Saturday, October 1, 2016

The ABC of Islay

The evening's line up.
Our September tasting was as easy as ABC, as we tasted five cask strength Islay whiskies from five different distilleries. Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila were in these glasses but because it was a blind tasting, we wouldn't know which was which until the end.

Dram 1: Caol Ila 17yo
Or at least that was the theory. Plenty of the club's members were convinced that dram number one was a Caol Ila. Some thought it wasn't bad but others were a bit more critical of a "bitter finish" and a dram that, on the whole, didn't really hang together.

Right enough, it was a Caol Ila, which didn't exactly surprise too many in the room. But there was a bit of shock around at the age and price of the whisky: a 17yo unpeated clocking in £92.75. Not a bottle that anyone is going to rush out and buy soon, unfortunately.

Dram 2: Bruichladdich 21yo
As well as peatiness, Islay whiskies are often renowned for being on the salty side. And salt was one of the key notes which came through on the second dram. Seaweed was another, while salted caramel was another shout, and it did seem to get a bit sweeter once it was warmed up a bit. There was no doubt that it had seen the inside of a sherry cask at some stage.

It turned out to be a 21yo Bruichladdich, bottled by independent favourites Gordon and Macphail. Distilled in 1994, it came in at 56.2% and £110.67. Again, this didn't exactly blow the members away, perhaps a surprise as both the distillery and G&M are established club favourites. But that's a blind tasting for you.

Dram 3: Ardbeg Uigedail
Dram three went down a lot better straight away. Citrus was one widespread tasting note, with some going even further and pinning it down to orange. Less sophisticated comments included "tasty" and "nice". This was generally the favourite of the night so far, and there was much expectation that it would be an Ardbeg.

And so it was. The Ardbeg Uigedail to be precise. A marriage of Ardbeg from bourbon barrels and sherry butts, it's bottled at 54.2% and is a very reasonable £53.75 from your favourite online whisky retailer.

Dram 4: Bowmore
After the traditional mid-evening break of oatcakes and a pint from the downstairs bar at the Briton's Protection, we were back for dram four. And it was clear straight away that this was not your typical Islay whisky. A little oily on the nose, but on the palate were tropical fruits, almost reminiscent of the Fruit and Fibre you might have for your breakfast (other cereals are available). Mango was another disctinctive flavour, and the drink as a whole seemed to have a thickness that put some in mind of mango lassi.

Not many in the club, if anyone, correctly had this as a Bowmore. It was a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling, number 3.278 called Dirty Martinis in the Boatshed. All very un-Islay like, successfully challenging a few of our preconceptions, one of whisky master Matthew's aims for the evening as a whole. It was 52.2% but don't bother trying to find one to buy, as apparently we had the very last one.

Dram 5: Bunnahabhain 7yo
Our last dram of the night was finally the super-peated experience we'd been waiting for all evening. This immediately put the members in mind of one of Bruichladdich's products, either a high end Port Charlotte or, at a push, an Octomore (we didn't know at this point we'd already had a Bruichladdich earlier in the evening). A couple of others thought some coal-y notes suggested a Caol Ila, but obviously it wasn't that either.

Much to his delight, and everyone else's surprise, Matthew revealed this to be a 7yo Berry Bros and Rudd bottling of Bunnahabhain. Although obviously quite a young whisky, at 56.1% and with a price tag of £60, this had a few supporters as the dram of the night.

Not quite enough though. The Ardbeg carried the day with 11 votes, with the Bowmore second and the Bunnahabhain third. It was another excellent evening, and thanks go not only to Matthew and the rest of the committee, but also to the many faces old and new who came along, and of course to the Briton's Protection for looking after us once again.

11 votes for the Ardbeg!



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