I think my wife was worried about me last night as I sat surrounded by four whisky nosing glasses (Port Askaig Cask Strength (57.1%), 17 year (45.8%), and 25 year (45.8%) expressions, as well as Signatory Caol Ila 14 year). I wanted to do a head-to-head and really get a feel for how these different Caol Ila expressions stack up based on my own preferences. If you’re unfamiliar with Port Askaig (and why I’m referring to them as Caol Ilas), check out my full PA 17 review and/or this introductory post on The Whisky Exchange Blog. In order to do the comparison, I ordered 30 ml samples of the whole Port Askaig range from whiskysamples.eu (my review of their service here). The Signatory was part of the mix just to provide a Caol Ila baseline for comparison. You can read my post on that one here.
I’ll start with a recap of the tasting notes from my full Port Askaig 17 post, using that as a baseline for the two other Port Askaig expressions. I did a full comparison on one night, then tried the CS and 25 by themselves the next two nights. The first night, I nosed the full 30 ml samples, but then set 15 ml aside for the second tastings. I’ll describe the tastes, then editorialize more in the conclusion.
Port Askaig 17
On the nose, I get a strong citrus scent up front (lemon zest), followed by sweet peat and some smoke. Digging deeper, honey sweetness starts to turn a little richer, and there are possibly some apple notes in there.
On the palate, some citrus remains with the sweet peat, and then a bit of a pepper kick comes in and then dies off.
On the finish, as the pepper dies down, nice coal smoke builds up and joins the peat, coming up through the back of the nostrils.
Port Askaig CS
On the nose, you can tell this is a higher strength, with the alcohol hitting first. Then you get sweet peat and smoke. There’s something else there as well, which I interpreted as dry dog food (Nutro). Sorry, I don’t have a good human food equivalent to translate to at the moment. I felt it detracted slightly from the overall experience. The Caol Ila citrus is almost non-existent, but does come on a little with a couple of drops of water. Overall, this nose says “hello, I’m a peaty single malt, with more peat coming your way on the palate.”
On the palate, it’s not really that hot considering the alcohol volume. It seems a bit one-dimensional, with sweet peat being the primary taste. No surprises here.
On the finish, I’m getting that strong peat and coal smoke that I like with Caol Ila. Then it seems like a little of that dog food (or is it hay now?) comes back towards the end.
Port Askaig 25
On the nose, the citrus is toned way down from the 17, and what’s there is more of a candied orange than a zesty lemon. There’s a pretty strong caramelized sugar sweetness on this one, and the peat really takes a back seat to the other aromas. Overall, it’s quite mellow.
On the palate, the sweet, mild peat is there, and a light pepper comes on. It remains pretty mellow, though.
The finish is where I was most disappointed in this expression. The coal smoke that I like so much in Caol Ilas is all but gone. There’s an earthy peat and regular camp fire smoke that’s nice, but it’s not strong. Finally, I’m getting a tea flavor that reminds me of Bowmore 12. I don’t want tea on the finish. I want a solid peat/smoke combination.
I’m really glad I purchased the Port Askaig 17 full size bottle over the other two expressions. It’s definitely my favorite. I wanted to be wowed by the 25 year. It did have an enjoyable nose, but it was also quite tame. If it had come on strong on the finish with coal smoke, strong peat, and maybe a pepper kick, I probably would have been more than happy with it. However, with it staying mellow throughout, and adding that tea flavor on the finish, the 25 just didn’t quite do it for me. It’s nice, but not £75 nice. Finally, the CS was more of a pure peat play. I could drink this on a fairly regular basis when I need a peat fix, but it didn’t offer me much more than that.
The 17 year takes me back to the first time I tried Caol Ila 12 year. I took in that strong citrus scent that mixed in with the peat and sweetness, and proceeded to expect a relatively calm finish with muted peat and smoke. Then bang! That build up of peat and coal smoke came on, along with some pepper, and it made for a great experience from start to finish. The PA 17 gives me that experience, but with a little more class.
Attempting to rate them
Ok…I’ve been avoiding providing ratings, as I’m still working my way through a lot of distilleries for the first time, and continuing to discover my own preferences. I’m also only picking up a few scents and flavors, where more experienced whisky aficionados can coax out much more. However, I’ll try to convey my feeling on these Port Askaigs by assigning ratings to a couple of other scotches that I’ve written about and feel comfortable with, and then providing relative scores for these three expressions.
Let’s say, just to provide context, that I were to assign the following ratings to other expressions: Laphroaig 30 (93 pts), Lagavulin 16 (91 pts), Laphroaig 15 (90 pts), and Caol Ila 12 (87 pts). Based on this, I would slot the PA 17 in at 89 pts, right up with my favorites. The PA CS and PA 25 would drop down to around 81/83 respectively; still very enjoyable drinks depending on my mood, but neither offering anything outstanding, and both having one thing that detracts from the experience (for my tastes).
- The Whisky Exchange Blog – Tim F provides his notes on the 17, and also states that this is his favorite of the three.
- WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben provides great notes on the PA CS and the PA 25. He definitely likes the 25 more than I do, rating it at 88 pts vs. 82 for the CS. I’m looking forward to seeing what he thinks of the 17 year.
- Malt Advocate Blog – John Hansell also prefers the 17 year (91 pts) to the 25 (85 pts). His review is the one that compelled me to purchase my bottle of the 17 year.
- Edinburgh Whisky Blog – 17 and 25 year notes from Lucas.
- Caskstrength.net – Another comparison of the 17 and 25 year expressions, with both rated very close together.
- Spirit of Islay – Scroll down a bit for the 17/25 notes. He seems to really enjoy the 25 year.
- Dr. Whisky – [Aug 12, ’09 Update] The good doctor just did his own comparison of the 17 and 25 year. It doesn’t sound like he’s quite as crazy about the PA 17 as I am, but he does like both, and seems to also prefer the 17 to the 25.