Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's break from barrels and jump a ferry to Islay.

It's been a while since I've done a whisky review.  I think it's about time we visited Islay.  So let's hop on the Islay ferry and start looking around!

Pronounced like the Isla in Island (aye-la, not is-lay), Islay is where many of my favorite distilleries live.  These fully-peated malts run the range of the peat and smoke scale, from the mild Caol Ila and Bruichladdich, to the aggressively peaty Lagavulin and Laphroaig, to the campfire-in-a-glass Ardbeg.

Today we're going to taste a very special offering from Laphroaig - 10 year old cask strength.  As you may remember, "cask strength" means the whisky was bottled without any additional water added.  This it US batch #2, bottled 12/2010 at 56.3% - 112.6 proof.  Most Scotches are bottled at 46% or so.

Beautiful, innit?  Let's give it a nose.  There is no mistaking that peat smell.  It's one of those scents that is hard to describe and must be experienced.  Deep and earthy, with ocean smells mixed in there.  Not as much alcohol heat as I was expecting from a cask strength offering.  There are notes of wood and a bit of smoke in there as well.

And now a taste.  A generous sip right into the middle of my tongue.  Immediately that peat flavor is there, with just a hint of caramel sweetness, followed by a bit of wood and smoke when I breathe through my nose.  A slight medicinal flavor, but not astringent or unpleasant at all.  Then on the finish I get salt, as if I had just gone swimming in the ocean.  In our last podcast, Simon explained that the ocean flavors are related to much of Islay's peat being composed of seaweed.  According to

"Islay is very largely composed of peat. The water on Islay is brown, even the water in the burns is brown, and winter gales drive salt spray far inland, and this saturates the peat, which is dried again by the briny, seaweedy breeze. All these characteristics go into the whiskies of Islay, to a greater or lesser extent."

The cask strength has a velvety mouthfeel.  The flavor is enormous, and each sip brings new tastes to the front.  The flavor lingers on, begging me to reach for the glass and have another sip.  In fact, I think I'll do just that and leave you to it.

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