Caol Ila 16, Feis Ile 2020


After Wednesday’s Glen Scotia 14, here is another whisky that was released to mark an annual whisky festival that was forced to go virtual: Caol Ila’s release for Feis Ile 2020. This also now make two weeks in a row of reviews of only official distillery releases. It’s okay to be alarmed: Nostradamus had this as one of the signs of the apocalypse.

At Feis Ile 2019 Caol Ila released a pair of whiskies: a surprise bottle-your-own 28 yo from refill American oak barrels that was only announced on the morning of their Open Day and for their regular release, a 22 yo from what was billed as “sherry-treated American oak casks”. 2020’s release is more in the direction of the 22 yo. The whisky that went into this was matured in refill bourbon hogsheads and then received a finish in “Amoroso treated hogsheads”. It’s also a throwback to 2017’s Feis Ile release which was a 12 yo that had been finished in Amoroso casks. Presumably, all these Amoroso casks are leftovers from fellow Diageo stablemate, Talisker whose Distillers Edition release is finished in Amoroso casks. Well, sherried Caol Ila can be a very good thing. Let’s see if this proves to be one. Continue reading

Bowmore 11, Feis Ile 2017


My love of Bowmore collides here with my poor track record with whisky that has been in close proximity to wine casks. Yes, this 11 yo Bowmore released at Feis Ile in 2017 was matured in a combination of sherry and wine casks. I was not at Feis Ile in 2017—though I did visit Bowmore a few weeks later. I fear I will never be at Feis Ile, not even after the pandemic ends. I know how important whisky festivals are to many enthusiasts, and I know how important a festival like Feis Ile is to not just the distilleries involved but also to the local economy. But no description I’ve read of the crowds at Feis Ile and the long lines to purchase festival exclusives for purposes of auction flipping has ever made me wish I could have been there. And no, I’m not being hypocritical about the auction part. I purchased this bottle not from an auction but from a store in Tarbert shortly after our week on Islay ended in 2017—and I paid less than was being asked at auction at the time. Three years later, I’m finally opening it. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 11, 2004, Rubha A’ Mhail


In August I reviewed Lagavulin’s 2015 Feis Ile release. Here now is Bunnahabhain’s 2015 Feis Ile release, or at least one of them. This is an 11 yo with a long Gaelic name and is composed of spirit matured full-term in two Manzanilla sherry butts. You don’t often see Manzanilla-matured whisky around and so this is intriguing. Or at least so I thought at the gathering in St. Paul to which my friend Pat brought the bottle from which this sample was poured. However, I didn’t think very highly of it at the time. It’s true that we tasted it at the end of the evening on the heels of some rather impressive older malts and so it is possible that the juxtaposition was not in its favour. True to form I then forgot about this sample for a long time. As it happens, I’ve not reviewed much Bunnahabhain recently—in fact, I’ve not reviewed any this year so far—and so it’s a good job I happened on this jar while trying to organize my backlog of sample bottles last month. Anyway, let’s see what I make of it tonight as I give it my full attention. Continue reading

Lagavulin 24, 1991, Feis Ile 2015


I’m hoping to get to this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas release by the end of the month but in the meantime here is another Feis Ile release from Islay’s south shore. This is not this year’s Lagavulin release though; it is the one they put out in 2015. At 24 years old it’s one of the older releases at recent Feis Iles. It’s also somewhat complicatedly made, being triple matured: first in ex-bourbon casks, then in PX sherry casks and then finally in oak puncheons (presumably either not sherry or refilled so many times as to not matter). The PX sherry maturation was apparently the briefest of the three. This was said to have been selected by the excellent Pinkie McArthur but I’m not sure exactly what that means in this case as there were 3500 bottles released—probably 6-8 puncheons worth at 59.9%. Were there in fact far more of these triple-matured puncheons, a few of which Pinkie selected to be vatted for Feis Ile 2015? That would appear to be the explanation. That makes you wonder what is happening/happened with the rest. Well, I cannot answer that question but I can tell you what I think of this bottle which I recently opened several years after acquiring it at auction for a king’s ransom (well, maybe not a very important king). Continue reading

Lagavulin 18, Feis Ile 2018


The last time I reviewed one of Lagavulin’s special releases for Feis Ile was in 2014. I have a few of the subsequent releases on my shelves but haven’t opened any of them yet—hmmm I should do something about that. Anyway, that one was a 17 yo from a vatting of European oak sherry butts. This one is a year older and is put together far more complicatedly. It was a release of 6000 bottles from a vatting of refill American hogsheads, rejuvenated (presumably this means re-charred) hogheads and “bodega” sherry butts. Whether “bodega” here means American or European oak is anyone’s guess, as is whether that means these butts were actually used to mature or transport sherry or whether they were sourced from some bodega and filled with disposable sherry for a short period of time. Anyway, that 17 yo, bottled for Feis Ile in 2013 was very sherry forward in all the best ways. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Caol Ila, Feis Ile 2009

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2009
This was bottled for Feis Ile, the annual Islay whisky festival, back in 2009. It’s either a 12 or 13 yo and was bottled from a single sherry cask. My understanding is that the whiskies bottled by Caol Ila for Feis Ile are/were all from casks matured on Islay, at least back in the day—the vast majority of Caol Ila’s spirit, in case you’re wondering, is actually tankered off and matured on the mainland (terroir!). For those of us in the US, most of these Feis Ile bottles are out of reach. I’m always happy to see Laphroaig’s fairly priced Cairdeas—I’m more ambivalent about the Ardbegs that have been launched at Feis Ile in recent years. For all the others, however, you have to either go to Feis Ile or look to marked up bottles at auction. Of all of these releases, Lagavulin’s always garners the most interest—and the greatest auction premiums—but there are those who feel that some of Caol Ila’s releases have been on par with them. This 2009 release is particularly lauded. Let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2012

Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2012
This Bowmore 15 was bottled for Feis Ile (the annual Islay festival) in 2012. I first tasted it in August at one of my friend Rich’s annual (more or less) tastings of sherried whiskies up in St. Paul, and he was generous enough to share a large sample for review purposes. Bowmore’s Feis Ile releases don’t get as publicity as those of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, whose releases are generally widely available (i.e. you don’t need to go to Feis Ile to get your hands on them) and nor do they command the reputation or secondary market prices of Lagavulin’s releases. Indeed, this might be the first of their Feis Ile releases that I’ve tried. I have tried other limited edition, heavily sherried Bowmores of similar age before though and some of those were very good as well (see, for example, the 13 yo Maltmen’s Selection). Unlike those I’m not sure if this was full-term matured in a sherry cask—I failed to take a close look at the bottle when I had the chance, and looking around now I see a reference to it being finished in Spanish sherry casks. Well, I guess I’ll ask Rich in the morning. I quite liked this at the tasting and am looking forward to being able to pay closer attention to it tonight.  Continue reading

Lagavulin 17, 1995 for Feis Ile 2013

Lagavulin 17, 1995, Feis Ile 2013

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.  Continue reading