We've made it to Islay! In fact, we've been here since Thursday (quite keen) but it hasn't all been plain sailing. Alexandra and I actually missed our ferry, which, as every other one was fully booked for days, was a bit of a problem. Fortunately we managed to board another by using our powers of persuasion* and were soon running up and down the metal staircases on either side freeing hostages finding the very best views of Gigha, Northern Ireland, the Paps of Jura and, of course, Islay herself, including the silhouette of good ol' Cnoc Rhaonastil.
Without further ado though, welcome one and all to Tales From The Isle! Over the course of eight issues we'll be bringing you our own unique take on the events and releases at this year's Fèis Ìle, the legendary Islay whisky festival, as well as sharing some dark tales and perhaps even an adventure or two from this famous whisky isle...
When it comes to whisky tales, ghosts pop up with alarming regularity. Rather than a 'haunted' distillery though, we'd heard that the castle near Lagavulin was a place where restless souls might dwell. If you've ever visited the distillery then you'll have seen Dunyvaig Castle jutting out of the rocks just across Lagavulin Bay. First though, let's take a look at some delicious Lagavulin bottlings as well as who we ran into at the distillery day.
Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2014 (distilled 1995) – 54.7% abv
Distilled in 1995 and aged in European oak Sherry butts selected by Iain McArthur, 3,500 bottles of Lagavulin's festival release were produced.
Tasting Note for Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2014 (distilled 1995)
Nose: Smoky, waxy, Manchego cheese. A whole fruit bowl including berries and oranges. Those pink and blue Liquorice Allsorts. Pepper berries throughout.
Palate: Ash and Tabac, soot and blackcurrant, and a little more of that sweet liquorice.
Finish: Sweet, Sherried oak magic.
Overall: This stuff is pretty bloody epic - as good if not better than last year's (which was the best festival bottling of 2013). A real winner.
We've seen plenty of familiar faces since we've been back on Islay such as Eugene who found Peaty last year, Peter and Tommy from Svenska Eldvatten (they're the ones in fetching Hawaiian shirts, but lacking Magnum P.I. 'staches) and it just wouldn't be Lagavulin day without seeing the irrepressible king of the whisky one-liners Colin Dunn.
Colin and fellow ambassador David Sinclair (formerly of Gleneagles) give a whisky cocktail masterclass.
Ben was actually quite taken by this well-made Lagavulin and ginger beer number, despite this face of deep concern!
Lagavulin have also just launched a triple matured Friends of the Classic Malts bottling, one of five releases (limited to 24,000 across the range) that have been matured in refill casks, American oak hogsheads and finally European Oak refill casks before being bottled at 48%.
Lagavulin Triple Matured Edition – 48% abv
Tasting Note for Lagavulin Triple Matured Edition
Nose: Spicy and rich with dessicated coconut high notes, baking aromas and latte alongside some classic Laga smoke.
Palate: More of what you get on the nose but with those baking notes coming right to the fore. This is basically Lagavulin cake.
Finish: Deliciously sweet black tea.
Overall: Nice. And well-matured (despite being a NAS bottling) - just not as good as the Fèis Ìle bottling, which is very, very good indeed.
Now, some people say that souls or ghostly apparitions can become linked to or sort of 'recorded' in old buildings, especially in old stone structures such as castles and locations where horrific incidents have taken place. Then again, some people also say that psychics are a thing, or that dogs can't look upwards...
A naval site of some significance for Somerled, the King of the Isles, as well as the Clan Donald Lords of the Isles, Dunyvaig Castle enjoyed a complicated history with several periods of construction and changes of ownership. The remaining ruins are primarily 16th century but 13th and 15th century elements also survive. During a tumultuous history, there's a story told of a man being double-crossed upon surrendering the castle and subsequently being hanged from the castle walls! Needless to say, we went to investigate.
Let's get to the bottom of this.
It is said that when Angus Oig MacDonald (not to be confused with his dad Angus MacDonald, or 'Angus' Óg of Islay (also a MacDonald) amongst others - there are many Angi) surrendered the castle in 1615 that he did so on the proviso that he wouldn't be killed, a deal that was apparently immediately reneged upon as he was tried on the spot and hanged from the walls. If you delve into the history books**, however, this appears to be nonsense - by the time MacDonald was forced to give in, it was under no conditions and he was actually imprisoned and shipped off to Edinburgh. His eventual execution took place on 8th July 1615, 200 odd miles by land and sea away from Islay. The nearest thing to lost spirits in this bay, it seems, are the ones that were distilled at Malt Mill, and we found them last year. The nearest thing, that is, until today!
The Lost Distilleries Blend, including malt whisky from the now-closed Islay distillery of Port Ellen.
(Make sure you get your free 3cl sample dram if you see us on Islay!)
We also mentioned earlier in the week that we're giving away vouchers on Islay this year for a special secret offer, an offer that I can now reveal the details of... The voucher, when redeemed on the Master of Malt site, means that if you buy a bottling of The Lost Distilleries Blend (which is full of yummy things like Port Ellen and Brora as well as being The World's Best Blend, World Whiskies Awards) you'll receive full bottles of all three initial Reference Series releases for free!!! Seems too good to be true? Well, we figure that the knowledgeable folk at Fèis Ìle are exactly the sort of people we'd love to have come on the Reference Series journey with us as this exciting range develops. If you're not on Islay, and now have smoke coming out of your ears, see if you can get somebody who is to pick up a voucher for you - this offer isn't to be missed!
The Reference Series - these could all be yours, it's as easy as I, II, III!
The Lost Distilleries Blend - the perfect tipple for all kings of their castles (and all dirty rascals too, evidently).
* Picking up Phantoms and tracking the Pirate? Yeah, that seems about right for Tales From The Isle.
** I can't help it.