Just like last year and the year before, an heroic bunch of outlaws, guided by Claudio Riva, went to Campbeltown and Islay to celebrate the Open Days during Campbeltown Malts Festival and Feis Ile – but the heroic part isn’t that they went there, obviously… That’s the bad part, that must be envied full of awe and hatred. The heroism lays in bringing back to Italy a selection of the best six bottlings from the Festival, perfect for a tasting with members of Whisky Club Italia – us included of course. So come on, let’s see what they brought back: we’ll start with five, with the Laphroaig missing, but we’ll review it alone tomorrow.
Springbank 8 yo ‘Open Day 2019’ (2011/2019, OB, 56,8%)
1100 bottles, matured in “fresh sherry casks”. N: not so edgy, even if it’s still in Springbank style, it’s kind of clean and obviously sherried. There’s a waxy note, with black olives and vinyl. With time, it opens up and here comes a struck match, slightly sulphury, that gives a new layer of depth. P: very fat and oily, with an evident peatiness. Sherry’s sticky and deep (caramel and jams). Chocolate and a coastal touch, unmistakable. F: bacon and pepper and again a lot of sweet and opulent sherry. It swims well, with wax and burnt marmalade that come out. It’s surely not a naked whisky, but it finds that unique balance between the oiliness of the spirit and the sweetness of the cask, so typical of Springbank. 8 years and a lot of character. 89/100.
Longrow 15 yo ‘Open Day 2019’ (2004/2019, OB, 52,4%)
911 bottles, matured in “fresh rum casks”. N: at the beginning it’s strangely ‘closed’, even if the cask gives notes of sweet yellow fruit (banana); very coastal. Some ‘chemical’ rum notes… Peat is really soft if you compare it to the Springbank. P: dirtier here, even if the smoke is really gentle. Chemical and sulphury with lemon curd and banana, nicely integrated. Citrus. Some waxiness. F: medium length, evidently sweet and salty. The rum plays a primary role here, because years shaved away all the hallmark edges, but it ain’t unbalanced at all, and it stays quite sharp: we think it may suffer a bit coming after that Springbank sherried bomb, which is a planer. 85/100
Lagavulin 19 yo ‘Feis Ile 2019’ (2019, OB, 53,8%)
6000 bottles, matured in “sherry treated american oak casks”. N: paradoxically fresh and juicy, even if peat and sea are still there, flexing, even after 20 years. It reminds us of the dried flowers pout pourris, because it has some delicate notes… Freshly baked apple pie. Burnt wood shavings. P: it seems even fresher and it’s dangerously drinkable, without a strong impact we must say. Surely it doesn’t show its age. Orange jam, chestnuts. F: coastal, burnt wood and burnt sugar. Really easy to drink, surely not a monster of complexity. Maybe we could do something better for Feis Ile, guys? Anyway, if this is an almost disappointing Lagavulin… Chapeau. 87/100.
Caol Ila 22 yo ‘Feis Ile 2019’ (2019, OB, 58,4%)
3000 bottles for the Feis Ile 2019 release by Caol Ila, the biggest distillery on Islay; label says it’s fully matured in “sherry treated american oak cask” (they do like this definition in Diageo, don’t they?). N: a refined gentleman in its best years. Everything is fully integrated, with lovely, delicate herbal notes made of leaves and sweet peat. Apple tart, tinned peaches. P: it’s a fruit tripudium, with peaches and figs, with a powerful kick from the very beginning. Really tasty, and incredibly smooth for its 58,4% ABV. There’s the sea too, as a lovely background. It already displays those delicate and silky notes that Caol Ila develops after 25/28 years. F: the sweet fruitiness lingers on, but the peat doesn’t skip a beat and stays quite chemical, smoggy.
A final suggestion: add a drop of water or two, you’ll thank us: it will get more and more open and silky… 91/100, possibly the best bottling from the whole 2019 Feis Ile.
Bowmore 15 yo ‘Feis Ile 2019’ (2019, OB, 51,7%)
3000 bottles, matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled last years for Bowmore Open Day during Feis Ile. After we tasted it, we started looking for it at auctions, since it’s really, really good… Short review today. N: oh such an elegant nose, with kicks of chlorophyl, wax, damp leaves, even some olive oil (and focaccia, possible?) and butter. Then there’s sweet lemonade, and then… the tropical fruitiness arrives! P: delicate but resolute, tropical fruit kneaded in wax, citrusy acidity (lemons and lime) arm in arm with honey and vanilla. Cereal’s here too. Smokiness is discreet, stays aside, but it’s a cuddle. F: it closes politely on vegetal notes and dark chocolate. A whisky painted with a soft thin brush. 90/100.
Recommended soundtrack: The Blues Brothers – Everybody Needs Somebody (To Love).