Last night I attended a whisky tasting run by my new pals at Independent Spirit Bath. It wasn’t just any whisky either, we were concentrating on Islay malts, and given that I am very partial to strongly peaty flavors this was ideal for me.
First up was a whisky I had never heard of: Kilchoman. My excuse is that it is very new. They opened in 2005, so their product is barely old enough to come to market. It is very much a craft project — a small distillery doing as much as they can themselves: the whisky equivalent of a microbrewery. Our host for the evening, Chris Scullion, who has been in the whisky business for many years, described the taste as “stale ashtrays”, and by Goddess he’s right. Islays can be like that. Heck, I often describe Lagavulin as tasting of creosote. But Kilchoman doesn’t taste awful (I only once kissed someone who smoked — won’t ever do it again). Somehow it manages a fascinating flavor. If it is this good now, it is probably going to be spectacular when it has aged longer.
Offering two was actually a blend, but Smokey Joe is a blend made solely from Islay malts. It was launched in 2009 to the accompaniment of an expensive marketing campaign. One of my fellow tasters (by the way, I was the only girl there) described it as tasting of bacon, but it was sweeter than that, unless you’ve been smoking the bacon in honey or something. Chris said it had a burnt caramel taste, which I think described it better. It was pleasant enough, and being a blend will be cheaper than the single malts, but I don’t think it is anything to write home about.
Next up was Port Charlotte Peat Project, a malt produced by the Bruichladdich distillery. I found it very smooth and creamy. Definitely worth checking out. Mark Charan Newton, who knows far more about whisky than I do, recently spent his honeymoon on Islay, and today he posted this report of his visit to Bruichladdich.
Caol Ila is a whisky that many of you will have experience of, though not in its raw state. It is a major component of Johnny Walker. One of the reasons it has that honor is that the distillery produces a large volume of reliably consistent whisky, year-after-year. Also Caol Ila plays well with other flavors. Chris talked about using it in cocktails. I wasn’t hugely impressed with it, but I’d be interested to try some of the higher-priced variants on offer, and also Port Askaig, an independently bottled whisky from an “unidentified” distillery which just happens to take its name from the town in which the Caol Ila distillery is located.
Finally we were offered something rather different, a peated Speyside. Many of you will be familiar with Tomintoul, a multi-award-winning small Speyside distillery. Well, every so often a whisky distillery needs to shut down and clean out the stills. Before they do that, Tomintoul does a short run making a peated whisky. Given that the whole system is going to get blasted clean before the next batch of Tomintoul is made, it doesn’t matter that they add the additional flavor briefly. The result is Old Ballantruan, which they also choose to bottle at 50% abv.
Oh my goodness that was impressive. Obviously if lots of smoke and lots of alcohol are not your thing then this won’t tickle your taste buds. But I figure that if you have read this far you are probably an Islay malt fan too, in which case, try this. Honestly, Speyside can do peat, and it is amazing.
My thanks to Chris for a lovely evening. I suspect I may do other tastings at that venue. There is talk of a rum one in the near future. And maybe tequila. 🙂