New Whiskies

Fèis Ìle 2018 Batch 3

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Feis Ile 2018 Batch 3: Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig

We conclude our Islay Festival coverage with a round-up of independently-bottled Fèis Ìle whiskies, taken from two ranges supplied by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and by Hunter Laing with its Kinship range – as the company waits to open its Ardnahoe distillery on Islay.

The selection features two single malts each from three distilleries: Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig. Each shows a variation on some of its classic flavours, from Bowmore’s lush fruit through Bunnahabhain’s spiced, exotic fruit to Laphroaig’s coastal character.

For a Spotify soundtrack to accompany the whiskies, click on the links in ‘Right Place, Right Time’.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Bowmore 20 Years Old, ‘A Journey Into Joy’ 3.307 (SMWS)

    Bowmore 20 Years Old, ‘A Journey Into Joy’ 3.307 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.9%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Oh yum. Big sherbety wood spices confront your senses, piling on a cascade of dark dried fruits – prunes, caramelised figs and decadent marzipan-iced fruitcake. There’s a drier, more mature quality in the guise of new leather satchels (with metal buckles) and furniture polish. Let it breathe. It relaxes into a deep, rich, mouthwatering oloroso Sherry. Just lovely.

    Palate

    The palate lives up to the nose. It’s big, a thick mouth-coating texture, but it doesn’t need water. The sweet Sherry moves in first, with raisins, cherries, hazelnuts, dark sugar and reduced blood orange juice, then more furniture polish and buffed dark oak tables. A nuttiness combines with a charred smoke to create a bitter edge. Wood spices dance across the tongue. It transcends into a bitter, drier phase the longer it stays in the mouth. Water dulls the experience; I would keep this one neat.

    Finish

    Fruity; some smoke moves in.

    Conclusion

    Big, bold Bowmore. Very cask-driven, but a Sherry- and peat-lover’s dream.

    Right place, right time

    Shut away in the hidden, Underground leather repair shop.

    Bowmore 21 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)

    Bowmore 21 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    53.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Meaty and big, but it noses like a spirit with a higher abv. There are hints of lush fruits in there – lemon zest, Cif, Calvados – but they’re hiding behind alcohol sting and strong smoke. Water tones down the burn, but does little to open it up.

    Palate

    Far softer than the nose suggests, but here the fruit has grown some balls – dried apricots, meaty grilled papaya, cooked red apples. Much better. There’s muscovado sugar, baking spices and the smoke is softer too. A drop of water enhances those fruits and introduces a meaty, oily quality.

    Finish

    The fruits recede, letting the smoke take control.

    Conclusion

    Often it’s the palate that lets down a fantastic nose. Here it’s the other way around.

    Right place, right time

    Running around upside-down. ‘How you turned my world, you precious thing.’ Within You.

    Bunnahabhain 9 Years Old, ‘Sweet Smoky Succulent Sensation’ 10.146 (SMWS)

    Bunnahabhain 9 Years Old, ‘Sweet Smoky Succulent Sensation’ 10.146 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    60.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Slightly medicinal at first, which gives way to digestive biscuits and maple syrup smeared over barbecued meats. It’s quite closed at cask strength, but water releases a more coastal element, smoked salty fish and honey sandwiches on the beach.

    Palate

    Sweet, salty, fatty meats barbecued over wood chips – think gammon steak. It’s drinkable at such a high strength, though there’s a fair bit of spice from the alcohol. With water it becomes much sweeter, releasing cooked apple, pastry cases dusted with cinnamon and those maple syrup and honey notes.

    Finish

    Dry, salty and long. Still quite fatty as well.

    Conclusion

    Sweet, smoky, salty, meaty – if you’re a beach barbecue fan, you’ll love this.

    Right place, right time

    Hanging out with The Beaches, eating maple syrup pancakes.

    Bunnahabhain 30 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)

    Bunnahabhain 30 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.8%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Dry and fruity, but with a distinct nuttiness and leathery quality, like dried fruit rolls. There’s a touch of rancio– only very slight – like a dunnage warehouse floor, then a burst of dried exotic fruit, the kind you find in a luxury box of muesli – mango, papaya, grilled pineapple, and orange and grapefruit marmalade. The longer it stays in the glass, the bigger the fruit gets. Wait for it… now comes the Cadbury’s chocolate mini roll. So many layers.

    Palate

    Like a luxury Christmas dessert buffet – Terry’s Chocolate Orange, bowls of nuts and big dried fruit. It gets a touch oaky and gently spicy – cloves, cinnamon, soft brown sugar – before the big, rich and bold exotic fruit sweeps in again. A dryness, likely derived from the cask, stops it becoming too sweet.

    Finish

    Dry, long and succulent.

    Conclusion

    One to sit on and take your time over. The layers develop in the glass, and each one is worth spending a few moments on. Just wonderful.

    Right place, right time

    Contemplate it slowly over a luxury Breakfast, ideally somewhere iconic.

    Laphroaig 8 Years Old, ‘Weaving Wondrous Dreams’ 29.244, (SMWS)

    Laphroaig 8 Years Old, ‘Weaving Wondrous Dreams’ 29.244, (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    62.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Coastal and big, with powerful scented foliage notes, it’s all pine needles, spruce and mezcal. A bitter, tarry quality sits alongside salty beach pebbles and gauze, while lemon oil gives a lift. As it sits in the glass, a sweeter side is allowed to develop – all lemon-spiked vanilla cream.

    Palate

    Very typically Laphroaig, and surprisingly not as spicy as the abv would have you believe. Iodine, tar and soot, the dying embers of a peat kiln. There’s a distinct sweetness too, in saccharine, lemon zest and green apple skin.

    Finish

    Lengthy, full-frontal smoke.

    Conclusion

    Youthful? Yes. Powerful? Yes, but it’s still a wicked, punchy beast of a dram.

    Right place, right time

    Add a hefty slug of water and enjoy somewhere coastal, listening to Rocks.

    Laphroaig 20 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)

    Laphroaig 20 Years Old, The Kinship (Hunter Laing)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Very oily. There’s a metallic nature, with aluminium, bike oil and brake fluid – signature Laphroaig cues, along with a coastal saltiness. Slowly, gradually, sweeter qualities seep through – iced cinnamon buns, raisins, crunchy cereal and Honey Nut Loops. Although it has a light golden colour, the nose exhibits a deep richness.

    Palate

    It’s a bitter start, with hazelnuts, walnut skin and thick tar, which coat the mouth with a viscous and oily texture. That Laphroaig coastal quality appears as Chinese crispy seaweed, before taking a sharp turn into heavily loaded fruit cake, illuminating a beautiful marriage between warming spices and gentle peat smoke.

    Finish

    Smoked oak chips, left-over stale Christmas cake. Liquorice. You’ll be tasting this for days.

    Conclusion

    Gently matured in great-quality casks. Hunter Laing showing off Laphroaig’s ability to age at its best.

    Right place, right time

    Taking a breather while fixing a bicycle chain on the three distilleries path: Breathe.

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