Stop me if you’ve heard this tune before. Independent bottler or importer with a few industry connections wants to get in on the current whisky craze, but doesn’t happen to own a distillery. Why let that stop you? Buy a few barrels of something on the independent market, optionally do something minor to distinguish your barrels against the official bottling from the same distillery, and then release a “small batch” vatting under a creative new label… perhaps named after an obscure Gaelic legend or just a handy Scottish town or geographical feature. Fill the label with depictions of the artisanship of handmade whisky and/or the meticulous “selection” – by hand, of course – of just the absolute most perfect barrels to bring you blah blah blah. If I sound jaded and angry, it’s frankly because I’m a little sick of “new” releases that are just the same whisky that has been on the shelf for decades, but a little younger, with a little less transparency on the label, and at a higher price. Oh, but excuse me, this is small batch. My bad.
To its credit, this first US release of Port Askaig (named, you guessed it, after a port town on the Scottish island of Islay) is bottled at cask-strength (55% ABV) and without chill-filtration or added coloring from a small batch of “2 to 40” barrels per batch, which means whatever you’d like it to mean. The barrels in question are from an “unnamed” Islay distillery and are all ex-bourbon casks. Different releases of Port Askaig in the future are likely to be (or at least could be) from different Islay distilleries. This one is almost certainly Caol Ila, based on exhaustive weeks of Internet research plus me putting my nose in a glass of the stuff.
Note that there are several age-stated versions of Port Askaig available in the UK and other markets, which we should expect to arrive on US shores at some point. No doubt they will be horrendously expensive, if they feel they can get away with charging $75 for NAS single malt at cask strength. “They” in this case is Elixir Distillers (not distillers, in fact), who also bottle the Elements of Islay series of bottlings. Thanks to ImpEx for the sample!
Nose: Ashy, meaty smoke reminds me of charred meat roasting over an open wood fire. Singed dry grasses (hay), like the scent of a distant wildfire. Dry malt, with a lot of nose tickle if you venture deeper into the glass. Some very faint vanilla.
Palate: Thin body. Robust tongue burn, in fact pretty fiery for a 55% which suggest the age might be on the shorter side (6 years is my wholly unsubstantiated guess). Dry on the tongue, with more charred meat and heavily toasted multigrain bread.
Finish: Concentrated smoke, like bottled “liquid smoke” – almost verging on hickory. Fades without bitterness, and also without much dimension.
With Water: Several drops of water adds little, instead roughening up the nose tickle. The finish is a little better balanced, with some sweet malty notes to counter the dry smoke. I’d only bother with the water if you find the ABV too high to enjoy neat.
Overall: If $75 for a bottle of NAS Caol Ila at Cask Strength sounds appealing to you, go ahead and buy in. If not, you’re not missing a heck of a lot. In a day and age where I can still buy Caol Ila 12 year for $60, Talisker 10 year for $50, and Laphroaig 10 for $33, I don’t see where this fits into the market. Cask strength is something, I suppose, but even then Ardbeg Uigeadail is around this same price, and Laphroaig 10 CS is around $10 less. Both are better.
It’s time for another whisky loch. We may get one sooner than we think
Wow, this is the most cynical intro I’ve read outside a Macallan review in a long time. Bravo! 🙂
Actually, $75 for a bottle of NAS (but tasting ~6 years old) Caol Ila at cask strength, sounds OK these days, but I agree that most of your alternatives sound better.
It seems like I used to see a lot more reviews of these “Port Askaigs,” maybe due to the age-stated ones being new in the UK a few years ago. And weren’t they usually pretty positive? I always got the impression that they offered good-value Caol Ilas at ages you can’t find in the OBs. But I think that was before these NAS bottles came to the US.
As a bit of pedantry, as these really cask strength? Or just high strength?
Not sure about the strength – they’re batching, so it’s possible they landed on exactly 110 proof… but much more likely they’re reducing to that strength. As I said to someone earlier – I don’t mind NAS for $75 if the proof is in the glass (Corryvreckan comes to mind). This definitely didn’t wow, and NAS malt for $75 needs to wow. I wouldn’t be surprised if the age-stated Askaigs were better received, as they start at 16 years. I would say that I’ll review them when they hit the States, but I’m guessing they’ll exceed my price ceiling…
…actually maybe they won’t – it looks like before selling out, the 16-year was around $86 in the UK at current exchange rates.
For some good news out of Islay, John Campbell just announced on Twitter that Laphroaig will be featuring the legendary 15 year-old as next year’s iteration of Cairdeas. Imma have to get my mitts on a bottle of that
Well, that’s weird.
Will it be high-strength like most (recent, at least) Cairdeas releases? Or will they trot out the same old $43% version for the third time now in recent memory?
I like the Cairdeas releases to be something special. They’re looking to go 0/2 in that regard in 2017 & 2018.
I believe it will be 43%.
The 15 year-old is supposedly the bottling which caused Prince Charles to fall in love with Laphroaig to the extent that they’re the only malt distillery in Scotland to carry a royal warrant of appointment (that’s the little symbol with 3 ostrich feathers on the label – a very prestigious thing in Britain). I never got to try it before they pulled it from the regular lineup so I’m pretty stoked.
Regarding past Cairdeas releases, I bought the 2016 Madiera for a friend and liked it okay. Not interested in the 2017 Quarter Cask
I never had it either. It’s supposed to be in the same ballpark as the old 18, which I currently have open. It’s good. I expect past 15s and the new Cairdeas 15 will be good too.
But it just not something special & different like I’ve come to expect from the Cairdeas labels.
The 18 is gone too, as of this year. What’s on the shelves is all that’s left.
On the Laphroaig website you can view a video of Prince Charles (known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland) on a recent trip to the Laphroaig distillery. There’s clearly a long-running affection there.
As you indicated, not that great and a let down…sort of tasteless past the peat…
Thanks for the very informative review! As you well know, it’s very hard to find information on Port Askaig whisky. I would Love to know where you can find Laphroaig 10 for $33!! It’s been over $50 in Central Florida for about 5 years. ~Michelle
California. It’s $37 for the moment, but for some arcane reason, the regional distributor for Laphroaig products has always marked them up significantly in areas of the US that aren’t part of the West Coast market.
My brother and I really like scotch and like to try new ones. Port Askaig is awful and for the first time ever, we poured our drinks down the drain. The rest of the bottle will only be used when cola is added to it, lots of cola, and ice.
Like that revue.. thanks.