Colonsay is an island in the inner Hebrides, off Scotland’s western coast. To the south is Islay and Jura whilst north lies Mull and Skye. With a population of little more than 120 people, island life runs at a slower pace than the hustle and bustle of mainland existence and as a result, holiday homes have begun to spring up, providing accommodation for those seeking their own little slice of this tranquillity.
The village of Scalasaig perches on the east coast of the island. The main settlement and only port, every person who arrives on Colonsay must pass through the village regardless of their final destination. Scalasaig is home to the only church, shop, post office, village hall, hotel, cafe and, since 2007, microbrewery.
The Colonsay Brewery was founded by entrepreneur David Johnston and brewer Chris Nisbet, working in partnership with islander Rob Pocklington. Brewing is undertaken by Nisbet and Pocklington who each hold a variety of roles on the island. Pocklington is a fireman, oyster farmhand, green keeper, B&B host, councillor and construction consultant whilst Nisbet is himself also a fireman as well as a pier hand, electricity engineer and development officer.
In 2016, the founders appointed Keith Bonnington as director. An industry veteran of several years experience working with the likes of Whyte & MacKay and Edrington as well as being the brain behind the secretive Whisky Illuminati independent bottler and their intriguing Solaria Series of single cask single malts, Keith helped to move the company forward by overseeing the launch of the Wild Island Gin range which now takes the form of two core expressions “Wild Island” and “Wild Island Sacred Tree”.
Now known as Colonsay Beverages Ltd and having successfully developed both beer and gin brands, the company naturally turned their attention to Scotland’s national spirit, whisky. Setting out to source spirit from distilleries across Scotland, including those based on Islay and Orkney, ten casks in total were vatted together then re-racked into first-fill European Oak, allowing the spirit time to marry whilst simultaneously taking on some sherry character of its own.
Unveiled in late 2019, the Scalasaig “Island Hopper” comes bottled at 43%, sporting an attractive label inspired by travel posters of the 1920s and 30s. With a total of 3000 bottles available, it seems likely it won’t be around for long though follow-up releases are planned. Currently retails around £50 a bottle.
*Full disclosure: I was given a sample of the Scalasaig blended malt so that I might share my thoughts with you the reader. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Pungent peat smoke and rich sherry. Leather. Red currants. Raisins. Burnt toast. Struck matches. Honey. Caramel. Chocolate. Sea salt and black pepper.
Taste: That sea salt note again. Pepper. Mineral – like licking a pebble beach. Raisins and sultanas. Salted caramel, dark chocolate and coffee. Barley flour.
Value for Money: I must admit, at £50 I would prefer to see a higher bottling strength but it still works well enough at 43%. Both the sherry and smoke show themselves well without either becoming overly dominant.
I rarely mention packaging on this website (you can’t drink glass and cardboard!) but have to say, I love, love, LOVE the artwork on the tube and label of this bottle. You can’t judge a whisky on its label but this would certainly catch the eye whilst perched on a shelf.
As for the whisky it’s not bad at all, a little lightweight perhaps but that really only makes it more drinkable. Open this in good company and I suspect there wouldn’t be much left by the end of the evening. Great dram and almost worth the purchase just to have that gorgeous tube on your shelf at home.
Visit the Scalasaig website here
Visit the Colonsay Brewery website here.
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