful lawyers.

Anyway, Jim came out to rapturous applause and within about 5 seconds you realize why. The guy is a consummate showman and I loved every minute of it. As an added bonus, we had Norma Munro and Robin Laing performing (individually) between the drams. I had never heard of Norma Munro before. She clearly has not been a well lady, having lived on Islay and then being forced to the mainland through ill-health. Whatever illness had afflicted her, it clearly hadn’t affected her voice, which was hauntingly beautiful. Robin Laing was terrific, as always. I’ve been singing the Bruichladdich Dram repeatedly for the last two days.

At the masterclass, we had six whiskies, the first of which was a 30 year-old bourbon cask (49.3%) and which was a sensation, clean and fresh, with lots of vanilla, salt, icing sugar, lemon juice and honey. With a little water it became more creamy and less woody (not that it was woody to start with). I love this style of whisky. Unfortunately, you cannot buy it…..yet.

Next up was a Bruichladdich Black Art (51% abv and created especially for this occasion). The only notes I made for this one were “Very nice – and sherried. Sherry trifle with red fruit. Cranberries!” I like this alot, but, not being a great lover of sherried whiskies, preferred the 30 year old. If Robin Laing is to be believed, drinking this increases a) fertility, and/or b) the chance of conceiving.

Continuing the sherry theme, dram number 3 was a 1986 PX cask, introduced by the man who Jim McEwan has earmarked as his eventual replacement (lovely chap, but I don’t know what his name is). As you’d imagine from a PX, this had a very heavy sherry influence, full of Christmas cake flavours, nuts and dates. And very drying!! Michelle gave this a definitive thumbs down. You’d had to be in the right mood for this, preferably by a fire on a cold winter’s evening.

Dram number 4 was a Port Charlotte 2001 matured in a chateau d’yquem cask. A hit for all of us!!! I likened this to a smoky rice pudding. Jim then introduced Duncan McGilivray who was the first man he had employed at the distillery and who has pretty much got the place up and running and kept it running, including responding to several 3am phone calls to fix the various ancient pieces of temperamental mechanical equipment. Another well-deserved round of applause for this man who was retiring at the end of June and who, judging by the applaise, had the respect of his fellow workmen.

Dram number 5 was what we’d all been waiting for, the Octomore X4 Discovery (69.4% matured in a sherry cask). Apparently, the last time quadruple distillation was tried was in 1695 in Lewis or Harris by holy men. The fourth distillation took the alcohol level to 89.4% and, by the sound of it, the entire distillery were stood around the stills, fire extinguishers in hand, waiting for the explosion that never came. This was pushing things to the limit and Jim doubted, he said, that such an experiment would be repeated. The important thing was that it was a peathead’s paradise and is this year’s festival offering from The Laddie. Doubt they’ll have trouble selling this one. It had a very Dalmore-like orangey-ness and vanilla on the nose with spadefuls of dry peat. On the palate, hugely drying with a late thwack of acrid coal smoke. Jim Alsopp(one of our guests for the week) said it was conflicted and not that well balanced. I have to admit that there are other malts I would spend £150 on before this, notably the 30 year old.

The last dram was never introduced, primarily because of time. It had a peachy pinky hue and turned out to be Bruichladdich Rocks. Great, but in the hallowed company of the rest, fairly ordinary.

Once we had taken a few glasses as souvenirs, we joined the rest of humanity in Bruichladdich’s courtyard for music, seafood, and the two free drams that came as part of the entrance ticket (either Port Charlotte Scottish Barley or Bruichladdich Scottish Barley). It is, apparently, written into the Scottish constitution (if there is one) that it HAS to be sunny on Bruichladdich day; the last 12 or 13 years have enjoyed good weather. Bruichladdich’s physical layout is such that it feels the most cohesive and sociable of distillery events, with plenty of open space for people to mill about and socialize. Happily for me, the seafood-wallah (the same as the day before at Lagavulin) had an extra body to serve, reducing the waiting time by at least 30 minutes

This was a brilliant day and I would recommend this to anyone who is thinking of coming in 2015 to come to this. My wife thought it was great, too, with all those men in kilts she can pull. The guy below was Swedish, but it didn’t seem to make any difference.

*My* highpoint of an excellent day came afterwards, when a Belgian, waiting outside the distillery next to a police car, decided he couldn’t wait to find a toilet, and then emptied his bladder all over the back of the (now empty) police car. Quality! In fact, the presence of a police car is a rarity on Islay. Whether there were an increased number of instances of drunkenness in recent years, I don’t know, but anyone thinking of drinking and driving this year might want to think twice.

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Saturday 24th, Lagavulin Day

Day one of the festival, and we finally arrive on Islay via the lake district and Cairndow. The sun is shining and all is good in the world (after discounting vomiting toddlers and pre festival hangovers). By the time we got here we didnt want to move, but Pat went down to Lagavulin.

Press release: “The LAGAVULIN bottling is drawn from casks filled in January 1995. Matured in European Oak Sherry Butts, the liquid was personally selected by Lagavulin warehouseman Iain McArthur. At 54.7% ABV, it comes in an edition of 3,500 bottles.”

A couple of points: firstly, has it really spent 19 years in sheery butts? If so, they are tired old fellows, because whilst the sherry is there, it is not that prominant. Secondly, 3500 bottles? Last two times were were here they were single casks, 500 odd bottles. I’m not complaining, it means more people can drink it, but its a sign of the times. I bought last years festival bottle at auction for £30 over retail, so at £100 a bottle, this is not an investment whisky imo.

Combined notes:

nose: Bex says: Ruhbarb (after coughing, she doesn’t drink), michelle: rhubarb crumble with custard and crystalised ginger. Alice: All spice. Tony: it is a classic Laga nose, very rounded and evocative, but quite hard to pin down.

taste Alice: underipe fruit,like walking into a wood thats just been copiced, with the green wood just starting to burn. Jim: late woody notes, green bananas. Tony. the green fruit is there, but it is also deep and smokey. This is a classy lagavulin, like a premium distillers edition.

I like it a lot, and would rather have 3 of these 1 of the last 21 year old, (which was lovely).

Pat was in Islay all day, here are his thoughts:

Day 1 – Lagavulin

I think it should be Qqqqagavuin; starting with a large Queue. This is a day I’ve never managed to make, until now. Was it worth it? Well, yes, kind of.

After two days of driving, an early start was never an option. We stayed in Port Ellen at the newly-furbished Islay Hotel (expensive but very well appointed, just up the road from the ferry terminal) and, after a very creditable breakfast (Stornoway Black Pudding – wow!!!), we took a look round the bay and happened across a boat called the Clam Muncher – who said the Scots had no sense of humour?

Having exhausted the distractions that Port Ellen had to offer, we ambled in fabulous sunny weather to Lagavulin where the queue for the festival bottling looked relatively short, until we remembered that everyone pays with credit card. Anyway, Lagavulin appears to be one of the very few distilleries that releases their special bottling On The Day. Maximum, one per person, £95. Fair enough, you think, it’s Lagavulin and they’ve only released a “limited run” of 3000 bottles. Then you discover that Bowmore have released 1000 bottles of their standard Feis Ile offering at a maximum of FOUR per person for £50, FOUR days early. And NO queue.

Anyway, it’s Laga, so you don’t ask questions and you queue up, behind the Germans, the Belgians, the Swedes, the Germans, the odd American, the Dutch, some Germans and some Italians (Did I mention the Germans?). This one is a 19 year old expression of indeterminate cask and very nice. Not earth shattering, but nice. But £95. After 90 minutes of queueing, I picked up two of the Feis Ile plus two bottles of their Triple Distilled, distillery only, Friends of the Classic Malts expression. Triple Distilled how, and in what, I never determined.

Once, I had managed to pick these little beauties up, my wife and I headed for the food and entertainment tents, where a folk foursome were bashing out some excellent renditions of, among other things, “The Leaving of Liverpool”. Hmm, lovely, a tent for Loch Gruinart Oysters next to a caravan selling other seafood. That sounds great. I’ll stick my wife in the seafood queue and I’ll stand in the oyster queue. Ok, I’ve been served. I’ll hand my wife my (uneaten) oysters and I’ll get the seafood in.

Forty minutes later, I’m still in the queue. But I’m near. Then, the Germans in front of me (who, true to form, pushed in) ordered 11 scallops, each of which takes 10 minutes to cook, and 11 langoustines. Oh, for f**** sake!!! Still, it was lovely.

So, this could have been organized rather better, but everyone was mega-friendly, and we spoke to several people who worked for the Galgael organisation, a hugely worthwhile organisation who helps those whose lives have taken a turn for the worse, and several people in kilts (an instant hit with my wife).

Overall, a worthwhile and life affirming day with fabulous weather. When was the last time anyone got sunburn in Scotland???

Then, it was back to our accommodation for a Chinese. From our back window, we can see, twinkling away in the distance, Bruichladdich, where the following day, we are due to enjoy an 11am masterclass with Jim McEwan. More whisky! Hoorah!!.

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WTC go to the Islay Festival, 2014

we are all going to the festival again! Tony, Michelle, baby Charlotte, Pat, Bex, Jim and Alice are all going to Cross House West for a week of whisky fun, in between responsible childcare of course.

We haven’t been to the festival since 2011 (see our Islay 2011 and 2010 blogs), so are raring to go. If we can get our arses in gear we will do some festival bottling tasting packs, because of course this is a business trip for us. eh hem. We are in fact just doing normal tasting events, no press junkets for us, not though any moral high mindedness on our part you understand, it is just that we are rubbish at attracting or doing any PR at all.

So sod all the exam marking and bugger research grants and papers, it can all wait until June. This is our provisional schedule of whisky events.
Saturday 24th: Lagavulin Day. Nothing formal arranged, we arrive Saturday.

Sunday 25th: Bruichladdich Day. Jim’s masterclass at Bruichladdich.

Monday 26th: Caol Ila Day. Combining visiting Caol Ila with theTall Ship Tasting from Port Askaig.

Tues 27th Laphroaig Day. We are going to Ardbeg heads up tasting as well as visiting Laphroaig.

Weds 28th Bowmore Day, Islay Ales Day. As well as loitering around Bowmore, we are going on a Douglas Laing boat trip.

Thurs 29th Kilchoman Day, Jura Day. Kilchoman 100% Islay tasting

Friday 30th. Bunnahabain Day. Nothing booked!

Sat 31st Ardbeg Day. Ardbeg Knock Out tasting . We are also staying at the Ardbeg Pod!

In addition to this, we intend hunting down Masters of Malt and nicking all their free samples without revealing our true identity :)

I’ll post info, notes and photos as and when I can, but be warned that whisky drinking and looking after a 2 year old do not make for a lot of free time. However, we have cunningly bought two child free couples with us. I will also try and convince others to contribute, we all know Pat’s tasting notes are better than mine.

Tony

ps. I’ve also completely forgotten how to customise wordpress, so soz for the lame fonts.

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