Feis Ile 2013 – Ardbog, Laphroaig and Lagavulin

Feis Ile 2013

I was fortunate enough to find myself over on Islay for the tail end of Feis Ile – The Islay Festival of Music and Malt. I was only there for the last weekend and so the only festival open day I could attend was Ardbog day. It was an absolute riot of festivities, people digging, boat trips to Jurassic Park style islands and plenty of Ardbog to go around! You can read what Jason thought of Ardbog here. Its awesome so I bought a bottle. (I may also have picked up some of the Lagavulin and Laphroaig festival releases which are reviewed below)

After the festivities of Ardbog Day (and night…and maybe early next morning) I had a full sunny day to relax, recuperate and rejoice at being on Islay. I decided that I would go for a wee wander from Port Ellen to Laphroaig, and maybe even on to Lagavulin, if my head and legs were up to the task. It’s not a huge walk, a mile or two, but,  in my fragile condition, it did seem a little bit of a trek. Fortunately, I bumped into the lovely Paula from the Scotch Whisky Experience, and her whisky loving father, who very kindly gave me a lift to Laphroaig first and then on to Lagavulin.

Laphroaig was a whistle-stop look-around the busy shop. Many revellers from Ardbog Day were there – looking a damn sight better than I did, and most people were heading straight for the Laphroaig Cairdeas bottling for 2013; a port wood finished Laphroaig. Like Ardbog it was pretty decent and so I bought a bottle before heading off to Lagavulin.

At Lagavulin I decided to do a whisky tour as I had not done one there before. Plus the lifts from Paula had left me with loads of spare time, and, lets face it, there are much worst ways to while away the hours. I was pleasantly surprised by the tour. The guide (Iain? Craig? I have been away on holiday since and my memory has lapsed, sorry!) was extremely knowledgeable, answering every question and more about the distillery, the whisky and the island in general. It really was a very good, informative tour and I highly recommend it. After a delightful dram of the Distillers Edition, I asked for a sample of their festival bottling – An 18 year old, Sherry butt matured release- but sadly they had none. I was heartbroken. I could still buy a bottle, but it was £99…should I?…Could I?…I did!

A pattern of visiting distilleries and buying bottles was developing and so for the sake of my wallet (and the sheer weight of my luggage) I decided to make the lovely walk back along the road to the hotel in Port Ellen.

I concluded from this short trip that Islay is awesome. I was only there for two days, but sorely wanted to stay for more time. However, I had to go back home and now (after a little Italian hiatus) it is time to compare the bottles that I bought. Ardbog as I said earlier has already been reviewed by the Bear. So, it leaves me the hard task of trying the Laphroaig and the Lagavulin:

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013
Port Wood Edition
51.3% ABV

Nose: A slight solventy, paint note at first nose. Then the typical Laphroaig gentle smoke pushes through, surrounded by a sweet citric zest and spiced raisins. A crispy, smoked bacon note surrounds the fresher aromas.

Palate: Woa! It tastes a lot stronger than it is. I am used to drinking cask strength stuff, but this was quite a mouth-full. After the initial solvent hit comes a burnt salty caramel. It freshens up a bit into a creamier, sweeter honey. Not much of the fruit from the nose on the palate, maybe a little hint of orange zest. Nice, heavy, dry charcoal and prunes developing on the finish.

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013
18 years old
European Oak Sherry Butt
51% ABV

Nose: An exquisite, unmistakeable rich sherry note is the first thing to hit. Lovely, gentle smoke. A slight biscotti note. little bit sweeter than the 16 and possibly slightly richer.

Palate: The full bodies sherry notes are the first noticeable note, intertwined with some lighter almond sweetness. The smoke follows through, big and round. Classic Lagavulin. Smooth, creamy, a hint of herbs and a rounded smokiness. All accompanied with a gentle cinnamon and ginger spice.

Overall: The Laphroaig is an interesting whisky. The initial nose and the initial taste I found quite sharp and solventy, but once you allow the dram to sit it has a lingering crisp smokiness than is very pleasant. Not the best Laphroaig but not the worst either. Lagavulin, on the other hand, have another winner on their cards. An absolutely delightful whisky. Big, rounded and full of goodness. It’s a toss up between that and Ardbog for my pick of the three. I reckon, if pushed, Ardbog would be my winner. The Lagavulin is smashing, but it is a standard straight up Lagavulin (not neccessarily a bad thing). The Ardbog, however, is something new, intriguing and a little bit different, and it still manages to taste pretty damn good.

Anyone else try all three? What did you think? Or was there something better from one of the other distilleries during Feis Ile that I never tried? I heard that the bunnahabhain was a bit of a treat!

Graeme Gardiner

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