A novel way to arrive at a distillery followed by seven drams drawn straight from the cask right in front of us, the Lagavulin warehouse tasting was a great way to kick off my Feis Ile 2015 experience.
As I eluded to above, this visit included something I doubt I will ever get to experience again; arriving to a distillery by speedboat. Yep. Very James Bond.
Sure I can smile now as I look back on it but wow it was a nerve-wracking experience; climbing down a rickety wooden ladder from the tall ship I was staying on during festival week onto a boat getting tossed above by the rather choppy seas. Thankfully the super competent and super calming Brendan, the ship’s first officer, rode the waves with an unwavering smoothness that put us all at ease, although I did leave the boat with a wet ass and leg.
As it was festival week, and as I had heard from my blogging peers that the Feis Ile 2015 release from Lagavulin was spectacular I bolted to buy my two bottle allocation as soon as we got into the distillery – good thing too, they were sold out by the time we left just 90 minutes later.
Our warehouse tasting was conducted by Ian McArthur, a Lagavulin legend who has worked at the distillery for, in his words, ‘a wee while’ (my whisky geek knowledge can let you know that that ‘wee while’ is actually 45 years – wow.
He told us how Lagavulin has 4,000 casks maturing at the Lagavulin distillery, 6,000 maturing at Port Ellen and 3,500 at Caol Ila distillery, also owned by Diageo and that all their casks arrive in flat packs then are built by their coopers around the country; stark contrast to Edrginton who has all their casks arrive complete – called ‘shipping air’ – with their coopers mostly fixing any damage they have suffered over the years.
With that we got on with the tasting which was spectacular and a highlight of the week although it did bug me that Ian was not able to tell us the strengths of what we were tasting as ‘someone had stolen the list of strengths on Monday, so no strengths being passed on in case I get caught out on Facebook’ – would have appreciated the reacquisition of that list so I can detail fully what we tried below!
Dram One – New Make drawn from the still that morning at 68%
Very fresh, grassy, punchy with a very deep burn and short finish.
Dram Two – 11 Year Old Cask Strength of ~53%
The nose had light smoke / peat, sherry cask maturation for its whole life. Lots of fruit here, TCP whips in and out but the nose for me was too soft.
The palate was too soft for me, expected a bit more robustness to it but it delivered medicinal notes with a medium finish.
Dram Three – Refill 13 Year Old – the cask had first been filled in 1967, if you care
Nose had much stronger peat to it, smokey undertones, grassy notes fromt he new make shine.
The palate was harsher, warming, much more what I’m looking for myself; lovely.
Dram Four – 17 Year Old 2nd fill sherry cask ~55%
Very new makey nose, lovely, soft yet punchy on the palate.
Ian told us that they pay £6,299 in tax per butt which equates to £22 per bottle of Lagavulin sold, following up with “I don’t know what they do with it but we need our potholes fixed more than feeding a new head in the royal family”.
Dram Five – 1993 22 Year Old ~59%
Peaty, smokey, gorgeous. Surprisingly rounded for the age and ABV. Quite sippable.
We were told how their oldest cask still maturing dates back to 1966 and that the dram we just had retails at around £50 per 25ml in Islay bars… so I asked for a second one.
Dram Six – a whopping 33 Year Old cask strength beast of a whisky, what a highlight
Ex-Dewar’s refill casks apparently, Ian seemed gutted that Diageo had to sell a bunch of great distilleries to satisfy the anti-compete laws a few years ago but his frown turned upside down and positively beamed with pride when he pointed out that “up until 2005 we sold a lot of casks to brokers, but not now, they’re all ours!”
The notes? Toffee, creamy, light burn, a superb whisky.
Dram Seven – The 2015 Feis Ile festival dram 24 Year Old 59.9% ABV
My notes simply read: ACE! Smokey, fun and punchy.
With that we relaxed, had a few photos taken and headed to a minivan to take us to our next stop.
Thanks should go to the lovely chap next to me who did not quite enjoy the 10:30am cask strength whisky tasting so handed me all his drams too – most grateful.