Islay – “Blind Fury”

I glossed over the Springbank Tasting from the other month because I didn’t remember much about it, and my notes were sparse to say the least, but that’s happily not the case from last night’s blind tasting of Islay whiskies.

Eddie’s found us another new venue, this time it was the boardroom in York’s first five star hotel, built in the old GNER headquarters and very grand it was too.

The tickets sold out ahead over time so it was a popular event with a good mix of new and familiar faces. The banter was strong and it ran on a clear hour beyond the usual, with our attention split between some good and puzzling drams and each table trying to outdo the last with comedy smell descriptions.

A friend and I were quite confident that we’d identified the first three drams and fairly confident we’d spotted the last three. Despite plenty of double guessing, Eddie still out foxed us and we scored a grand zero out of six, seriously good fun although I could really do with smelling things for myself. With not too much further ado, to the whiskys!

1) This one had plenty of time spent in bourbon casks and maybe 6-12 months of sherry at the end, its nose had more bite than its taste. It was well rounded and had a fair amount of depth with the slightly sweet notes of christmas spices, muscavado sugar, cinnamon and almonds. It was an elegant spirit and had a lot of offer, we guessed one of Bruichladdich’s myriad bottlings but it was a Bunnahabhain 12

2) A straight bourbon maturation and slightly stronger at somewhere between 50-55%, this was quite a closed spirit and needed a drop of water to bring it to life. I had a big hit of eucalyptus from cough sweets in the middle of the finish. Other suggestions for its nose were “a certain cigar making shop in New Orleans” and “the smell of bbq’s prawns at the seaside, two hours after you try to get it off with a wet wipe”. Yes, it was one of those evenings. We thought it was a Caol Ila but it was a Berry Brothers single cask bottling of Bowmore 21

3) A sharp citrus bite to the nose mixed with “something from Group 7 on the table” preceded a body with some distinctly aniseedy tones, with suggestions of Danish salted liquorice, bazooka joe’s bubblegum, samphire and barley twists. The finish was good and long, but non too memorable. We guessed at a Bowmore with a hint of sherry at the end, like the Mariner I had earlier this year, but it was a new offering from Jura “Prophecy”.

4) Iodiney hints of cream and pear drops were our tables thoughts, along with a deep sweet aftertaste that made this cask strength offering particularly fine. It was a darker spirit but it didn’t have so much as a nod to sherry finishing, we thought perhaps a Bunnahabhain or another Bowmore. It was the very recently released 2nd Batch of Bowmore’s Tempest 10 year old. Very simple, very effective.

5) This was pale and youthful spirit, with a sharp estery nose. I found it pleasingly clean and fresh with quite a lot to offer on the palate of sweet, smokey, peaty, nuts. It stuck to the glass like new spirit, but it was at 46% drinking strength. We had to guess at Kilchoman, although any supplies of that are very hard to come by. It turned out to be the “Big Peat” blend from Douglas Laing, so was in plentiful supply at a half-way reasonable price

6) Finally we had another pale spirit that was met with near uniform approval, which is rare. We described it as tasting of distilled happy and was probably an Ardbeg or Laophroig. It was revealed to be a unique cask sample of Ardbeg, matured for 10 years in first fill Bourbon and wasn’t available at any price. Ah well, it’s always nice to meet some Dragon Water that’s seriously special.