Paula on Islay: Day 2

Paula’s Islay adventure travelogue continues today and makes our mouths water on this sunny afternoon.

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tent-on-islay

Last night was a bit miserable – cold & damp but a healthy dose of Black Bottle 10yr soon helped put matters right.
It’s 8am and I’m lying on my airbed (yes, I am a camping wuss) watching the rollers breaking on the beach, golden buttercups are right outside my door and there is blue sky above me.Things look far more cheerful than last night and I’m now ready for the Laphroaig open day and Ceildh. Bring it on!

Oh my. Be careful what you wish for. When I got to Laphroaig, I asked lady selling raffle tickets if she knew of any tastings with space left. Herr Chris Rickert from www.hansemalt.de overheard me and offered his spare masterclass ticket. I had enough cash (barely) and no time to think. Brilliant! I just wish I’d had more than a banana for breakfast…

Robert Hicks (Master Blender), John Campbell (Distillery Manager) and Simon Brooking (UU Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig) were hosting the master class which took place in the Filling Station. Before we got down to tasting whisky, there was a brief demonstration as to how barrels affect the spirit; we were encouraged to stick our heads into a fresh bourbon barrel to get a good whiff of the vanilla aromas that would be making their way into the spirit; a sample of new spirit that had spent just one day in a first fill bourbon cask (Laphroaig use a lot of Maker’s Mark)  was passed around,diluted to about 25% abv and finally, a couple of samples drawn from bad barrels were passed round. The new spirit had already taken on a very pale white colour and at that low alcohol percentage, there was a soft vanilla over the edge of the gristy new spirit smell. The bad barrels were just nasty. Musty old books and rotting drains came to mind for those samples. Robert said there are approx.20 bad aroma/flavours to look for when checking casks and even one bad barrel can ruin a batch of whisky. Not as easy a job as one might imagine, then…

Enough of that- on to the tasting!

First dram: Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas’ 12yr, Festival bottling 2009. 57.5%. 24 Casks, 5000 bottles.

Nose: Hint of TCP. Almond macaroons. Surprisingly soft on the nose….a bit of green soap?
With water, more of a traditional Laphroaig though not as sweet.
Palate: An oak explosion,the blow softened by vanilla creaminess. An all-pervasive saltiness lingers with the peat smoke.
Finish: A very long finish with gentle oakiness.
Conclusion: The nose developed nicely with time and a little water into a richer nutty sweetness. I bought one, what can I say?

Second dram: Laphroaig ‘Triplewood’. 48% abv, currently only available at duty-free but due to be on general release by 2010. Mixture of Bourbon, Sherry and Quarter Casks.

Colour: Tawny amber.
Nose: A not-too-obvious Oloroso fruitiness. Some spice and toffee with vanilla creeping up behind. Aromatic. With water, old polished leather, soap, oily, creamy vanilla.
Palate: BAM! Once the initial taste shock wears off, there is burnt sugar, sweet smoke,raisins, licorice – saltiness develops along the tongue. Ripe lemon oil. Add water and there is a savoury, pepper and herb initial taste, spice and all wrapped up in smoke.
Finish: Long, dry, slightly ashy and still some salty woodiness.
Conclusion: So many layers, it just keeps on developing in the glass. Roll on 2010!

Third dram: Laphroaig 25yr. Now a core member of the Laphroaig portfolio-but still limited in production. 50.9% abv. Bourbon and second fill Sherry casks.

Nose: Fairly light on the nose, mostly melting butterscotch over unripe bananas. Some raw nuttiness.
Palate: Surprisingly fresh for its age. Vanilla oil and soft peat, marzipan developing with water.
Finish: Unmemorable, unfortunately. Some woodiness with the smoke.
Conclusion: Pleasant and enjoyable but – where was the wow factor?

Fourth dram: Laphroaig 30yrs. A legend that is VERY limited – only one bottling a year. A mix of Bourbon and Sherry casks, including some very special first fill Sherry casks.

Nose: Wow. This has all the tropical fruit – spiced apple, baked pineapple – that I adore in older whiskies. Rich, rounded smoke, too.
Palate: Wow. Rich raisin fruitiness,white marzipan, fresh cream and vanilla, a little dark chocolate.
Finish: Mouth coating, creamy texture, elegant smokiness.
Conclusion: I can see why this is so sought after.

N.B: Robert Hicks had us taste this whisky through a small mouthful of water. Take a sip of water, hold it in the mouth till warmed then take a sip of whisky. It works! He claimed he could taste 20-30 samples with this method before taking a break versus 2-3 neat samples.

Final dram: Laphroaig 27yrs, First Edition, First Release. 100% First fill Sherry Casks. Only 972 bottles in this batch and only 500 due in the next. 57.4% abv.  Again,tasted through water.

Colour: Deep mahogany.
Nose: Enormous – rich treacle and figs, prunes, syrup and spices!
Palate: More fruit- figs,plums, dates – with syrup and cloves, sweet sherry and black chocolate.
Finish: Truly astonishing. This is almost chewy and it lasts for a very long time…
Conclusion: Decadent and divine. Where’s my chaise longue to fully indulge this beauty?

What a fabulous start to the day! I spent most of the early afternoon wandering round Laphroaig in a happy glow,talking to complete strangers- as you do at whisky tastings. My thanks to Marty and Dave Coffey for taking the photo of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog t-shirt (and me) outside the distillery, thanks to Claudia Henkner for the invite to visit the Scotch Club, Bremen when I’m in Germany (www.scotch-club-bremen.de) and special thanksto the staff at Laphroaig for being sooo helpful and friendly during a very busy day. When I bought my bottle of Cairdeas, I asked for advice where to pitch my tent and Vicky suggested outside Laphroaig’s Warehouse No.1. Result! How cool is that?
Having sobered up, I took a drive to Ardbeg to book a space on their Birth to Bottling tasting tomorrow and bumped into a customer from work! Its a very small world…Got back to Laphroaig to confirm it was ok to pitch the tent – and had John Campbell, Vicky  and (I didn’t get the third gentleman’s name), telling me where the most sheltered spot was, did I need the
computer for the blog and did I want some shortbread – how nice are these people?

Ok, the tent is up, the band is playing – it’s time to go to Laphroaig’s ceilidh. I’ve met 5 more folk just by offering a cup of tea to two very early arrivals. (The stove didn’t work so we ended up drinking whisky out by the boot of my car.) I’m meeting Bernard and Felix, Mike, Angela and Pete inside. Got to go!

It’s nearly 1am. I’m nice and warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the waves as I camp by the distillery slipway. It’s been a cracking day-good whisky, good music, hilarious dancing and friendly people. Here’s hoping tomorrow is just as good.

Paula

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