Friday, January 27, 2017

Port Askaig Tasting

The first five bottles of the evening.
Manchester Whisky Club returned for 2017 the evening after Burns Night, with a line up of whiskies from Port Askaig to ease us into the new year. Mariella from Speciality Drinks was there to take us through the range, including a bottle of an expression yet to hit the market.

The 8yo.
But first we got acquainted with the two whiskies which make up Port Askaig's core offering. The name comes from an Islay village and ferry terminal (this last description may be pushing it a bit - "basically just a jetty" was the consensus of those club members who've made the journey), but it's not actually a distillery itself.

Instead, Speciality Drinks uses the name as a brand to showcase a variety of Islay flavours from different distilleries. Mariella emphasised their range is about a more welcoming type of Islay whisky, retaining the key characteristics of the island's drams while not attempting to overpower drinkers in a fug of smoke.

That was on display straight from the off with Port Askaig's 8yo. The entry level whisky of the range, this was a nice and salty, fresh-tasting drink.

The 100 proof.
There was also a definite mixture of citrus and creaminess, especially in the aftertaste, as if we'd had a lemon meringue pie chaser. Which, on reflection, is something we should definitely suggest for a future tasting.

The 8yo is, in common with most Port Askaig whiskies, 45.8% and comes in at £40, a very reasonable price point for something that is always available.

Next was the 100 proof, a good deal stronger at 57.1% but only a little more expensive at £45. It's unheard of these days to get an Islay whisky at that strength for that price, so the Port Askaig offers excellent value.

The brand new 15yo.
It's got butter, vanilla and ice cream, and we tried it with some dark mint chocolate supplied by Mariella for the occasion. This certainly made it less peaty, although the chocolate seemed to do more for the whisky than the mint - so if you're getting a bottle you probably don't need to also order a hundredweight of After Eights.

Moving onto the evening's small batch whiskies, we started with a bottle which won't be available for another couple of months. It's a new 15yo (so not the 15yo Port Askaig currently on the market) and it's the first sherry cask to emerge under the Port Askaig brand.

This was absolutely fantastic on the nose. There was a bit of smoke, but again it was more salty if anything, and Mariella pointed out notes of Moroccan spices and dates. If anything the nose slightly outshone the palate, but there was an almost unanimous feeling that this is one to look forward to very much. The price is still TBC.

The 16yo.
There was a bit more sherry in evidence for dram number four, the 16yo. This was a more autumnal beast, with chestnuts, red fruits and a distinct tobacco nose - halfway to Christmas as someone suggested.

Feelings were more mixed with some very positive comments alongside some more negative ones, as some club members have a well-signposted aversion to the particular distillery (which begins with A and rhymes with 'hardbeg') from where this was sourced.

The 19yo.
We had a bit more chocolate here too, this time orangey. This certainly brought something out in it again, although one view was that the chocolate was a bit on the bitter side for the whisky.

Courageously we ploughed on to the fifth drink of the evening, and a redoubtable 19yo which Mariella described as classic "hip flask whisky". Heathery on the nose, the aftertaste had some more unexpected fruitiness in it. You could even say it went a bit tropical, which is not a word you typically associate with Islay, but there you have it.

Extremely pleasant and clocking in at just over 50%, it's £100 or thereabouts.

The 30yo.
We saved the elder statesman of the range to last. The 30yo was very robust, with a full-on flavour. Certainly the most obviously Islay whisky of the night, it had the clearest smoky and peaty notes. "Stunning" as someone called it.

But on the other hand, and as predicted by Mariella at the beginning of the evening, it wasn't overpowering, and was definitely highly drinkable. As well it might be for £375! Given the value provided by other bottles in the range, perhaps it's not one too many club members are likely to invest in, at least not this side of payday.

And so to the voting for dram of the night. These were relatively evenly spread, with all-but-one whisky attracting at least a couple of votes. But it was number three, the as-yet-unreleased sherry monster, which came out on top.

Thanks to all club members and those from the waiting list who attended to get 2017 off to a strong start, and in particular thanks to both the Britons Protection and Mariella, for putting on such a great evening.

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