The Whisky Barrel Blog team hits the road again, this time we’re on Islay to appraise some of the newest 2012 single malt releases from this stunning Inner Hebridean island.
The Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland is a quiet and unassuming paradise of whiskey production. Here there is a glorious concentration of some of the very finest Scotch Whiskey distilleries to be found on the planet and, contrary to popular belief, the island is often bathed in sunshine and has beaches to rival any island in paradise. In a nutshell, the Isle of Islay is a whiskey drinkers’ heaven.
Home to eight working distilleries – Ardbeg and Bowmore and Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila and Kilchoman and Lagavulin and Laphroaig. And there’s the lost but revered Port Ellen which must be added to our list. Moreover, Bruichladdich has been producing Port Charlotte peated whiskey which echoes the spirit of the lost Loch Indaal Distillery which once thrived in the village of Port Charlotte, and where remnants of its bonded warehouses remain to be discovered. Take the short boat trip to the neighbouring Isla of Jura, glimpse a school of playful dolphins on the way, and here is Jura Distillery fronted by palm trees.
Islay whiskey is often assumed to have a peaty nose and medicinal flavour, characteristics which distinguish its whiskey from those of other Scottish whiskey regions, and contributes to the fantastic varieties that are found across all of Scotland’s whiskey regions and distilleries. However, not all of Islay’s distilleries fit the ‘Islay’ assumption and in fact they produce a range extending from highly peated to very mildly unpeated. And whilst Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin are famed for their smokey Scotch, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Bunnahbhain all distil using batches of unpeated malt.
The excellent and reliable quality of Islay whiskies means that their new releases are highly prized and sought after and The Whisky Barrel Blog team constantly checks the radar for signs of forthcoming releases.
There are two distilleries of particular interest right now. Firstly Kilchoman which is Islay’s newest distillery having been established in 2005 and produced its first bottling of official whisky, the Kilchoman Inaugural, in September 2009 which promptly sold out and is now revered by whiskey collectors. Although only a new distillery, Kilchoman has well and truly established itself on the whiskey map and settled in very well with its elder island whiskey neighbours. The distillery’s recent release is a single malt which takes its name from the stunning beach just to the west of the distillery, Machir Bay. This whiskey is a vatting of 60% 3 year old, 35% 4 year old and 5% 5 year old matured in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and then married in Oloroso sherry butts for 8 weeks. Kilchoman Machir Bay will be produced throughout 2012 & 2013 and will change and evolve with time as more slightly older and mature whiskey is incorporated into the vatting.
Anthony Wills the Managing Director of Kilchoman noted that Machir Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches on Islay and is close to the distillery. He hopes the new release will give continuity of supply to customers around the world and that each year “we will add more mature malt to the vatting”. The association of a beach with malt whiskey is not a traditional match in the whiskey world, but the Whisky Barrel Blog team tested the concept and found it to be highly satisfactory. Machir Bay is an excellent example of your youthful dram.
The second distillery on our ‘must visit list’ is Bruichladdich not least for its wondrous public relations stories, welcoming visitor centre and clever product packaging. Established in 1881 by the Harvey brothers this distillery has had a turbulent past having changed hands on numerous occasions before being consigned to the moths in 1994 when production ceased. However, following a takeover led by Mark Reynier and with the even wiser nose of Jim McEwan overseeing production, Bruichladdich has flourished since reopening in 2000. And whilst the new and dynamic team renovated the whole distillery they retained much of the original Victorian equipment and most of the remaining buildings.
Now Bruichladdich, branded as the ‘Progressive Hebridean Distillery’, is renowned for its impressive number and quality of its single malts releases. Special bottlings to mark special events, people or historical events, often with light hearted, whimsical and humorous branding and labelling including the recent Port Charlotte Prediction. However, this does not detract from the traditional and high quality single malt scotch that is produced by Bruichladdich. Not least the very latest drams to roll out the warehouse doors. Hot on the heels of 2011’s historic Laddie Ten, the 2012 season begins with Octomore Comus 4.2 having doubled matured in super posh premier cru superior sauternes casks. Black Arts 3 is due end of April 2012 and we look forward to the release of whiskey produced from bere malt shortly.
Caol Ila is closed whilst a major programme of upgrading works is carried out and so we travelled on up the coast to Bunnahabhain. A glorious location by the rocky shore and the home of our 2012 TheWhiskyBarrel.com exclusive bottlings of Burns Malt and Jubilee Malt, both of which sold so fast we were utterly amazed, and our soon to be released Extra Regal Jubilee Malt which will be available in April. A walk to the Rhuvaal Lighthouse at very northern tip of Islay to view the island of Colonsay and the stunning panorama up the west coast of Scotland, all the way to Ben Nevis.
Photographs © 2012 @scottjessuk