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.
Of the eight currently producing Islay distilleries, only seven of them have been operated long enough to produce a 25 year old single malt. If you look at retail cost for *any* OB 25 year old from Islay (which have greatly increased over the past decade), you’ll be paying way in excess of the asking price of Boutique-y’s Islay #2 25 year. This first batch is delivered at 48.7% ABV and has a relatively large release of 3,124 bottles.
My conjecture for this bottling, based on my various experiences with it over 2018 (yes, I’ve actively sought it out), is that it could well be mid-90’s Ardbeg. From the outside, that might seem like a ludicrous proposition given that production was on a serious down-low at the distillery at the time, and bottlings from the period trade hands for very large sums of money (including the distillery’s own ‘something’ series). However, this is still my hunch, based on the aroma and flavour profile which takes me back to earlier bottlings such as Airigh Nam Beist. But, regardless of the potential for exciting heritage, as always, it's what’s inside the bottle that counts...
Nose: Swirling complexity. Seafood – buttery scallops and lobster bisque are joined by sea salt and a stiff coastal breeze. Running throughout an intriguing combination of cooking apples, hedgerow berries, barbequed meats and maple syrup. Smoke is dry and ashy with a touch of bicycle inner tube and pickled onion Monster Munch. Resting reveals sweetness from toffee sauce and brown sugar, and subtle herbals from cut stems and pine needles. Reduction changes the complexion, reducing overt sweetness and smokiness and adding grassiness (dried hay), orange peels and nettles.
Taste: Bolder – campfires with both meats and marshmallows, toffee coated apples and toasted almonds. The mid-palate becomes more briny with salt, ozone, ash and a bite of citrus. Throughout, natural earthiness – dried hay, fired clay and refined sugars – demerara and muscovado. Water softens things up, adding tinned orchard fruits, a smoky mint/menthol to the back back-palate.
Finish: Medium to long, quite mineral, with sweet seafood and sweet smoke.
Complicated, convoluted, but above all, utterly delicious. The nose is memorably outstanding, and whilst the palate doesn’t quite have the same levels of sophistication, it’s still enchantingly delightful. Fawning aside, I do feel compelled to note the Master of Malt suggestion of this being “…great for a Highball”. Whilst I have a lot of time for this serve (particularly over the summer months), at over £150 for a 50cl bottle, this recommendation raises both my eyebrows in bewilderment. It’s your whisky, do with it as you please – but I’m honestly not sure how many enthusiasts are flush enough to consider a £15+ humble cocktail. Perhaps I’m simply behind the times – or being too frugal with my highballs? Nevertheless, for those of you more inclined to enjoy this as nature intended it, it’s a sure bet – excellent.
Review calendar provided by Boutique-y Whisky