Old & Rare

Rare Batch 21

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Rare whisky tasting notes Batch 21

As we approach the beginning of the latest Fèis Ìle – the Islay Festival of Music and Malt – Dave Broom returns with a trio of rare whiskies from the Queen of the Hebrides, starting with a 25-year-old Ardbeg. Distilled in October 1975, the Old Malt Cask bottling is one of only 363 bottles filled by independent bottler Douglas Laing at cask strength in May 2001.

It’s then over to Bowmore for a 38-year-old single malt, distilled 50 years ago on 14 January 1957. Bottled in the mid-1990s, this is a legendary bottling – but, in this case, time has not been its friend.

Ending this rare batch is a ‘deservedly legendary’ Port Ellen, which is Broom’s highest scorer. Matured for 21 years, the whisky was bottled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Port Ellen Maltings in 1998.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Ardbeg 25 Years Old (Old Malt Cask)

    Ardbeg 25 Years Old (Old Malt Cask)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Although slightly faded, it opens cleanly with some rooty elements – it’s one of those earthy Ardbegs – with soot sacks, liquorice and muddy boots. It becomes more oily in time with those earthy notes still to the fore, before some heavy, mentholated, Olbas Oil/Vicks Vaporub comes through, along with cut grass. Water brings out marijuana buds.

    Palate

    Ardbeg’s mix of the sensual and the dry working well. There’s good integration and medium weight smoke, but lacking a little energy. Drier and more structured (and tarrier) with water.

    Finish

    Peaty, roasted barley. Short. 

    Conclusion

    Gentle and unobtrusive. You long for a bit more energy in the middle.

    Right place, right time

    Sneaking a joint by the fire in the peat-cutter’s shed. (Not that I would condone such behaviour.) 

    Bowmore 38 Years Old

    Bowmore 38 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    40.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Deep gold. A baffling nose that starts with immense, buttery toffee – Toffos, in fact – on top of some smoke and a little soft orchard fruit, pineapple cake, and then moustache wax, cedar and soft leather before the creamy fruits return. Water is not a good idea.

    Palate

    Faded, with some hints of tropical fruit, then lilac, but it’s pretty much gone. You’re scared to aerate it too much in case it disappears. Allowing it to just sit and expand in the mouth shows dying embers and sweet cooked fruit, but it’s pretty much gone from the mid-palate on. Water shatters the mirror.

    Finish

    Very light smoke.

    Conclusion

    A legendary bottling and, if you can find a fresh bottle, do try. This one, sadly, has suffered from a slow oxidation. Nothing lasts forever. 

    Right place, right time

    The sillage from a elderly flâneur.

    Port Ellen 21 Years Old (Maltings 25th Anniversary Bottling)

    Port Ellen 21 Years Old (Maltings 25th Anniversary Bottling)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    58.4%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    The slightly aloof quality which greets you is classic Port Ellen. Dry hay bales, linseed oil/ lanolin, drifting beach bonfire, preserved lemon and then an austere touch of rock pools in the sun, sweet crab meat before it shifts again to old paint shed: turps, tins of long-forgotten emulsion, then preserved lemon. With water, things become smokier, but also more saline: algae. Highly complex and balanced.

    Palate

    Big and immediately smoky. Thick, rather than heavily wooded, with all of the oils coming through along with the mix of salty lemon. A very sweet and quite estery mid-palate adds roundness to the sensory assault. Then things begin to move back towards the shore once again. Water tames things slightly but without damaging the inherent balance.

    Finish

    Balanced, long, sansho pepper, then smoked blackcurrant leaf (if such a thing were possible). 

    Conclusion

    A classic, and deservedly legendary, Port Ellen where the level of sweetness is, as ever, the difference between being merely interesting and great.

    Right place, right time

    Wild swimming in Loch Gruinart. 

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