2015 , A strange sort of Year…..

As another year draws to a close , as usual the last (or nearly last….) post of the year is a reflection on what has been a strange sort of year for us , extremely good highs but worrying lows…….

We were supposed to see the New Year in on Islay but just before Christmas i got a very bad cough that resulted in us cancelling the trip , a real shame as we’d been looking forward to the stay in Bowmore .The cough actually lasted 3 weeks and went just as the time came up when the Doctors were willing to treat it !

In February the 4th cask i had an interest in got bottled , A Peated Bunnahabhain that had been purchased through Raymond at Bladnoch Distillery , the full story is HERE


At the end of February we headed north to spend a night with some good friends of ours , The Cuthberts , it was great to see Francis , Hazel and the kids again , it gave us a chance to catch up and also see how Francis’s whisky was maturing , i also managed to talk Francis into letting me have a sample to take to Toronto (More about that later….) , another old friend from the area , Liv , also popped in for dinner .

Hmmm..... Which one ?

Hmmm….. Which one ?

March saw us resuming the Whisky Festivals representing Amrut and our good friend Ashok , We did 3 this year , Newcastle in March , Edinburgh in June and York in September .


All were very good but i think we enjoyed Edinburgh the best , it was a glorious day , it was in a marquee and it was in a glorious garden in the New Town ! The only bummer about it was we had to do a course to serve at it as the Licensing laws had changed in Scotland. But it wasn’t the only online course i had to do to serve Whisky at a Festival , i had to do the Smart Serve Course for the Toronto one and that was a bugger ! Beware anyone that wants to serve Alcohol to the public in Ontario !!! As it turned out the York festival was our last serving behind the Amrut Table as (a) we didn’t make it to Manchester due to unforseen circumstances and (b) the UK distributors were taking over the running of the tables after Manchester . We’ve had a great time representing the Distillery at The Whisky Lounges Festivals , meeting people and enlighting them about Amruts Great Whisky , it is hard work but great fun !

Talking of Toronto…..  We decided to return there again in May , we originally were just going back s ‘punters’ this time but once Johanna and Charles found out they asked if we could do another Masterclass (must’ve done something right the last time…..) , we did , A Caol Ila one with a Daftmill thrown in for fun . We had a great 4 days in Toronto , The place is wonderful but the people make it extra special , a huge thanks to Johanna and Charles , Wendy , Rick , Paul and Nancy , Rob and many , many more for once again making us thoroughly welcome and hopefully we’ll see you in the not too distant future !

Toronto Skyline 2

You can read all about our visit HERE and HERE

Another strange thing about this year is it is the first year since 1998 that we haven’t set foot on Islay ! Normally we would spend at least our summer fortnight there , not this year as for our summer vacation we were invited by Amrut to visit India !

So come the end of August we boarded a flight at Newcastle with the eventual destination of Bangalore . To say we had a fantastic time is a bit of an understatement ! There were so many highlights, of which the top one for me has to be the day spent at the distillery in the company of the Master Distiller Surrinder Kumar and our good friend Ashok .


The whole trip was an experience we’ll never forget , Our thanks to all at Amrut for their Kindness and Generosity , Rick , Ashok , Surrinder , Pramod , ‘Aunty’ Valli Margreat , Purshotham and Prakash you made it a very special holiday !

You can read about the Indian adventure on my other Blog , Amrut….. The Spirit of India ! , HERE , HERE , HERE and HERE

A few weeks after our return life was going to take a slight turn for the worse , on the morning of the 25th Sept i had a myocardial infarction , a heart attack as it is commonly known though not technically correct , luckily (if there can be such a thing for a MI) I was working at a local hospital and got took straight around to the Walk In Centre , from there I was whisked off to the brand new , super duper , Emergency Specialist Hospital at Cramlington accompanied by Melanie,  who’d been dropped off from her work place , After various tests and 10ml Morphine (have to say I’ve had a bigger kick off Jura than that…. But it did kill the pain) they said I’d had a MI and would have to be moved to The Freeman ( The Regional Heart Centre )  for a Angioplasty .

I spent the Friday night in Cramlington and was moved to The Freeman late on the Saturday night , they explained the procedure , they go in through my wrist with a tube , inject dye in , see what was wrong with xray cameras and if not much repair , all under ‘Local’ , would take about an hour or so . They might do it on the Sunday if an Emergancy comes in and they can utilise the team but more or likely on the Monday .

So on the Sunday afternoon (27th) at 3pm I got the call to get changed…….

They started at around 3.45pm , I was in for 3 Hours ! It’s not easy lying still for 3 hours while people shove things into you ! they eventually had to make a 2nd entry at the groin as it wasn’t as straight forward as they thought (never is with me…..) , in the end they fitted 4 Stents and I’m surprised there isn’t a hole in the ceiling when the removed the tube from my groin area……

Eventually I was returned to the Ward for possibly the most uncomfortable nights sleep, well not sleep, I’ve ever had , I had to keep the leg they’d used straight all night and a couple of “characters” on the ward didn’t help ! I was released from Hospital on the Monday Evening with a fine collection of Medication , I have to say the staff at all the hospitals were excellent , especially the procedure team .

I then spent the next 8 weeks recouperating , missing a few whisky events in the process , before returning to work at the end of November . So that is basically 2015 , 2 great Holidays and a major health scare ! There is one person i haven’t thanked yet , the person who accompanied me on all my adventures and who was my rock during the health scare , The love of my life , my gorgeous wife Melanie , she is one hell of a woman and got me through the recent months ! Thank You My Love !

So to the Good things /Bad things of this year……

The Good things……. Canadian Wine (again) , Canadian Whisky (again) ,  Indian Wine , Anything in Amruts Warehouses ! ‘Aunty’ Valli Margreats Biryanis , My Bunnahabhain Bottling !.

The Bad Things….. Ardbegs recent offerings (come on guys, get a grip you can do so much better!) , Lots of the Whisky Community ( get over the obsession with Jim Murray , if you don’t like what he does , don’t give him the publicity , just move along) , Even more ridiculous pricing of Whisky (that’s a good way to lose custom ) .

I hope everyone has a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year ! 


Toronto 2015 Visit – Part Two

Saturday 2nd May (Continued)

So onto the show….. Johanna asked us if we’d like to do another Masterclass at this years show , which we said yes to , and it was agreed we’d do a Caol Ila one . I’ve only ever done a Caol Ila Masterclass at the Feis Ile and i have to say it is , in my eyes , a very much under-rated Peated Islay Malt , It is also the most consistently good one !

(Click on Photos to see full size)

tasting photo

I decided to be sneaky as well and throw in a “Ringer” , i asked our good friend Francis if we could Acquire a sample of his yet to be released Daftmill , he agreed and back at the end of February we went up to see the Cuthberts and pick out a sample ( Dirty job , someone had to do it…..)  

Choices, Choices....

Choices, Choices….

Hmmm..... Which one ?

Hmmm….. Which one ?

I decided to be a bit sneaky and do the tasting blind , i asked them to try the first two together as they were both unpeated (not mentioning one of them wasn’t a Caol Ila ) , asked them their thoughts and then told them one wasn’t an Islay) and asked them to tell me which one wasn’t , Most of them got it wrong ! We then proceeded through the rest of the tasting only revealing what was what after they’d tried it . So the Tasting consisted of……..

1st Dram – Daftmill Cask No.21, Filled 3rd September 2007 ,Sample drawn 1st March 2015 , 59.6% from Fresh Bourbon Barrel (Heaven Hill) .

My Tasting Notes . Nose – Initially digestive biscuits then freshly cut meadows , hugely fresh , lots of butter ,  vanilla , touch of spices and custard . Very exquisite and complex nose , beautifully fresh . Palate – Shows it’s youthfulness at first but that soon vanishes , very fresh across the palate again buttery , sweet , vanilla , a delight to have in the mouth , oily and chewy . Finish – Long , sweet and butterscotch toffee .

It was a great pleasure to introduce this malt to a North American Public Tasting it certainly went down well !

2nd Dram – Stitchells Reserve , the 2013 special release from Caol Ila to celebrate Billys retirement .

3rd Dram –  53.52 , a 1993 7yo from the SMWS , a feisty young dram that has it all !

4th Dram – 53.93 , a 1980 25yo from the SMWS , this one showed that well aged Caol Ila can be exquisite but retain all the Distillery Characteristics .

5th Dram –  The killer dram of the class , i still don’t know how Johanna got a bottle of this but it went down very well , the 30yo Special Release from 2014 , all i can say is Wow ! that’s to the taste and not the price !

So after the class we retreated to the main hall to savour the 2015 Gala , Spirit of Toronto is one hell of a show , it has everything , great drams , great music , great food and fantastic people . I mainly concentrated on the Canadian Whisky , The Union Local 613 guys and Gals had a fantastic table of Canadians , got to try amongst others an Alberta Premium 30yo , the Highwood 25yo Calgary Stampede Centennial (again) and an absolutely amazing Wisers 18yo from yesteryear , Stunning ! It was great to actually try it up against the current Wisers 18yo at their table . Melanie took a shine to a few drams including the Nikka Taketsuru 12yo and the Chivas 18yo . We had a fantastic night , Johanna and Charles certainly know how to put on a show !

By the end the time difference was catching up with us and we took a lovely walk back to the hotel to catch some Z’s .

Sunday 3rd May

We decided we were going to be the Full Tourists today and do a bit of sightseeing , after breakfast i had a visit from Rob  (@WhiskyFan2112) for a bit of a natter about Rush , Toronto and Whisky ! He also very kindly left me a bottle of Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve, Very Much Appreciated Rob you are some guy ! Thanks also go to Rick (@rmculver) and Paul (@MarkhamWhisky) for their generosity , you guys spoiled us rotten ! Thanks!!!

We decided to visit the Islands as it was something we wanted to do last year but never got the time and boy did we pick a glorious day to do it on ! Red Hot !!! It’s a lovely little ferry ride over , you get some great views of the City Skyline and all for $7 return ! The island is really nice , well looked after with great beaches . We decided to take the Tourist Train tour around to see as much as possible .

Toronto View 2 Toronto View 1
Toronto View 3 Toronto Skyline 1
Melanie on Toronto Islands Avenue of the Island
Melanie on the Beach 1 Melanie on the Beach 2
Sign post Island-stitch
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse Ned Hanlan Tug
Central Island 1 CN Tower from Centre Island 1
CN Tower from Centre Island 2 Melanie on Central Island
Ferry at Centre Island Terminal Melanie on the Ferry

Toronto Skyline 2

We headed back to the Hotel via the Queens Quay LCBO (got to pick up supplies for home !) , freshened up and then hit Melanies Favourite Toronto Bar , The Library Bar in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel . It was a very relaxing night with some great drinks and a superb Lobster Linguine .  

Melanie at The Library Bar 1929 Beer

So it was off to bed for our final sleep in Toronto…..

Monday 4th May

Our last day and it’s a full one , the flight didn’t leave till 11.35pm ! We’d had a breakfast every morning this trip (it was in with the room) , Melanie took a liking to the Eggs Benedict , myself , for the last 3 days i’d been having the Full “Canadian” , there is just something so nice about Pancakes with Bacon smothered in Butter and Maple Syrup ! We left our bags at the hotel and went off for a wander to places new . First stop was Summerhill using the excellent TTC Subway , there were several reasons we headed here , Paul had told us it had some really nice Real Estate and a very nice LCBO which used to be a Railway station and was also Geddy Lees local one !

Summerhill LCBO

 It is a really nice LCBO retaining some of the original station features and it has possibly the best selection of all the LCBO’s we’d been in . Even though it was still hot we felt our first raindrops of the trip while out here . We headed back to the City Centre and transferred to “The Red Rocket” for a trip out to Neville Park (Route 501), we were going to look at the beaches but when we got to the Terminus it started raining so we got the same car back to the centre , there’s always the next time ! It’s a great way of seeing the city and well worth a ride out on one .

We decided to hit the Red Lobster again for a late lunch before winding our way back to the hotel via Tim Hortons and a few bars……


So it was a limo back to the airport and the flight back to Manchester with time for one last Ontario Wine and beer…….

Fish Eye

The flight did actually get back to Manchester early ! We also got a special mention on the flight announcement as the Flight Director was the same guy as our outward flight and recognised us ! I was slightly over our duty free allowance (3 bottles of whisky) and declared it , they actually let us off with the duty and tax for being so Honest ! Wasn’t expecting that in Manchester…..

Whisky Haul Wine Haul

The Spoils of the trip !

A big thank you to our Canadian Friends for making this trip so pleasurable !


The two Word Docs we handed out at the tasting can be read here……

Caol Ila tasting

Daftmill Info

And Melanies Camera Photos can be viewed HERE

My Photos can also be viewed on my Flickr Account HERE

Toronto 2015 Visit – Part One

After last years trip to Toronto for the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala we decided to return this year , originally as punters but Johanna talked us into doing another Masterclass once she heard we were coming back ! As soon as the date was announced (about the time of last summers Islay trip) we booked up the flights and Hotel . Once again we flew with Air Transat but this year we stopped at The Novotel on The Esplanade . 

Thursday 30th April 

Having drove down the night before to Manchester we arrived bright and early at the Airport for the 12pm flight only for the flight to be delayed for 5 1/2 hours ! There was a slight technical problem with the cabin lights , so at 5.30pm we finally took off for Canada . I have to say that once again the “Security” at Manchester once again excelled themselves at being such happy characters……. Unlike the Canadian Border Patrol who tend to make jokes about things , especially when they spot you’ve declared 12 bottles of whiskies on the entry form ! After a nice conversation they only charged us $50 duty (don’t ask!) . After a great Limo drive to the Hotel seeing all the buildings with lights on , we dumped the cases in the room , freshened up and like sensible people hit the bar ! Melanie hit the Lailey Unoaked Chardonnay and i had  Alexander Keiths IPA  . After a couple we hit the sack.

Friday 1st May

After a Hearty breakfast we went out for a wander somewhat overly dressed we found out , after a walk around St Lawrences Market we returned to the Hotel and stripped down to T-shirts as it was hot ! St Lawrences Market is probably the best Market we’ve ever been into , the food selection is superb and beautifully presented , the place is spotless !

(Click on the photos to see full size versions)

St Lawrence Market 1 St Lawrence Market 2

The meat selection is amazing and the fish selection is out of this world ! If we lived near it i think we could easily do a lot of shopping in there !

We took a slow walk along to the Distillery District from there , after a wander around the shops we met up with Johanna and Charles for a bite to eat at Pure Spirits , once again we went for the Pure Spirits Pappardelle  accompanied by some Ontario Wine (when in Toronto….) . Now last year when we hit this restaurant we were left in the dark by a power cut and missed something that Johanna pointed out , their bottle collection……

Pure Spirits Collection

 These were all bottles to do with the Canadian Company Hiram Walker who happened to own the Gooderham and Worts Distillery which is the site where this restaurant happens to reside . Hiram Walker also happened to own a certain Islay Distillery in the late 70’s / early 80’s and we happened to spot a couple in the display……..

Ardbeg New Make Sample Ardbeg Sample

Ooh to try these ! J & C dropped us off at the hotel and we freshened up before meeting up with them at The Keg for an Evening Meal , also present were Angus MacRaild , Phil and Simon Thompson , Yuki Yamazaki , Kentaro Wada , Igor Kossov , Paul the owner of the Bon Accord and our great friend from Toronto Wendy Harker . Much merriment was had over the night before ourselves and Wendy headed off for a nightcap at C’est What and to meet up with a few other Toronto whisky Drinkers – Paul and Nancy , Rick and Ivo . I have to say that the C’est What was absolutely roasting that night , probably not the best way to visit a bar for the first time . We had a great night and it was great to finally put faces to names , meet old friends and make some new ones .

Saturday 2nd May

Show day ! After breakfast we took a wander north from the hotel , Melanie did a little shopping therapy before we hit the Red Lobster for a late lunch……

Melanie at Red Lobster

She done a great job of wrestling with the Ultimate feast !

On the way back to the hotel we encountered a parade through the centre of toronto to commemorate the Liberation of The Netherlands in 1945 by Canadian Armed Forces .

Holland Liberation Parade 1 Holland Liberation Parade 2

Holland Liberation Parade 3

Seeing it was such a glorious day (in the mid to high 20’s C ) we decided to stop at one of the many pubs on our hotels street for a drop of refreshment , we chose the Tilted Kilt , an interesting one by my good woman……. 

Melanie at the tilted kilt


We were joined by another internet friend who i’d briefly met at last years Spirit of Toronto , Raj Sabharwal (@WhiskyRaj) from Purple Valley Imports . We had a great natter in the sun with a great guy , we then bid our farewells before heading back to the Hotel to get ready for the show……..

Hotel Road

The Esplanade

To be Continued……

Exclusive ! First Photo of 4/5ths of Caol Ila Tasting at The Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala

We’ve managed to get our hands on the first photo of 4/5ths of the Caol ila tasting at this years Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala (The other 1/5th is currently residing in Ontario ) .


As you can see there are going to be some great drams on offer , i’m sure Billy Stitchell would have been proud to offer such wonderful drams and Colin Dunn would have his Loudhailer out shouting from the roof tops ! We got a quote off Colin about this tasting….. “Gordon Who?” 

So looking forward to trying these drams !!!

The Sound of Islay……. A Caolilathon !

With the forthcoming Caol ila tasting at the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala looming large on the horizon , i decided to revisit my Caol ila bottlings to re-acquaint myself with the distillery , had more than i thought !

Caol Ila 12yo O.b. 43%

The Entry level dram from Diageo , this one is actually from a bottle from the mid-00’s , I was never a huge fan of this when it first appeared (in the ‘Hidden Gems’ Range ?) but it has grown on me recently .Quite medicinal on the nose at first with a strong citrus suggestion , Strong hint of malt and a nice little fruitiness to it . A very nice medicinalness to the palate along with a gentle smokiness , not over powering on the palate but the finish has a bit more of a kick to it , long and a lingering  peatiness to it .

Not a bad wee dram for the entry level ! 

Caol Ila 18yo O.b. 43%

The next level up from the 12 , this one again is from a mid-00’s bottling (the 20cl from The Classic Islay Collection ) , this one is more subdued on the nose , smoky and seashore like a recent bonfire on a beach , eventually the nose does open up a bit to reveal a slight dental surgery feel to it (Cloves?) . On the palate it has more of an iodine taste to it , very coastal , again a slight smokiness , the finish isn’t as long and is a bit more relaxed than the 12 .

The 12’s more elder and relaxed brother ?  

Caol Ila Cask Strength O.b. 55%

There are times when you just want your Caol ila’s just to hit you as if a big malt shovel has just smacked you across the face , Cue Malt Shovel ! After the 43%ers this was a blessing for any reputable peet-heed , ok it’s a NAS but WE DON’T CARE ! It smells young (see previous comment) , it smells peaty , it’s not complex , it actually has a fruity and peppery note . On the palate it’s Peaty , Smoky and peppery , what more can you ask for ? The finish is long and peaty .

It doesn’t stand on parade , it’s quite a rough Caol ila compared to the previous O.b.’s  but it is a wonderful dram and pleases this particular Islay Peat Freak !  

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength O.b. 59.3%

This one is the next logical progression from the previous NAS Cask Strength , sort of turning the Amp up to 11 ! Bottled at ‘Natural Cask Strength’ (Still waiting for the ‘Un-Natural Cask Strength’ bottling…..) , there’s lots of lemon on the nose to start with , then the familiar ‘Seashore’ , peat and smoke . At first the palate seems remarkably relaxed but that doesn’t hang around , this is strong across the whole mouth , Iodine , peat , a bonfire in the gob ! The finish is long and warming , like a bonfire on an Islay beach when the nights are fair drawing  in……

Warms the cockles of your heart this dram , Nice !  

Caol Ila 25yo O.b. 1979 -2005 58.4%

If you are going to do a 25yo and charge a penny or two i always find it better to do it at CS than 43% , that’s what Caol Ila used to do….. I first tried a 25yo O.b. on a tasting during the Feis Ile with the legend that is Billy Stitchell , to say i was over the moon when he said it was CS was an under statement ! This is pretty pungent for it’s age on the nose and still makes the hairs tingle , it’s standing on the shore on the Sound of Islay with the strong currents wiping up the waves and  seaweed , it is actually quite sweet and buttery . The palate is really iodiney , a waft of smoke and incredibly chewy ! This is a big boys Caol Ila , Amazing ! The finish is long , iodine and really lemony , this is the closest you’ll get to a single cask bottling from the Owners taste wise , trust me i’ve had a few Single Cask 25yo Indys !

A pretty amazing dram just a shame Diageo thought it was a good idea to go back to 43% on the 25yo , D’OH !

Caol Ila Distillery Only O.b. 58.4% 

Another NAS (Woo-hoo !) bottled in 2007 , and even though it says ‘ Available only at the Distillery’ I bought this at the Bridgend Spar Shop ! (huh?) The nose is like standing beside a burnt out bonfire on the Big Strand , the ashes mixing in with the sea air and kelp from the nearby rocks , then the wind turns and you get the peat from the nearby beds . There is also a waft of peat smoke from the Maltings in Port Ellen . The palate is thick and peaty , there is lemon there as well and a nice sweetness , The finish brings back the smokiness and lingers for a very long time .

Another  Cracking Caol Ila that just proves this distillery provides quality as well as quantity , two things that rarely go together .

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2013 O.b.56.5%

Distilled in 1998 , this was triple matured in Refill Butts, Hogsheads and Barrels (not necessarily in that order….)  , Sweet peat on the nose followed by the smoke from dying embers there is a slight hint of them sherry butts but not much , another hint , this time of Apples and butter . The palate is slightly relaxed at first then a huge dollop of peat , again quite sweet but thoroughly enjoyable , the finish is long and peaty .

A very much under-rated Caol ila by others , really enjoyable !

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2014 O.b. 55.5%

Distilled in 2002 and from  ex-bourbon Hogsheads , this could be the 12yo on Steroids ! I prefer it when distilleries do this rather than mess about with fancy casks , back to basics ! On the Nose we’ve returned to the dental surgery , Cloves , then we’ve got the sweet peat , smoke …. aah that’s more like it ! there’s also pepper . The palate is also more of the traditional Caol Ila  , Sweet peat , medicinal , seashore , pepper and smoke . Lovely ! The finish is long , sweet peat , smoke , lemon and pepper .

If someone said what is the ‘Classic’ Caol Ila bottling i would say this , a belter put together by Mr Woods !   

Caol Ila 10yo “Unpeated Style” O.b. 65.8% 

The first time i ever saw mention of an Unpeated Caol ila was in 2002 when during a Feis Ile tour of the Port Ellen Maltings and when viewing the control panel for the malt bins it was noted that there was a one marked ‘Caol Ila Highland Style’ , the guide wouldn’t say what it was….. Apparently they’ve been doing this style since 1999, the first time i ever tried it was at the 2005 Feis Ile (Monday 30th May….) during Billy Stitchells Masterclass as a 4yo , i wasn’t impressed , by the malt not the Masterclass !  Bottled in 2009 at a humongous 65.8% , the nose is , at first , very unassuming , then it springs in to life , it is very fruity ! I would say tropical fruits , banana , pineapple , there’s also a hint of creamy coffee and lemon . The nose is just sniffable at full strength….. Wow , the palate is huge and strong at FS , again it incredibly fruity but it also has a very big hint of Lemon throat lozenges ! The finish is long , chewy and very warming . It’s not often i add water but i’ll try it with this one , it actually makes it more fruity on the nose and calms down the palate a little bit .

A cracking dram that definitely blows the cobwebs away ! 

Caol Ila 12yo “Unpeated Style” O.b. 57.6% 

Bottled in 2010 , this one again starts of quite fruity on the nose but then there is a mysterious waft of smoke ! It has a nice maltiness to it with a hint of lemon and digestive biscuits . On the palate it is deceptively peated , it is slightly medicinal , throat lozenges , pepper and that hint of peat , quite sweet but not the full Islay peat . The finish is long , sweet , fruity , citrus and spicy .

Another good Caol ila , more sensible than the previous 10yo , it keeps up the distilleries good record of quality spirit production .    

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve “Unpeated Style” O.b. 59.6% 

The one thing i have noticed about all these unpeated Caol ila’s is how oily they are when poured , Bottled in 2013 this one is a NAS so going off it’s name it must be the best of the former vintages that were put aside by the former manager Billy . Once again it’s the Lemon that first grabs your attention on the nose , followed by digestive biscuits and malt , it actually has a hint of a lowlander , grassy meadows . On the palate is quite sweet and quite fruity , ooh Banoffee pie with custard ! Touch of spices as well , a lovely long fruity finish ensues with lots of spiciness and lemon .

Carries on the good work of the previous releases , quality product that probably isn’t appreciated by a lot of people !  

Caol ila ‘53.50’ SMWS 1993 7yo 62.1%

This was the Caol ila that ignited my love for this distillery , i’d only had a couple from the distillery by this time and the 15yo Flora and Fauna had done nothing for me , then in one of my first SMWS tastings i was given this…… Incredibly medicinal on the nose , the full germolene , bags of peat and a touch of malt . Not a lot else happening on the nose but it doesn’t need to . The palate is one enormous hit of wet Islay peat bog , there is also a touch of lemon and an incredible spiciness , a wonderful mouth of Islay malt whisky , if this doesn’t satisfy your average Islay Peat Freak nothing will ! The finish is not as long as expected after the palate but it is warming , medicinal and peaty .

This one still amazes me as much today as it did back in the early 00’s when i tried it , Wonderful stuff !

Caol ila ‘53.83’ SMWS 1993 11yo 61.4%

“Head-expanding in the Mouth”  , again the full medicinal (germolene) on the nose , a little bit more relaxed than the 53.50, just…. once again lemon and a hint of grass (meadows , not the smoking type!) , peat smoke and farm yard . Wow very strong on the palate , minty , medicinal , very sea shore , the finish is very long and peaty at FS , think i’ll try this one with water…. Water definitely cools it down , doesn’t bring out much more on the nose/taste front , after all we want the trade mark medicinal/peat/smoke/citrus of Caol ila don’t we ?

A cracking young Caol ila , shame the distillery doesn’t do a young 12yo at CS it would be a cracker ! ….And yes it does what it says on the bottle!

Gordon and MacPhail Cask Caol ila 1991 12yo 57.4%

Bit of a rarity this one , a Caol ila from Refill Sherry Butts (#13696 #13698) distilled 30/9/1991 bottled 2/3/2004 . This is a lovely amber colour in the glass , pure Christmas cake on the nose (cake dough , dried fruits , glace cherries ) along with a lovely medicinalness , a delight , there’s lemon and a beach bonfire wafting through there as well ! On the palate there’s a wonderful sherried peatiness only an Islay can provide , starts off peaty but progresses though to medicinal , this is class in the glass ! The finish is long with a lingering sherry , peat and bonfire smoke . 

As Mr Takei would say “Oh Myyy….” ! Bottles like this just reinforce a question i asked G&M a while ago , why release bottles at 40/43% in the Connoisseurs Choice range ? Enough said….. 

Caol ila ‘53.112’ SMWS 1991 15yo 54.8%

 “Sluggable-gluggable” , Quite a reduction in strength from the previous two , these three from the SMWS have been extremely pale in colour compared to the O.b.’s but the quality has been consistent . The nose is just as pungent , loads of smoke , wood spices , a quiet hint of lemon and peat . Not so medicinal . The palate is citrus , honey sweetness and peat , the finish has the Lemon throat lozenges and spices .

Still a good Caol ila but seems to lack the excitement of the previous two for some reason…. Less active cask ?  

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1991 15yo 58.8%

From Hogshead 3870 distilled 11th March 1991 , bottled July 19th 2006 , this one was bottled for the Forum at Bladnoch when Raymond was in residence and it will have been very reasonably priced . The nose is menthol cigarette smoke , mint ,  peat and the familiar Caol ila lemon , the nose is really relaxed after the SMWS offerings . The palate is more lively than the 53.112 , again we have the lemon throat lozenges (medicinal) , oak spices , a touch of peat and a chewy . The finish is long and spicy with a squeeze of lemon .

A highly drinkable Caol ila (aren’t they all?) that delights all the way through , Lovely !!!

Port Askaig 17yo 45.8%

Ok so it doesn’t say Caol ila on the label but we know different 😉 The nose screams Caol ila Medicinal ! It has the Lemon Citrus , slight sweetness , touch of smoke and peat but not much . The palate is very soft to start with , again the lemon stands out , touch of peat and smoke with a honey sweetness . The finish is medium with the old favourite of Lemon throat lozenges…..

Not quite the kick of some of the previous Caol ilas but this would be a great session malt !

Caol ila ‘53.64’ SMWS 1983 20yo 55.4%

“Smoky Boiled Sweets” quite sweet on the nose (icing sugar) , carbolic soap , smoking embers and quite maritimey , possibly the most laid back nose of the SMWS bottlings so far . The palate bites back with avengence , really peppery , loads of iodine and germolene , touch of lemon throat lozenges , The finish is long and iodine .

Not your average Caol ila , very relaxed on the nose , luckily the palate is another stunning one . 

Caol ila ‘53.84’ SMWS 1983 21yo 60.2%

“A peat cutters jacket” Straight away the germolene gets you on the nose , very medicinal , a little bit of fruit and i just caught a nice bit of chocolate and shortbread , yummy ! WOW , very farm yard , iodine , seashore and peat ! This could almost be a Laphroaig in disguise . The finish is long , peaty and iodine .

Found the price of this on one of my records , £50 ! An amazing dram with a slight twist ! We like slight twists ! 

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1983 25yo 53.2%

From Hogshead 4807 Distilled 12th October 1983 bottled 18th October 2008 , straight in to the fruit with this one , green apples , then highland toffee , takes a wee bit to settle then the smoke and iodine mix with the toffee , a very relaxed nose for the CI . Lots of oak spices on the palate , vanilla , then the toffee again with a nice peatiness and farm yard and iodine . The finish is long , sweet , iodine and cloves .

This one is is a gentle caress of the taste buds rather than a whack with a peat shovel , it’s actually a rather nice session dram !

OMC Caol ila 1979 25yo 50%

Distilled Feb 1979 bottled Sept 2004 from Cask DL Ref 1357 . This one is taking a little bit to open…. Once again we have green apples , oak spices , cloves , a slight waft of peat smoke and a toffee sweetness . The palate is uber relaxed , lemon , apples , toffee , lots of smoke and a hint of iodine , the finish is disappointingly short with lemon menthol .

A different one compared to the others but we are moving into the territory where a lot of peated drams loose the ‘kick’ after a long time maturing but gain a lot of elegance along the way (try a 10yo Ardbeg against  a 25yo+) . Still worthy !  

Caol ila ‘53.93’ SMWS 1980 25yo 55.4%

“Free Spirit” This one is remarkably chocolatey on the nose initially , then it progresses to Farm yard , iodine and seashore (though iodine and seashore could be the same thing , Seaweed on the seashore….) , can’t believe the chocolate , never got that before….. The palate confuses me more , farm yard again and nettles ! Only ever get nettles on Laphroaig ! Luckily we have the lemon , smoke and peat eventually along with a lovely medicinalness and a few spices . The finish is medium with a lovely lemon medicinal .

A lovely relaxed 25yo (as the best are….) , love the chocolate mixing in with the Islay spirit !  

Caol ila ‘53.96’ SMWS 1980 25yo 59.7%

“Heavenly and heart warming” It’s amazing what the difference a few percent makes in the strength of a whisky  , straight away you get the medicinal element on the nose , loads of iodine and germolene , again the farm yard , the lemon and the chocolate . The palate has a bit more of a kick to it than the 93 , the usual suspects pop in , Caol ila definitely has a uniqueness to it compared to the peaty giants of the South Shore and i , for one , are glad it does . The finish on this one is long , lemony , spicy and medicinal .

I can honestly say because of expressions like this (and most of the above ) that if Ardbeg wasn’t about , Caol Ila would probably be my favourite Peated Islay ! The quality is outstanding , keep it coming !!!

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1980 25yo 53.3% 

From Hogshead 4684 , Distilled 15th May 1980 bottled 1st June 2010 . Raymond actually bottled 3 casks from the same batch in a short period of time , i think i took this one to Toronto last year and it was received really well . Still quite pungent for a 30yo on the nose , incredibly smoky and medicinal , spicy and grassy ! Also a wee hint of Chocolate…. Very thick and oily on the palate , quite peaty for it’s age , medicinal and very spicy ! A touch of mint humbugs . Incredibly long , dry , spicy finish . Really , really , really long !

A fantastic dram given it’s age (could be woody!) that was really cheap ( £50 a bottle?) compared to the current 30yo offering from the owners .   

Bladnoch Forum Caol ila 1980 25yo 54.2% 

From Hogshead 4686 , Distilled 15th May 1980 bottled 15th May 2010 . Bottled nearly a week earlier than the above , this one is more medicinal on the nose , still has a hint of Chocolate , in fact more than a hint , chocolate digestives ! A bit of vanilla on this one , the nose is very sniffable , farm yard is there and a touch of smoke . The palate is a lot smoother and not as thick as 4684 , Really medicinal , farm yardie and nettles , lovely spices ! The finish is shorter than the 4684 but still long , medicinal and pepper .

Another cracking 30yo and Caol Ila !  Probably a bit more how you’d expect a 30yo to be , but it’s still lively !

Johanna asked me for a comment about Caol ila for the site publicity , the consistent quality first sprung to mind , as i said “How often do you find a bad Caol Ila?”  See above…..    


Travelling Man (and Woman)…….

Yup , like the First Swallow of Summer , the first whisky festival has passed , once again we were there again behind the table representing our Good Friend Ashok and Amrut Distilleries ( a report can be read HERE ) . Our next one is another trip across the Pond to Canada to once again visit Johanna and Charles excellent Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala , this was just going to be a leisurely one this time but Johanna asked us if we would be interested in doing another Masterclass (evidently we must have done a decent job of it last time…..) and we couldn’t say no to such a Lovely Lady !

The other night Johanna let the cat out of the basket and announced on Twitter that we were doing another……


So it’s a Caol Ila one and as Johanna says Some Special Treats in store !

Keep an eye on http://spiritoftoronto.ca/ for Ticket details , sure it’s the 23rd of March when they go on sale .

IWF2003 (3)

We’ve also got a few more Amrut events coming up over the next 7 months including a long awaited visit to the Distillery……

Details of the Amrut events are on the Amrut Blog 

A New Year And a New Feel and Direction !

A Happy and Prosperous 2015 to all our regular visitors !

At this present time we should have been concluding another visit to Islay but due to a nasty little bug i’ve been laid up in bed all Holiday season and we ended up having to cancel our planned trip at the last moment . Seeing we now probably won’t be returning to Islay until about mid-2016 at the earliest now i’ve decided to change the blog slightly and move away from the Islay visits a touch , don’t worry any Islay visits in the future will still be reported here and all the old reports won’t vanish ! It isn’t really too hard to do as i tend to post more tasting notes , other visits etc more here now anyway , especially seeing Johanna has created such a travel monster ! LOL!!!

So basically i’ve renamed the blog (The inspiration for it came from a bit of Twittering from my good friend in Canada Gerald/@G2Whisky back in October- Cheers Mate !) and got a new URL http://thewhiskyodyssey.net – the old islayvisits.net will still get you here till sometime in May .

So what does this Year hold in store for us ? Who knows! Well there will be a mega Canadian tasting extravaganza shortly and a return to Toronto for a more concise examination of their Whisky Gala !     

That was the year that was…..

Well it’s that time of the year again , the time to look back at the past 12 months .

The Scotch Whisky hype has reached new levels this year and i seemed to have taken a step back from it . Surprisingly from the 3 Ardbeg releases this year i only bought one , the Feis Ile one (Auriverdes) , this years Committee release is the 1st one i’ve passed on since joining in 1999 , i thought £125 was way too much for a NAS release regardless of how peated it was , at least it gave another bottle for someone to throw into an auction…..

After trying the 3rd one , The “New” Kildalton , again i thought the price was too much for the whisky . The only other Islay bottles from this year i bought were mainly Feis ile releases (The Lagavulin , the Caol Ila and the Cairdeas from Laphroaig ) , i did stock up on the recent Laphroaig 10yo CS batch (excellent as ever) and their 18yo . We’ve only been to islay once this year (so far….) which is surprising for us but there is a damn good reason……

It’s been a bit of different year this year , our good friend Ashok asked us if we’d be interested in doing some stuff for him as he was returning to India to work from the distillery . We ended up doing 4 of the Whisky Lounges festivals around the country starting in our home City back in March , we had great fun at everyone , discussing a whisky we totally believe in with people who were genuinely interested in it , it actually bucked my interest up in whisky going after it was starting to wane with the previously mentioned over-hyping of Scotch .

nwf2014_2Our public debut “Behind the table”

For the first 3 months of 2014 we kept a secret from the Whisky World , in March we revealed that in May we would be heading over to Toronto to be Special Guests at the 10th Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala ! It was a very big deal for me on several fronts , I’d never been out of the UK before , i’ve never had a Passport before , i’d never flown before and i’d never presented a Masterclass to strangers before !

You can read  all about our adventures at these two postings……

Islay Visits….. Goes West to Toronto Pt.1

Islay Visits….. Goes West to Toronto Pt.2

Friends of Amrut !

To say this was the highlight of the year for us is a bit of an understatement ! We had a great time in Toronto , The City and people were amazing , it was great to finally meet Wendy in person  , we discovered Canadas fine Whisky and Wine and we got to fly over Niagara Falls in a Helicopter ! We cannot thank Johanna and Charles enough for inviting us over and broadening my horizons (Yes Johanna you’ve created a monster ! LOL !!!) and we’ve already booked up to return Next May to have a great time in the City and see the Festival properly from the other side of the table (starting to get confusing over which side of the table i should  be on……) , Mmmmm……. Canadian Whisky!

Ready for Boarding


In the Summer we manage to squeeze in a fortnight on Islay , staying in a new place for us on The Rhinns at Lyrabus Croft Cottage . An excellent place to base yourself for a long stay on Islay .


In September We stretched our wings once again and flew over to Paris for the weekend (Johannas fault….. 😉  ) taking in the Whisky Live that was going on at the time . It was great to have a look around the beautiful City but i have to say i was well disappointed in the Whisky Live , too big and too much security for my liking .


Discovering New Zealand with Erik (Burgess) at Paris 

We couldn’t believe how hot it was over that weekend and spent a great Sunday wandering and enjoying the city .


We haven’t done much since , a few more whisky festivals and i’ve been broadening my knowledge of Canadian Whisky…….


So what would we recommend this year ? Here’s a sort of Mini awards for 2014…..

Best Islay Malt –  I have to say of the limited selection i’ve tried this year it’s one from last year that most impressed me , The 25yo Laphroaig 2013 Edition .
Best Non Islay Scottish Malt – Only one winner here , The 50yo Glenlivet that Ian Logan kindly let up sample , absolutely stunning for it’s age ! Cheers Ian !! 
Best other Whisky – Well there are so many Canadians that i’ve tried during and since our visit that could have taken this title , Gibson’s 18 , Forty Creek Barrel Select , Century Reserve 15/25, Pike Creek to name a few but there is one rye that has taken my heart , Pendleton 1910 12yo ! I would add that Eriks New Zealand Whisky and Zuidam Dutch Rye are highly Commended .
Best Meal on Islay – It was between two places The Old Kiln and The Bridgend Hotel , eventually decided on The Bridgend as we had two absolutely stunning meals there , one was our 20th Wedding Anniversary one . 
Best Coffee on Islay – Has to be Roys ! A cracking cup of Coffee and stunning home baking ! oh them cakes….. 
Best Festival –  Yes it’s the Spirit of Toronto ! Although we didn’t get a good chance to sample the wares this year (we will next year!), it is a fantastic event , very classy , a great venue and superbly organised ! Looking forward to our return . 

I hope all our visitors have had as good as year as Melanie and Myself have had ! All that’s left is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year .

We’re already looking forward to 2015 !

Islay Visits Part XXXVII – Figures !

Wednesday 30th July 2014 

It’s funny how figures (i.e. of the number variety) play an important part in your life and when you start thinking of them all sorts of things pop into your head . For instance when i opened the two Ardbeg 1978’s i thought back to 1978 , the year the two of us left School , 36 years ago this very summer ! It’s also 36 years ago that we both started work in the very same summer…..

Talking of summers it was 30 years ago this summer i had my very first holiday in Scotland , camping with my old mate Dave Embleton who also introduced me to the delights of Single Malts on that trip (my first Malt was a 10yo Macallan) . Wow 30 years of drinking Single Malt Scotch Whisky and according to some i still don’t have a clue about it……

This year has been very special so far ,this year we done our first Whisky Festival on the ‘other’ side of the table , serving up Amrut to the good people of Newcastle standing in for Mr Amrut himself Ashok. We must have done something right as he’s asked us to do another 3 ! We took our first trip together outside of the UK (my first flight ) to Toronto , where we done our first Whisky Masterclass on the ‘other’ side of the table at the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala, This one mustn’t have went so well as no one’s asked us to do another one…… LOL!!!! (only kidding Johanna , Melanie keeps telling me how good i was !) 

  Todays date is the most important figure , the 30th of July , it was on this day i got married to the most important Woman in my life , Melanie , Twenty years ago ! Where has the time gone ? For 15 of those twenty years we have been coming to this beautiful isle , this is our 37th visit (hence the part XXXVII of the title for those of you of a slow disposition…..) , 10 years ago we spent our 10th anniversary on the Isle ( at the Old School , Ardbeg ) , Ardbeg even had a special bottle on sale on that visit , the 1990 for Japan at £60 (not for our 10th anniversary i hasten to add…..)  .

So what are we doing today ? We’ll probably making a lot of people sick with our lovey dovey ness LOL ! We’ll definitely be going out for a meal at our favourite eatery tonight and i dare say a fair bit of Alcohol will be consumed along the way……

To My Gorgeous Wife , Happy Twentieth Wedding Anniversary Darling !

There are many more to come !!!! 

2014 Spirit of Toronto Photos

Johanna has upload the official photos of the 2014 Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala up onto Flickr  , you can see the full set at the Spirit of Toronto Flickr Page , here’s a little taster……

(Click on the photo to see full size version)






All Images copywrite of Spirit of Toronto

Many thanks to Johanna and Charles for allowing us to use the images and for some more very happy memories !