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.
Earlier this year a new 14 year old Port Askaig was released and described as coming from ‘… a distillery in the north-east corner of Islay, better known for its unpeated whisky’. That doesn’t sound like to Caol Ila to me! As the range has expanded, so has the guesswork. The Internet abhors a secret it seems. We’ve got several reviews from the Port Askaig range for you over the coming weeks, but where better to start than with the youngest age-statement bottling – the 8 year old.
It’s described as coming from ‘undisclosed Islay distilleries’ – and yet is still a single malt. Perhaps that’s an indication that whilst Elixir intend to keep the 8 year old expression in their stables, where they source the liquid for the bottling could vary in the future? Or it just could be an odd pluralisation. Who knows?
Bottled at 45.8% ABV, it’s suggested that the 8 year old is (currently!?) refill ex-bourbon matured Caol Ila. That said, I’ve spoken to some folks who are utterly convinced that it’s Lagavulin – I guess that’s possible, though it would seem like a very strange move by Diageo and Elixir seeing as this expression was launched at almost the same time as the official Lagavulin 8 year old.
Nose: Plenty of lemon influence here – curd, icing, even a bit of Lemon Pledge. This is offset against coastal influence – steely and chiselled minerality – limestone, sea shells, rockspools – you get the drift. Smoke is dry, and at the intersection of rubbery and medicinal. There’s seaweed, brine, wood smoke and touches of bicycle inner tubes. Running throughout roasted golden malts, barley and custard cream biscuits. A drop of water adds fruitiness, but not from the citrus spectrum – rather pears, apples and gooseberries alongside some ozone and dusty mineral smoke.
Taste: The arrival is oily, and sharp with both smoke and citrus – there’s plenty of oomph from the 45.8% here. Smoke first – medicinal, briny, tar, coal dust, ash/chalk, wood embers and smoked fish. Then the citrus – tart, demi-sweet – lemons and grapefruit. The mid palate delivers more nuance, merging the smoked lemons with malty biscuits, nuttiness and some spicing. Water adds a meaty flavour – smoked leg of ham as well as emphasising cask elements – vanilla and plenty of pepper in the back palate.
Finish: Medium to long with ashy peat smoke and some lemon-y tang still left in the tail.
Port Askaig 8 year old is a solid choice for a peated daily drinker. Whilst there’s not a ton of depth, there’s plenty of coastal character. I’m quite a fan of younger Islay whiskies – there’s something to be said about their unbridled honesty when the spirit is leading the cask, and not vice-versa. Here, whilst the ABV is not as high as with some expressions (particularly younger 53’s from SMWS – which are always very solid and sometimes cracking), it’s generous enough to provide an impactful and bold arrival with a mouthcoating texture. There’s not much to criticise here. But, it’s a crowded marketplace out there with plenty of choices.