This extra special extra page was added to Malt Maniacs #15 because
we didn't have room to write about all our adventures on Feis Ile 2005
on the two webpages that normally make up an issue of Malt Maniacs.
This Feis Ile reports isn't going to be quite as exhaustive as I originally
planned, though - I've already written about most of the highlights in
my personal Feis Ile 2005 report and the other maniacs didn't seem to
have a lot to add to the events I've reported on either. So, after my
previous reports about
Wednesday (meeting up with Davin in Glasgow),
Thursday (visiting Glengoyne with Davin & Peter, meeting Serge and
Olivier) and
Friday (visiting Oban and Springbank) it's finally time for
the full and final report about the maniacal visit to Islay in 2005.

E-pistle #15/12 - Feis Ile 2005; The Final Report
Submitted on 25/08/2005 by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

They say God created the entire universe in a week, but I imagine he spent some overtime on Islay.
What a wonderful island; its stunning landscape, its rich history, its friendly people and - of course - its peaty malts. To honour the island and its malts some malt maniacs had decided to try and follow the entire 'Feis Ile' program; seven days spent at seven different distilleries. However, as you'll find out out if you read the report below, it didn't quite turn out that way.
Here's an overview of the seven great days we spent on Islay;

28/05/2005 - Day 1   (Dramming on the morning ferry to Islay, tour of Lagavulin, Bruichladdich party, ...)
29/05/2005 - Day 2  (Dramming along the beach, Bruichladdich Open Day, Dinner at Martine's place, ...)
30/05/2005 - Day 3   (More dramming along the beach, Port Ellen Maltings, Dinner with Nick & Kate, ...)
31/05/2005 - Day 4  (Laphroaig Open Day, 'Spirit of Islay' tasting by Gordon Homer, Kildalton Cross, ...)
01/07/2005 - Day 5   ('Guerilla' tour of Kilchoman, Balvenie cask sample session, Visit Kilchoman church, ...)
02/07/2005 - Day 6  (The 10,000th score on the monitor, PLOWED extravaganza at the Claggan House, ...)
03/07/2005 - Day 7   (Official opening of Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain distillery tour, another beach session, ...)
 

Day 1 - Saturday, May 28

If you've read my personal Feis Ile report you'll know how we tried to spend
our time on the morning ferry from Kennacraig useful by sampling a bunch of
Longrow 'skalks', shocking two elderly ladies in the process. That morning the
sea was rather restless so we didn't try more than three different whiskies.
Nevertheless, two of those malts scored 90 points - not a bad average at all.
My favourits were the Longrow NAS 1973 (46%, OB, Small Caps Label) and
the Longrow 16yo 1974 (46%, OB) - they almost made up for the utterly
disappointing tour and drams that we were subjected to at Springbank...

After three drams the seas became rougher and Serge and Davin preferred
to take a little break from dramming. No problem, I don't get out to sea that
much, so I enjoyed the opportunity to take a stroll out on deck to enjoy the
storm and the view of some of my fellow passengers emptying their stomachs
into the Atlantic. The wind whipped the Scottish waters into a frenzy and soon
I felt a distinctly 'coastal' taste on my lips as waves crashed across the decks.
It wasn't long before my glasses steamed up, which gave me just the excuse I
needed to ignore the warning signs and make my way to the bow of the ferry.
Leaning into the wind on the bow of the Islay ferry I screamed at the sea, like
an older, fatter and balder version of Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie 'Titanic'.
Much to my relief, this boat managed to stay afloat and it wasn't long before
I could make out the contours of an island in the distance. Minutes later some
white buildings appeared along the coast of the island; the Port Ellen maltings.

As soon as we touched Islay soil we pointed the ManiacMobile towards Lagavulin.
The drive from the Port Ellen harbour to the distillery only took a few minutes. After parking our conspicuous vehicle as unconspicuously as possible we bumped into Nick Morgan and his lovely lady Kate. I think Kate was the first in a long line of party people to take a picture of the ManiacMobile that week - Olivier's evil PR materplan certainly worked... Next, it was time to enjoy some oysters, some celtic folk music and the company of Peter Silver and the PLOWED people. Being the civilised person that I am, I enjoyed one oyster as a 'delicacy' - very nice indeed. Some maniacs (I won't mention any names) treated them as 'lunch' though, gobbling away at least half a dozen of the slimy buggers... It was quite amazing how quickly the apetites that had disappeared so suddenly on the ferry returned...

Words can't quite describe my emotions when it struck me.
Here I was, enjoying oysters and a Lagavulin 16yo on Islay.
On ISLAY! This was my very first visit to the island that is
home to four of the distilleries in
my Distillery Top 10 - and
only my second visit ever to Scotland. Which reminds me;
I still have to write a 'historic' report about the first time I
nearly made it to Scotland in 1984, but that'll have to wait.

The snapshot at the right shows the very first gathering
of five certified malt maniacs in this specific 'configuration'.
For those of you that just tuned in, that's from left to right
yours truly (still a little misty-eyed and overwhelmed by the
Islay experience),
Olivier (sporting a 'Crocodile Dundee' hat
and a cheeky smile),
Serge (looking as chauvinistic and as
French as possible),
Davin (resembling Colonel Sanders on
acid) and Peter (apparently enjoying the moment as well).
The Malt Maniacs Transatlantic Express; peatheads from
the USA, Canada, France & Holland united in malt mania.

As soon as we finished our oysters we proceeded with a tasting session.
The tasting of six cask samples (4yo, 7yo, 10yo, 13yo, 14yo and 15yo) hosted by stand-up comedians Donald Renwick and Iain  MacArthur was very interesting. I was quite surprised to learn that the relatively dark colour of the Lagavulin 16yo comes from the caramel colouring; they told us that they don't use sherry casks (apart from the occasional 'exhausted' cask) anymore at Lagavulin. 'We found in the last five, six years that there isn't any real need for sherry casks' , we were told. Well, maybe they are right. After all, the the 12yo C/S expression they released a few years ago did earn a higher score than the latest batches of the 16yo in my book. But it's in a very different style, much cleaner and more in the direction of Caol Ila. If this is the direction the Lagavulin house style is taking, one of the 'Kildalton' distilleries may lose it's slightly 'dirty' Kildalton character in the future.

After the tasting we were taken for a grand tour.
The tour (guided by the manager of the Port Ellen
maltings) turned out to be the best I ever enjoyed.
Our modest guide had the answers to even the most
maniacal of questions and whenever we felt the need
to explore any aspect of the distillation process or the
distillery he gave us all the time and info we needed.
Even when the maniacs cornered a distillery worker
and started extorting some fresh spirit from him, our
friendly guide kept smiling and took it in his stride.

We spent a few very enjoyable hours at Lagavulin,
but as you can see from the pictures at the right the
weather was rather depressing. That's why we didn't
explore the island further when we had finished our
pilgrimmage to Lagavulin. Instead, we headed to our
cottage in Port Charlotte where we were welcomed
by the warmth of a gently crackling coal fire. Great!

We didn't waste a lot of time unpacking and settled
down for some serious 'matrix' sampling. Because we
didn't have a chance to finish all the Longrows on our
schedule on the ferry this morning, we sampled some
more expressions from Campbeltown.

The Longrow 1973/1988 (50%, Samaroli Fragments
of Scotland, 84 points), Longrow 1987/2002 (50%,
Samaroli, Cask #115, 89 points) and the 'Longrow
New Filling' (57%, Samaroli Fragments of Scotland,
80 points all were very nice, but not quite as stellar
as the Longrows we tried on the ferry this morning.

Next, we made our way to the Port Charlotte Hotel
nearby, where we met the folks from Bruichladdich.
There weren't that many people around, which gave
us the chance to talk at length with Mark Reynier,
Jim McEwan and lots of other members of the staff.

As usual, Mark and Jim managed to fill our brains to
the rim with food for thought and funny anecdotes.
All went well, until Serge had the audacity to bring
up the touchy topic of 'French Whore Perfume' with
Jim - who used to be distillery manager at Bowmore.
As you may imagine, an interesting debate followed.
Apparently, Jim doesn't believe in the phenomenon
and presented us with a very interesting conspiracy
theory to explain all the 'buzz' around FWP.
Not all maniacs were convinced, though...

Eventually, night fell over Port Charlotte - time to go.
We strolled from the hotel to our cottage in high spirits, despite the rain.
We finished the first evening on Islay in our cottage by the fire with three great Lagavulins; the Lagavulin 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled Early 1980's, 91 points), the Lagavulin 1979 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, No Neck Label, Taiwan, 91 points) and the just slightly less magnificent Lagavulin NAS 1988 (56%, Samaroli, 324 Botles, 88 points). A great finish of a great day...
 

Day 2 - Sunday, May 29

When we walked from the hotel on Saturday night it was raining cats & dogs.
This morning the weather was beautiful, just like the Bruichladdies predicted.
Very inspirational; it was the very first time during this trip that we saw some
blue sky, so after a quick breakfast we took some old miniatures to the coast
(just a few hundred meters from our cottage) for some 'skalks' in the open air.

I won't list the malts we tried here; you can find out all the details of this
first 'coastal' session in
my personal Feis Ile 2005 report if you're interested.
After a very enjoyable session at the beach we all got in the ManiacMobile
for the short trip to Bruichladdich. By now our 'publicity manager' Olivier had
made the ManiacMobile even more maniacal by adding another slogan at
the left side of the car: 'Rides: 1 Dram' - surely an attractive offer?
While we were driving to Bruichladdich we passed many people who had
decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk the few miles
from Port Charlotte to the distillery. Trying to coax people into using our
amateur taxi service instead, Olivier kept decreasing his speed until we
crawled along the road at a snail's pace. Strangely enough, his inviting
glances at the pedestrians didn't seem to have the desired effect. When
he finally made a full stop next to a young couple, made sheep's eyes at
them and pointed at the side of our car they looked positively startled.
Maybe that was because driving at the wrong side of the road had messed
up Olivier's concept of left and right - and possibly of right and wrong...
That side of our car said 'ManiacMobile' instead of 'Rides: 1 Dram' ...

There isn't very much to tell about the visit to Bruichladdich in the afternoon, I'm afriad.
I greatly enjoyed meeting up with
Thomas and Martine for the very first time, but after an hour my sociophobic tendencies were getting the better of me. I decided to avoid the crowd and bagpipes by exploring the coastline nearby. That improved my disposition, but it made me miss the Bruichladdich masterclass. Maybe one of the other maniacs that participated will report on that later.

I joined Serge, Olivier and Davin again later that night for an amazing dinner at Martine Nouet's place, prepared with the help of sous-chef Peter Silver. After whetting our appetites with a Nikka 10yo malt from Japan we started with a lovely starter of Salmon and green asparagus, accompanied by a Bruichladdich 10yo. The main course was equally lovely; lobster, scallops and new potatoes with a lobster cream sauce. Martine served us the Caol Ila 12yo OB with the dish that worked remarkably well.

Culinairy heaven in Nerabus! I was already completely and utterly stuffed only halfway through the main course.
You can imagine my horror when Martine announced the had not one but TWO deserts waiting for us. Ah, the French certainly know how to live the good life ;-)  After allowing my spoilt stomach to rest for a little while, I found enough room for a little bit of both deserts; raspberries and strawberries with white chocolate cake and lemon cake first, followed by dark chocolate by the fireplace. And Martine had arranged an amazing musical desert as well;
Norma Munro joined us for a small concert in Martine's living room.
Word's can't really describe the experience, so I'll just finish this report with another
'photo collage'.
 
 

 
 
Day 3 - Monday, May 30

By now our gruelling dramming schedule started to take its toll.
It was only our third day on Islay, but we had already spent a few days on the mailland as well.
During the past six days I must have enjoyed almost a hundred drams; many cask samples and malts I already know, but at least half of them were brand new entries for my
Track Record - bringing my malt mileage to +/- 1100.

We had planned to visit Caol Ila's open day this morning, but we overslept.
We decided to use the free time in our schedule for more seaside dramming.
Check out
my personal Feis Ile 2005 report for my tasting notes and scores.
We drammed on the shore of Loch Indaal until noon. Before leaving for the
open day at the Port Ellen maltings Olivier suggested something maniacal;
he hid one sample between the rocks of the little bay where we had been
dramming; to be enjoyed by anybody that might find it (and that would be
foolish enough to drink anything from a mysterious little bottle they found).
Here's a picture of the hiding place of the bottle, just in case you want to
go look for it during your next visit to Islay. Just head due south along the
shore from Port Charlotte and you're bound to find it eventually ;-)

The tour of the Port Ellen maltings was very interesting and I got the
chance to shovel some peat on the fires. The tour was just long enough;
by the time our stomachs started to rumble we could enjoy some lovely
food prepared by the spouses of the distillery workers. They served some
very generous drams as well, so I was once again in fairly high spirits when
we left for our next stop, the
Ardbeg distillery. We weren't going there for
a tour, mind you - just to pick up some special 'festival' bottlings before
they would be sold out. After the Ardbeg shopping spree we found that
we had a few hours to spare and decided to use them for a little 'safari'
to the southernmost tip of Islay, 'The Oa' - another beautiful coastline.
Needless to say, we took the opportunity to sample some 'coastal' drams.

Next, it was off to the Port Charlotte Hotel for dinner.
We could almost make out the hotel across Loch Indaal from the beach at the Oa, but it still took us almost an hour to drive around the island back to Port Charlotte. For some reason - I don't quite remember why - we had decided to go with an 'Hawaian' dress code for the occasion. At the hotel we met Nick Morgan (you may have read his brilliant concert reviews on WhiskyFun) and his lovely lady Kate. We enjoyed a copious dinner (the Port Charlotte Hotel is one of the finest eateries on the island) and a few drams.

Once again I have little to add to my personal Feis Ile 2005 report I wrote earlier, so I'll finish with another 'collage'.
 
 

 
 
Day 4 - Tuesday, May 31

Tuesday was another glorious day on Islay.
We were expected at the Laphroaig distillery at 9:30 sharp for a quick tour of the distillery before we would hike to Laphroaig's water source, about a mile from the distillery. We were shown around the distillery by retired distillery employee Jack Danaway who had lots of stories from 'the old days'. It was very interesting to see the setup of the stills at Laphroaig; most distilleries have pairs of stills, so they usually have 2, 4, 6 or even 8 stills. Laphroaig has 7 - 3 wash stills and 4 spirit stills.

We also sampled Laphroaig's latest 'Quarter Cask' bottling.
Laphroaig used to be THE quintessential Islay distillery during
most of the 1990's, but clever marketing (not to mention very
good whisky) has brought Ardbeg and Bruichladdich more into
the limelight in recent years - at least amongst the 'anoraks'.
Laphroaig took a back seat for a while, but with the recent
introduction of the 'Quarter Cask' Laphroaig suddenly regained
a lot of 'street credibility among peatfreaks around the world.

The Quarter Cask scheme came from the mind of Robert Hicks.
As we found out, 'QC' bottlings are not matured exclusively in
these 'quarter casks'. Instead, they start their maturation in
normal 200 litre ex-bourbon casks, just like every other whisky
at Laphroaig these days. However, after a few years (around
five years if I remember correctly) the whisky is transferred into
these 'quarter casks' (more like 'half casks' at circa 100 litres)
for further, 'accelerated' maturation of no more than a year.

So, these Laphroaig 'Quarter Cask' bottlings are actually 'bourbon finished' and just around six years old!
The quarter casks are made especially for Laphroaig and assembled on the mainland from ordinairy staves. They just use less staves, so the casks are 'slimmer'. Once assembled they are then shipped to Islay where they are used (only once) for the Laphroaig QC. See, that's the sort of interesting information you usually don't find on the label. Which reminds me of another funny little background story. It's fairly well know that his royal hopelessness prince Charles of Wales is a fan of Laphroaig. Many people also know that he visited the distillery in 1994. The story of Charlie's spectacular arrival on Islay is not quite as well know outside Scotland, though. While 'en route' to the island in one of the airplanes of the royal fleet, Charles (who has a pilot's license) insisted on flying and landing the plane himself. Any normal person making such a demand would probably have been arrested, but apparently things work a little differently when it comes to royalty. Cheeky Charlie gained control of the aircraft without any opposition and, as you may have guessed, flew in on a tail wind to crash it into a peat bog at the end of the runway of Islay's tiny airport. I imagine that's a form of poetic justice - I wouldn't be surprised if he had received his pilot's license thanks to 'a tail wind' in the first place.

Anyway, that's enough of my republican rantings....
After the tour of the distillery we ran into Belgian malt maniac Luc Timmermans who had just arrived on the island together with some 'Lindores' whisky club members. They joined is on our very enjoyable hike to Laphroaig's water source. Once again I'll have to point you towards
my personal Feis Ile 2005 reports for the details of the rest of the day; including a very interesting (if slightly overlong) tasting session organised by Gordon Homer of 'Spirit of Islay' at Ardbeg together with many of the PLOWED people, a 'cultural' trip to the Kildalton cross and another session 'in the wild' on the beautiful beach of Claggain Bay.
Meanwhile, here's another
'photo collage' of the day... 
 
 

 
 
Day 5 - Wednesday, June 1

As you can see from the pictures, we've enjoyed some glorious weather on Islay for the past few days.
Unfortunately, it didn't last. Wednesday started rainy, cold and gloomy. Our mood was dampened further because we never managed to book a tour at Bowmore, even though Davin had been trying for months. To tell you the truth, I wasn't all that eager to visit Bowmore - as you can read in
Davin's report about Feis Ile 2004 the tour at Bowmore was the weakest of the trip and I'm no big fan of their whisky anyway - well, at least not their latest releases. So, we found ourselves with some time on our hands. A session on the beach was out of the question in this weather, so we decided to stay indoors to attack some of the remaining samples that we had lined up in the kitchen. At this point there were still some 150 unsampled samples left 'to do'.

Olivier had just managed to get a fire going when Serge's mobile phone rang.
It was fellow maniac Charlie MacLean who had finally made it to Islay as well.
He invited us on behalf of Kilchoman's Andrew Willis for a 'guerilla tour' of the
new distillery before it would officially be opened two days later on Friday.
What a pleasant turn of events!

As it turns out, Kilchoman is a tiny operation and while we were taken for
a tour dozens of workmen were still busy hammering away, fitting pipes, etc.
Until just before the festival they claimed that the very first Kilchoman spirit
would be distilled at the opening on Friday, but that was much too optimistic.
From the looks of it, actual distillation would be weeks, if not months away.
But when it does actually start, Kilchoman could very well become the sort
of 'boutique' distillery that's so popular among many of the more obsessed
whisky lovers. With the small set-up, Andrew can easily make modifications
to many aspects of the distillation process, allowing him to release a wide
range of different malts. We discussed the possibility of using only 'natural'
local yeasts at Kilchoman; Olivier warned Andrew that if he wanted to make
a truly 'local' whisky, he should avoid the use of 'commercial' yeast at all cost.

After the tour of the distillery Andrew allowed us to use his tasting room for a session.
I've already written about
the Balvenie 1973 session in my Liquid Log, but I forgot to mention something rather surreal that happened to me while I was rummaging around the distillery grounds. One of the carpenters noticed the fashionable green 'Laphroaig' fleece I had picked at the distillery the other day. Together with a Flora & Fauna bottle of Glen Spey that I purchased at Oban this was one of the very few 'indulgencies' I allowed myself during this trip; I was on an extremely tight budget. Anyway, the old carpenter (a typically rugged Scotsman well into his sixties with eyebrows wider than his head) managed to draw my attention.

'Oy...' he inquired after looking conspicuously over his shoulder, 'Duu yuu like lefroik?'.
I enthusiastically confirmed that this was indeed the case, assuming I had bumped into another malt lover.
'I 'ave ee bottle...' , the old carpenter continued. Well, that didn't impress me much... I have about a dozen bottles of Laphroaig in my reserve stock and there are a lot of malt freaks out there that have a multitude of that on their shelves. However, things suddenly became much more interesting when the old carpenter specified WHAT bottle he had: as it turns out it was a 40yo bottle of Laphroaig signed by Ian Henderson that the carpenter received in exchange for some work on the distillery. The carpenter inquired if I might be interested in buying the bottle - he didn't like whisky himself. Wow! For a moment I thought this could be a genuine 'Bugatti in a barn' moment, so I asked what he wanted for the bottle, trying to hide the green light of greed in my eyes.
'Weelll...' he replied, 'mi wife looked on eBay the other day and these go for oo'er a thoosand poonds noow.'

Blasted - that's another short-lived dream shattered...
What's the world coming to when elderdly Ileachs lurk around on eBay?
Those prices are way out of my league and when I passed the offer along to the other maniacs they mostly agreed that those were 'collectors' prices, making the bottle almost 'unopenable' for 'drinking' maniacs on a reasonable budget.

After a wonderful improvised lunch (the potato soup was brilliant) at Kilchoman's visitor centre Charlie took us for a tour of this relatively remote part of the island. We visited the ruins and graveyards of Kilchoman church and hiked across the fields to the beach so Olivier could play with his frisbee. The weather really wasn't too pleasant so after we dropped off Charlie we decided to have an early dinner and have another serious tasting session in our cottage. We invited Peter to come over and he joined us for our early dinner at a small pub in Portnahaven. It had taken my stomach some time to adjust to the Scottisch cuisine and the dinner schedule of the other maniacs, but helped by the early hour I managed to stuff away almost an entire pizza, replenishing some much needed energy for tonight's tasting.

Here are some short notes for the most interesting malts we tried on wednesday (apart from the Balvenies);

Highland Park NAS (70 Proof, G&M Licensed Bottling, Saint Patrick Label, Bottled +/- 1960)
Nose: Big and rich. Antique. Sellery. Light peat and organics. Salami. Quite magnificent.
Taste: Smoky, dry and meaty. A fantastic example of how great a 'standard' malt could be.
Score: 91 points - one of the very best HP's I ever tried, again selected ands supplied by Olivier.

Highland Park 12yo (40%, OB, Clear Plastic Bottle; Bottled late 1970's or early 1980's)
Nose: Very big and expressive. Deep fruits and lots of sherry. HP at its best.
Taste: Sweet and sherried. Almost perfect, just a little bitter towards the finish.
Score: 87 points - the best expression of the 12yo Highland Park I ever tried.

Highland Park 12yo (40%, OB, Ornamental First Letter, for UK, 70 Proof)
Nose: Light and almost grainy. Faint organics, but not much else it seems.
Taste: Bitter and bland. There's a touch of sherry there, but it's very weak.
Score: 78 points - which might have been a bit generous in hindsight.

Port Ellen 18yo 1981/1999 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail)
Nose: Light & peaty. No wait, it's rather smoky than peaty; more like Bowmore.
Taste: Smoky as well, but here peat is an element as well. Dry finish.
Score: 83 points - not really living up to its potential.

Port Ellen 20yo 1982/2003 (61.2%, SSMC, 'Dark Sherry')
Nose: Loads of organics. Meaty. Medicinal. Smoke. Gunpowder. Excellent!
Taste: It falls a bit short on the palate. Woody and untra-dry. Very tannic. Chewy.
Score: 88 points - but it would have made the 90's with a palate to match the nose.

Port Ellen 21yo 1979/2001 (50%, DL OMC, 618 Bottles, Sherry Cask)
Nose: Peat and organics. Tar. Sweaty. Complex. Just my kind of profile, lovely.
Taste: Sweet and peaty. Liquorice. A classic peat monster with not too much sherry influence.
Score: 86 points - I love it but it could use some more complexity.

Talisker NAS (70 Proof, G&M, Red on Black Label, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Industrial oil. Not particulary pleasant, but quite unique. Very different.
Taste: Watery and peaty. I know that sounds odd, but that's what I got.
Score: 78 points - one of the weakest Taliskers I've ever tried.

Talisker NAS (100 Proof, G&M, Red on Black Label, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Industrial oil, just like the version bottled at 70 proof. However, this shows organics as well.
Taste: Sweet and peaty. Much bigger than the 70 proof version. Very nice Industrial oil as well.
Score: 84 points - what a difference the proof makes. Much puchier than the 70% version.

Talisker 8yo (45.8, OB, Johnnie Walker Label, Bottled 1970's)
Nose: Big, rich and sweet. Coffee. Liquorice. Richer and rounder than the current 10yo.
Taste: Sweet, evolving into sweet liquorice later on. Solid, but no peppery punchline.
Score: 87 points - it lacks the peppery twist that I always love in Talisker.

And that concludes my 'wednesday' report for Feis Ile.
Here's another '
collage ' to wrap things up...
 
 

 
 
Day 6 - Thursday, June 2

Today was the open day at Jura distillery but given the lousy weather conditions some maniacs didn't look forward to another ferry crossing. So, we looked at alternatives. Serge, Olivier and Davin decided to visit the brewery on Islay while I stayed in our cosy little cottage to catch up on some sampling. I sometimes simply couldn't keep up with these three powerdrammers, so there were plenty of forgotten samples left for me to try - a few of Olivier's old Highland Parks in particular.

So, while I savoured some Highland Parks, Serge, Olivier
and Davin were busy driving the ManiacMobile into a ditch.
As you can see from the picture at the right there was no
major damage - unlike
two years ago when we 'totaled' a
Ford Mondeo at the end of our trip. And just like two years
ago the incident took place early in the morning, before the
driver and/or passengers had enjoyed even the tiniest dram.
I feel that's something I should stress; we may be 'maniacs'
but we don't want to advocate the combination of drinking
and driving. In fact, maybe this needs some more stressing;
I can't speak for the other maniacs but on a personal note
I'd like to stress that I have the utmost contempt for drunk
drivers. Scum of the earth without a sense of responsibility!
Of course, that's easy for me to say - I haven't owned a car
in years (it's a burden instead of an asset here in Amsterdam)
and I haven't hit anybody on my bicycle yet ;-)

Anyway, while the other maniacs were busy in the rain getting
the ManiacMobile out of the ditch I was warm and in hog heaven
with a few great Highland Parks that Olivier brought from France.

I started with the Highland Park NAS 'Capella' (40%, OB, UK only, 5400 Bottles).
The nose was light and quite grainy. After a few seconds sweeter aroma's emerge. Dry cake? A 'natural' whisky.
After I added some water some organics drifted to the surface. But as usual the water did little for the palate.
The taste was malty and a little bit nondescript. The bitter finish kept the score at a recommendable 82 points.

The next two Highland Parks were in a different class altogether - both earned scores in the 90's.
I loved the Highland Park 1974/1998 'Online Tasting' (52.6%, OB, 228 Bottles). The nose was big, sweet and sherried. Quite extreme with some lovely spices. Christmas cake. And SHERRY - one of the purest sherry profiles I've encountered so far. On the palate I got heavy sherry, then a distinct 'antique' feeling in the centre. Quite extreme, but a very noble whisky. It feels fabulous enough on the palate to go with 90 points for this one - a brilliant sherry monster.

The Highland Park 1980/2004 (58%, OB for Park Avenue Liquors New York, C#7366, 75cl) had a wonderfully balanced nose. Sweet and spicy, then more organics emerge. Maybe a hint of smoke in the background? It was sweet, then smoky on the palate. Lovely gentle tannins. I was so busy enjoying myself that I hardly made any notes. I gave it 93 points - magnificent.

After the other maniacs had returned to our home base in the afternoon we stoked up the fireplace and did some powerdramming. The first three 'obscure' couples we tried all scored below average in my book;

45 - Millburn 1974/1998 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice) - surprisingly citrussy in the nose and on the palate.
63 - Millburn 1971/???? (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, IE/F) - a weird nose with toffee, oil and peanuts.
73 - Caperdonich 1968 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice, Old Brown Label) - fairly interesting notes with camphor.
65 - Caperdonich 1968 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label) - quite 'closed' and middle-of-the-road.
71 - Dufftown-Glenlivet NAS (70 Proof, OB, Black & Red Label, Bottled Late 1970's) - an unremarkable malt.
73 - Dufftown-Glenlivet 8yo (70 Proof, 40%, OB, Black & Red Label, Bottled Early 1980's) - very light in style.

And that was all the 'sub-standard' stuff Olivier and Serge could stand.
They insisted we move on to greener pastures and Davin and I didn't protest too much.
The Glenburgie 1948-1961/1981 'Special Vatting' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) was one a series of bottlings released in 1981 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana. Hmmmm... I suddenly wonder if there were any special bottlings to commemorate the divorce that followed over a decade later... Anyway, the whisky survived the ravages of time notably better than the marriage itself; the nose was big, sweet and round with pickles and organics. On the palate the 'antiquity' was obvious. Some delicate smoke and a fairly bitter finish. My score was 87 points - in the same range as the scores from the other maniacs.

The Glenlivet 29yo 1963/1992 (52.8%, Signatory Vintage, Casks #269-270) did even better.
I found lots of deep, rich sherry notes in the nose. Spicy with soft organics. Roasted nuts. Magnificent; what a beautiful profile. It was quite bitter on the palate. Smoky. Toffee. Strong tannins. Maybe just a tad too extreme on the palate. Nevertheless, this Glenlivet managed to earn a score of 90 points - brilliant stuff.

We ended on a high note with the Bowmore 'Black 1964/1993' (50%, OB).
The nose was full of heavy organics and smoke. Roasted coffee beans. Parrafin. Excellent!
It was sweet, sherried and fruity on the palate. Dry and extremely smoky. Fabulous profile.
Score: 93 points - this is one legendary Bowmore that certainly deserves its status.

Next, we headed to the Croft kitchen for dinner with Martine, Charlie, Peter, Luc and some of the other 'Lindores' people. With almost all the maniacs on the island gathered in one room (Thomas had other obligations), this was the perfect opportunity to put our 10,000th score on the monitor - the 90 points I gave to the 'Habemus Cerevisiam Destillatum' NAS from the Regensburger Whisky Club that I mentioned in my personal Feis Ile 2005 report earlier. The dinner itself was great as well. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said about the service, but according to Martine this was a rare exception and friendliness was the norm. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the eateries on an island with only +/- 3,000 inhabitants.
Based on my research so far, these are the top five places to eat on Islay;

1) Martine Nouet's home ;-)
2) Port Charlotte Hotel, Port Charlotte
3) Croft Kitchen, Port Charlotte
4) An Tigh Seinnse, Portnahaven
5) Ardbeg Distillery Restaurant

After a lovely dinner we proceeded to PLOWED HQ at the Claggan house for some more serious dramming.
Every table and cabinet in the living room was filled with bottles and the generous PLOWEDsters kept pushing interesting drams into my trembling hands. What a wonderful evening. Here's an overview of the drams I tried (or at least the ones I made notes on);

84 - Benriach 10yo 1994/2005 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, C#2026, 402 Bottles)
70 - Bowmore 15yo (40%, OB for Glasgow Garden Festival)
85 - Bruichladdich 30yo 1970 'The Great Whisky Swindle' (52%, MWBH, 161 bottles)
80 - Glenlochy 24yo 1980 (58.6%, SMWS, 6.211)
71 - Glenlossie 10yo 1993/2004 (46%, MmcD, MM0415, Bourbon Cask)
77 - Glen Ord 12yo (43%, OB, Square Bottle, Bottled +/- 2004)
88 - Glenury Royal 23yo 1971/1995 (61.3%, UDRM)
85 - Highland Park 26yo (54.6%, Adelphi, C#3900)
88 - Linkwood 19yo 1985/2005 (60.6%, Dewar Rattray, C#4543, 233 Bottles, Bourbon Cask)
89 - Port Ellen 21yo 1982/2004 (50%, DL OMC for The Islay Whisky Shop, DLREF 477, 182 Bottles)
85 - Royal Brackla 27yo 1975/2003 (46%, MmcD Mission II)

The highlight was the Port Ellen 21yo 1982/2004 (50%, DL OMC for The Islay Whisky Shop, DLREF 477, 182 Bottles). The nose was big, sweet and sherried with developing organics. A classic profile. More 'horse stable' notes after a while. It was very sherried on the palate - even a but too much so for my tastes - and I found loads of liquorice. My score: 89 points.

The Glenlochy 24yo 1980 (58.6%, SMWS, 6.211) was very interesting as well; I've only tried three other expressions so far. The nose was 'serious', but not very expressive. Apple pie. It improved with some time and water. It felt good on the palate, although just like the nose it's not very complex or expressive. Score: 80 points.

The Glenury Royal 23yo 1971/1995 (61.3%, UDRM) was a similar case; I've tried three versions so far.
Nose: Not very expressive at first. Quite delicate with some faint organics. Developing spices. Perfume.
Taste: Full, big and spicy. This is my kind of profile. Just like the nose, it improves further over time.
Score: 88 points - this was one of the very first 'Rare Malts' releases, and one of the best I had so far.

Apart from the malts already mentioned I also tried a 2yo 'Octomore' that was already very drinkable.
I can't wait for these whiskies to be released; the normal Bruichladdich whisky is often a little bit too light for my tastes but this Octomore is a genuine peat monster, just like Port Charlotte.

I'd love to write more about our adventures with the PLOWED people, but I can't.
when I write this report it's already the end of august and I need to look ahead to MM#16.
So, I'll
finish this report with another 'collage ' and a little anecdote. Shortly after Charlie left the Claggan House around midnight he phoned Serge on his mobile, asking if anybody had seen his spectacles. Everybody looked around for a few seconds, and then about half a dozen people had the same thought simultanuously: could they be hanging around his neck, perhaps, where they had been all night? This proved to be the case indeed. Charlie must have heard the roaring belly-laughter before Serge finished the call ;-)
 
 

 
 
Day 7 - Friday, June 3

Our last 'full' day on Islay had arrived and we had quite a busy schedule.
First, it was off to Kilchoman for the official opening performed by our very own Charlie MacLean.
Next, we crossed the entire island just to enjoy the famous 'Bunnie Burgers' as well as an entertaining distillery tour at Bunnahabhain by John McLelland. Well, it would have been even more entertaining if a coupling of tourists hadn't brought their screaming baby along. Did you know that Bunnahabhain has the largest potential output of all Islay distilleries? Caol Ila actually produces more spirit these days, but it seems Bunnahabhain could make more whisky than Caol Ila if they wanted to.

In 1999 Highland Distillers, then the owners of Bunnahabhain,
were acquired by the Edrington Group (themselves the result of
a merger in 1996). They only held on to Bunnahabhain for a few
years; in 2003 Bunnahabhain (the distillery and the brand) were
acquired by Burn Stewart, together with the 'Black Bottle' brand.
Even after the Bunnahabhain distillery was sold to Burn Stewart,
the Edrington group remained its biggest customer.

After Burn Stewart took over Bunnahabhain they came up with
a new slogan: 'Bunnahabhain - The Spiritual Home of Black Bottle'.
Well, if that's the only 'core value' they want to express (the fact
that Bunny is used in a blend - even if it's a great one) they may
not be in the best position to take full advantage of the current
single malt boom. Based on experiences with other Burn Stewart
malts (Deanston and Tobermory) it would seem their focus lies
on the production of quantity rather than quality.

While we were at Kilchoman and Bunnahabhain the sky was still overcast.
Fortunately, that started to change around lunchtime when our visit to Bunnahabhain was over and we pointed the ManiacMobile south again. There were no more pressing engagements so we could take it easy for the rest of the day. This allowed us to do a little sightseeing before we proceeded with our last sampling sessions on Islay this year. After two days of depressing weather we wanted to make the most of the sunshine while it lasted...

We stopped at the ruins at Loch Finlaggan.
During the past week I've learned a lot about the
rich history of Islay and this was another chapter.
The ruins, a few miles south-east of Port Askaig,
date back to the middle ages and are founded on
two tiny islands in Loch Finlaggan; Eilean Mor and
Eilean na Comhairle - which could be translated
as 'the large island' and 'the council island'.
The islands are linked by a stone causeway.
It seems that one of the hobbies of the Ileachs
of yore was bragging; taking a stroll along the
coast of 'the large island' wouldn't take any
able bodied person more than a minute.
But it's not just size that matters...

In medieval times these tiny islands were the
centre of the realm of the 'Lords of the Isles';
the MacDonalds that ruled a significant part
of the Western coast of Scotland at the time.
Eilean na Comhairle and another small island,
Eilean Mhuireill, are so-called 'crannogs' (man
made islands) dating back to prehistoric times.
Recent excavations have uncovered traces
of a stronghold dating back the Iron Age.
I forgot to make a decent picture, but you can
just make out the contours of a few of the ruins
in the small photo at the right which I shot while
we were already on our way back to dry land.

The picture above is the only one in this report
not taken by myself or one of the other maniacs.
Reader Wim Blokzijl sent it to me a while ago to
prove that even Islay had some seedy parts and
when we passed this closed bar we had to agree.
This is an exception to the rule, though - most of
the towns on Islay look pristine and picturesque,
as opposed to for example Campbeltown that's
mostly dirty, damp and depressing...

By the time we arrived in the town of Bowmore
(the capital of Islay), for a late lunch the weather
had
cleared up nicely. After enjoying a nice meat
pie recommended by Olivier I strolled off to shoot
a few pictures, including this familiar view from
the pier at Bowmore. Yep, I know it's a 'cliche'
image, but the view is pretty nevertheless.

After our last tour around the island we returned to 'our' beach in Port Charlotte.
Located just a few hundred meters from our cottage, it really seemed like our little 'enclave' - we never saw any other people there and we recovered the sunglasses that Serge lost there almost a week earlier without a scratch on them. I suppose it was Serge's relief about finding his glasses again that allowed Davin and me to lull him into a false sense of security and sneak a few more obscure samples past him. We managed to force-feed seven samples to Serge and Olivier, only one of which was recommendable in my book.

50 - Glencraig 1968 (40%, G&M Conn. Choice, Old Map) - Lemon in the nose, bitter and flat on the palate.
45 - Dailuaine 1971 (40%, G&M Conn. Choice, Old Map) - A 'nutured' malt, piney in the nose and in the mouth.
81 - Balblair NAS (70 Proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1970's) - A wonderful nose; chocolate and 'antiquity'.
70 - Balblair 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1980's) - A nose with oil, wet wood and a hint of peat.
20 - Glen Mhor 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, IG/DGE) - Lemon detergent in the nose, soap & dust on the palate.
66 - Glen Mhor 8yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, IE/AAF) - Chemical lemon, some peat and 'unfresh' fish in the nose.
60 - Dailuaine 14yo 1979 'Friars Carse' (59.7%, TWC Robert Burns, C#8965) - Restrained nose, harsh palate.

Only 1 out of 7 drams scored above average. That was enough punishment for Serge & Olivier.
By now the sky started to darken anyway, so we returned to our cottage for the final 'farewell drams'.

We started with the Dallas Dhu 1969 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Brown Label).
Nose: Sweet. Honey. Mocca. Bread crust. Nice, but like many other 'CC' bottlings not very expressive.
Taste: Sweetish with quite a punch at 40%. Bittersweet like marmelade. It seems very bitter in the finish.
Score: 81 points - which fits perfectly within the 79-83 'bandwith' for the versions I've tried so far.

Next was a set of three 50yo Mortlachs that Serge brought to Islay for the occasion.
The Mortlach 50yo 1936/1986 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) was the oldest and immediately made a big impact.
Nose: Extremely big, sweet and rich. Oranges. Maple syrup. Werther's Original. Interesting developing organics.
Taste: Surprisingly fruity. A hint of smoke. Sweet and just a tad woody. Chewy, drying out towards the finish.
Score: 91 points - this one is still in remarkably good shape at the ripe old age of fifty years.

The Mortlach 50yo 1938/1988 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) was released two years after the '36/'86.
Nose: Once again very, very rich. Spicier than the '36. Sweet & sour sauce. Smoke. Some dust and some peat.
Taste: More smoke than the previous bottling. Drier as well. Untra-dry, in fact. Tannins. Rather bitter.
Score: 89 points - a highly recommendable dram, but not quite as perfect as the 1936/1986 version.

The Mortlach 50yo 1939/1989 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) was bottled one year later.
Nose: This one seemed a little 'veggier'. Heavy toffee. Sweet. organics. Tobacco. Some peat. Raw mushrooms.
Taste: Antique. Fruity. Smoky. Balanced. Dry & serious. If it had matched the nose this would have scored 90.
Score: 89 points - but if I had been scoring in decimals it would have been 89.9...

If we would have wrapped up the session at this point these Mortlachs would have been the perfect 'piece de resistance'. However, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the company of the maniacs, nobody felt like packing their suitcases just yet. So, the Frenchies pulled two more antique bottles from their bags, starting with the Mortlach 22yo (45.8%, 80 Proof, Cadenhead's, Black dumpy bottle, George Cowie & Son, Bottled 1970's). The nose was sweet and nutty. Walnuts. Chocolate. Organics. Leather. Tobacco. Polished. On the palate I found heavily roasted hazelnuts. Smoky, 'antique' and serious. Tobacco. Orange seeds. Score: 87 points - it's quite unique and a wonderful dram in it's own right - but half a class below the G&M oldies. Having ran out of Mortlachs we continued our historical voyage with the Glen Grant 1948-1961/1981 'Royal Marriage' , (40%, Gordon & MacPhail). The nose was rich and polished. Once again the 'antique' character that some malts get after many years in the bottle was present. Some 'veggy' notes. Sellery. Organics. Tobacco. Another magnificent nose. Unfortunately, it's dry and not very expressive on the palate. Tannins and smoke. A tad minty. Score: 84 points - recommendable, but the palate doesn't warrant a score in the upper 80's.

Th ese 'antiquities' would have been excellent 'farewell drams' to close off Feis Ile 2005.
However, being the 'maniacs' that we are, we foolishly poured ourselves two more obscure drams.
The Speyburn Glenlivet 15yo 1975/1991 (60.1%, Cadenhead's, Black Label) was light and lemony in the nose. Walnut liqueur. Amaretto. Organics; farmy and sweaty with a hint of wet hay. I quite liked the nose, but the taste was raw and undefined. Very dry as well, so in the end I couldn't go higher than 78 points - above average but not recommendable. The same couldn't be said about our last dram; the Speyburn 12yo (63.1%, James McArthur, C# 3337, Bottled September 1992). It was very hot in the nose with some distant fruit. Paint remover and dust. Apple and pineapple. Very alcoholic. Nomen Est Omen - it burns your nose. Nothing remarkable on the palate - but nothing TOO offensive either. Just bland and flat. Score: 60 points - a questionable malt.

And these really were our last drams of Feis Ile 2005.
We would have to be up at 4:00 AM the next morning to pack our bags and catch the 7:00 AM ferry at Port Askaig. Davin and I did some more dramming on Saturday in Glasgow (see
my personal Feis Ile 2005 report for the details), but the 'official' dramming during this year's Islay Festival was over. So, I'll finish with the last 'collage' below and start work on Malt Maniacs #16.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 
 

 
 
PS: Did I mention that almost all of these pictures were taken by the other malt maniacs and myself?
So, I'd like to thank the maniacs and myself - and anybody else who contributed...

Click HERE to proceed to Malt Maniacs #16 - or check out the archive for a full overview.
 

 

 

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