Friday, 26 March 2010

An overview of Islay

Just off the west coast of Scotland is the spiritual home of Scottish Whisky, the Island of Islay. Islay is known for its incredibly smoky peated malts. The Island has 8 distilleries with one more on the way at Port Charlotte near Bruichladdich. The island even has its own kind of subsections.

ardbeg 10 year oldlaphroigLagavulin-DE-twe
The Kildalton Distilleries
Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin are all based on the south western part of the Island of Islay, these distilleries produce some of the most amazing Scottish whiskies that have ever been bottled with Ardbeg being particularly complex and amazing and wonderful and great and the greatest argument for taking up alcoholism there has ever been.
Laphroaig boasts the proud claim that it is the Prince of Wales’ favourite whisky and Prince Charles does visit there at least once a year to visit his casks and generally be a jug eared patronising wanker to everyone he meets. Laphroiag is alone in the Islay distilleries in that its produce is bloody awful stuff that tastes like someone has poured cheap vodka into a tobacco chewer’s spittoon (but that’s just my opinion).
Lagavuilin on the other hand produces some quite heavily peated malts that are finished in sherry casks and are awesome. Lagavuilin is the kind of stuff you have after a big dinner with roast beef and gravy. The independent bottlings are quite high in alcohol too.
All the Kildalton distilleries are well worth a visit, with Ardbeg being a particular favourite.

bruichladdich 12bowmore-islay-single-malt-whisky-12yearold
The Loch Indaal Distilleries
Bruichladdich and Bowmore are on opposite sides of the shores of Loch Indaal. Of these have quite different house styles, well Bowmore has a house style and it’s an interesting one. Bowmore does peaty whiskies, and they do them very well and there are a lot of interesting finishes coming from the Bowmore distillery. There’s a lot of sherry and port wood finished and generally quite quite delicious. Nom.

Moving swiftly onwards to the eclectic madness of Bruichladdich, there needs to be a little bit of explanation. Bruichladdich just do whatever the hell they damned well feel like. Most distilleries have standard, 10 or 12 year old malt for general luxurious consumption, then a slightly older one for the occasional treat and then a 20+ for the birth of your first child or something.

Bruichladdich bottlings at time of writing, (there’ll probably be more by next week). 7 Year Old ‘Waves’, Peat, 2001 Resurrection, LINKS ‘K CLUB’, 15 Year Old Links 8 ‘Torrey Pines’, 15 Year Old Links 9 ‘Royal Birkdale’, LINKS 15 Year old Valhalla, X4 Quadruple Distilled (as featured in Oz and Clarke!), 1998 Manzanilla, 1998 Oloroso, Infinity #2, 16 Year Old Bourbon, 18 Year Old 2nd Edition, PC7 Port Charlotte Unity 61%, 20 Year Old ‘Islands’, 21 Year Old Oloroso, 1984 Golder Still, 1972 Legacy V, 1972 Legacy VI, 40YO, Valinch.


caol ila 12ans
The Sound of Islay Distilleries
The Distilleries up on the north east coast are Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain. Bunnahabhain is kind of the forgotten distillery of Islay. It’s quite a large establishment really by comparison with some of the others but it’s not quite so high profile. This is a bit unfair really as Bunnahabhain has some gems of whiskies amongst their bottlings. The standard 10 year old is medicinal and lightly peated and sweet and nice and precisely everything an Islay should be.
Caol ila has about 90-95% of its bottling being taken away and put into blended whiskies for other distilleries. I have been fortunate enough to try some of the wood finishes that Caol Ila are going to be bottling for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and they are amazing. Well worth a look if you’re ever on the Island.

Kilchoman is in the area of Kilchoman church (not near anything really). It’s a fairly new distillery that has been distilling for the last 3 years or so and rather interestingly they released some of their new make spirit in miniature bottles. Scottish whisky cannot officially be called Whisky until it has been in the cask for at the very minimum three years. Kilchomans new make spirit is probably the best in Scotland with the possible exception of Ardbeg. Keep watching for the first release casks.

Port Charlotte Whisky
The other distillery that was mentioned at the start is the new one opening up in Port Charlotte under the stewardship of the guys from Bruichladdich. Might try to buy a cask!

The Island that is the home of Scottish Whisky is a beautiful and amazing place to visit, I would urge everyone to go there and try the amazing whiskies on offer.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A quick note on Connemara whiskey.

Connemara Whiskey

A quick note on Connemara whiskey.

Irish whiskies hadn’t been peated for several hundred years before the fine folks at Cooleys distillery in Dundalk restarted the process back in the 80s. Until then the Irish whiskey had been more about the barley than the peat, preferring smoothness to smokiness and sweetness to the cured meat overtones of the Scottish counterpart.

Connemara peated Irish whiskey manages to combine the easy drinking and generally awesome experience of a fine Irish malt with the smokiness that would be signatory of an Islay malt. The results are phenomenal in each one of the expressions that they have released. The first peated Irish whiskies in 300 years come out swinging.
See the over enthusiastic and slightly drunken notes that follow.

Connemara Peated Irish Malt 1 ABV 40%
This is a lovely wee whiskey that starts off with a kind of hot buttered toast smell then goes into honey and hazelnuts and a kind of chocolaty overtone. You leave it for 40 seconds and go back for another sniff. The same aromas are still there but after that there is a massive surge of peat, unexpected at first but after the initial surprise you can see how well it fits in with the other more irish style characteristics. An initial taste yields orange peel and apricots and a smidgen of beach campfire. The finish hangs around for a long time with a light citrus ending followed by a cigar style contraction on the back of your tongue.
8/10 Gutsy but gentle whiskey. Amazing introduction to Irelands peaty side.

Connemara 12 year old ABV 40%
The 12 year old is a different beast to the regular Connemara. It starts out with a more genteel floral smell with a really pleasant pine resin whiff. It gets a bit like chewing mint leaves covered with nutella (in an incredibly nice way). The peat smoke is quite subtle. It tends towards pipe smoke rather than the campfire style of the regular Connemara.
The first thing you notice on the taste is the pipe smoke again. It comes in first shortly followed by bursts of honey, then smoke, then kippers, then melted butter. This stuff is liquid gold. The finish is more ashen than you would normally expect from an irish malt. Pleasantly nutty.
8.5/10 A peated malt that is smoother than oiled silk. Awesome.

Connemara Cask Strength ABV 60%
Jesus Fucking Christ. This is one for the record books. The incredible strength of this big hairy aggressive bastard of a malt is something to behold. The first sniff is an assault on the senses. Don’t sniff too deeply or you can anesthetise your nostrils with the alcohol (no, seriously). The brilliant crystal clear explosion of malt and smoke blend together like peaches and cream, in bursts and bursts of amazing sensory overload. The inital taste is understated and smooth. The first impressions are of brown sugar caramelised over freshly made porridge. Then the peat shows up. Smoke just keeps creeping in over and over again revealing another layer every time to this fantastically complex malt. The Irish signature smoothness keeps the peat in check (just about). This is something you should toast the arrival of your first child with. Or to celebrate someone’s wedding, Or world peace Or it being a Tuesday.
9.5/10 Smoother than Selma Hayeks inner thighs but stronger than Mr T and Chuck Norris on steroids. Buy it. Buy it now.