May 212016

It’s once again the first day of the Fèis Ìle festival, which makes it time to taste a Lagavulin in celebration. Last year, I tasted the 2014 Festival bottling, but have somehow missed the 2015 release. I’m sure a sample will turn up eventually, but this is a good opportunity to reach back to the 2010 edition of the annual festival release and enjoy this single sherry butt to its fullest.

Lagavulin released a great video when Georgie Crawford was appointed distillery manager in 2010. I think it’s very fitting to hear Peter Campbell and Georgie Crawford talk about Lagavulin while tasting Peter’s last Fèis Ìle Lagavulin release:

And now, on to some Lagavulin:

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Lagavulin 16 Year Old, Sherry Cask 3210, Fèis Ìle Lagavulin Open day 2010, 528 Bottles (52.7% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Copper, little beads off the necklace slowly form into slow moving droplets and legs down the glass. It seems really viscous and oily.

Nose: Despite being only in the low 50s, the alcoholic burn is the first thing on the nose. Cereal and varnish, over a wood fire smoky sweetness. It seems like the sherry is closed up and I wonder what it will be like with some water. Stone fruit, namely fresh diced peaches, salt and compost. More maritime than most Lagavulins. A few drops of water didn’t open up the sherry on the nose, rather strengthening the varnish. The second time I added a bit of water, the sherry and salt came out very clearly.

Palate: Full bodied with an almost beefy mouth feel. Sweet sherry, cinnamon, white pepper with a bit of black pepper thrown in, a very smoky and sweet peat. Water loosens up the sherry and brings out more and more of the spice.

Linger: Spice and peat, in a long and somewhat drying finish. The linger is not as sweet as one would expect from the sweetness of the palate although you can detect it in the undertones.


The most maritime Lagavulin I tasted to date, this is an example of a pretty extreme Lagavulin. Most enjoyable, and quite different than the standard 16 year old.

May 302015

Ardbeg, masters of marketing hype that they are, have attempted (and are reasonably successful) to make the Fèis Ìle open day into something more global than just the festival on Islay. Despite being a rather small operation (1.3 million liters per year, smaller than Bruichladdich and about a third of Laphroaig). How was this done?

The very successful “Ardbeg Committee” affinity program, coupled with Ardbeg Embassies (i.e retailers) across the globe have created a network of fans who have adopted the brand as their own – just think of the difference between being a “committee member” with a network of worldwide embassies to being a “friend of” (with a bottom line of both being peated whisky sold in a green bottle…).

The result of this brilliant affinity program was both deepening the brand’s strength and, starting in 2012, having aficionados take ownership on “Ardbeg Day” launched by the distillery bottling a festival bottling simply called “Ardbeg Day” (The United States alone has 24 events in which spanning from May 27th to June 6th all titled “Ardbeg Day”, with 20 countries listing events on the Ardbeg website). The funny thing is, that there are only some 110,000 committee members around the world. Also, the use of soccer as part of the Ardbeg day celebrations, as well as winking toward the world cup with last year’s Auriverdes, ultimately the subject of this review.

Truly, Ardbeg is employing some brilliant guerrilla marketing strategies and is a textbook study in creating consumer involvement!

Ardbeg 2015

Ardbeg 2015

Ardbeg has changed ownership eight times over the 200 years they’re around, but it was only under Glenmorangie’s ownership that Ardbeg got to where it is today with a golden hoard of fans a little bit on the other side of crazy, which suits the hype loving distillery just fine. If this last sentence sounded like criticism, let me be clear – from a marketing standpoint it isn’t! As a student of the industry, it’s actually a pleasure to watch.

Just how deep is the crazy?

Last year, as part of the Auriverdes marketing, some gold painted 700 ml bottles were sent out to some bloggers (no, sadly not to yours truly!), and two of which showed up in auctions. Mind you, this is an expression that was sold (admittedly in a green bottle) for £90. This is what ensued:

The first auction

The First Auction

And not to be outdone, a couple of weeks later:

The Second Auction

The Second Auction

These bottles brought a righteous wrath from the distillery, swearing to put serial numbers and other identification methods, but I suspect that this was met with great satisfaction in the marketing department at Glenmorangie headquarters. Some might have even insinuated a more active involvement in these bottles landing in auction, but I don’t deal in innuendo….

I will say this, and tip my hat to them in the process – the distillery in keeping release prices under £100 (despite releasing rather young whisky, which can only be gotten away with due to the high peat content). I have yet to taste this year’s release, the Ardbeg bicentennial bottle named Perpetuum, but have heard from friends on Islay that it’s really young. I’ll let you know when I get it.

How was last year’s Auriverdes?

LVMH Official PR Photo

LVMH Official PR Photo

Ardbeg Auriverdes, 2014 Fèis Ìle Bottling (49.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, thick and slow legs.

Nose: Café au lait, light peat with woodsap in a fire, eucalyptus trees in the rain. Under these fresh scents is the ever present peat and a syrupy sweetness.

Palate: Sweet tat, citrus (with more than just lemon going on there), mocha filling in a praline and vanilla. The whisky is thick and chewy with a viscous-y sugary quality.

Linger: Spice and peat in the back of the throat, citrus notes with some sugary molasses on the tongue.


Good and drinkable. Not the best Ardbeg ever, but good. At £90 though, the value for money is marginal. For £2500, I could have my whole home painted gold!

Where is all this crazy going? It’s not going away, if you’re wondering. In this postmodern world, being part of the Cult of Ardbeg is a way to be special, even in the very special world of the malthead.

My hat’s off to you – you anonymous people behind this brilliant guerrilla marketing!








May 272015

Bowmore open day is today, and we honor the self proclaimed oldest distillery on the island with a dram of the 2014 Fèis Ìle bottling.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

This was a particularly good selection of casks, which shine even through the relative youth of the whisky. The Bowmore Small Batch seems to be of a similar age, but doesn’t even come close to this one, due not only to the 16.1% higher alcohol.

The 2015 bottling is matured in virgin oak casks, and it would be interesting to see the interaction between the spirit and the new oak.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Bowmore Fèis Ìle 2014, 1st Fill Ex-Bourbon American Oak Casks, 1000 Bottles (56.1% ABV)

Appearance: Straw, quick forming yet slow running legs.

Nose: Young and spirity, full of Bowmore fruit (apples and pears and some notes of the tropics), spices, this is unmistakably Bowmore. Leaves in the forest after the rain and Play-Doh.

Palate: Sweet citrus, peat, honey. Not overly complex with some bitter notes found on tongue.

Linger: Grapefruit or Pomelo, peat, honey with some light peat down the throat. The finish is rather long.


One of the Bowmore expressions I found more palatable. I’m trying to work out the difference between this expression and the horrendous Small Batch, as they’re similar in age and both ex-bourbon cask matured, filled from the same new make. Obviously, it’s the casks, but these two expressions really are worlds apart.


May 262015

Laphroaig is one of the most popular distilleries on Islay, and the Càirdeas releases have an almost religious following among aficionados. Officially, this is a Friends of Laphroaig release which to the best information I have is an 8 year old, having spent seven years in ex bourbon casks and was finished for one year in Amontillado sherry casks. Amontillado is a dryer style of sherry compared to Oloroso.

Interestingly, when you look at the numbers of bottles produced by each distillery for their Fèis Ìle release, you realize that this isn’t a novelty release for the festival, rather a major worldwide release who’s release date correlates with the Islay Festival.


Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2014, 8 Year Old Amontillado Sherry Finish (51.4% ABV)

Appearance: Amber with slow forming legs.

Nose: Medicinal peat, banana, fruit soup, warm spices, pound cake with powdered sugar with a layer of tartness pronounced by sour fruit and berries. The nose alternates between the sweet and the tart in a most tantalizing way. Water strengthens the warm spice and releases a floral note.

Palate: 100% Laphroaig with a layer of sweetness from the sherry with an addition of spice. Sour yellow plums are evident, again with a sweet and sour interplay.

Linger: Peat, sweetness on the tongue, coffee grinds and a tingle on the sides of the tongue. This is a linger you’ll take with you for a very long time, as it just stays around almost forever.


Fresh and good, with an abundance of fruit. It works, even if it isn’t the best Càirdeas I’ve ever had…

May 232015

Last year’s Lagavulin festival bottling was probably the best of the Fèis Ìle crop last year. A sweet sherry bomb, this is a great sipper.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

As I mentioned in another post, Lagavulin has the most limited core range of all distilleries, holding a single expression: the 16 year old. Other regular bottlings include a yearly release of a 12 year old and a running limited edition of a PX finished Distiller’s Edition. Additionally, a yearly Fèis Ìle edition is issued and one for the Islay Jazz Festival (held in September), and special bottlings appear in the annual Special Releases series.

2012 Festival Bottle Photo Credit:

2012 Festival Bottle
Photo Credit:

Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2014 Festival Bottling, Filled into European Sherry 31.1.1995, 3500 Bottles (54.7% ABV)

Appearance: Bronze, slow forming thin legs.

Nose: Sweet sherry, very light peat in the background, clove and nutmeg, deep aromas of dried fruit, Christmas cake and smoked ham.

Palate: Dry peat, wood spices (pepper, cinnamon and clove), wood smoke and light zesty notes.

Linger: Sherry sweetness down the middle of the tongue, with a peaty and spicy linger and bitter notes that remain in the mouth.


As I mentioned, I think that this was the star of the festival bottlings last year. This beautiful sherry bomb is really gorgeous!

If you’re on Islay today, this year’s bottling is a 1991 expression that was triple matured. After a regular maturation, it got another short second maturation in PX casks, followed by a period of gentle maturation in old oak puncheons.