I started this week of reviews of Islay whiskies at Bowmore on Monday for a 17/18 yo bottled by the Whisky Exchange in 2013. Wednesday saw a stop at Caol Ila for a 13 yo bottled by the SMWS in 2019 or 2020. Here to close the week now is a 28 yo bottled by Signatory and released this year. Alas, I cannot tell you which distillery it is from as it’s not listed. Signatory released a few of these this year and on Whiskybase at least they’ve all received rave reviews. There seems to be disagreement about what distillery these are likely from—and, of course, they may not all be from the same distillery. They’re none of them single casks, by the way. Instead they’re all vattings of bourbon barrels. Refreshingly, the label notes this and also notes the number of the final vatting cask. If only more producers would do this instead of pretending that vatted casks are single casks. Anyway, this particular release—from vatting cask 6768—is said to be a Lagavulin. The sceptical response to this speculation is that everyone selling an unnamed Islay probably wants buyers to think it’s a Lagavulin. Well, whatever it is, let’s see what it’s like.
Unnamed Islay 28, 1992 (53.2%; Signatory; bourbon barrels; from a bottle split)
Nose: A big dose of peat off the top: a mix of phenolic notes (ink, Dettol) and drier smoke. With a bit of air there’s quite a bit of lemon and increasing coastal notes (brine, rotting kelp). With time some sweetness emerges (a touch of vanilla). With more time still there are some smouldering damp leaves as well. Water emphasizes the softer and sweeter notes.
Palate: Comes in a little thinner than expected texturally but the smoke hits big here as well, expanding as I swallow. More smoky than phenolic here (which is not to say it’s not phenolic). Sweeter here too with time. As it sits the phenols seem to expand (ink and carbon paper) along with the smoke which gets more of a char with both sweet and bitter accents. Okay, let’s add water. Sweeter here too now but the leafy note expands as well. On the whole it is more elegant and balanced now.
Finish: Long. The smoke is the top note here as well with the salt emerging as it fades. Less smoke here too with water.
Comments: Well, this is very nice but I can’t say thrilled me as much as it evidently did a whole lot of those who’ve rated it on Whiskybase. A very good peated whisky but nothing I am going to lament not being able to afford a full bottle of.
Rating: 88 points.
Surprisingly peaty for a whisky of such advanced years!
I’ve encountered a handful of unnamed Islay’s being sold as “I shouldn’t tell you this, but it’s Lagavulin”, and never any other distillery, which matches your theory. But it always seems a bit silly to me because a) there isn’t really an Islay distillery I don’t like – is Lagavulin really the most desirable? and b) there’s no way of proving the claim, or being held accountable for it – legally, the whisky is essentially a mongrel, and resorting to nudges and winks to try and sell it is in my opinion pretty low.
Given that Caol Ila has almost 30% of the total production capacity of Islay I would propose as a rule of thumb to just assume any unnamed Islay is a Caol Ila, as a way to avoid getting sucked in by the gossip.