For over 200 years the small island of Islay on Scotland’s west coast has been synonymous with whisky production – but its link to the spirit can be traced back even further – almost 300 years to the near birth of aqua vitae. Nowadays its reputation has reached near legendary status the world over – whisky pilgrims travel for hours to step foot on its hallowed ground and wander around its revered distilleries. But what is it about the island that so captures the imagination of enthusiasts?
Whilst week by week and month by month spirit is largely homogenous – when explored over longer periods, its variances are much more apparent. No distillery stands completely still. Changes in ingredients, equipment, wood policy, personnel – or simply market desires for flavour profiles all result in whisky not nosing or tasting quite the same across the decades. And that’s saying nothing of batch variance. This incongruity is partly why some bottlings are particularly sought after - spirit styles that are no longer produced are no longer easily as tasted. And some folks do love a liquid time capsule. All life is forwards. The profile of spirit changes with it. And at certain moments (though often in hindsight – for whisky is not a quick thing) it just all comes together – the perfect amalgam of spirit profile combined with a great selection of exceptional casks. A purple patch of production.
The Port Askaig range launched in 2009 with three expressions (Cask Strength, 17 and 25 year old). All three were strongly rumoured to hail from Caol Ila. Over the past near-decade the brand has steadily expanded, covering a variety of age statements (8 up to 45), higher ABVs and single cask releases. But, it would be wrong to assume that the liquid contents have remained identical throughout.
As well as a ‘Rich Peat Edition’ crafted from peated Highland malt whisky (no prizes for guessing), Angel’s Nectar have also produced an Islay Edition. The cask composition of this blended malt is not provided, nor is it said whether this is an ‘all-Islay’ blend. I suspect that the base components of the release might well be similar to the Original edition but with an additional parcel of peated Islay spirit. It is however noted as being 5 years of age and being matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Bottled 47% ABV, the release can be purchased directly from Highfern for £49.
It’s wine cask time, with this fear inducing edition hailing from Angel’s Nectar and expanding their Islay Cask range to include Rioja matured expression. 7 years of age and bottled at 46% ABV – you’ll find these at The Whisky Exchange for £49.95.
Welcome to the end. The conclusion of our 24-day journey into the annals of Boutique-y Whisky and the start of the much needed break to recharge the whisky writing batteries. Today is a special day for many - so no (d)rambling introductions, nor long-winded sermons - just a hearty, heartfelt festive thank you for your support throughout 2020 and the best of wishes for the holidays.
Door number 21 in the 2018 Boutique-y Advent calendar delivers one of my standout whiskies of the year in the form of Islay #2 25 year old Batch 1. This bottling is more clandestine than most of Boutique-y’s secret expressions – there are no in-jokes or subtle references (that I can see) on the rather stark bottle label – even Brand Ambassador Dave Worthington has indicated that he doesn’t know the distillery of origin (though I’m not 100% sure that I believe him). Nevertheless, this level of mystery is undoubtedly a good thing - I’m convinced that were Islay #2 25 year old fully revealed, its price would be considerably higher.
A mystery bottling from an unnamed Islay distillery that has been finished for an unspecified amount of time in a red wine barrique from Chateau Palmer’s Alter Ego range – a left bank Bordeaux vineyard from the Margaux appellation. 306 bottles were produced by The Single Cask – they’ve available (2 left as of writing) from Master of Malt for £87.95.