It’s with great regret that we must announce that the Port Askaig 17 year-old – Speciality Drinks’ superb mystery single Islay malt which became the whisky version of a soundtrack [a tastetrack? - Ed.] to TWEBlog & Caskstrength/ManDate’s momentous 2009 trip to Feis Ile - is no more. No, no, I’m alright – I’ve just got something in my eye, that’s all….
It’s a sad moment. Port Askaig 17 had the power to make even this ravaged, cynical blogger go a bit misty-eyed and reminiscent: there’s not too many drams that can conjure up memories of sunsets on the beach at Machrie, barbecued scallops, sand fleas in one’s sleeping chamber and laughing at people who have spent the night sleeping in a golf course bunker; I have drunk it with the finest oysters and with beans on toast; with friends and strangers; in bars and car parks; in genteel sips and hearty swallows. As such it retains a very special place in my heart, as well as being a damn fine dram and…and…
*Pause for trembling bottom lip and muffled sob*
However, as the great fictional Bovine Animist thinker Cowjetski may once have said, you have to be philosophical about these things and while the 17yo will be much missed, fortunately whisky has the regenerative power of a reptilian Timelord, if such a thing existed, which I’m sure it doesn’t – even in the Dr. Who universe (and please don’t write in, it’s all pretend).
Anyway, sure enough, here we are already with a slightly older, more grown-up version – but can it live up to the exalted heights of its illustrious predecessor?? Billy & I put the new Port Askaig Harbour* 19 year old through its paces.
Nose: crisp, stony smoke hides a layer of filthy, muddy peat. There are hints of flowers and a thick and spicy middle, reminding me of sponge cake batter.
Palate: A syrupy sweet start is quickly overtaken by flinty smoke and charcoal dust, sherbert fountains, lemons and a hint of violet.
Finish: long and lingering, with sappy wood and sherbert lemons giving way to wood ash in a cast iron stove. After that there’s a lingering green leafiness – fruit leaves?
Water: Dirties up the nose with heavily smoked bacon and adds more sweet and sour fruit to the body – lemons, limes and berries galore. The finish loses some of its its ashy bitterness, becoming softer and sweeter.
Comment: Before I tasted the 19 year old Tim extracted a tiny sample of the 17 year old from his Sekrit Stash (behind his monitor) for me to compare. It was a lovely thing, but the 19 is more to my taste – it’s more refined and stony, as opposed to the slightly dirty and beautifully muddy 17 year old. It seems that I am a more refined and elegant drinker than Tim, or at least that is how I’m going to interpret this.
Nose: Honeyed and autumnal; bonfires, dried leaves; bandages, swimming pools and bonfires again as the phenols creep in. Coal tar soap; spongecake; marshmallows; caster sugar. More earthiness as it develops. Water lifts bacon fat aromas initially (perhaps even a hint of black pudding?), then some more summery hints of sweetpea, raspberry leaf & honeysuckle gradually emerge.
Palate: Lovely silky mouthfeel; upfront smoky burnt wood, more pronounced and assertive than the nose suggests; varying aspects of lemon (zest, pith and cheesecake); a seeingly austere flavour profile initially allied with a luxurious texture. Takes water very well – the smoke and soot relax in intensity, making it even more easy to drink…
Finish: Very good length. Becomes sweeter. Lingering soot and smoke, with a growing lemony citrus tang; some lightly drying oak at the death.
Comment: The King is dead… Long live the King. Port Askaig Harbour 19yo is a very worthy successor to a vanished great, sharing the 17yo’s characteristic of inducing an almost automatic repour and a strong urge to throw the cork away. If I wasn’t so hugely sentimentally attached to the 17yo - sorry if I forgot to mention that already - I might even confess to preferring this, but that would be too much, too soon. Suffice on this solemn occasion to say that I’m glad on two counts: firstly, that I have a small stash of the 17yo tucked away for special occasions; and second, that for as long as the replacements taste this good, I won’t be too sad for too long.
If you like the sound of all this and you want to find out what the fuss is all about, Port Askaig Harbour 19yo is available now here. You can read more objective, less tear-stained reviews of this fine dram here, here, here and here (you have to scroll down to August 23rd on Whiskyfun).*There’s been a bit of speculation over this. It’s basically something to do with the same piece of brilliant legislation that gave us ‘Blended Malt’ whisky. Blame the SWA.