Friday, May 20, 2016

The Long Awaited Pop of that Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

Ever have a best friend that you've never met, never spoken to, never emailed or texted?  That's how we feel about Thomas and Ansgar Speller, fellow bloggers who write WhiskySpeller about their travels and tastings around the world. How did the Spellers capture such favor? Well they know the key to a beasts heart: vintage Lagavulin. Thomas and Ansgar went to last year's Feis Ile (Islay's annual spring festival) and sent us a bottle of Lagauvlin's limited release Feis Ile 2015.

Feis Ile happens the last week of May. All week long, one day is dedicated to a specific Islay distillery. They open their doors with tours, parties, music and tastings. Malt whisky fanatics from all over the world come to celebrate the beauty that is Islay. It's also become tradition for each distillery to offer a limited release festival bottling. These are small batch releases of casks hand-picked by the distillery managers. They're often served up uncolored, at cask strength, and have some special characteristics like age or maturation. If that doesn't make your eyes light up, then we're just not speaking the same language.

We haven't been to Islay yet. It's in the cards, but with a 4.5 year old at home it's not so easy to hop over for a week of sipping malt, sleeping in a charming B&B, and watching the waves at Port Ellen. Just writing about it brings a tear to my eye. We'll get there. 

That's why when our bottle from last year's festival arrived, we were excited. Excited doesn't even really cover it. Ecstatic? Giddy? Something like that. As you know if you're a fan of SmokyBeast, Lagavulin is our first and still greatest love when it comes to whisky. And we'd never tasted one of their special limited release Feis Ile bottlings.

The 2015 Feis Ile bottle was a very special run, even by Feis Ile standards. Iain McArthur, Lag's legendary warehouse manager of 40 years, chose extra aged casks for a twenty-four year release that came in at a whopping 59.9% ABV. This will be the oldest, and the strongest Lag we've ever tasted.  in summary: Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!!!!!

We were so excited that we let the bottle sit on our shelf and gazed longingly at it for almost a whole year. It was like an unspoken pact that we would save it for a special occasion. Well almost a year later, with Feis Ile 2016 coming up next week, this seemed like as good an occasion as any.  

Tasting Notes

Nose: The peat is so subtle in the nose here it's all rose petals and heath and lavender. There's a healthy punch of saddle leather and expensive men's cologne. It tails off with a little more smoke, and some melons - cantaloupes and honeydew.

Palate: It opens up and shows its Islay roots in the palate with a big thick mouthfeel of peat and honey. More melons, apricots.  It's so integrated, the peat and the spirit and the sweetness are all wrapped up into a perfect balance.

Finish: Compared to the cask strength 12-year this is a very subtle finish. It's not a fire-breather by any means. The tongue is coated in honey and the smoke rests at the top of the palate drifting up into the nostrils.


It's just superb. At almost 120 proof we expected this to be a ripper, but it's just the opposite. It's a super mellow well balanced whiskey that hits all the right notes. It pulls you in with sweetness and florals before rewarding you with the desired smoke. We felt this one was just perfect with about two eyedropper drops of water (room temperature spring water of course) per ounce. The tiny bit of water opens it up beautifully and it's just a killer dram. Real desert island stuff here, probably in the top ten malts we've reviewed on the site.  A big SmokyBeast "A"!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Four Strikes and We're Out! Longrow Peated, Benrinnes 23, Tamdhu 10, Ledaig 2005

Ok, some folks have been accusing SmokyBeast of throwing softballs.  Only a month into baseball season, that hurts.

"You guys seem to like everything!?!"

Well the truth is, we try plenty of stuff that we don't like. But that doesn't make for a very interesting article. Why would we recommend something to you that we didn't like? There's so much great whiskey around, we tend to focus on that. Also we don't like being mean.

But, since you asked, here are four bottles we tried recently that we'd categorize as a miss...

Longrow Peated

Springbank makes some incredible whiskies. So we were excited to try their heavily peated variation, Longrow. We'd heard really good things about the older release from this line "Longrow Red" and this is the newer addition from that label.

Nose: Salty dry ocean brine, mild smoke, light wood, lemon zest, angostura.  Smells a bit like cigarettes when the pack has been open too long and they get brittle.

Body:  Burn and spice. A bit sweet around the edges, curry / exotic spice mixture, coconut, berries. Not a big body and not a smooth body, so kind of like "well he's not good-looking, but hey he's got a lousy personality."

Finish:  Ends sour. Not very balanced and the smoke ends too abruptly, leaving you tart. Can't imagine many people preferring this to a Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg... Maybe if you just want a little peat - who just wants a little peat??!??

Review: It's like if someone asks you what punk music you like and you put on Green Day.  "C+"

Benrinnes 23 Year

Look at this bottle, it's gorgeous! Cask strength 58.8% at 23 years, this was part of Diageo's special release program for 2009. It's super hard to come by these days (sold out at TWE and MasterofMalt at over $200) so expectations were very high.

Nose:  Chocolate covered cashew nuts, heavy sherry, purple grapes, chocolate, wet grass, heavy tannin bitterness, heavy heavy oak adding to the bitterness.

Body:  Plummy fruitiness, Welches grape juice, Luden's honey cough drops, reduced red wine. More wood.

Finish:  Honestly it's harsh for it's age (and price!). This one went too far on the oak to the point where the fruity / sweet elements fight against the bitterness but ultimately lose. Smokybeast "C-".

Tamdhu 10 Year

Nose:  A vegetal nose with heart of palm, aloe, and jade bulbs backed by a little bit of sweet malt and green grapes.

Palate:  Very mild, if somewhat uneventful.  Creamy, oily, and sweet, sort of like those little milk chocolate baking chips you use for cookies.

Finish:  Smooth, but at $65 bucks, it's tough to give this one a good review. Honestly we'd probably prefer a good blend, which might not blow out minds but would be drinkable with no surprises. A SmokyBeast "C".

Ledaig 2005

Nose: Wow we got a weird one here.  It's definitely peated that's for sure.  Not a peat bomb like some of our favorites, but it's got some smoke.  But the smoke is wrapped in this very strange mix of vegetable oil and..  what is that.. like palm fronds.  Not even sure if a palm frond is a thing, and if it is we've certainly never smelled one. But there's no doubt that this is what they smell like.  Kind of like that coconut water smell that removes all the sweetness and just leaves the putrid hand lotion quality.

Palate: This is a very ACTIVE palate.  Haven't ever used that word before, but it's appropriate here. There's a LOT going on. The peat is strong, there's a ton of sweetness too, and a lot of spice, and then a very weird sort of rubbery taste.  Perhaps this is the young age of the malt showing (to the eye it's almost as pale as water), but it's banging around the sides of the mouth like many of the new craft whiskies do when they just haven't had enough years in the barrel.

Finish: Well ok on the one hand for eight years old and a whopping 113.4 proof it's mighty smooth, you have to give them that. But it's a weird sort of nasty smooth. Kind of like a lot of good components (peat fire, honeysuckle sweetness, and citrus tang) all banging against each other instead of integrating together. This one's just missing the wood, and so there isn't that base flavor anchoring all the other elements.  SmokyBeast "D+".