No, I didn’t go to Feis Ile 2013, and no, I didn’t buy a bottle at auction. This sample comes to me from my friend Rich who acquired a bottle somewhat complicatedly. It was purchased at Feis Ile by one person, passed on to another who lives in Canada, who then brought it down to other parts of the US from where it eventually made its way to Minnesota. All I had to do was go to a tasting in St. Paul last month featuring sherried malts and wheedle Rich into sharing a sample of it (it was one of the featured malts at the tasting and I knew I wanted to review it at leisure for the blog as well).
Feis Ile (in case you don’t know, this is the annual, week-long, festival of Islay distilleries) is something I’ve always wanted to attend, but the reports of queues of hundreds of people trying to get into every distillery are off-putting. I’m not a big fan of crowds. Still, if ever I go to a whisky festival it will be this one. The festival bottles are always very tantalizing, especially as only a small number of the distilleries make any of those available more generally. And the Lagavulin bottles are always the ones I crave the most. Quite apart from anything else, they’re sold at very reasonable prices. This one, for example, was about £100. That might seem a lot, and it is in the abstract, but full-term sherried Lagavulin is not easy to come by and when you look at the price asked for the most recent edition of the Lagavulin 21 it does seem like a very reasonable price. Say what you will about Diageo, at least they’re not gouging the faithful who’re willing to make it out to Islay in May.
Lagavulin 17, 1995, Feis Ile 2013 (51%; European oak sherry butts; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: A strong cereal note first, soon overtaken by rapidly intensifying sherry: raisins, dark honey, orange peel. The smoke builds in the rear, but it’s quite leathery at first; with more time it gets sharper, more acidic. More savoury notes develop with time (a bit of ham) along with toffee and light maple syrup (make that maple-smoked bacon rather than ham). With more time there’s an earthier note with some graphite/pencil lead. With even more time it gets rather sticky on the nose. With water the toffee expands and there’s a bit of plum sauce too now.
Palate: Leads with the smoke on the palate and then the sweeter notes come pouring in. It’s a simpler sweetness on the palate (raisin mostly) with not much of the citrus. The smoke is even deeper on the second sip with more tar. Not very much development on subsequent sips. Okay, let’s add a bit of water. The smoke gets more acidic with water, more acrid and ashy and there’s some pepper too now and more lemon.
Finish: Long. The smoke builds, getting ashier as it goes, and the maple syrup re-emerges. A bit of charred, caramelized meat too. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Lovely stuff. The peat/smoke is not vegetal in the way that highly peated malts from sherry casks often can be. And, on the whole, the peat and the sherry are in perfect balance. This is almost like being allowed to taste a full-term sherry matured Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition at a high strength. There’s just a bit of depth missing on the nose along with the funkier elements that appear in the 21 yo (in both editions), and the palate doesn’t quite match the nose, and so I can’t quite go that high. I do wonder, by the way, if this is from the same set of casks as the 12 yo Friends of the Classic Malts release from 2008—that was also a 1995 vintage from European oak sherry casks.
Rating: 90 points.
Thanks to Rich for the sample and the generosity!