Take your taste buds to Islay with May’s themed box!
We’ve got another themed Pour & Sip box! While this one is filled with whiskies exclusively from Islay, we’ve got both peated and unpeated expressions in store for you.
Each year in May, the famed Scottish island of Islay hosts its much-loved music and whisky festival (though sadly in 2020 and 2021, it’s had to become virtual), so we thought we’d celebrate all that the isle has to offer in this month’s selection of whiskies! Though Islay is only 25 miles long, it packs in nine distilleries, with even more in the pipeline. Its name will usually conjure up notions of peat smoke, and medicinal and coastal flavours. While you will indeed find those in many of its whiskies, that’s not all there is to it – in here, you’ll find both peated and unpeated releases. Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!
Bunnahabhain is one of the few unpeated Islay whiskies, and the distillery was founded all the way back in 1883 in the village of the same name on the north-east coast of the island. While the name of this release might look like a tongue-twister, Bunnahabhain is pronounced ‘boo-na-harv-en’, and Stiùireadair is pronounced ‘stew-rahdur’, which means ‘helmsman’ in Scottish Gaelic. Stiùireadair is a single malt that pays homage to the rugged, dramatic shoreline that the distillery calls home, combining the coastal, savoury whisky with both first- and second-fill ex-sherry casks. This shows a gentler side to the island, with its geographical influence brought out and balanced by the fruity, nuttier notes from the maturation. It’s all sea spray, toasted nuts, and dried fruit in this one!
Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company
Fancy a splash of mystery with your whisky? That’s exactly what we’ve got with Aerolite Lyndsay! It’s a 10-year-old single malt, brought to us from The Character of Islay Whisky Company, which sourced the whisky from an undisclosed distillery on the famed Scottish isle. It spent its days maturing in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and Spanish oak sherry quarter casks. Quarter casks are much smaller than your run-of-the-mill cask, allowing for more interaction between the spirit and the wood surface – which results in bolder flavours! The tropical sweetness from the bourbon barrels, the spicy, chocolatey notes from the sherry casks, and medicinal smokiness from the whisky itself make for one well-rounded expression. Wondering where the name came from? (Look away now if you want to figure it out by yourself.) Aerolite Lyndsay is in fact an anagram of the words ‘ten year old Islay’!
Lagavulin 2005 (bottled 2020) Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish - Distillers Edition
While legal distilling at Lagavulin started back in 1816, there’s evidence of illicit distillation taking place on the site as far back as 1742 – making it one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Not only that, but Lagavulin is also one of the smokiest whiskies about. Initially its popularity was unanticipated, and when it joined Diageo’s Classic Malts portfolio in 1989 (and people realised how exceptional its whisky was), it had to be put on allocation! After it soared in popularity, the distillery (rather sensibly) increased its two day working week to seven. Sherried Lagavulin was something of a rare sight until the first Distiller’s Edition was released in 1979 – and we’ve continued to enjoy it ever since. After a lengthy oak maturation, this single malt spent a finishing period in sweet ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. The savoury, smoky, meaty nature of the spirit complements the dried fruit-forward influence of the casks beautifully.
Laphroaig 10 Year Old Sherry Oak Finish
Founded back in 1815, Laphroaig (pronounced ‘La-FROYg’) might be one of the most distinctive Islay whiskies, packed with tarry, iodine flavours. There are many factors that contribute to its unique flavour profile – its coastal location and high moss content of its peat being two of the main ones. Rather unusually, the distillery still has its own floor maltings, which also contribute to the tar-like, smoky character of the whisky. While the brand generally favours bourbon casks, this expression (which launched just last month!) was matured in both American oak ex-bourbon casks and refill ex-Oloroso sherry casks, as well as being treated to a finish in European oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks for between 12 to 18 months. Those medicinal, smoky flavours of the whisky are glorious with the sweetness of the bourbon and honeyed spices from the sherry casks. It’s bold, but wonderfully balanced!
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2012
Another distillery known for its unpeated expressions, Bruichladdich created its Islay Barley series to showcase terroir in its whisky (just like Waterford last month!) – so this is a single malt with a sense of place! Compared to the Scottish mainland, growing barley on Islay is a much more challenging endeavour, with torrential rain, Atlantic storms, and even hungry geese all standing in the way of the higher yields you’ll find on the former. This is the 2012 vintage from the series, made with unpeated barley harvested from eight western and central Islay farms in 2011. Three quarters of the whisky was matured in first-fill American whiskey casks, while the rest was aged in ex-French wine casks, before being bottled up at a hearty 50%. You can see why farmers might not be so inclined to grow barley on the island, but Bruichladdich has been key in encouraging Islay farmers to grow their own – where there was just one farm back in 2004, in 2020 there were 19! It’s a rather honeyed, gently creamy, fruity whisky, with just a smidge of that savoury coastal influence making an appearance.
Let us know what you think of May’s spread on our social channels! We’re going to be up to all sorts on Pour & Sip Digest this month, shining a spotlight on the unpeated Islay distilleries and another exciting interview in the pipeline… But we’re not going to give it all away! Stay tuned for all the usual whisky fun.