Archive for May, 2010


Like I did last year, I’m going to be following blogs and tweets, living vicariously through Feis Ile festival-goers. Feis Ile is the Festival of Malt and Music, taking place the last week of May each year on the island of Islay in Scotland. As long as I’m following along, I figure I might as well post my findings here, providing an index for others who might be interested. I’ll update this post periodically throughout each day of the festival.

Feis Ile resources

Day 1 (May 22, 2010) – Lagavulin open day

  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – The first tasting report on a special festival bottling: Lagavulin. Sounds awesome!
  • whiskysamples.eu – Available for purchase (3cl sample): Lagavulin 1994/2010 (52.7%, OB for Feis Isle 2010, 528 Bts., European Oak ex Sherry Cask)
  • caskstrength.net via Twitter
    • Tweet: Sneak preview of the Bruichladdich 2010 Valinch. Cask No. 1667. Fresh Sherry butt. 1060 bottles. 57.5 vol.
    • Tweet: Bruichladdich Feis Ile Valinch 2010 notes:big raisin aroma,allspice,carrot cake. Great vanilla, nuts and toffee on palate. Awesome bottling.
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – Upon arriving on the island in the afternoon, they managed to secure the last two bottles of the Lagavulin festival bottling! Tasting notes provided in the comments.
  • caskstrength.netDay 1 recap. Teaming up with The Whisky Guy, what a day of tasting they had! Check out the exclusive Lagavulin bottlings they tried out…

Day 2 (May 23, 2010) – Bruichladdich open day

  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – Following up on yesterday’s tasting notes, here’s the surrogate WF team thoughts on the new Lagavulin distillery only bottling. Update – This entry now includes notes for the Bruichladdich festival bottling.
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – An interesting read, with an honest look at some of the pluses and minuses of Bruichladdich. I suspect Tony and Michelle are not the only ones with an opinion like this. Between their tasting notes and the Whiskyfun notes above, I’m not in any real hurry to get my hands on the 6 year old Bruichladdich festival bottling.
  • WhiskyCast – I just saw Mark Gillespie’s tweet about a special edition of WhiskyCast from Feis Ile. It looks like he might be doing a special episode each day of the festival. Check out episodes 254 and 255.
  • whiskysamples.eu – The Lagavulin distillery-only bottling reviewed above by Whiskyfun is now available as a sample. As is the Bruichladdich Festival bottling. I also see that the Lagavulin Festival bottling is already sold out!
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – [Update] A late update from Tony and Michelle provides an inside look at the Laphroaig gathering on Sunday night.
  • caskstrength.net[Update x2] And here we have a late, late update from the team at caskstrength.net. An excellent post worth waiting for, however. Check out their reviews of three Laddies and a Port Charlotte. They liked the festival bottling more than the other reviewers, too, but perhaps there was some bias involved (something about having assisted in the bottling). 🙂

Day 3 (May 24, 2010) – Caol Ila open day

  • WhiskyCast – Episode 256, recorded at the Caol Ila distillery, has been posted. Go check it out. Or, better yet, just subscribe to the podcast already. 🙂
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – While they were unable to get into the Caol Ila tasting master class, we get a nice description of the CI festival bottling. Sounds different, and intriguing…almost Laphroaig-like according to Tony.
  • whiskysamples.eu – The Caol Ila festival bottling has been added. 7 euros for a 3cl sample: Caol Ila 1999/2010 (61.9%, OB, Feis Ile 2010, cask #205646)
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – Here’s the Whiskyfun review of the above CI festival bottling. Can’t wait to try my sample from whiskysamples! Also in the same post, check out the rave review of the Caol Ila Manager’s Choice. Lastly, a music recommendation for Hank Jones, an amazing Jazz pianist and class act who passed away last week. Definitely worth looking into, and cheers to Serge for including that recommendation.
  • caskstrength.net – [Update Posted on the 25th] Read along as the guys fight through their hangovers and compare three Caol Ilas.

Day 4 (May 25, 2010) – Laphroaig open day

Note about whiskysamples.eu: You can order the samples from whiskysamples.eu as they come available and select “ToGo” as your shipping country. This will result in your only being charged for the samples themselves. At the end of the festival, send an email to them letting them know you’re ready to complete your order, and they’ll charge you once for shipping. [Also, they have a few samples of the 2009 Laphroaig festival bottling available]

  • whiskysamples.eu – Available now: Laphroaig Cairdeas Master Edition for Feis Ile (57.3%). This is a vatting of 11 to 19 year old whiskies created by Master Blender Robert Hicks. I wish they’d ship this to Friends of Laphroaig in the U.S.!
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – What do Malt Maniacs do while they’re on Islay for the festival? Only have one of the coolest whisky tastings ever! Check out their thoughts on ALL 9 of the Port Ellen annual releases.
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – An update from Tony and Michelle on a couple of nice walks they discovered on day 3 of the festival. [Bookmarking for future reference when I get a chance to go there]
  • WhiskyCast – Episode 257 has been posted for Laphroaig day at Feis Ile. See what’s up with Distillery Manager John Campbell and Master Blender Robert Hicks.
  • Late update: Two new posts on Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog. First, coverage of the Whisky Tasting Ceilidh on Monday night. Second, we get a Day 4 overview from the Laphroaig distillery.

Day 5 (May 26, 2010) Bowmore open day

  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – Titled “Bowmore (err…lagavulin)”, we get some info on what was being offered at Bowmore, but Tony and Michelle actually headed off to Lagavulin for a tour. And what a tour it was (tastings right out of the casks)! Not only do I HAVE to go to Islay some day, but a Laga tour will definitely need to be part of the itinerary.
  • whiskysamples.eu – I don’t see any Bowmore posted yet, but you can now order a sample of Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 002 for €3.00.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – Not a review of Bowmore whisky, but an amusing article on Islay sausage. Make sure you click the “Lucky” link at the bottom of the post.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge (Update) – A review of two non-festival Bowmore bottlings from the festival. But most impressive is the insider exclusive on a new distillery to be built next year. Get the scoop on the Auchenbowie distillery!

Day 6 (May 27, 2010) Jura/Kilchoman open day

  • caskstrength.net had to leave the festival early, but they provide a post with an overview of (and commentary on) the festival bottlings, including a preview of the Ardbeg bottling coming this Saturday.
  • Jura Picture of the Day – The Jura Pic of the Day web site provided a teaser for those planning to attend their open day today.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge – An update to the May 27th post, with tasting notes on the Kilchoman Feis Ile bottle. Finally – A pure bourbon cask release (no finishing), and I can’t get it. Doh!
  • Isle of Jura (official web site) – Their Feis Ile page has been updated with a virtual tasting session of three vintage limited edition Jura whiskies. Also, if you’re a Diurach, the three winners of signed bottles are announced in the video.
  • Richard Paterson – I guess “The Nose” is helping folks at the festival pick out casks to be used in a distillery-only Jura bottling. Now that would be cool!
  • WhiskyCast – It’s a two episode day, covering both Kilchoman and Jura. Talk about full festival coverage!
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog [Update] – Two new posts for Day 6, covering a trip to Kilchoman and a couple of walks in the area.

Day 7 (May 28, 2010) Bunnahabhain open day

Note: New Tony and Michelle links added to Day 6.

  • whiskysamples.eu – The Kilchoman single cask Feis Ile release has been posted. This was a very limited festival release of 258 bottles.
  • whiskysamples.eu – The Bunnahabhain festival bottling, an 18 year old, is also now posted.
  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – Reports from the festival seem to be dying down. The whiskyfun crew has abandoned the island. Fortunately, Tony and Michelle are continuing with their great coverage.

Day 8 (May 29, 2010) Ardbeg open day

  • Tony and Michelle’s 2010 Islay Festival Blog – They didn’t get the Ardbeg festival bottling, but it turns out it “only” cost £125. Half of what people had been saying it would cost. Somebody won a 4.5 liter Rollercoaster bottle. Cool!

More to come…


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The Last Drop Whisky

I guess I never did a write-up on the local Compass Box tasting at Sportsman’s I went to a couple of months ago. I’ll have to pull out my notes and do that. That tasting serves as a good example of why I love to get out there and be a part of the “whisky community.” First, I got to try Spice Tree, which still hasn’t made it to Arizona. Second, I scored the last few milliliters of a miniature bottle of The Last Drop (along with the bottle) from one of the guys at the store. It was only around 7 or 8 ml…just enough for one swirl around the tongue and down the hatch. But hey, at $2,000 a bottle, and only 348 bottles imported to the U.S., just being able to take a whiff of it was a special treat, let alone taste it.

Three industry veterans scoured the Scottish countryside before happening upon the three casks that make up this release in an Auchentoshan warehouse. The casks contained a blend of around 70 malt whiskies and 12 grain whiskies, originally distilled in 1960 or earlier. In 1972, then blended whisky was moved into fresh Sherry butts where it sat until being “discovered” in 2008. This truly is a rarity, and a one of a kind bottling. For more on the story, check out this interesting article Bostonist.com, or check out the various information pages at lastdropdistillers.com.

Tasting Notes

Not a tasting note, but check out the color in the picture. I don’t believe I’ve quite seen that shade of brown in a Scotch whisky before.

  • On the nose, the first thing that hit me was that I seemed to be smelling a bourbon, not a Scotch. A very nice bourbon, mind you. It’s sweet, with dark fruit, cinnamon and toffee. Definitely oaky, like you might get from a really good 17-20 year bourbon. You can tell it was aged in sherry casks, too, but I don’t think I would ever guess 36 years worth.
  • On the palate, it coats the tongue nicely, with a reasonably thick feel. So smooth and easy on the tongue, yet still very present, with a nice tingle on the sides of the tongue like there’s a bit of pepper, followed by drying. Argh…after nosing this periodically for a couple of weeks before finally drinking it, I sure wish I had more than a few ounces so I could give it another go!
  • The finish is where this whisky stops seeming like a bourbon, and asserts itself as a very old scotch whisky. It’s what i imagine a 30 year old Aberlour a’bunadh would be like. Again, my small sample is gone all too quickly, but fortunately, it’s lingering for a good long time.

I mentioned a theoretical 30 year Aberlour a’bunadh in the “finish” notes. Based on my very small sample, if I were to try to come up with my own recipe to mimic this blended scotch, it would be a vatting of Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary bourbon and a little bit of that imaginary 30 year a’bunadh. Maybe it’s because I’ve really come to appreciate good bourbon lately, but this whisky hit all of the right notes for me.


I’m in love with this whisky. I love the taste. I love the exclusivity of it. I love the simplicity of the packaging. The attitude of the guys I talked to at the Compass Box tasting, who had already tried it, was that it is a good whisky, but no way is it worth the price. I totally get that. I mean, is it really worth almost an order of magnitude more than I paid for my Laphroaig 30 year, based on taste alone? No way. However…

The Last Drop combines a great story with a rich, yet accessible taste. It’s one of those whiskies that you can sit with and nose in the evening while listening to your favorite music and contemplating life. Even better, it would be a great whisky to share with close friends on a special occasion. It’s so well balanced and free of “nasties” that any whisk(e)y drinker should be able to enjoy it. Granted, some will find it lacking if they prefer certain big flavors like peat, but that shouldn’t stop them from being able to enjoy it. What’s especially unique about this whisky is the way it can appeal to both bourbon and scotch drinkers. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and I guess there’s a good chance I never will again.

A HUGE thank-you to Bill at Sportsman’s for letting me try this.


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Autographed Single Barrel

We had another great local tasting at Sportsman’s Fine Wine and Spirits in Scottsdale, AZ on April 14. This time, it was Four Roses bourbon, and Jim Rutledge was there to pour our drams. He’s been the Master Distiller at Four Roses distillery since 1995. Like Tom Bulleit, he was a very engaging, down-to-earth guy who enjoyed talking about whiskey, and seemed to get a kick out of seeing others enjoy it. He brought four expressions with him, and didn’t have a problem with folks coming back for seconds of their favorites.

It was an informal, open-house type of tasting, and only cost $10 to attend. We also got special pricing for the night. I ended up spending a grand total of $40, including the entry fee, which got me the samples, plus an autographed bottle of Four Roses Single Batch bourbon. Once again, I strongly recommed getting out there and finding tasting events at your local specialty stores. What a great way to taste new whiskies, learn about the distilleries, and meet interesting people in the industry!

The Bourbons

The four bourbons served at this tasting were the standard Four Roses Yellow Label ($20), Small Batch ($38), Single Barrel ($40), and the 2009 Mariage limited release ($85). I don’t like to attempt any kind of rating based on public tasting events. I’ve found that my opinions can change quite a bit between these types of events and my more controlled tasting sessions at home. I’ll certainly share my thoughts on these, though, along with the the consensus opinions of others in attendance.

Of the three standard releases, my least favorite on the night was the Small Batch, bottled at 45% ABV.  Not because it was bad, it just seemed uninteresting relative to the others. Perhaps my opinion will change in a more controlled drinking environment, but in doing this comparison, the Small Batch came off as being the Four Roses version of Gentleman Jack. Good taste and very smooth, but forgettable. It seemed to be intended more for the occasional drinker than the whiskey aficionado.

The entry-level Yellow Label was of surprisingly high quality, and really caught me by surprise. It’s only 40% ABV, but it’s got a stronger flavor than the Small Batch, with a good mouth presence and a longer than expected finish. It’s sweet, but not sickly sweet, and there’s just enough rye spice to keep things interesting. Despite the price, this seems like a genuine sipping whiskey, not fodder for mixers. This one is easy to recommend.

The Single Barrel expression has the highest rye content of the bunch, and you could tell. It also weighs in at a respectable 50% ABV. I’ve found that in premium bourbons, I tend to prefer wheated over rye. However, the great mouth feel and spicy, yet smooth finish of the Single Barrel really seemed to hit the spot on this night. Granted, this might have something to do with 100 proof being a real sweet spot for me when it comes to whisk(e)y. If you’re a big rye bourbon, or straight rye fan, then you really need to try this. If you’re ANY kind of bourbon fan, you should still check it out. Very nice.

Finally, we have the 2009 Mariage (yes, a single “r”, as this is the French spelling) release, bottled around 57% ABV. The 2009 release has a combination of 10 and 19 year old bourbons vatted together. You can definitely taste the extra wood coming from the older barrels. I happen to like this, and enjoyed this expression as much, and maybe more than the Single Barrel. Most others, including Mr. Rutledge, seemed to disagree. Interestingly, Mr. Rutledge did acknowledge that scotch drinkers seem to enjoy Mariage more than bourbon drinkers. They’re more used to a stronger wood influence, he figured. While I really enjoyed this one, and I understand the “limited release” pricing, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a bottle of this at twice the price of the Single Barrel.

The majority of the people attending the event seemed to prefer the Single Barrel. This also seemed to be the favorite for Jim Rutledge, although he was very high on the Yellow Label as well. I seemed to like the 2009 Mariage more than just about everybody else there. One guy even apologized and said he couldn’t finish the Mariage, but asked for another sample of the Single Barrel. Each to their own, I suppose.

Interesting info from Jim Rutledge

Four Roses distillery has an interesting setup when it comes to creating different expressions. They use two mashbills and five yeast cultures to create ten different recipes that are aged separately. This gives them a lot of options when creating new expressions. Rather than repeat all of the details that Mr. Rutledge shared with us, I’ll point you to a guest blog post he did for Malt Advocate.

I got some one-on-one time with Mr. Rutledge, and wanted to share some things I found particularly interesting:

  • I’ve read it elsewhere, but he confirmed that Bulleit Bourbon is created at the Four Roses distillery and uses two of their recipes, with both the 35% and the 20% rye mashbills.
  • The 2009 Mariage vatting that was bottled is NOT the one he originally approved. It was supposed to contain somewhere around 9-10% of the 19 year barrels, but the finished product ended up with about 20% of the 19 year. Mr. Rutledge was actually disappointed with the final result, but glad to see some scotch aficionados enjoying it. 🙂
  • He had just picked out the 2010 Mariage recipe the week before our tasting. He said he thinks it will be the best bourbon they’ve ever bottled. Of course, he’s a bit biased, but considering how candid he was regarding the 2009 release, I’m excited to see what people say about the 2010 bottling.

Stay tuned for more detailed Four Roses tasting notes

While I don’t like to do ratings or in-depth tasting notes based on these public tastings, I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire samples of the three standard releases. I’m looking forward to spending a number of evenings with these whiskies and sharing my thoughts on them.


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