Sunday, January 28, 2018

Elements of Islay

It's been two months since the last update on here, and in that time we had another of our successful Christmas parties upstairs at the Britons Protection. It's the night when we bring back all the half-finished bottles from throughout the year and have another go at them, to remember whether they were really as good as we remembered. Martin and Anna saw that the leftovers were donated to a charity whisky auction event.

Matthew demonstrates the Christmas line-up.
Onto this month's tasting, and on Burns Night we welcomed Myriam Mackenzie from Elements of Islay to showcase a range of drams from one of more sought after independent brands around. Elements of Islay is a venture of one of the most prominent names on the UK whisky scene, Sukhinder Singh, probably best known as the founder of The Whisky Exchange among much else besides.

January's drams from Elements of Islay.

This makes Elements of Islay a sister of Port Askaig, which we ran through to great acclaim in last January's tasting. So expectations were pretty high that this was going to be an interesting selection.

Peat 45%.
We started off with Peat, not only the word most associated with Islay whiskies but also the simple name for one of Elements of Islay's core bottlings. A 7yo blended malt, Myriam dropped a major hint that the two whiskies at the heart of the mix came from the same owner, meaning, in Islay terms, Diageo's Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

An easy drinker with a fresh, sweet taste about it, this got the evening off to a pleasant start. It's 45% and costs £30 for a 50cl bottle, the same size as all Elements of Islay products.

Next we had a try of something made for the Italian market, and apparently not available in the UK at all. Torba - simply the Italian for peat - was a blend of three whiskies: Caol Isla, Bunnahabhain and the mighty Octomore from the Bruichladdich distillery.

As a blend of three some of the club members didn't think this held together nearly as well as the Peat, sensing it was a little bit "all over the place". A bit more Bunna than Octomore, some thought, and at 56.1% it was certainly a bit on the chewy side. Still, apparently this has gone down very well with the Italians, and who are we to argue.

Dram three was the first of a trio of single malts, in this case a Lagavulin. It appears under the label Lg7, as contractual obligations often prevent indie bottlers from using the proper brand name of the whisky in question, and this is the seventh release of a Lagavulin that Elements of Islay have done. It also fits in with the snazzy, chemistry-style bottles, echoing a sort of periodic table of Islay.

Unusually for a Lagavulin it was about 12 years old, unusual because the signature expression of that distillery has for quite some time been the 16yo. The 12 tasted very nice and creamy, and was perhaps surprisingly easy to drink considering the ABV of 56.8%.

However, as with many of the Elements of Islay single malt bottlings, there are very few if any left of this exact one, unless you happen to come across one in a shop somewhere. New ones are released each April and September on very limited runs, so by this time of year they're often long gone.

Sukhinder Singh's favourite distillery is, apparently, Bowmore, and so it was appropriate enough that we got stuck into at least one drink from there during the evening: on this occasion, a Bw7.

This was matured in sherry butts giving it a very distinctive sherry/peat flavour, albeit not super peaty. In fact, we thought this had quite a tropical, fruity and even spicy sort of taste.

Myriam said this was harking back to a more traditional sort of Bowmore taste. It was strong too, and seemed to pack more of a punch than the listed 53.2%. It's £100, again for 50cl, so special occasions only.

The last of the single malts was a Laphroaig, because as everyone knows, it's not an Islay tasting (or an Islay anything) without Laphroaig.

The Lp8 is a 19yo, finished in Madeira casks. Laphroaig finished in Madeira was certainly a new one on us. And it was great. All I've written in my notes from this particular drink are that it was "lovely again" so if you're after more specific detail then you've come to the wrong place (the proper tasting notes, as with all the others, are on Elements of Islay's handsome website). It's 53.5%.

Peat Full Proof.
To finish the evening we returned to the core range and the big brother of Peat, the Peat Full Proof. Essentially the cask strength version of the Peat we had earlier, it clocks in at 59.3%.

And this was also extremely well received as a "brilliant" and "punchy" drink. It's also extremely good value at £37 which, even though it's for 50cl, represents fine value indeed. If there's one bottle on the evening's list which I suspect may end up in a few drinks cabinets in the Manchester area in the near future, it's probably this one.

And that was the end. Regular readers will notice we normally vote for a dram of the night but we unaccountably forgot, perhaps because members formed an orderly queue to have another little taste from what was left in the bottles and were understandably more preoccupied with that. It might have been a toss-up between the Bowmore and the Laphroaig, but really all of the drinks went down very well indeed.

Thanks to members and the waiting list for making sure it was such a well-attended night, to the Britons Protection for hosting us once again, and extra special thanks to Myriam to coming up from London to share the delights of Elements of Islay with us.

Myriam in full flow.

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