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For my penultimate review of the year I decided to go with a little gem I came across at Glasgow’s Whisky Festival in November. Bottled by the Creative Whisky Co. from an undisclosed distillery on Islay, it grabbed my attention on the day amongst several other fine drams. Before I talk about the whisky though, let’s first look to the place of its birth.
The origins of distilling in Scotland are unclear. While the earliest written record refers to Lindores Abbey in Fife, it seems highly likely that the skills were in practice long before then. Where exactly this was taking place is anyone’s guess, but the isle of Islay has as strong a claim as any. There is an old Celtic Cross in Kilchoman Churchyard that commemorates Clan MacBeatha, who came to the island in the year 1300 from what is now Co. Antrim. They translated Latin texts on distillation into Gaelic and it’s not too much of a stretch to speculate that they may have put such knowledge to good use while on the island.
Today, Islay is home to eight working distilleries but with construction well underway on number nine, plans for a tenth at Gartbreck yet showing signs of life and Diageo announcing their intention to re-open Port Ellen, this little island is about to expand in a big way. Of the current distilleries, Bowmore is the oldest, dating from around 1779. Then there’s Laphroaig and Ardbeg, both founded on the Kildalton coast in 1815, followed a year later by neighbouring Lagavulin. Then came Caol Ila, built in 1846 on the east coast with stunning views of Jura, while Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain followed in 1881. Then, more than 100 years later came little Kilchoman, the island’s farm distillery, founded as recently as 2005. The spirit produced on Islay is amongst the most revered in the world, highly sought after by blenders and independent bottlers alike for its distinctive peaty character.
This particular malt was released by the Creative Whisky Co as their 2017 festive bottling. It is a little young at just six years old but I sometimes find youth to be an ally to the whisky of Islay. Age too often tames the fierce smoke so typical of the island. Bottled at a cask strength of 59.8%, its origins remain shrouded in mystery though clues are there should you care to investigate (the cask reference ‘MS’ for example, happens to be the initials of a particular distillery’s water source).
Smell: Berries, Raisins, Prunes, Chocolate, Malted Barley, Smoke, Ash and Charcoal.
Taste: Caramel, Berries, distinct Sherry influence, Toffee and Spice with Smoke and Ash.
Thoughts: A fine dram for the very reasonable price of £50 a bottle. Like a slice of rich Christmas Cake consumed beside a crackling fireplace, it’s most welcome at this time of year. Warming and intense with just the right amount of smoke, ever present yet never overwhelming. The good folks at the Creative Whisky Company have uncovered a real gem that will be taking pride of place on my personal drinks menu over the coming festivities.
My thanks as always for taking time out of your day to read my review, I hope you have found it useful and entertaining and that you will find your way back here some other day.
Slainte Mhath and Merry Christmas!