The Whisky Collection pt. Islay | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Whisky Collection pt. Islay


Islay is one of our favourite places on the planet. Situated about 70miles from Glasgow as the crow flies and 150miles as the car drives, through undulating hills to the picturesque Loch roads, towards a 2 hour crossing past the Paps of the surrogate sister island to Islay, Jura.
  
The Old Schoolroom
It is a place that breathes pleasantness in such spades that when we pointed out that the front door to the Old Schoolroom (our home for our honeymoon week) did not lock, the owners confided that they left the car keys in the ignition overnight. This revelation sat strangely with us townies, but on such a secluded yet welcoming island the only option was to embrace the situation.

With 8 active distilleries and two more opening shortly, the island is a worthy pilgrimage for any whisky fanatic. Ranging in size from the massive annual production of 3.5 million litres of Caol Ila, to the smallest distillery, Kilchoman, that struggles to produce per year what Caol Ila makes in a day.

The whiskies themselves, whilst generally peaty, are always interesting and different, and for this post i am going to focus on a few of my favourites.


Kilchoman warehouse
Kilchoman is a farm distillery that at the time of visiting made the only 100% Islay whisky, with most distilleries importing the malt from the mainland. The 5 Year 2006 tastes like a young whisky, in that it is not as refined or smooth as a longer aged whisky. That being said it is by no means bad, more I feel it the opposite, something unique and to be treasured, with a light pear smell that gives way to a gingery peat on the tongue and ends in a woody finish. 

The bay of Laphroaig
Laphroaig is arguably the most famous distillery on the Island and is often seen in pubs and supermarkets around the country. The 10 year old, which is provided as the 'Drivers Dram' from the distillery for those partaking on the tour, is the most often seen. It is a heavily peated whisky that seems to float the head in a soft smoke on the nose, with sweet hints of oak across the palate with vanilla and spice that end with an iodiney finish

I will stray slightly from the isle for the penultimate dram, to the incredible island of Jura, a land of stags and stills, described by George Orwell as 'extremely ungetatable'. The distillery itself has an great range of excellent whiskies demonstrating a spectrum of peatiness and sweetness. The 'Duirachs Own' is one of the free drams you can get from the hotel across from the distillery if you are part of the members club. This 16 year old whisky is aged for the final 2 years in sherry casks, giving it sweet vanillas on the nose and across the palate with additional layers of honey and slight apples, reminiscent of crumble and custard. 


And finally... I am leaving these whiskies till last not only because they are some of my favourites but because the distillery is one of the most interesting. Bruichladdich is run with an air of experimentation; a flair seldom seen in whisky production. It showcases the ambition to try new things, new woods, greater peat content and even a gin. They have a series of whiskies named Port Charlotte (also one of the towns on the island), one of which, entitled Peat Project, is a heady mix of spice and smoke, that engulfs the skull with the caressing warmth of pepper and a smooth creaminess that brushes the palate. It provides a taste which is well rounded and whole.


I recently had a dram of a release of a Octomore: one of the most heavily peated whiskies ever made. This limited release has steadily increased in its peat levels since the first batch, starting at 131ppm and with a level around 167ppm for its newer releases (up to version 6.2). For those who aren't aware, ppm stands for the Phenol content in Parts Per Million, in reference to peat levels in the whisky as a whole, which is added when drying malt in peat smoke. As a guide, Laphroaig 10 year is around 40ppm and Springbank being 7ppm. While this whisky is probably the most heavily peated you will ever try, it does not feel that way, being surprisingly smooth and quaffable. On the nose it smells sweet and grapey due to its ageing in Bordeaux barrels, which adds a sincere refinement throughout the mouth as a whole. The sweetness continues to tickle across the tongue as the smoke fills the back of the throat. Having had a dram in the distillery I have been on the look out for it ever since. Buying a bottle of this whisky can set you back up to £200, but as a single measure in the pub it is closer to £7 and worth every penny. 

Slainte 
Jim


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