Jeepers, these tastings just keep getting earlier and earlier! The alarm goes off at 7.30 and we’re blearily making tea and filling bowls of sugar puffs before leaving at 8.45 to our first tasting at Bowmore.
Last year’s festival bottling wasn’t our favourite by a long way so we were hoping for something a little bit more exciting this year. The tasting was a run through the distillery’s differing styles of whisky and use of cask- 3 different types of maturation examples; Bourbon, Sherry and Limousin oak, used predominantly for Bordeaux.
Master blender Ian McCullum gave us a fascinating presentation on the detail of the mouth and sensitivity of the tongue, which certainly made us all realise how damn important the flappy pink thing actually is….
Bowmore – New Make spirit – 68%
Very grassy and quite estery with some new leather barley and cereal notes.
1999 Bourbon Cask – 58%
Notes of honey brown bread and lots of sea air character.
1999 Sherry Cask – 58%
Raisined sweetness and brown sugar, which became more fruity with the addition of water.
1999 Wine Cask – 58%
Chocolate notes, coffee, pepper and then dry woody aspects. Very good indeed.
Feis Ile Bottling – 2009 – 57.1% – 70cl – 900 bottles
N: Balsamic vinegar, mocha, freshly ground coffee, orange liqueur, soil, turf with some woody notes.
P: Fruity, leathery notes, an impressive mouthfeel of some oil, caramels and sherried notes.
F: A little woody, but all round a big improvement on last year’s release – the influence of three types of cask has really brought something to the bottlings overall character.
The short trip up to Bridgend was our next destination for the start of the Islay Ales open day. Paul Hathaway, the head brewer, took us on a brief tour and after some amazing beer-filled chocolates and a locally reared burger, we rocked into refreshing pints of Angus Og, Saligo and Blackrock.
Our boyband, Mandate, was starting to get some attention, so we felt that a moody photo shoot was in order… what better than the hallowed white washed walls of the Port Ellen maltings. Surely the front cover of the NME beckons??
While we pouted and preened around Port Ellen, it seemed sensible to have a proper look round and fortunately Kevin Sutherland, General Manager for the Diageo distilleries, was on hand for a truly memorable experience. The malt hoppers, the kilns, the atmosphere of the place still reeked of peat and soul, which was bought to a stunning conclusion with a tasting in one of the Dunnage warehouses - two OB bottlings of Port Ellen, which we had been itching to try:
Port Ellen – 1st Release – 56.2% – 70cl
N: Very zesty with heather notes, long slow wafts of elegant peat and soft vanilla. Much lighter and fragrant than other PE releases.
P: Moist, mossy notes with a slight smokiness. Elements of kiln-dried ham and slight wine notes.
F: Luscious, lingering sweet peat. A truly legendary dram.
Port Ellen – 4th Release – 56.2% – 70cl
N: More medicinal notes than the 1st release, but still elegant smoke, zest and red berries. A lot more aroma filled. Hints of Stilton cheese and grist.
P: An unbelievably smooth palate, soft peats, caramels, sea salt and a hint of something fruity.
F: Fresh strawberry notes followed by a lingering dry note. Another Excellent PE.
After a little rest at the Machrie, we were ready for our 3rd tasting of the day (!!! We never give in!!) This time it was up to the Whisky shop in Bowmore and a tasting of several Queen Of The Moorland bottlings with David Wood.
Tullibardine 1992 – Peter’s Birthday Bottling – 55.6% – 346 bottles
N: lovely cedar blocks, wood and spice, with hints of cigar smoke, dried fruit and
P: Dry but really fragrant, fruity with leather notes.
F: more dryness, but very pleasant fruits that last for ages.
QOTM Laphroaig - 1996 Isle of Islay M+M 2009 51.1% -206 bottles -single hogshead refill
F: Amazing light fruits, lemons, lemon and white chocolate cheesecake, some slightly perfumed notes.
P: Woody, but not too dry- some sherbert lemons and light peat notes.
F: Dry, but very soft, not at all boisterous.
QOTM rare cask Bowmore – 1998 53.9 % Keltings Qtr cask edition XXXI- 82 bottles:
N: Flat cola, lavender, light fudge and mint
P: More cola, spice, rich treacle notes some nice dark fruits.
F: Lengthy, chestnuts.
The evening was spent at the Port Charlotte Hotel, which really lived up to our expectations with a fabulous meal. After starters of rabbit terrine and vegetarian ravioli, we moved on to mains of butter-steamed salmon, monkfish tails and a huge rare steak. Darrell found room for a delicious raspberry, lemon and mango dessert before Neil drove us back to the lodge. The drive back was pretty special, being spent in silent contemplation of the beautiful night-time scenery, with mist rolling down the hills into the bay of Loch Indaal to an in-car soundtrack of Sigur Ros.
On our return, we decided to have a crack at producing our own Festival vatting from the various excellent samples we appropriated on our travels. A TV dramatisation of Jekyll and Hyde provided the perfect backdrop as we maniacally mixed, blended and cogitated!! Stay tuned for the grand unveiling of our masterpiece at the end of the Feis Ile….