This is one of those “mystery malts” – a brand of single-malt scotch that is marketed as its own entity but which is really repackaged youthful malt whisky from an unnamed distillery. Usually, bottling contracts with the mystery distillery preclude the brand from revealing the source, to avoid muddying the distillery’s own brand’s reputation. This is quite common, as many grocery-store brands (such as Costco/Kirkland and Trader Joe’s Alexander Murray bottlings) are often bottled this way as are some entire brands like Finlaggan. There is always some fun to be had in trying to guess the origin of the juice in these bottles, but the result is usually cheaper (and of lower quality) than comparable products that actually state the origin of the whisky.
Where these come from is tough to say with much certainty, but it’s likely one of three possibilities: One, that a given brand or bottler established a “filling contract” (an agreement allowing a third party to regularly acquire newly-distilled whisky at fixed or market prices) with a distillery before the modern “whisky boom” shut down most of these programs. Two, that partially-aged barrels deemed “unsuitable” for the house brand have been sold to the independent market and resold to bottlers looking for deals. Three, that aged stock owned by an independent bottler was acquired through company buyouts, mergers, or short sales and cannot legally be sold under the original distillery’s name due to the terms of now-invalidated contracts.
Also possible in cases of some independently-bottled cheap “blended malt” whisky is that the barrels used have been “teaspooned” with a tiny amount of whisky from another distillery, thus preventing its sale as a single malt and precluding the use of the distillery’s name. That’s not the case here. It’s worth noting that both Finlaggan and The Ileach are products of the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, which also produces the Cooper’s Choice line of independent bottlings.
Bottled at a cask strength of 58% ABV, but without any age information, The Ileach Cask Strength is a single malt whisky from one of the distilleries on the island of Islay that makes fully-peated malt. “The Ileach” means “the man from Islay” and you could try pronouncing it as “ee-luck”, but you’d still sound like a tourist. Just don’t say “Eye Leech”. Ew.
Very reliable (that’s a joke, that.) Internet gossip says it’s young (5-6 year old) Lagavulin, and that the company got a filling contract with Lagavulin before the whisky boom. Other “sources” claim that this and similar bottlings like Finlaggan come from whatever barrels are available (and cheapest) on the independent market and could change from batch to batch. All or none of these things could be true. To me, this has a lot of the hallmarks of Lagavulin, although it could just as easily be Bowmore or Caol Ila. I don’t think my bottle is Laphroaig, but some Internet reviewers have sworn up and down that their bottle was from that very distinctive distillery. That leads me to believe that the “mystery distillery” could be different batch to batch.
I tasted a sample that was collected from bottle in October of 2016 as part of a Flaviar sample pack. Unfortunately, it appears that The Ileach brand is not available in the United States.
Nose: Charcoal-flecked, smoke-driven peat. Campfire. Iodine. Meaty. Hint of lemon peel.
Palate: Thin body. Hot, of course. Faint lemon. Charred meat. Not much else.
Finish: Medium-long. Thin, slightly acrid smoke. Slight woody sweetness, but tarry. Only slightly bitter.
With Water: Several drops of water increase the lemon note, and tamp down the smoke. It also reveals a little youthful grassiness. The palate may be slightly sweeter and a bit livelier, as is the finish. Water doesn’t go amiss here, but make sure you experience it at full strength first.
Overall: The peat is pungent and in full force at this proof, but there’s little to back it up. Young peated whisky is still young whisky, and as strongly as the smoke dominates, it fails to hide the lack of character beneath. It probably still does this better than Finlaggan Old Reserve, which is unruly and erratic. This, at least, focuses on the smoke. Personally, I’d rather just buy a bottle of Lagavulin or Laphroaig and get something with both individuality AND age. Of course, the cask-strength versions of those will set you back, so if all you’re looking for is powerful smoke and high proof, this could fit the bill.